What Does an Early Childhood Educator Do? (With Examples)

Updated July 20, 2023

Early childhood educators are a vital component of childhood education in the United States. These employees can affect young children throughout their time both during and after their programs, whether they serve as assistants or directly teach children themselves. Working in these positions can allow early childhood educators to creatively instruct and encourage children to learn.

In this article, we discuss what an early childhood educator is, what they do and the national average salary and skills of this role.

What is an early childhood educator?

An early childhood educator is a teacher who instructs children from pre-kindergarten through third or fourth grade. Early childhood educators can teach any grade ranging from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade, though typically they work with pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first-grade students. These educators can work in a variety of settings, including private schools, public schools and daycare centers.

To work in these kinds of positions, you often require teaching credentials, which may involve earning a teaching license for your state. Educators can also take additional coursework focused on special education to assist special needs students during their early educational journey.

Read more: 10 Careers in Early Childhood Education

What does an early childhood educator do?

Early childhood educators fulfill a variety of tasks to help enrich the student learning process. They may create lesson plans that are age-appropriate for students, assist them directly with homework questions and perform individual evaluations to make sure students are properly progressing. They may also have parent conferences and refer parents to additional school services, comply with any state testing or training requested by the state or administration and guide students through the school day following the posted schedule.

Early childhood educators may also provide space for children to engage in play-based learning and social-emotional development as both are important in early childhood development. Sometimes, children may also have trauma and early childhood educators may play an important part in helping children overcome it. As an early childhood educator, it's important to use evidence-based approaches to teaching, as those can have the greatest effects on students.

Read more: What Is Early Childhood Education?

How to become an early childhood educator

Becoming an early childhood educator introduces you to a position that can allow you to directly affect the education and life experience of your students. Below is a list of the steps you can take to become an early childhood educator:

1. Complete your education

Most states require that you complete a four-year degree in early childhood education or a related field if you're going to work in public schools. Completing your bachelor's degree helps to prepare you for the variety of situations you may encounter on the job. During your undergraduate study, you can learn valuable skills such as curriculum planning, student mentorship and evaluation processes that can help you ensure students meet state requirements throughout their education.

If you choose to work in another setting, some states may require a two-year degree in early childhood education or a CDA credential. Research your stats requirements for the roles you're interested in to ensure you meet all licensure, credential and certification requirements to work in early childhood education.

Read more: Early Childhood Education Degrees: Definition and Types

2. Complete fellowships or opportunities for the in-class experience

Colleges may partner with local school programs and supply them with classroom assistants in their senior year. This can provide you with additional experience that you can use when applying for jobs in the early childhood education field. Alternatively, you may seek school-related jobs or opportunities where you can work with elementary-aged children, such as in a caregiver role or an after-school tutoring program. You can contact your local school districts for information or possible partnerships.

Many of these experiences can also expose you to diverse cultures and the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in the classroom. You can provide spaces for these to flourish by accepting the diverse backgrounds of your students and having books, lessons and materials that incorporate your students' diverse backgrounds.

Read more: How To Gain Teaching Work Experience

3. Complete your state licensing exam

After your degree is complete, there are separate licensing exams you can take to work as an early childhood educator. When evaluating the requirements for your state licensing exam, ensure that you consider any other fees or steps your state may require before getting your license. Your exam may be comprehensive and ask you to show the experience and training you received during your undergraduate studies.

Read more: 9 Teacher Certifications (Plus FAQs)

Ideal skills for an early childhood educator

Being an early childhood educator can be a very fulfilling profession for those who enjoy working with children and want to make a tangible difference in someone else's life. Common skills that can be powerful assets in the role of an early childhood educator are:

  • Communication

  • Patience

  • Organization

  • Presentation abilities

  • Confidence

  • Friendly demeanor

  • Handle stress

Read more: Early Childhood Educator Skills: Definition and Examples

Career outlook for an early childhood educator

The career profile of an early childhood educator is promising, as many schools need qualified teachers for young students. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the profession expects to have a 15% growth rate between 2021 and 2031, which is marginally faster than other professions.

Related: Careers in Education You Can Pursue (Salary and Job Outlook)

Jobs for early childhood education majors

If you've completed your undergraduate studies in early childhood education or a related field, there are many opportunities available for potential employment. Below is a list of three jobs that you can get with an early childhood education degree. 

1. Child care center director

National average salary: $46,492 per year
Primary duties: A child care center director oversees age-appropriate children's activities, catering to the needs of individual children and tracking their progress via a series of systems. These educators also help care for the physical and emotional needs of children in the center. Additional duties include collaborating with parents and staff for the child's well-being and development and recommending necessary community resources to parents seeking assistance.

Read more: Child Care Director Qualifications (Plus Duties and Tips)

2. Preschool teacher

National average salary: $46,601 per year
Primary duties: A preschool teacher teaches children basic concepts such as shapes, colors, mathematics and phonics while tracking and reporting academic progress. Preschool teachers also care for children's emotional and physical needs over a school day and instruct them on societal expectations, such as politeness and mutual respect. Preschool teachers may also mentor children individually to help meet their educational goals.

Read more: Learn About Being a Preschool Teacher

3. School counselor

National average salary: $59,793 per year
Primary duties: School counselors assist students in maintaining their mental health, assisting them with aptitude tests and personal problems at school or home while working alongside staff members to address behavioral issues. Counselors play a vital role in student success and assist the student instructional team in addressing psychological or behavioral-based issues that can disrupt student learning patterns. They can also mentor children individually to help them find success.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, visit indeed.com/salaries.

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