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Early Childhood Education: Online Degree and Certificate Programs

Review your online program options in early childhood education, from certificate programs to master's degree programs. Get info on common course topics in early childhood education and find out how coursework is delivered. Also learn about your career prospects once you graduate and the salary info for some of those positions.

What Early Childhood Education Degrees and Certificates Are Available?

Online early childhood education programs are widely available, but they typically have some in-person requirements. You can listen to lectures and complete assignments online, but will be required to work with young children in an educational environment to fulfill the criteria for most programs.

Certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree programs in early childhood education are available. In addition to core early childhood education courses, you'll need to complete general education credits to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in this field. Some programs provide the opportunity to choose a specialization, such as special needs, English language learners or child development.

Master's degrees are also available online in early childhood education. Some schools may require the completion of research projects or on-campus residencies over the summer. Specializations, such as special education and gifted education, are also available at the graduate level.

Online Programs Certificate, associate's, bachelor's, master's degrees are available in early childhood education but most will have some in-person requirements that can usually be completed locally
Course Work Courses in child interactions, assessment of learning, child development, exceptional abilities, and development issues
Learning Requirements Coursework, class discussions and research can be conducted online but student teaching must be completed in-person at a school near the student's home
Job Prospects Pre-school teacher, kindergarten teacher, elementary school teacher, Head Start teacher, child care center teacher
Median Salary (2020)$60,660 (for kindergarten and elementary school teachers)*
Job Outlook (2019-29)4% growth (for all kindergarten and elementary school teachers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Courses Will I Take?

Online courses in early childhood education are designed to prepare students to become licensed educators. Through them, you will learn how children interact with one another and how to assess their learning. Some courses focus on child development, teaching you to recognize any exceptional abilities or developmental issues. Other courses focus on teaching methods for children with special needs. Other topics of study may include:

  • Assessing comprehension through exams
  • Benefits of family involvement
  • Interacting and connecting with children
  • Language development
  • Observing and promoting development
  • Technology in the classroom
  • Intervention for children with special needs

How Do I Participate in Online Programs?

The courses offered in online and hybrid early childhood education programs generally mimic those offered through on-campus programs. In addition to completing online coursework, you will be required to work in an elementary school or preschool near you to gain the experience necessary to work with young children. Your time will be overseen and assessed by a licensed teacher who is approved by your school.

Lectures, coursework and research can be completed online. Many programs also encourage you to interact with your fellow students and share your teaching experiences through discussion forums and web chats.

What Can I Do With My Degree?

With a degree in early childhood education, you can teach preschool, kindergarten or an elementary grade level. If you chose a specialization in special education, you can also work with special needs students one on one or in groups, helping them with daily tasks. Degrees and certificates in early childhood education can also prepare you to work in childcare centers and Head Start programs.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you must obtain a teaching license in order to teach in a public school setting in all 50 states (www.bls.gov). Although licensing requirements vary by state, they generally include a bachelor's degree, the completion of an approved training program for teachers and a supervised teaching experience. You will also typically be required to pass state exams.

In 2020, preschool teachers made a median salary of $31,930, and elementary school teachers made a median salary of $60,940 according to the BLS. For the same year, special education teachers working with elementary-aged children and younger had median annual earnings of $60,620.