A growing understanding of child development has made it clear just how important the stages of early childhood can be to a person's well-being later in life. A degree program in psychology, early education or related fields can prepare you to work as a teacher, childcare director, community worker or other professional responsible for shaping a healthy environment for children.
Child Development Degrees
Degree plans that include child development courses can be found at multiple academic levels, with varying depth and intensity of study appropriate to the complexity of the program. Many people who are interested in child development can earn their degree in early childhood education. Here's a brief list of career paths commonly available with each level of education:
- Non-degree vocational/training certificate: Nanny, nursery school teacher
- Associate degree: Child care center worker, preschool teacher, elementary teacher's assistant
- Bachelor's degree: Kindergarten or elementary school teacher, community services specialist, youth counselor, child care center director
- Master's degree: Elementary and secondary educational leadership, policymaker, independent consultancy, university professorship
- Doctorate (Ph.D.): Independent research positions, university department leadership
"Typically, the course load for a traditional full time student is about 16 units, or four 4-unit courses," says Cindy Olivas, Ed.D., associate professor and interim child development program chair at the University of La Verne in California. "Beginning coursework requires students to observe young children to learn more about their developmental milestones and emotional attachments. Advanced courses require students to implement specific course content and skills learned in each class such as planning and delivering developmentally appropriate lessons, interviewing families, and working with seasoned teachers to strengthen personal skill-level in guiding children's behaviors and modifying children's care routines to meet individual needs."
Child development courses also frequently include a fieldwork portion, Olivas says. "The average fieldwork expectation per 4-unit course is 15 hours. Although intensive at times, the fieldwork experiences offer students opportunities to get a realistic idea of what a career in child development entails."
Child Development Career Outlook
"The most common educational path chosen by individuals interested in child development is to become a teacher of young children birth through 8 years old," said Olivas. "However, the degree leads itself to many diverse opportunities in early care and education. Careers may include parent and child educators in family services programs, parks and recreations, special education programs, hospitals, and other organizations, agencies, and educational systems that focus on the education, development, and emotional wellbeing of children and families."
Here's a table of some common child development careers, along with their educational requirements and salary and job growth info as published by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
|Job title||Mean salary|
|Childcare worker||$19,510||14%||High school diploma or non-degree certification|
|Preschool/childcare center director||$43,950||17%||Bachelor's degree|
|Kindergarten teacher||$50,120||12%||Bachelor's degree|
|Instructional coordinator||$60,050||13%||Master's degree|
|Elementary school counselor||$60,560||12%||Master's degree|
|Developmental psychologist||$90,020||11%||Doctoral degree|
Aside from formal education, experience in the field may be required for many types of child development positions. Cindy Olivas recommends that aspiring child development professionals volunteer in the line of work they're hoping to pursue, either during or before entering their degree program.
"A career in child development also requires self-motivation," Cindy Olivas says, "motivation to meet professional development requirements, to keep current in early childhood education research, and to be knowledgeable of important issues occurring in the profession. The career also requires individuals to be responsible, empathetic, trusting, reliable, and resourceful. Loving children is a start, but the child development career path demands so much more."
Choosing the Right Schools
Particularly if you're planning to take online child development courses as a part of your degree plan, work to make sure the school of your choice has been accredited by a legitimate regional or national agency. Accreditation is a type of organized recognition that guarantees that the programs offered at a certain institution meet the same set of quality standards as any established, traditional college or university.
It's also important to choose a delivery method that works for you. "I feel both on-line and face-to-face coursework have advantages for students," said Olivas. "When students are able to choose a delivery option that meets their specific learning style, the outcomes are more successful for students and faculty. Personally, I prefer hybrid courses. I think they offer a nice balance of face-to-face interaction along with individual student time commitment and opportunity to access course content."
Online degrees have come to be respected on par with their campus-based counterparts, in most cases, thanks in large part to strong pushes for accreditation and accountability among schools that serve degrees online. Child development courses taken in the virtual classroom are often more affordable and easier to schedule than those offered on campus, but make sure that the institution's accredited before you enroll.
- Bachelor of Science in Child Development, University of La Verne, accessed July 29, 2015, http://laverne.edu/education/degree-programs/bachelor-of-science-in-child-development/
- Master of Science in Child Development, University of La Verne, accessed July 29, 2015, http://laverne.edu/catalog/program/ms-child-development/
- Master of Science in Psychology, Child and Adolescent Development Specialization, Capella University, accessed July 29, 2015, http://www.capella.edu/online-degrees/masters-child-adolescent-development/courses/
- The Bachelor of Arts in Child Development, California State University Chico, accessed July 29, 2015, http://catalog.csuchico.edu/viewer/CHLD/CHLDNONEBA.html
- "What Can I Do with a Child Development Associate Degree?," Learn.org, accessed July 29, 2015, http://catalog.csuchico.edu/viewer/CHLD/CHLDNONEBA.html
- Child Development Associate (CDA) Training Certificate, Penn Foster Career School, accessed July 29, 2015, http://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/counseling-and-human-development/child-development-associate-cda-certificate
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed July 29, 2015: Childcare Workers, http://www.bls.gov/
- Interview, Cindy Olivas, July 30, 2015