Why does early childhood education matter?
There are many reasons for choosing a career path. Money, fulfillment, and personal and professional goals are all good reasons. Knowing that the career you choose is meaningful is another good reason. If that last one matters to you, then the field of early childhood education is a good choice. Few fields of endeavor can be said to be as meaningful to as many people, or to have as lasting an impact.
We all know that getting an education matters. It can be a child’s ticket out of poverty. It can make the difference between just getting by, and doing really well in life. It can mean the difference between simply having a “job” and having a fulfilling career. You understand this first hand, or you wouldn’t be here researching advanced degrees and planning your own educational journey.
But, when people talk about “education,” they’re usually focusing on the importance of finishing high school or earning a college degree. The truth is, the foundation for learning success throughout life starts well before college, before high school, and even before that first day of first grade. It starts during those early childhood years.
And, the influence of education during that time period reaches far beyond the individual child. Communities that have added high-quality early childhood education programs see higher academic success rates in later years, lower crime rates, and even higher property values. Few professions can claim to have as far reaching an influence as that.
If you want to be part of this exciting time in children’s lives, if you want to have a hand in giving them an invaluable, life-long learning edge, then keep reading. Below is all the information you need to start your own educational journey toward learning to help young children as they start on theirs.
Do you have what it takes?
Still not sure if pursuing a master of early childhood education is right for you? Consider the questions below. Some of them represent personality traits, others represent life experiences. Answering them as honestly as you can will help you decide if earning an advanced degree is the next best step on your career path.
- Have you always loved children and cared deeply about their early development? – Understanding the importance of the work that early childhood educators do is what gives working in the career its value. You have to have the understanding that working with children in this age range is so much more than “babysitting.” It has a lifelong impact on those children and their futures.
- Are you patient? – Children who fall into the early childhood education category are infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Some people find children at this age charming and engaging. Others may find their limited attention spans and vocabularies simply too challenging to work with. Which are you?
- Do you work well with parents, other teachers and administrators? – Very few professions operate in a vacuum. Early childhood education is always a collaborative event. Whether you’re in administration, direct education or research, you will need to work well with other people and be open to their input.
- Are you currently working in a preschool setting, and thinking of moving into an administrative role? – Current experience in the field sets you a step above someone who is only thinking in an abstract way about working with very young children. You already understand some of the challenges, as well as some of the rewards.
- Would you like to work in early childhood curriculum design? – Are you already working with young children? And do you like to come up with fun, exciting, and innovative ways to reach them and help them explore the world? Then curriculum design might appeal to you. With a master degree you could enter this field, and your ideas about learning would be used by many teachers and in many classrooms. What a way to have a positive impact on the world of early learning.
- Do you love working with young children – and recognize the importance of the work – but would like to earn more money? – Some jobs in the early childhood education field are only open to someone with a master degree. By earning an advanced degree in the field, those employment opportunities, and the higher pay levels that come with them, will be available to you.
- Would you like to have a wider range of influence? – There’s nothing wrong with knowing you’re good at something and wanting to share that information with others in a way that has broad impact. With an advanced degree, you will be able to move into teaching, research or even policy making, and see your ideas spread to a huge number of children and their families, touching many more people and lives than you could as a hands-on, early childhood teacher.
- Would you like to have a hand in training the next generation of early childhood educators? – Working as a teacher or textbook writer, you could share your insights and expertise with others who are looking for impactful ways to reach children in these early and important years of learning.
What types of jobs are available to someone with a master of early childhood education?
Knowing what types of jobs are available, and the kinds of duties each job entails, is another way of assessing whether or not a career in early childhood education is a good fit for you. Here are a few of the positions that will be available once you earn your master degree:
- Early childhood curriculum coordinator – Young children learn best by playing, it’s true, but that play needs to have a purpose. In the preschool setting, the curriculum coordinator is in charge of planning and implementing activities designed with specific age groups and learning goals in mind. Other duties could include explaining learning goals to parents so they understand the importance of meaningful play, stocking classrooms and play areas with learning toys that children can discover during free time, and locating and supplying the materials and books that teachers in the program will use.
- Early childhood education specialist – Rather than working within a single classroom, the early childhood education specialist offers resources to staff, administration and parents within a single preschool or across an entire school district. In this capacity, they coordinate ECE services, focusing on program requirements and the eligibility of students. They may also serve as the contact person for teachers, administrators, parents and other personnel, providing information about instructional programs, testing data, and state and federal regulations. They may also help in assessing the effectiveness of the various ECE programs being offered and aid with staff training.
- Early learning pilot coordinator – Usually at the head of a district-wide early learning initiative, the pilot coordinator will aid teachers and administrators in their understanding of early childhood education and its importance. The coordinator may also monitor compliance with early learning goals, help teachers develop high-quality instructional programs, help administrators increase family involvement and help administrators and teachers analyze data concerning their early childhood education practices, and then use that information to create better programs in the future.
- Early learning resource and referral coordinator – Collaborating with families, childcare providers and the community as a whole, resource coordinators work to find affordable and high quality childcare options. They usually screen families with children in the early childhood age range, help with the federal and local application processes, and then refer those families to the most appropriate care and educational programs for their children. Resource and referral coordinators also establish relationships with educators and care providers in the community, creating a database of available programs and screening tools.
- Hospital preschool director – Today more and more hospitals are coming to recognize the educational needs of children who are hospitalized for long-term care, those being treated for cancer, for instance, or recovering from serious injuries. To that end, many hospitals are now providing educational opportunities to these children right in the hospital setting in the form of preschools. These preschools need directors to organize the classes, oversee the curriculum, design enriching and age-appropriate learning opportunities, create a warm and welcoming environment for the children enrolled in the program, and hire and train staff members.
- Early childhood education program coordinator – A program coordinator can have a hand in a wide range of activities that support early education teachers and programs. They can be charged with reviewing and implementing curriculum standards; hiring, supervising and mentoring program staff; creating and conducting continuing education classes for educators; researching and preparing grant proposals; and even mentoring and recruiting new teachers.
- Director of faculty development – Sometimes called the chief academic officer, the director of faculty development would be in charge of finding and implementing support programs, resources and training opportunities for the faculty of an early learning center or school system. The director would need to have team-building skills, creating a collaborative environment for the teaching staff and helping them communicate with other members of management when there is a problem to be solved. They may also help find and assess learning programs, as well as attract and hire new teachers.
- Early childhood education site supervisor - As the chief administrator of a single early childhood learning center, the site supervisor is in charge of supervising and evaluating staff, monitoring state and local educational compliance issues, assisting in curriculum development, hiring and firing teaching and support staff, conducting staff training, overseeing the enrollment of children, and communicating effectively and compassionately with their parents.
- Local, state or national policy maker advisor – The different learning theories are often hotly debated by our legislators. And these debates are not just theoretical. They have real impact in the form of laws and regulations, on real children – with lasting and lifelong consequences on their abilities to lead happy, productive lives and find good and fulfilling jobs. Policymakers from local school boards clear up to the federal level need experts in the field of early childhood education to guide them as they make these important decisions.
But, is it worth earning a master degree in early childhood education?
The worth of a master degree in any field can be measured in a number of ways: The feeling of accomplishment it brings you. Knowing you have reached an advanced level of understanding in a field you feel passionate about. Positioning yourself for future career advancements. Knowing that you have done all you can to make yourself an expert in the field. Only you can decide whether or not these traits – or others – matter enough to you to continue your education.
A more empirical measurement of the worth of a master degree is also available. You can look at how much more you stand to earn once you have your degree. Not every career path shows an increased income with an increase in education. According to the article "Should I Get a Master's Degree?" posted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), however, in the field of education, earning a master degree does correspond with an increase in earning power. Preschool teachers, for example, earned on average in 2013, $30,000. Those working with a master degree that year earned 43 percent more, or $43,000. That’s a net increase of $13,000.
For educational administrators, including administrators in early childhood education, the increase was even greater. Those with a bachelor degree earned in 2013, on average, $52,000. That rose to $75,000 for those with a master degree, a jump of 44 percent with a net increase of $23,000. Furthermore, only 23 percent of educational administrators had bachelor degrees – a full 46 percent of them held a master degree. This shows the importance of that degree in the administrative field.
To give you another way of looking at potential income levels, here are some average income stats for 2016 by career title, also from the BLS:
- Preschool center director - $45,790
- Early childhood education instructional coordinator - $62,460
- Pre-K or kindergarten school principal - $92,510
- Early childhood special education teacher - $57,910
- Postsecondary teacher (teaching teachers) - $75,430
To earn your master degree in early childhood education, most programs will require you to choose an area of concentration. Areas of concentration can include topics such as administration, curriculum development, teaching, or diversity and inclusion.
When choosing a program, make sure that it is accredited by agencies such as the National Association of Education of Young Children or the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. This will ensure the quality and integrity of the program. Finding a program that offers online learning is also a plus, especially if you are already working in the field and plan to continue working while you earn your degree.
Will there be a job waiting for me when I graduate with my master of early childhood education?
Feeling passionate about your career choice – and even being eager to start earning your master degree – is important, but knowing there’s likely to be a job opening waiting for you once you graduate matters, too.
So let’s look around. Here are a few jobs that turned up at the time this article was written, using well-known job search sites like Monster and Indeed, and search terms such as “master of early childhood education,” “early childhood curriculum,” “preschool director,” and “early childhood learning.”
- Jeffco Public Schools, Wheat Ridge, Colorado – Wanted to hire a Program Specialist to work within their early childhood education program, performing academic assessments, finding and implementing curriculum changes, managing resources, and helping design and improve classroom environments.
- Cross of Christ Preschool and Kindergarten, Broomfield, Colorado – Needed to fill the position of Preschool Director. They needed someone who understood creative curriculum and early childhood educational assessments, and who could attend monthly preschool and kindergarten board meetings.
- Tri-county Head Start, Durango, Colorado – Was looking for a Head Start Center Director to work with other education specialists at the early learning center, to supervise activities and to help develop their early childhood development programs.
- KinderCare Learning Centers, Lone Tree, Colorado - Needed to hire an Infant Nursery Supervisor to coach other educators, implement their early learning curriculum, create a safe and nurturing environment for students, and cultivate relationships with parents, teachers and state licensing boards.
- Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Denver Early Childhood Education Center, Denver, Colorado – Was in need of a Center Director to ensure that the program met state and federal standards, to prepare and administer the program budget, to manage general invoicing and the collection of parent fees, and to reach out to eligible children and their families for possible enrollment.
- The Family Development Center, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Colorado – Needed to hire a Director to oversee the center, which serves as both a daycare facility for children aged one to five, but also as a practicum and study site for the university’s early childhood education students.
You can start your own search using the same search terms. To explore an even wider range of employment options, type in any of the job titles discussed earlier in this article. Then hit “enter.” Can you see yourself filling one – or more! – of the jobs that come up? Does it feel like a good fit? If so, then you know that early childhood education is the field where you belong.