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Grad Program: Early Childhood Education

Basic Information

Graduate programs in Early Childhood Education (ECE) are designed to train educators for work in preschool, kindergarten, and primary school settings. While pursuing a Master of Arts or Master of Science in ECE, students will gain a theoretical and practical understanding of the ways children develop, study the attributes and pedagogy specific to young children, learn strategies to optimize children's learning, and learn how to communicate with parents, colleagues, and other members of the school community.

Most programs approach ECE from a variety of vantage points. Coursework typically covers classroom instruction, curriculum development, and administration, as well as the basics of psychological, sociological, and cultural development of a child. In addition, research and field experience are key components to any graduate program. In a research course, students might study toddlers or children's playing habits. As interns, students might observe classroom environments, assistant teach, or work as advisors to new teachers, program administrators, undergraduate course instructors, child advocates and policy makers.

All ECE programs will include some of all the aforementioned material; however, they vary greatly in terms of philosophy, mission, and educational emphasis. While some programs are extremely research based, others focus on teaching methodology or administration. It is important to find a program whose educational mission is right for you. In addition, some schools offer specialty programs that compliment the ECE degree, such as English as a Second Language training, or the ability to complete coursework for a state teaching credential at the same time you are pursuing a MA/MS.

Programs usually require students to hold a teaching certificate prior to enrollment and most candidates have prior teaching experience. A graduate program in ECE is a required step for many educators, as many states require each teacher to earn a master’s degree.

Degree Information

Depending on the program, students may earn the Masters of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) in Early Childhood Education or the Master of Arts (M.A.) in Early Childhood Education after two years of graduate level study. These programs are usually designed for current or future teachers looking to specialize in care and education of the young. Some programs offer the Master of Science (M.S.) in Early Childhood Education. M.S. programs are the same length as M.A. programs but generally include more coursework in child development, human development, and family science. M.S. students are usually required to submit a research-based master's thesis in order to graduate.

Ph.D. programs in Early Childhood Education are designed for educators interested in research or teacher education, or in becoming master teachers, curriculum specialists, school directors and administrators. Doctoral students generally focus their studies on a specific area of development or research. While it is possible to earn a doctoral degree part-time, most students choose to complete their programs full-time since the doctoral program is substantially longer (by about 60 credits) than a master’s program.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program
  • What is the program's educational mission or focus?
  • Does the core curriculum focus on teaching methods, administration, research, child development or sociology?
  • Does the school offer coursework and training in alternative teaching methodologies in addition to traditional methods?
  • How does the school integrate theory and practice?
  • Where is the school located? Where do most students get their field experience? What types of students will you be exposed to? Are there any schools or facilities affiliated with the program?
  • Can you take courses pursuant to a state teaching credential while enrolled in the master's program?

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