Are you interested in teaching and caring for children who have not yet reached kindergarten age? In early childhood education studies, you can learn strategies to support the development of children's motor, social, emotional and language skills.
Coursework for two-year programs in early childhood education can include the fundamentals of teaching; effective teaching techniques; language and literacy; curriculum development; child behavior and development; and health, safety, and nutrition. Associate degrees can prepare you to teach preschool programs and can also form a foundation for transfer to a bachelor's degree program, if you're considering teaching kindergarten through grade 3.
Careers in early childhood education
With associate degrees in early childhood education, employment opportunities include afterschool programs; preschool, early childhood and child care centers; and similar programs in school districts and in the community. Although requirements to teach early childhood education are mandated by individual states, greater numbers of employers are now requiring at least an associate degree. A logical career progression -- from child care worker to assistant teacher, teacher, lead teacher, and then director of a program -- can follow a degree path from associate to bachelor's or master's.
A master's degree with a specialization in early childhood education can prepare you for administration, counseling or teaching at the postsecondary level. You could also pursue a Ph.D. in Education or a doctorate in education, which can lead to research, consulting, university teaching or high-level leadership roles. Look into individual schools to find the degree program that meets your career aspirations before you make a choice.
Early childhood education career outlook and salary
Child care workers and teacher assistants are expected to see average employment growth between 2008 and 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, although preschool teachers and preschool special education occupations should see growth of 19 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Median 2010 salaries for three early childhood professionals include:
- Child care worker: $19,300
- Teacher assistant: $23,220
- Preschool teacher: $25,700
More education can mean higher salaries, with kindergarten teachers earning $48,800 and special education preschool, kindergarten and elementary teachers earning median annual wages of $52,250.
Some associate degree programs in early childhood education require an on-site practice teaching or observation component to demonstrate how well you apply theoretical knowledge when you interact with young children. However, taking the bulk of your coursework online is a convenient option, particularly if you work or have family obligations.