Affordable Online Early Childhood Education Degrees

If you enjoy working with kids and want to inspire and help shape the lives of others on a daily basis, an online degree in early childhood education can help you launch a rewarding career as a teacher. Early childhood educators teach preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school students in core subjects like English, reading and spelling, and math. An online early childhood education degree can prepare you for the unique considerations and challenges of teaching young pupils. You will learn how to engage learners with curricular materials, address discipline and other classroom concerns, evaluate their educational progress, and communicate with the parents of children in your class.

Many experts predict enrollments for these students will increase in the coming years, and the demand for qualified early childhood educators is currently favorable.

Early childhood education teachers and specialists may work at public, private, or government schools. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for preschool, kindergarten and elementary, and special education teachers are expected to rise by 6% to 7% between 2014 and 2024.

This guide explores some of the academic and professional trends in the constantly evolving field of early childhood education. Read on to learn more about the many careers you can pursue with an online degree in early childhood education, and the academic path you will take to get there.

Did You Know?

Studies show that the years leading up to kindergarten are the most crucial in determining a child’s academic, social, and cognitive development. “There’s an explosion of activity in the first five years of life, more profound than any future years,” says Rhian Evans Allvin, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Learn more about how you can find a fulfilling career shaping the lives of future generations with a degree in early childhood education.

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What Can You Do with a Degree in Early Childhood Education?

Preschool Teacher

$28,570 Avg Annual Salary
Diploma Degree Required

Most preschools in the United States serve children between the ages of three and five years. The primary goal of preschool education is to prepare students to attend kindergarten within one or two years. Lesson plans focus mostly on games, activities, and other planned programs; educational instruction is usually limited to basic concepts (such as colors, shapes and letters of the alphabet), as well as developmental areas like language, motor skills, and social interaction. These teachers are taught to watch for signs of developmental issues and to communicate specific needs and concerns with the parents of their students. Preschool teachers often find work with a high school diploma, although many choose to earn professional certificates or enroll in an online early childhood education program in order to boost their career standing. Preschool teacher salary expectations will increase based on the educator’s qualifications, as well.

  • Licensure Required: State licensure for public teachers; some states also require the Child Development Associate (CDA) and/or Certified Childcare Professional (CCP) credentials
  • Time Commitment: 4 years
  • Median Annual Salary (Entry-Level): $27,670
  • Median Annual Salary (Mid-Career): $29,076
  • Median Annual Salary (Late-Career): $30,215

Kindergarten or Elementary School Teacher

$54,550 Avg Annual Salary
Bachelor's Degree Required

Building on preschool education, kindergarten and elementary school teachers lead lesson plans designed to introduce basic concepts and core subjects like comprehension and spelling, arithmetic, and fundamentals of social studies and science. Generally, kindergarten and elementary teachers teach different subjects in blocks, or periods, that make up the entire school day. Students are usually evaluated on a grading system and given progress reports throughout the year, which are supplemented by parent-teacher conferences. Kindergarten and elementary teachers may also meet with parents of their students if certain issues arise, such as developmental learning concerns or disciplinary problems. State licensure is required for all public kindergarten and elementary teachers; most online early childhood education degree and elementary education degree programs are structured to assist students with earning the required certification(s). Kindergarten teacher salary and elementary school teacher salary expectations will vary from state to state.

  • Degree Required: Bachelor’s
  • Licensure Required: National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)
  • Time Commitment: 4 years
  • Median Annual Salary (Entry-Level): $34,735
  • Median Annual Salary (Mid-Career): $40,046
  • Median Annual Salary (Late-Career): $47,505

Early Intervention Specialist

$35,256 Avg Annual Salary
Master's Degree Required

Those who earn an early childhood education degree online may choose to specialize in early intervention. This subdivision of special education focuses on preschool and kindergarten learners, as well as elementary school students that meet certain criteria. The goal of early intervention is to identify learning disorders and other developmental issues at young age in order to help children overcome these issues before reaching adolescence or adulthood. Early intervention specialists typically work in the special education department of public schools, or at private or government schools dedicated to children with developmental concerns. Because of the large number of specific learning disabilities and disorders, early intervention specialists often work with children in a one-on-one format. Specialists maintain individual education profiles, or IEPS, cataloguing each student’s progress and noting areas for continued improvement. Early intervention professionals often work in tandem with other teachers and faculty members at their learning institutions in order to best serve their students.

  • Licensure Required: An early childhood intervention specialist (ECIS) certificate is required to work with children at public schools in all 50 states (licensure requirements vary by state)
  • Time Commitment: 4 years for bachelor’s degree, up to 2 more years for MSN
  • Median Annual Salary (Entry-Level): $34,265
  • Median Annual Salary (Mid-Career): $36,957
  • Median Annual Salary (Late-Career): $41,200

Early Childhood Education Careers by the Numbers

Kindergarten teacher salary and elementary school teacher salary numbers hover around $50,000 to $55,000, depending on the state where they are employed. Special education teachers, early intervention professionals, and other specialists earned more than average teachers due to the skilled nature of their profession. Preschool teacher salary numbers are low by comparison, due to the lower qualifications — although earnings rise incrementally for those who earn a college degree.

Top Early Childhood Education Careers by Income and Growth Rate
Career Median Annual Salary Job Outlook
Kindergarten Teachers $54,890 + 6%
Preschool Teachers $28,570 + 7%
Special Education Teachers $56,800 + 6%
BLS employment projections data, 2014-2024

Highest Paying Early Childhood Education Careers by Sector

What Does it Take to Succeed in Early Childhood Education?

Leading a classroom full of young learners is a demanding — and often challenging — job. Anyone can earn an elementary education degree or early childhood education degree online, but those with the following character traits tend to excel in this dynamic field.

  • Resourcefulness

    Teaching preschool, kindergarten or elementary school students requires the ability to be spontaneous; if children are not responding to a particular lesson plan, then resourceful educators can fashion an alternative on the spot that manages to engage the classroom.

  • Leadership

    Even when classroom aides are present, children usually outnumber adults in preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school classrooms by a considerable margin. Effective educators are skilled leaders who are able to command attention from most students, facilitate lessons in an engaging manner, and effectively discipline children who are disruptive to the learning process.

  • Organization

    A daily schedule for any kindergarten or elementary school class will incorporate lesson plans from multiple subjects, and each period must sustain for a certain length of time. Organized teachers are able to present educational materials in a structured manner conducive to both group learning and individual development.

  • Communication

    Communication is critical with exceptionally young students. Teachers must work to ensure that every student in their classroom understands the lesson at hand. They must also be able to recognize nonverbal cues from learners who are struggling educationally and/or socially.

Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education: An Overview

Who should pursue an associate degree in early childhood education?

Anyone who plans to work with children at the preschool level, or continue their education with a bachelor’s degree and teach in kindergarten/elementary school classrooms.

How many years will it take to complete?

Most associate degree programs require a two-year commitment, although shorter accelerated options are widely available as well.

Is a thesis or capstone usually required?

No, although most early childhood education online associate degree programs carry practicum (or hands-on) components.

What type of jobs does this degree prepare you for?

You can pursue a career in preschool education with a high school diploma, so an early childhood education online associate degree will boost your hiring potential and career standing in that field. Associate programs in early childhood education also serve as a stepping stone toward bachelor’s degrees.

What's the average salary for someone who holds this degree?

According to PayScale, the average teacher with an associate degree in early childhood education earns an annual salary of $21,097.

Core Concepts

Online associate in early childhood education degree programs focus on the following core concepts:

  • Plan and administer educational lessons in basic core subjects for classrooms with exceptionally young students
  • Collaborate with fellow teachers and other faculty members for group assignments, activities, presentations, and adult-led outings
  • Identify verbal and nonverbal cues indicating a learning disability, mental health issue, and other developmental concerns
  • Evaluate young children in key development areas such as literacy, motor skills, spatial reasoning, and interpersonal effectiveness in social situations

Course Highlights

Methods and Materials for Early Childhood Education I

Description Exploration of teaching methods and materials used for educating students in an early childhood classroom.
Job Skill Learn how to plan, develop, and administer structured lessons for young people related to core subjects, art, music, drama, and other learning areas. Classroom activities such as guest speakers and field trips are also discussed.

Health, Safety, & Nutrition

Description Introduction to state requirements — as well as best-practice strategies — that promote health, safety, and nutrition in early childhood classrooms.
Job Skill Learn how to minimize potential injuries and security concerns throughout the school day, including meals and recess breaks, as well as provide nutritious meals and snacks that adhere to current dietary guidelines and suggestions.

Observation & Assessment of Young Children

Description A look at various methods of evaluating emotional development, educational progress, and social and fine/motor skills.
Job Skill Ability to observe and evaluate early childhood classroom students using established metrics for educational success and child development.

Early Childhood Practicum

Description Hands-on teacher training usually held in a public or private school classroom with real students.
Job Skill Ability to apply educational theories and strategies to real-life scenarios involving classrooms with young children.

Affordable Schools With Online Associate Programs

Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education: An Overview

Who should pursue a bachelor's degree in early childhood education?

Anyone who wants to pursue a teaching or specialist position in an elementary school.

How many years will it take to complete?

Most undergraduate elementary education degree and early childhood education degree programs require a four-year commitment.

Is a thesis or capstone usually required?

Not usually, although most early childhood education bachelor’s degree online programs require students to complete a certain number of practicum hours at a public or private elementary school.

What type of jobs does this degree prepare you for?

Early childhood education bachelor’s degree online programs are designed for kindergarten and elementary school teachers, as well as early intervention specialists and other specialist educators working at the early childhood level.

What's the average salary for someone who holds this degree?

According to PayScale, the average teacher or specialist with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education earns an annual salary of $49,366.

Core Concepts

A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education primarily concentrates on the following core areas:

  • Developing and administering organized lesson plans to kindergarten and elementary classrooms that cover different core subjects
  • Evaluating students using an established grading system and maintaining up-to-date individual education profiles for students with certain developmental needs
  • Facilitating parent-teacher conferences and addressing key educational and developmental issues about students
  • Maintaining a functional classroom with sufficient learning materials and equipment that meets state and federal regulations

Course Highlights

Child Development II

Description Examination of growth and development stages, with an emphasis on birth to elementary age
Job Skill Ability to evaluate the cognitive, social, psychological, and developmental growth of students at early childhood schools using evidence-based theories and principles.

Family & Culture

Description A look at the family and cultural factors that influence the way young people grow, develop, and learn
Job Skill Learn how to incorporate students from different backgrounds into the classroom dynamic and foster an environment of respect and tolerance.

Introduction to Educational Technology

Description An exploration of software, handheld devices, apps, and other tech-based learning tools used in today’s early childhood classrooms
Job Skill Ability to lead classroom lessons using up-to-date technology implements designed to enhance the learning process through vivid images, user-friendly operations, and interactive media.

Early Education Practicum/ Internship

Description Hands-on training in an established classroom
Job Skill Ability to incorporate child development theories, instructional technology and other components of the bachelor’s program into real-life classroom contexts.

Affordable Schools With Online Bachelor’s Programs

Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education: An Overview

Who should pursue a master's degree in early childhood education?

Anyone who wants to pursue a career in early childhood education and wishes to increase their hiring potential in the job market, or individuals who wish to specialize in certain areas of early childhood education.

How many years will it take to complete?

Most master’s programs require a two-year commitment, although some shorter accelerated programs are available.

Is a thesis or capstone usually required?

Yes, a master’s thesis or research project is required in most master’s early childhood education degree programs. Some allow students to sit for a comprehensive exam as an alternative to the final project.

What type of jobs does this degree prepare you for?

Students who earn a master’s of early childhood education online and receive the necessary licensure will (depending on their specialization) be able to work in niche fields like special education or speech-language pathology.

What's the average salary for someone who holds this degree?

According to PayScale, the average professional with a master’s degree in early childhood education earns an annual salary of $45,502.

Core Concepts

Online master’s in early childhood education programs emphasize the following competencies:

  • Integrate research-based principles and theories about early childhood learning into organized lesson plans
  • Provide leadership to fellow teachers, classroom aides, and other faculty members
  • Create an inclusive classroom environment that celebrates diversity and promotes positive interaction among students of varying backgrounds
  • Observe, monitor, and evaluate exceptionally young students using advanced metrics for educational progress and emotional development
  • Represent educational institutions and deliver presentations at teacher conferences and seminars

Course Highlights

Learning Theories & Instruction

Description A theoretical approach to the variables that impact early childhood education
Job Skill Know how to apply theories about curricular engagement, motivation, problem-solving, and socialization in order to evaluate overall learning quality and classroom management.

Assessment for & of Learning

Description Exploration of various formal and informal evaluation methods
Job Skill Ability to use established grading systems — as well as observational methods — to assess the educational progress and emotional/social development of learners in early childhood classrooms.

Language & Literacy in Early Childhood Education

Description A look at the role of reading, writing, spelling, and oral presentation in the broader context of early childhood education
Job Skill Know how to administer lessons that involve language arts and evaluate individual learners in areas like reading comprehension, grammar, and verbal communication.

Students with Exceptionalities

Description Some of the considerations teachers must make for special education students, as well as gifted learners
Job Skill Be able to administer lessons to an entire classroom while providing individualized attention to students with unique learning conditions, and evaluate these learners using standards that take their exceptionalities into account.

Affordable Schools With Online Master’s Programs

PhD in Early Childhood Education: An Overview

Who should pursue a PhD in early childhood education?

Anyone interested in pursuing a career in early childhood education that focuses on academic research.

How many years will it take to complete?

Most PhD programs require a commitment of five or six years.

Is a thesis or capstone usually required?

Yes. Doctoral programs generally require students to write a lengthy dissertation paper related to their field of study and defend the paper as part of a final project.

What type of jobs does this degree prepare you for?

A PhD in early childhood education will help you pursue jobs in educational research and curriculum development.

What's the average salary for someone who holds this degree?

According to PayScale, the average professional with a Ph.D. in early childhood education will earn an annual salary of $58,750.

PhD in Early Childhood Education Overview

Unlike degrees at lower academic levels that emphasize classroom and practicum, PhD in early education programs are heavily grounded in academic research. Areas of focus include qualitative and quantitative methodologies, linear modeling and current research trends. Case studies and real-life scenarios play an active role in the curriculum of doctoral programs in this field. Early childhood education PhD programs generally follow the timeline below:

  • First 2-4 Years

    Students spent the first two to four years engaging in intensive academic research related to their specific field of specialization. Their findings will serve as the basis for their dissertation paper; PhD students are typically allowed to work on their dissertation throughout the length of the program. During this time, they will form relationships with university faculty members who will serve as advisors for their work.

  • Before Dissertation

    Prior to the dissertation phase, doctoral students will work on compiling their portfolio for faculty review. A portfolio includes research papers, journal articles, and other academic achievements related to the student’s coursework. Once their portfolio has been reviewed and approved, students may progress to the final dissertation stage.

  • Final Year

    The final year of a PhD program is primarily focused on presenting and defending one’s dissertation. A dissertation paper is typically 150 to 200 pages in length. Completed dissertations are presented to expert committees, who will judge the paper based on its originality and contributions to the field of early childhood education. The student authors will then be given arguments against the dissertation and asked to defend their findings. Successful presentation and defense of a dissertation is usually the final requirement for graduation from a PhD in early childhood education program.

The In-Person Aspect of an Online Early Childhood Education Degree

Early childhood education is an academic field designed to prepare teachers for roles in learning institutions. As a result, degree programs at all levels incorporate hands-on learning into the required curriculum. Practicum courses allow students to assist in classrooms at public and private schools by preparing and administering lessons to students. Other elements of practicum teaching include grading assignments, observing students in one-on-one settings for individual evaluation, and sitting in on parent-teacher conferences. Lead teachers serve as mentors for student teachers, and will be asked to write evaluations of the student teacher when the semester has concluded. Practicum instruction has two primary goals: the chance for students in early childhood education programs to apply the skills and knowledge they have learned in an established learning environment; and the opportunity to gain real-life classroom experiences prior to graduating with a degree and entering the job market.

Early childhood education programs generally require students to complete practicum courses at schools or learning centers in the same community as their college campus. Due to their remote nature, many online early childhood education degree programs allow students to fulfill their practicum requirements at schools near their home address. Most practicum courses carry a minimum of 16 to 20 hours per week for a total of 240 to 300 hours for the semester. Students who are unable to complete the minimum hour requirements may be asked to make up these hours at another point before the end of the semester or retake the course at a later date.

Next Steps: Licensure and Certification

Teachers at all levels — including preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school — must earn licensure in order to instruct children in public school classrooms. Those who teach in private schools are not usually required by law to be licensed, but some institutions may require licensure as a condition of hiring. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, early childhood education teachers are commonly certified to teach any age from preschool to the 3rd grade. Many online early childhood education programs are designed to prepare students to earn certification and licensure as soon as they have completed their curriculum.

Licensure requirements vary by state; features an online aggregator that lets users browse state-specific licensing guidelines. In most cases, a bachelor’s degree or alternative four-year credential is required; some states mandate a minimum grade point average on undergraduate transcripts. Additionally, two certification tests are required in certain states — a general teaching certification, as well as a certification in the teacher’s specialty field. Early childhood educators are often asked to complete ‘content areas’ of the exam pertaining to certain subjects. Teachers may be reviewed on an annual basis in order to renew their certification.

Students who complete a bachelor’s degree program in early childhood education which does not include courses required for certification are given an alternative. They may instruct a classroom under the supervision of an experienced educator, who evaluates the candidate on their knowledge of teaching strategies and student development. Approved candidates are awarded full licensure; this option is available in all 50 states.

In addition to licensure, the following credentials are available to early childhood education professionals:

  • Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential: Considered one of the leading credentials in early childhood education, the CDA is available through the Council for Professional Recognition. More than 370,000 teachers and education professionals have earned the CDA title. The CDA curriculum is based on core competencies related to providing safe learning environments, promoting intellectual and emotional development, and fostering positive relationships with students and their families. Candidates must complete assignments, log practicum hours, complete a comprehensive exam and be observed working with children in a classroom setting. The CDA credential is valid for three years before renewal is required.
  • National Board Certification (NBC): This advanced credential offered through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is designed to supplement state certification. The NBC is recognized in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Eligibility requirements for the credential include a bachelor’s degree and at least three years of professional teaching or counseling experience with a valid state license. The curriculum is based on five guiding principles: commitment to learning, familiarity with core subjects, responsible classroom management, reflective teaching practices, and active membership in ‘learning communities’.

Sites You May Also be Interested In

Early Childhood Education Job Boards

  • Early Childhood Teacher In addition to a job-search aggregator that lets you filter by location and education level, this site features special sections dedicated to salary expectations and state-to-state licensure requirement analysis.
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children The NAEYC’s employment section allows you to browse positions using a comprehensive job-search tool, upload your resume, and receive email alerts about new opportunities.
  • Learn4Good Designed for teachers who may be interested in traveling for work, this job listing features early childhood educator positions available across the country, as well as international opportunities in dozens of countries.

Early Childhood Education Blogs

  • What the Teacher Wants Launched in 2010, this blog co-authored by two elementary school teachers from Utah tackles current educational topics, reviews classroom tools and software, and shares information about national conferences and other events.
  • Miss Kindergarten This blog’s creator, a kindergarten teacher from Southern California, primarily shares classroom management tips, product reviews and information about hot topics like common core standards.
  • Kindergarten Crayons Fran Kramer, a kindergarten teacher with more than 25 years of professional experience, offers tips for educators who wish to incorporate art-related activities into their lesson plans.

Professional Organizations

  • Association for Early Learning Leaders Founded in 1984, the AELL is a nonprofit created to build the early childhood teaching community through continuing education, networking opportunities and access to classroom resources.
  • HighScope First established in 1970, this nonprofit was developed to serve teachers, administrators, academic researchers, advocates, and parents with a stake in early childhood education.
  • National Child Care Association The NCCA strives to improve child health and safety by promoting the services of licensed, qualified preschool and child care providers across the country.