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September 30, 2021

Edited by Jordan Stewart-Rozema
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Students who earn an on-campus or online degree in early childhood education often take coursework in instructional techniques, child development, and classroom management. They also complete field experiences in early childhood settings. Curricula prepare candidates to work with infants, toddlers, and young children.

An associate degree fulfills educational requirements for careers like preschool teachers, teacher assistants, and childcare workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 18%, 9%, and 8% growth, respectively, for these jobs between 2020-2030.

This guide examines details for associate programs in early childhood education, including graduation timeframes, common courses and concentrations, and career options for graduates. Readers can use this information to determine if this degree suits their academic and career needs.

What Is Early Childhood Education?

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, early childhood education involves establishing learning environments and providing appropriate curricula for children who are eight years old or younger. Early childhood institutions foster cognitive, social, physical, emotional, language, and personality development in children with diverse backgrounds and learning needs.

What Are the Best Online Associate in Early Childhood Education Programs of 2020?

#1 Southwest Wisconsin Technical College Fennimore, WI
#2 Stanly Community College Albemarle, NC
#3 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
#4 Northeast Community College Norfolk, NE
#5 Vance-Granville Community College Henderson, NC
#6 Community Care College Tulsa, OK
#7 South Texas College McAllen, TX
#8 Saint Francis University Loretto, PA
#9 Kennebec Valley Community College Fairfield, ME
#10 Randolph Community College Asheboro, NC

Should I Get an Associate in Early Childhood Education?

In-person and online degrees in early childhood education cover topics like child development, behavior, and psychology, as well as curriculum and teaching techniques for early childhood classrooms. Associate degree-holders can pursue work as preschool teachers, teacher assistants, camp counselors, and childcare workers.

This type of program can also provide a foundation for future bachelor's and graduate degrees in education. These advanced degrees qualify candidates for positions as kindergarten teachers, instructional coordinators, special education teachers, reading specialists, and preschool and childcare center directors. Individuals who earn a graduate degree may also qualify to teach postsecondary courses in early childhood education.

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Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Graduates can also pursue more advanced degrees in related fields to explore other career options. For instance, individuals can explore nutrition for children, which can prepare students for dietetics programs and careers.

Likewise, graduates can pursue a child psychology, counseling, or social work degree to prepare for careers in a variety of settings.

What Will I Learn in an Early Childhood Education Associate Program?

Students who earn a degree in early childhood education learn about teaching strategies and child development milestones. Coursework might also explore parent engagement, nutrition, motivation, and behavioral guidance for preschools and early childhood classrooms. Departments usually require general education courses for associate degrees, such as classes in communication, composition, history, and math coursework.

The following sections highlight common classes and concentrations found in early childhood education programs, though specific options vary by program.


Child Development

Courses examine biological, social, emotional, and cognitive growth in infants and toddlers. Other topics include language and personality development. Departments may extend studies to include school-aged children.

Language and Literacy

Classes focus on language development and reading concepts, such as phonics and vocabulary. Students explore research-approved methods for teaching literacy, the evolution of literacy instruction, and learning milestones during childhood.

Classroom Management

Degree-seekers learn strategies for developing positive classroom environments by exploring models, theories, and current research. Coursework emphasizes problem-solving and decision-making for creating and enforcing guidelines, motivating students, and preempting misbehavior.

Children's Play and Learning

Students examine the benefits of using play as an educational tool. Course topics may include ideas of relevant theorists, such as Parten and Piaget, as well as current research on play as a vehicle for learning.

Educational Psychology

Courses address psychological concepts related to education, such as memory and child development. Students learn to use this information to motivate learners toward success.


Special Education

Students learn to build specialized instructional plans for children with different cognitive, physical, and/or emotional abilities. Coursework explores the assessment of individual student profiles and may also address ethical and legal concerns in special education classrooms.

Language and Literacy

Degree-seekers study literacy concepts, like phonics and comprehension, as well as common instructional methods. Participants learn about various strategies to develop a versatile toolkit, enabling them to reach diverse students. Classes may also cover examples of children's literature and second language acquisition for ESL students.


STEM concentrations cover science, technology, engineering, and math concepts relevant to early childhood. Coursework surveys technology designed for early childhood classrooms, as well as strategies for teaching age-appropriate STEM concepts.

Administration and Leadership

Coursework within this concentration addresses pedagogy and learning needs for early childhood education. Classes may also cover organization and program design, preparing degree-seekers for administrative positions. Students also learn how to involve families and communities in the education process.

Instructional Technology

Students explore technologies that can be used to help teach early childhood subjects, such as counting, shape recognition, and literacy. Coursework also addresses the ethical, legal, and safety ramifications of using technology in early childhood classrooms.

What Can I Do With an Associate in Early Childhood Education?

Common roles for early childhood education associate degree-holders include preschool teachers and childcare workers. However, the managerial skills and child development knowledge learned in an associate program can also apply to other positions, such as camp counselors and event coordinators.

Graduates can also pursue a bachelor's degree or licenses and certifications to qualify for more advanced career opportunities.


Preschool Teachers

Preschool teachers help children prepare for kindergarten. They build lesson plans to teach concepts like number and color recognition and encourage social and cognitive development. Candidates must also assess children to determine if special needs exist.

Annual Median Salary: $31,930*

Teacher Assistants

Teacher assistants help educators by maintaining records, preparing classrooms for instruction, and helping students understand class lectures. These professionals may also oversee students during field trips and help teachers determine students' learning needs.

Annual Median Salary: $28,900*

Childcare Workers

Childcare workers prepare and oversee daily schedules that ensure safety and encourage growth in children. Responsibilities vary by age. Infants, for instance, require diaper changes, while school-aged children may need homework guidance.

Annual Median Salary: $25,460*

Recreation Workers

Recreation workers oversee camps, group outings, and events that may relate to health, arts, and/or physical activity. Early childhood education graduates may perform these tasks for organizations focusing on children. Possible careers include counselors and recreation leaders at children's camps.

Annual Median Salary: $28,440*

Social and Human Service Assistants

These assistants may focus on children and families, connecting clients with resources related to safety and wellbeing at home. For instance, assistants may help parents find childcare facilities or apply for financial assistance programs.

Annual Median Salary: $35,960*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose an Early Childhood Education Associate Program

Students should consider factors like available concentration options and course requirements when selecting an in-person or online degree in early childhood education.

Learners should also think about graduation timeframes and course delivery to make sure programs fit into their schedules. For instance, synchronous programs require real-time attendance, while asynchronous programs let students complete coursework at their convenience, so long as they meet deadlines.

Other important details include cost, a school's reputation, internship opportunities, and graduation rates.

How to Get Into an Early Childhood Education Associate Program

Admission generally requires a high school diploma (or the equivalent), and learners often need to complete some required pre-college classes. These courses usually cover topics like math, science, and English. Learners might also need a minimum GPA, such as a 2.0 or higher. Students may also be asked to submit an application fee and ACT or SAT scores.

Some institutions also expect applicants to turn in recommendation letters, a resume, a personal statement, and writing samples. Candidates may also need to undergo a criminal background check or interview.

How Long Does it Take to Get an Associate in Early Childhood Education?

Generally, an in-person or online associate degree in early childhood education calls for 60 credits. Students can complete these requirements by taking 15 credits during each spring and fall term over the course of two years.

To graduate more quickly, students can sometimes enroll in summer classes. Some schools also offer four or more shorter terms per year, providing accelerated graduation pathways. Institutions may also offer dual-credit opportunities where learners can begin working toward a college degree while still enrolled in high school.

Graduates may need to earn the child development associate credential or a teaching license for preschool teaching positions, depending on their location and employer.

How Much Does it Cost to Get an Associate in Early Childhood Education?

Community colleges offer associate degrees and typically charge lower tuition than four-year institutions. However, tuition varies depending on a variety of factors, such as school type and location — in-state public schools typically charge the lowest rates.

Departments may also charge online learners technological fees or offer them in-state rates, no matter where they live. Since tuition varies drastically, students should review schools' tuition and fees charts and select an institution that fits their budget.

Read More About Early Childhood Education on BestColleges

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Wondering which associate degree offers the biggest bang for its buck? Check out the 15 highest-paying associate degrees and the careers they can lead to. Looking for a job that doesn't require a bachelor's? Learn about 20 in-demand jobs you can get with a two-year degree. What questions should you be asking your high school guidance counselor? Find out what a director of college counseling has to say. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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