Early childhood education refers to child care and preschool programs that are structured to meet the needs of children from birth to five years of age. There are no national requirements for teachers of young children. Individual states set their own requirements for certification. Most states and localities require early childhood educators to have a Child Development Associate's credential (CDA). Some employers prefer their teachers have an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in early childhood education.

CDA Coursework Requirements

In order to enter a CDA training program, candidates must be at least eighteen years of age and have a high school diploma. Coursework requirements differ from state to state. However, most states require around 120 clock hours of early childhood training. Since a typical college course takes around 45 clock hours, this is the equivalent of three to four standard college courses.

CDA Field Experience

In order to earn the CDA credential, an individual must work as a lead teacher in an approved early childhood setting. Teachers must work 480 hours in a state-approved setting to earn their CDA certification. This experience must have taken place within the past five years.

AAS Requirements

An associate's degree in early childhood development typically takes around two years to complete. The associate's degree is normally 60 credit hours or roughly 20 college courses. This translates to about 900 clock hours. About half of the coursework involves early childhood education courses while the other half is liberal arts core classes, including English composition, humanities, and math. Six credit hours of the degree is usually clinical or field experience. This is the actual time spent working with children in early childhood settings is around ninety clock hours.


CDA programs differ from AAS programs in the amount of coursework versus field experience required. The CDA is primarily intended for individuals who are already teaching young children that require some training to supplement their hands-on experience. The AAS is aimed toward students who are not in the field working with children yet, or who intend to continue their education by transferring their credits to a four-year college and pursuing a bachelor's degree in early childhood education. CDA candidates are also required to develop a professional resource file. Depending upon the state, AAS candidates may or may not develop this file during their training.

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