Early childhood education is a subset of psychology that offers many degree options and career paths for students interested in working in the field. No matter what role you’re after, you will need a keen understanding of how the human mind works in regards to learning and the different ways you can assess and modify behavior for children in the age group you are working with. No matter which of the career paths described below you choose, there are some common traits of workers in this field that can help spur success.
If you have strong communication skills and have the ability to communicate complex thoughts in simple ways, you will have an easier time connecting with children. With kids at a young age, there are many types of learners and styles of teaching that will need to be applied, depending on the mental and physical needs of the child. Having the ability to express your thoughts with patience and empathy are critical in every career path in the field. Regardless of which occupation you teach, you will need an early childhood education degree. Continue reading for more info and to figure out which degree path may be best.
Educators who want to make a difference in children’s lives, and make an impact in their local school systems can thrive in early childhood education. Although the careers described below are important, you can aim to work in leadership roles, helping make sure educational standards are as high as they can be.
Having the experience of working in one of the following career choices can give you first-hand experience and ideas for how to implement organizational improvements.
Additionally, with the rising population and growing diversity among student populations, career opportunities should continue to grow in the coming years. The need for quality educators in every facet of the field will continue with these changes. As you read the information below, and learn what it’s like to work a day in the life of these roles, consider which career path is best for you. Then you can take the next step and contact campus and online programs that can help you start your educational and career journey.
As you can imagine, it can take a great deal of energy and love for being around young children to succeed as a preschool teacher. Children at this age are full of wonder, excitement, anxiety, and curiosity about the new world around them. Although there are many types of preschools with different teaching methods, you will find that most environments depend on some form of structure to each day to keep children balanced and reduce anxiety.
When you are just starting your day in this role, things can be hectic. Remember, you are dealing with around 20-30 children, sometimes more, being dropped off around similar times, accompanied by their parents who may have instructions or information they need to share with you that can impact your day. You may have to remember that one child needs medication around noon, another child has a food allergy, while another child may be on the autism spectrum and require their own unique approach to behavior assessment and modification.
In this role, communication is a must if you want to inspire intellectual curiosity. That’s why you may find yourself teaching from less of a “this is how it is” perspective, and instead ask open-ended questions that inspire them to create their own logic and come to their own conclusions, no matter where their minds lead.
Although your facility will have its own schedule, you can expect to conduct group work and individual work that sparks development in basic skills, including literacy. This may be limited to sounds, shapes, colors, at first, but as children reach 4-5, literacy skills will be worked on. You may be reading to the entire group one minute, and then conducting one-on-one reading practice the next.
Throughout your day you will have to remember to observe behavior constantly. This aspect of your role will never cease. Whether you are watching the children read, do activities, have lunch, or play at recess, observation is the driving force behind your assessment and modification practices to improve student performance.
Because children tend to have wild imaginations and are just seeing so much of the world for the first time, it is imperative that you bring your own sense of humor and try to relax in this role. Children at the preschool level can be highly sensitive to criticism and feel shame over things you may consider small or minor.
At the end of each day, you should take time to reflect on your experiences with the children you teach. You want to be sure you don’t become rigid in your role, and you will need to adapt your learning style the more you learn about your students. And just remember, there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ day when you are working as a preschool teacher. At this time in their lives, students are developing their immune systems, and you will find yourself trying to combat the spread of cold, flu, lice and other common health concerns that can quickly spread throughout these environments.
Being a kindergarten teacher is an interesting profession because you are helping students adapt to the elementary school level, which can be very exciting and nerve-wrecking at the same time. In your role, you can haven an opportunity to help students bridge the transition to feeling like ‘a big kid’ successfully.
Your day will most likely begin before the students even set foot in your classroom. This is when you will have a rare moment of quiet time in your day to prepare that day’s lesson and analyze the previous day’s outcome. You may make notes to help you remember things you learn about specific children that relate to their learning style, which can help you be more effective going forward. Because children in student populations come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, many public schools offer a breakfast or snack time around mid-morning, since food can have such an effect on mood and nutrition is linked to brain function.
Group work is just as important as individual work at this age. You will find yourself developing group activities that teach the kids how to work together with as little conflict and as high performance as possible. Reading skills are essential to start developing at the kindergarten level. While teaching the kids to read you will work in groups and one-on-one. Some of your kids will have come from pre-K environments that have already given them advanced literacy skills for their age. Other children will have come from a home or daycare setting that did not focus on reading skills. This is just one of many examples of how you will have to be ready to adapt throughout your day to help children with all levels od capabilities become successful in the various subject you teach.
Teachers at all grade levels often have to take turns monitoring recess and lunch breaks. If you are not responsible for that, you can take this time to look over assignments, catch your breath and enjoy your own lunch, or prepare for the rest of the day’s activities.
Some kindergarten schedules are only a half day, while others go a full day. In full day programs, students generally have a nap time after lunch, which can give you additional time to catch up on lesson planning. The rest of the day will be structured according to your school’s curriculum design. The day will end with you checking homework, calling parents, or interacting with your peers and administrators to report progress.
When you work as a 1st through 3rd grade teacher, you will be responsible for opening up a world of new subject matter for your students. These are the years when they will start exploring areas, such as science, social studies. If you plan on this type of career path, you may want to take subject specific teaching courses in your early childhood education program.
Your day will most likely be broken up into the core areas: math, reading, writing, and history. Other classes, such as art, physical education, and computer technology may be offered on specific days. With the increasing role of technology in young students’ lives, learning how to use computers is becoming a part of most elementary curriculum, even starting as early as kindergarten.
In the afternoon, students typically have their “elective” type classes, which should give you an opportunity to take a break and catch up on your lesson plans. As your day winds down, you will start preparing students for the next day’s lessons, and organizing bulletins, notices and other communication that may need to go home with students.
Working at these grade levels can also give opportunities for teachers to work with special needs children and those who display exceptional learning ability. If you want to work in specialized areas, you may need additional certification. And if you are a master’s degree holder, your day may include assessing the progress and performance of other teachers and their students, then communicating your findings to administrators to help shape changes for improved performance.
Many students of early childhood education start out as daycare workers while they complete their degree and certifications to work in other pre-K or elementary school settings. Some begin in this role in hopes of one day opening their own daycare facility or managing an existing one.
The type of work you perform may overlap between types of facilities, but some daycare difference are sure to be found if you compare enough places. Some are learning based and others are simply childcare focused and play structured. Regardless of the type of school, you will most likely be responsible for helping keep children on schedule.
In your role, you will have to be patient, empathetic towards children of all needs and abilities, and able to multitask many things at once. You may be responsible for giving medicine or inspiring clean-up after an activity one minute, and monitoring lunch or conducting reading activities. Your day will be spend on your toes, with the exception of nap-time, which generally occurs after lunch.
Art and music may be a part of the program for children who are 2-5. Although you may not give very much structure or apply a grading system to these activities, they will help children learn to express their personalities in unique ways, and learn that school can be fun. If you are caring for newborns and 1-2 year olds, you might be spending a lot of your day changing diapers, holding napping children, and bottle-feeding.
Another aspect of working in daycare is making sure you communicate effectively with parents. You will need to keep a notebook of all your day’s notable events. With so many children you have to look after, you will want to be sure you keep good track of everything you need to talk about. You will also need to know how to spot signs of sickness and behavior that needs attention and redirection. As a daycare worker, this can be the boot camp you need to start working with all kinds of children in a variety of grade levels. If you speak a second language, your skills may be even more attractive to the growing number of daycares that include children from diverse backgrounds. The same principle applies if you have skills in the area of special education, such as autism or physical disabilities.
If you want to know more about what to expect in these roles, or others you may acquire in the field of early childhood education, the best thing you can do now is inquire about several programs to compare their curriculum and professional outcomes. There are online early childhood education degrees and campus programs that offer affordable, accredited programs that can prepare you for licensure and the skills you need to be successful.