What do early childhood educators do?

You may know them as preschool teachers, day care workers or enrichment program directors. These professionals are early education specialists who work with children from birth through preschool and even beyond to help them explore the world and prepare for successful school experiences.

For those wondering what early childhood educators do, the answer depends upon the specific job in question and sometimes on the path to becoming an early childhood education specialist. However, they may typically focus on the following tasks:

  • Preparing early-learning academic lessons
  • Organizing games and playtime activities
  • Creating schedules and routines
  • Teaching proper hygiene
  • Tracking children's progress and identifying developmental concerns

Preschool teachers may focus their time on helping children learn numbers, letters and colors, while child care workers may find their time is often spent supervising children as they play and explore on their own. School and child care center directors are responsible for hiring and training staff as well as creating a curriculum that meets the needs of all students.

Where can someone work as an early childhood educator?

Obviously, school districts employ a significant number of early childhood educators as preschool teachers. However, a school is certainly not the only place you can find these professionals.

Preschool teachers may also work for day care centers, community service organizations and government programs such as Head Start. Teachers working in these settings may be responsible for creating a curriculum and schedule as well as overseeing their implementation.

Child care workers are often employed by these same organizations. While they may not be responsible for creating the curriculum, they may help children with early-learning lessons and lead playtime activities.

Some child care workers are self-employed and operate a day care center out of their homes. Although a curriculum may not be required, these care providers may create a daily schedule that includes learning activities to help children successfully transition to preschool and elementary school.

What skills and education do early childhood educators need?

Education requirements vary depending on the individual position. Child care workers may not need a degree of any type, but some employers prefer workers with a certificate in early childhood education. Other professionals in the field may hold one of the following degrees:

  • Associate degree in early childhood education: This program, which typically takes two years to complete, is sufficient for many Head Start preschool positions.
  • Bachelor's degree in early childhood education: This degree is the minimum education needed to work as a preschool teacher in a public school system.
  • Master's degree in early childhood education: An advanced degree such as this one may be required for leadership positions such as those of preschool and child care center directors.
  • Doctor of Education/Doctoral degree in early childhood education: The highest level of education available in the field, this credential is typically pursued by those who want to conduct research or teach in a postsecondary early childhood degree program.

Beyond a degree, early childhood education workers must possess a number of skills and personality traits. Without these, individuals may find working with small children to be difficult.

  • Patience
  • Creativity
  • High levels of energy
  • Compassion
  • Organizational skills
  • Communication skills

A career in early education can be a rewarding and logical choice for those who love small children. For more information, contact schools offering early education programs or visit resource pages for the following organizations:

  • American Federation of Teachers: The AFT maintains a page devoted to early education that includes information regarding government initiatives as well as professional growth resources for current educators.
  • National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education: Provides a variety of resources for parents and teachers. Of particular interest to students may be the site's comprehensive list of state licensing requirements and regulations.
  • Head Start: This government website is a comprehensive resource regarding federal Head Start and school readiness programs.
  • National Association for the Education of Young Children: An organization devoted to promoting early education programs.
  • National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators: A professional organization for instructors in early education programs.


"Twelve Characteristics of Effective Early Childhood Teachers," Laura J. Colker, National Association for the Education of Young Children, March 2008,

Childcare Workers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,

Preschool and Childcare Center Directors, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,

Preschool Teachers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,