Early Childhood Education Certification, Licenses and Associations

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Each state dictates different requirements in order to obtain early childhood education certifications and licenses. Some states require educators to take exams, fill out forms, or complete applications in order to be certified or licensed. As a precautionary measure, states typically require anyone who is looking to work with children to undergo a background check and fingerprinting. Many early childhood education certifications require renewal after a certain number of years have passed.

Outlined below are requirements for preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school teachers. Please note that requirements vary by state, unless noted as “all states.”

Preschool Teachers[i]

  • Licenses: Most states require that staff working in public and private childcare centers pass a background check, have a complete immunization record, and a minimum of training with children.

  • Certification: Some states and schools require preschool teachers to obtain the Child Development Associate (CDA) certification (offered by the Council for Professional Recognition), which requires completion of coursework, fieldwork experience (student teaching), passing a written exam, and an observation session(s) of the candidate working with children.

  • Some states admit the Child Care Professional (CCP) designation, available from the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation. Those who want to be considered for this designation must be 18 years or older, have field experience, have a high school diploma, have taken courses in childhood education, and have passed an exam.

  • Preschool teachers in public schools are required to be licensed to teach early childhood education, preschool through third grade. Preschool teachers typically need a Bachelor’s degree and need to complete continuing education credits to retain their license.


Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers[ii]

  • All states require public kindergarten and elementary school teachers to be certified or licensed. Private schools have their own requirements.

  • All states require public school teachers to successfully complete a teacher preparation program and supervised teaching work, usually gained through student teaching.

  • All states offer an “alternative route,” a program for students who have earned a Bachelor’s degree but did not complete the required education courses required to be certified.

  • Degree: All states require kindergarten and elementary school teachers to have at least a Bachelor’s degree, sometimes requiring the major to have been earned in a content subject such as science or math. Some states also require a minimum grade point average, passing a general teaching certification test, and a subject test for what they intend to teach.

  • Certification: Kindergarten teachers are typically certified to teach early childhood grades, preschool through third grade. Elementary school teachers are typically certified to teach first through sixth grades, sometimes up through eighth grade. Some states require teachers to earn a Master’s degree after receiving their certification. 

  • Licenses: Teachers are often required to take annual professional development classes to maintain their license.

  • Alternative Certification Programs: Some of these programs allow candidates to teach immediately after they graduate while being supervised by an experienced, certified teacher. These programs covers subject such as child development and teaching method. Candidates earn full certification with the successful completion of the program. 

Visit the Early Childhood Teacher website to be connected to each state’s official department of education website and find out what are your state’s specific requirements.


Early Childhood Education Licensing for Facilities

If you’re interested in using your home or facility for childcare purposes, it is important to research which early childhood education license(s) you’ll need. The licensing requirements for early childhood education vary from state to state, but the staff of a childcare center typically needs to undergo background checks, show proof of immunizations, and either meet or complete a minimum training requirement.[ii] You can look up the information for the state in which you wish to be licensed on the Early Childhood News website.


Early Childhood Education Associations

The field of early childhood education is a continually changing and developing profession, so there are various associations that keep early childhood educators informed and involved with advancement. As an early childhood educator, you may be able to become a member of an organization such as the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators (NAECTE), where early childhood educators from around the globe discuss and advocate for development in early childhood education methods and policies. Some other early childhood education associations are:

  • Association for Early Learning Leaders – Membership provides access to free webinars and job listings and discounts for relevant conferences.

  • National Association for the Education of Young Children – Includes reduced subscription fees and registration fees for conferences and discounts on books and publications.

Professional Association for Childhood Education – Includes reduced fees for workshops and networking events that involve others in the field of early