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What Is Early Child Development?

Early child development refers to programs intended to benefit the social skills, health, emotions and overall environment of children, typically up to the age of entering kindergarten. Individual children are assessed and intervention activities are initiated, when needed, to provide children with optimum preparation for school and throughout the lifespan.

Early Child Development Overview

Early child development involves applying the best methodologies for optimum growth in the intellectual, emotional, social and physical aspects of infants and children. Individual youngsters progress at their own pace, but all children pass through similar levels of emotional, cognitive and physical growth, and it's important to ensure that children are meeting developmental milestones at appropriate times.

The primary goal of early child development programs and services is to better preschool children's capacity to learn and grow healthily. A child who is healthy, friendly and confident, with good language and listening skills, is more likely to be ready to start school and succeed once enrolled. School-age children should be able to take on and stay with challenging tasks. Early recognition and treatment of potential development problems in a young child improves the effectiveness of countermeasures. Long-term negative effects can be reduced and often eliminated. Risk factors that may slow development include both social and physical attributes.

Important Facts About This Field of Study

Degree Levels Associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctorate
Common Courses Early Childhood Mathematics, Theories of Child and Family Development, Development Curriculum for Young Learners
Online Availability Some programs are available online, particularly at the associate's and bachelor's degree levels
Continuing Education Many schools offer courses that satisfy continuing education requirements for CDA renewal
Median Salary (2018) $29,780 (for all preschool teachers)
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 10% growth (for all preschool teachers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Programs

If you're interested in a career in this field, consider enrolling in an associate's or bachelor's degree program in early child development, early child education or early childhood studies. Some of these programs even include certificate programs focused on preparing you for a particular job, like early childhood center director, child development associate (CDA) or family child care management.

Some positions are regulated by the state through licensure or certification, so you should investigate what the regulations are where you live and how programs can prepare you for professional employment. You may want to enroll in a program approved that meets the education standards set by the Child Development Associates National Competency Standards and/or the National Association for the Education of Young Children. A bachelor's degree can open up more job opportunities.

In this type of program, you learn about child development, child learning assessments, family dynamics, early childhood curriculum standards and child teaching methods, including those for special education children and exceptional children. You may also take classes in child care management, children's music and dance, reading aloud with children, children's nutrition and diversity in child development. Programs also commonly include fieldwork and/or practicum experiences.

Career Information

Early child development professionals may work as Head Start teachers, preschool teachers, child caregivers, early intervention specialists or early child development program directors. If you enter a career in early child development, you may have the following responsibilities:

  • Intervention and support of parents and caregivers
  • Direct service to children
  • Improvement of knowledge and practices through mass communications
  • Promotion of health, social, environmental and emotional settings for children