The study of Early Childhood Education (ECE) traditionally covers the ages of 0–8 years old, a timeframe that takes a child from birth through the second or third grade. These years are critical to a child’s development, and those who choose ECE as a profession must be prepared to enter the workforce with a fundamental understanding of how to take care of kids, how to talk to them, how to teach them, and how to help them reach their full potential as they grow older.
For those who want to enter this field as soon as possible, the Associate of Arts (AA) in Early Childhood Education degree can lay the foundation for a lasting career. Read on to learn more about what an AA in early childhood education is and how it can set you on your path to career success.
What Is an AA in Early Childhood Education?
An associate of arts degree is a two-year program that may prepare you to enter the workforce immediately after graduation while serving as a steppingstone toward your bachelor’s degree.
If your intended career path involves working with children in a preschool or childcare setting, your AA in early childhood education will help you develop the skills you need to compete for a number of in-demand jobs. Upon graduating with your associate in ECE from an online university such as the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC), for example, you will be able to:
- Apply knowledge of child development, theoretical perspectives, and developmentally appropriate approaches to support the diverse learning needs of every child
- Determine how assessment data is used to inform curriculum and instructional practices
- Analyze the components of effective classroom management and high-quality learning environments that are healthy, safe, respectful, supportive, and culturally responsive
- Describe strategies to promote effective family and community partnerships
- Identify the professional standards and ethical behaviors necessary to maintain a commitment to professionalism and growth as an early childhood educator
What Are the Critical Skills Early Childhood Educators Need?
In ECE, you will work with children and their families, and you will need essential skills such as critical thinking, active listening, and compassion when building relationships.
As the vast majority of your work will likely take place in the classroom, you will want to create what the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) describes as a “caring, equitable community of engaged learners.” To create a community of engaged learners, NAEYC has put forth these guidelines and principles for caretakers:
- Uphold the unique value and dignity of each child and family
- Recognize each child’s unique strengths and support the full inclusion of all children — given differences in culture, family structure, language, racial identity, gender, abilities and disabilities, religious beliefs, or economic class
- Develop trusting relationships with children and nurture relationships among them while building on their knowledge and skills
- Consider the developmental, cultural, and linguistic appropriateness of the learning environment and your teaching practices for each child
- Involve children, families, and the community in the design and implementation of learning activities
- Actively promote children’s agency (provide rich and meaningful play)
- Scaffold children’s learning to achieve meaningful goals
- Design and implement learning activities using language(s) that the children understand
- Recognize and be prepared to provide different levels of support to different children depending on what they need
- Consider how your own biases (implicit and explicit) may be contributing to your interactions and the messages you are sending children
- Use multi-tiered systems of support
What Courses Will I Take in My AA in Early Childhood Education Program?
Your associate degree in early childhood education will immerse you in foundational ECE topics, including development, learning assessment, special learners, and instructional strategy. For example, your coursework at UAGC will include:
Introduction to Early Childhood Education
This course provides an overview of the field of early childhood education including history, philosophy, advocacy, public policy, issues, trends, and careers. This course was designed to expose students to key concepts and competencies in early childhood education (ECE) and professionally relevant activities that will support them in the exploration of the early childhood education career field. The course introduces students to methods used for building their own philosophy of education based on learning theory and learning models.
Professional Responsibilities in the Early Childhood Environment
The course examines key topics related to high-quality early learning environments. In this course, students will discuss ways to involve families in the health, safety, and nutritional growth of their children. Students will also utilize their knowledge of developmentally appropriate practices to plan for high-quality learning environments for young children. Finally, this course examines administrative practices, workforce issues, professional standards, and ethical behaviors associated with operating a high-quality early childhood environment.
Introduction to Early Childhood Behavior Management
This course will address age-appropriate behavioral expectations. Challenging behaviors will be identified as well as strategies to assist with classroom management. Strategies to increase positive self-esteem as well as strategies to assist with classroom management will be examined. Students will also apply the understanding of how planning and assessment will be utilized to address challenging behaviors in the classroom. The final paper will include creating a behavior plan to address a child’s needs.
Introduction to Curriculum and Instruction for the Early Childhood Classroom
This course examines the relationship between curriculum, instruction, and assessment. This course is designed to provide students with the opportunity to apply developmentally appropriate practices to lessons. In addition, students will create lessons that are inclusive of culture and individual differences. Finally, students will apply knowledge of aligning professional standards to the curriculum and to the classroom. The final project will include a comprehensive curriculum plan.
Introduction to Child Development
This course examines the principles of child development from birth to age 8. Students will discuss the major developmental stages, domains, and milestones of child development. Students will also analyze how developmental stages, domains of development, and knowledge of theories support developmentally appropriate practices. Using their knowledge of developmentally appropriate practices, students will describe environments that nurture the physical, socio-emotional, language, and cognitive growth of every child. Students will conduct observations to plan developmentally appropriate instruction that supports children’s individual needs. Finally, students will explore the importance of family involvement in supporting growth and development of young learners.
How Long Will it Take to Earn My AA in Early Childhood Education?
An associate degree program is designed to be completed in just over half the time of a four-year bachelor’s degree and is comprised of core courses, general education courses, and elective courses – adding up to 67 credits.
You may be able to shorten your path to graduation, however, if your school allows transfer credits. UAGC, for example, allows you to transfer up to 49 approved credits*, which can include previous college credits or those earned through job training or military service. Further, upon completing your degree at UAGC, you can transfer credits toward one of the school’s bachelor’s degree programs.
Can I Earn My AA in Early Childhood Education Online?
If you’re seeking a flexible option to earn your associate of arts in early childhood education, an online degree may be right for you. Schedules at online universities (and traditional schools offering online programs) vary, but at UAGC, you will take one online five week course at a time, , allowing you to graduate with your AA in ECE in just over two years.
What Are My Career Options with an AA in Early Childhood Education?
An associate degree in early childhood education can prepare you for a number of entry-level roles in classrooms, preschools, or other childcare settings. Among them:
A teacher assistant is typically assigned to work with a licensed teacher in a classroom setting, offering assistance to the teacher and the students. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the agency that analyzes and reports employment data, as many as 136,400 new teacher assistant roles will need to be filled each year in the U.S., on average, through the end of the decade.
The role of a teacher assistant involves:
- Reinforcing lessons by reviewing material with students one-on-one or in small groups
- Following school and class rules to teach students proper behaviors
- Helping teachers with recordkeeping, such as taking attendance and calculating grades
- Getting equipment or materials ready to help teachers prepare for lessons
- Supervising students outside of the classroom, such as in between classes, during lunch and recess, and on field trips
Other opportunities you can pursue with your associate degree in ECE include:
- Childcare provider
- Camp counselor
- Recreation coordinator
- Infant/toddler caregiver
- Home visitor
What Are My Bachelor’s Degree Options with an AA in Early Childhood Education?
If you begin your academic journey with your associate degree in ECE, you can pursue a number of paths in the field of education. Degrees you may consider include:
- Bachelor of Arts in Child Development
- Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Development with Differentiated Instruction
- Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education
- Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education Administration
- Bachelor of Arts in Education Studies
- Bachelor of Arts in Instructional Design
I’m Ready to Get Started, What’s Next?
Working in childcare and ECE can be a rewarding and lasting career, as there will always be a demand for qualified educators to help children develop and reach their full potential. If you’re ready to begin, speak to an advisor about your Associate of Arts degree in Early Childhood Education today.
Written by University Staff
Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.
An online degree from the University of Arizona Global Campus does not lead to immediate teacher licensure in any state. If you want to become a classroom teacher, contact your state's education authorities before enrolling at the University of Arizona Global Campus to determine what state-specific requirements you must complete before obtaining your teacher's license.