Early childhood education undergraduate degree programs combine course work and field experiences.

A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education (ECE) prepares you to work with children from infancy up to potentially age 8 alongside their families and other education professionals to develop an enriching classroom experience. Understanding the basic components of such degree programs, from required courses to certification, can help you map your degree course toward making a difference in young children’s lives.

Required Courses

Of the average 120 credits required for graduation, approximately 40 credits of an ECE major are general education course requirements in areas such as communications, psychology and the natural sciences, taken primarily during your freshman and sophomore years. Remaining required credits are ECE courses that expose you to both the main theories of early childhood development and learning and some successful teaching strategies. These courses begin with introductory topics, such as infant and toddler education or child or human development, and progress into more advanced classes, covering topics like literacy instruction and assessment in the primary grades, nutrition for health living, children’s literature and administration of early childhood programs. Your course load diminishes by your senior year, when you will be engaged in internships and student teaching appointments.


Some ECE programs also offer areas or certificates of concentration within the field that can help you prepare for work with a particular age or type of student or can enhance your already-achieved teaching degree. These concentrations, including areas such as middle childhood education, special education, or world languages, can require typically 15 to 30 additional credits of coursework to complete. Some also require additional student teaching hours as well.

Field Experience

Many ECE bachelor programs also require you to participate in practicums, internships, or student teaching appointments in ECE facilities prior to graduation. These placements, typically beginning in your junior year, give you valuable exposure to working with children from early infancy onward. The National Association for the Education of Young Children mandates you participate in a minimum two field experiences working with at least two age groups, for example birth to age 3 or age 3 to 5. Most programs encourage working with children of various ages during the observation portions of your field experience but allow you to choose your internship or student teaching appointments based on your desired age group for future teaching appointments.


You will also need to achieve your teacher certification if you wish to teach young children. Standards for certification vary by state; however, most require you to pass a basic skills exam, such as the Praxis I test, as well as subject area assessments, commonly the Praxis II Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment and the Content Knowledge tests. States, such as New York, with more stringent standards will issue you a provisional ECE teaching certificate upon passing these exams and require you to complete a master’s degree or pass additional exams within five years to qualify for a permanent teaching certificate.