Learn how to work with young children by enrolling in a CDA program.

According to the Council for Professional Recognition, experts in the early childhood education field came together in the 1970s to create a credentialing process for the teachers of young children. The Child Development Associate, or CDA, has since become a credentialing standard for early childhood educators who are working with infants, toddlers or preschool aged kids. Getting proper schooling is now an essential part of becoming a credentialed early childhood educator.

Settings and Endorsements

Before deciding on a CDA school, you must decide on the setting and endorsement you need. "CDA settings" refers to where you will work. You can choose a center-based program, such as a day care or preschool, family child care -- home-based programs that serve two or more children that aren't related to the CDA holder or center owner -- or home visitor. Additionally, you must all select an age endorsement from infant/toddler children who are birth through 36-months, 3- to 5-year-old preschoolers or family and home visitor programs that serve children from birth all of the way through age 5.

High Schools

While you might think of earning a professional credential as something that only high school grads can do, think again. High school students who attend early childhood vocational or technical programs can take CDA classes and earn their credential. Teens still in school must take, according to the Council for Professional Recognition, 120 clock hours of child development classes and have at least 480 hours of professional experience working with kids. Additionally, high school students -- just like an adult who is taking a post-secondary CDA class -- must apply to and go through the assessment process necessary for credentialing. Keep in mind that not every high school has a CDA program. Only vocational schools that have the staff and course content to support a child development education curriculum can help their students to earn a CDA.

Distance Learning

If your job or home life make it challenging to go to school, a distance learning program is a viable option for earning your CDA. There are an array of online schools that offer CDA programs well-suited to non-traditional students. For example, the Child Care Education Institute, or CCEI, has a self-study CDA certificate course that includes the necessary 120 hours of instructional time. While online or distance learning courses, such as CCEI's provide the class instruction, you will need to get the professional experience hours that are necessary for a CDA -- 480 hours -- on your own. If you already work at a child development or day care center, you may use your workplace to count toward this requirement. CDA candidates that aren't currently working in a child care setting must have access to or find a job in an early education program.

Post-Secondary Programs

High school grads who have the time and resources to attend a classroom program can find CDA courses in a variety of school settings. Colleges, junior colleges, medical centers or hospitals, child development organizations and other child or education centers offer CDA courses that provide students with the 120 instructional hours that are necessary to earn the credential. For example, the Lakewood Child Center at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Hamilton, New Jersey, has a four-week evening course. Likewise, the Community College of Philadelphia also offers a CDA program that features instruction -- 120 hours -- in child development and early education. These programs may also have an experiential component or may expect you to fulfill your 480 hours of professional practice on your own.