By now we have heard about how critical the first five years of a child’s life are to their future success. How their brain grows and develops is based on a variety of factors, including the environments to which they are exposed and how nurturing and responsive the relationships are that they have with adult caregivers. High-quality early childhood education has relationships at the heart of the teaching. Studies have shown a correlation between higher teacher qualifications and quality early childhood education. A childcare program will be able to tell you the minimum requirements for each educational staff member - teachers, assistant teachers, program aides/floater teachers and substitute teachers. They will also be able to tell you how they ensure their staff members stay current with the credentials that they have, if applicable.
Whether a program is located within a center or within a home, it must comply with the state’s licensing standards of minimum credential requirements for childcare staff. Without this, a childcare program cannot be licensed to operate. You can find your state’s childcare standards on their licensing website. As these are minimum standards, programs can choose to have more stringent requirements for their staff. If you are touring a program, be sure this is on your list of questions to ask your guide!
There are various types of early childhood teacher credentials that educators can obtain to demonstrate their qualifications and expertise in working with young children. Here are some of the most common types.
Child Development Associate (CDA): The CDA is a widely recognized credential in the United States that demonstrates competence in working with children aged birth to five years. It is awarded by the Council for Professional Recognition after a successful formal observation and professional portfolio review. Educators can receive a CDA in family childcare, center-based infant and toddler and/or center-based preschool.
Associate's Degree in Early Childhood Education: An associate's degree in early childhood education is a two-year program offered by many colleges and universities. It provides a comprehensive understanding of child development, curriculum planning, and teaching strategies for young children. This degree program combines theoretical knowledge with practical experiences in early childhood settings, preparing educators for various roles in preschools, daycare centers, and early intervention programs.
Bachelor's Degree in Early Childhood Education: A bachelor's degree in early childhood education is a four-year program that delves deeper into early childhood education theories, research, and practical teaching experiences. This degree offers a more extensive knowledge base. It often includes coursework in child psychology, educational leadership, assessment and evaluation, and inclusive education.
Teaching License or Certification: Preschools that are a part of the town’s school district require preschool teachers to obtain a teaching license or certification from the state. The requirements for licensure or certification vary by state but often involve completing a specific set of education courses, field experiences, and passing licensing exams. These credentials ensure that educators have met certain standards and possess the necessary knowledge and skills to effectively teach young children. These credentials typically involve completing a specific set of education courses, field experiences, and passing licensing exams. Preschool classes that are inclusion or self-contained require teachers with additional credentials in special education. These credentials focus on strategies for supporting children with diverse learning needs, including those with developmental delays, disabilities, or behavioral challenges.
Montessori Certification: Montessori credentials are specific to teachers who follow the Montessori educational philosophy developed by Dr. Maria Montessori. These credentials are awarded by Montessori training organizations and demonstrate proficiency in implementing the Montessori approach in the classroom. Montessori training typically involves a series of courses, practical training, and observation, focusing on its principles, materials, and instructional methods.
It's important to note that the requirements and titles of these credentials may vary depending on the state in which you are located. Additionally, there may be other specialized credentials or certifications available that staff may hold, and a program should be able to speak to how that certification enhances the teaching practices within the classroom.
For more resources to bring with you during an initial childcare program tour, be sure to check out our interview guide - the most comprehensive list of questions in the areas of licensing, health/nutrition, family involvement, and education!