According to the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators (NAECTE), early childhood development--related certificates and training apply to individuals who work with children ages birth through eight years. Early childhood educators and childcare workers typically have specialized training in developmental theory and principles, learning characteristics and curriculum development. Training can be gained through an early childhood development program at the diploma, associates, bachelor's, or master's degree levels. Although these programs all generally focus on core developmental concepts, the degree of course work may vary greatly from basic knowledge to highly in-depth training on a specific age/developmental stage.
Working in a child development or early childhood education setting is not an easy task. Professional child development specialists must have a firm grasp of key concepts and theories that apply to children from birth through age eight. This includes knowledge of current theory and practices, developmental milestones, cultural implications of education, behavior management, conflict resolution, family and community resources and much more. Participating in an early childhood development certificate and/or training program can greatly impact the preparation of educators and child care workers, and thus impacts the actual level of care and instruction that the early childhood development specialist gives to the child. In an effort to address the need for quality child development/early childhood training, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has developed a list of accredited programs that must meet specific educational standards.
Beginning in the 1920s, Rose Alschuler, one of the founding NAEYC members, became a proponent of teacher preparation for early care settings. In the decades since, NAEYC has worked with multiple teachers, schools and child development organizations to create a position statement and set of standards for early childhood development training programs. The first formal teacher preparation/training standards were issued in 1982. These were followed by several rewrites that have been adjusted for the growing body of child development theory and practice knowledge. The most current standards were approved by NAEYC in 2009.
There is a frequent misconception that an early childhood education or development certificate is synonymous with being a certified or licensed teacher. Colleges and vocational training programs often use the word "certificate" to mean a specialized degree earned in an early childhood concentration of study. These programs are typically offered at the diploma or associates level, and consist of classes in basic areas of early childhood development. Individual schools have separate criteria for curriculum and degree requirements. Some may be as short as two semesters of study, while others may require two years of full-time course work and an internship. This differs from a teacher prep certification in that the holder of a certificate may not be eligible to be licensed by the state that he or she lives in. Early childhood teacher certification programs are usually bachelor's or master's degrees that include extended student teaching experiences and a more in-depth training curriculum. Graduates of a teacher certification program who fulfill individual state licensing requirements (these often vary by state), are eligible to teach in public and private school programs up to third grade.
Need for a Certificate or Certification
An early childhood development certificate is not always a prerequisite for working with young children in a child care center, preschool, or other education setting. While many states mandate specific educational and training requirements for individuals employed by early childhood educational facilities, such as a minimum degree or minimum numbers of years of child care experience, a teaching certificate (or state instructional licensure) is not always needed. Typically child development professionals can gain the necessary training needed for a certificate and employment through participating in quality early care preparation programs.
Finding Early Childhood Development Training
Many different educational institutions offer certificate and training programs in child development areas. These programs may not all be termed as "Early Childhood Development." Often similar courses of study are called early childhood education, childhood education, developmental psychology, child and family sciences, and other like names. To find an a quality program, individuals may want to consult NAEYC's list of accredited programs. This list provides the names of associates, bachelor's, or master's degrees at schools that have met the organization's standards for teacher preparation programs. Potential early childhood development students can find this list on NAEYC's website at naeyc.org.
Early Childhood Development Training Standards
NAEYC's standards for teacher preparation/training programs in early childhood development are comprised of six core areas related to building an effective educational knowledge base. These include child development and learning principles, developing family and community relationships, documentation and assessment, use of developmentally effective approaches and building meaningful curriculum. All standards are set in direct relation to supporting the learning, development and growth of the child. Any early childhood development certificate program should include all of these areas within the degree curriculum to assure quality training.
Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.