Best Early Childhood Certification Online Courses

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Helping children learn and grow is a very rewarding career. As an early childhood worker, you can take pride in knowing that you are making a positive impact on your students.

When some people think of early childhood education, they think of preschool. This includes naptime and preparing snacks for kids. But being an early childhood educator is much more than that. Early childhood workers are responsible for many important tasks. They lesson plan. They communicate with parents. They also foster the cognitive development of their students.

Getting an early childhood certification is a great step in advancing your education or your career. And the easiest way to get a certificate is by studying online.

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There are many early childhood certification courses online. It’s simply a matter of deciding which ones are of most use to you. But how do you do that?

Part of selecting a certification course is your budget. But you also have to consider your goals. Do you want to be a licensed teacher? Do you want to be a teaching assistant? Would you like to tutor young children? The answers to these questions will help you decide which certification is best.

Additionally, there are other factors to explore. This includes the accessibility of the course. Is it completely online? Are there field experience requirements? Are there textbooks or other printed materials that allow you to study when the internet isn’t available?

Lastly, you’ll want to take courses from an accredited institution. This ensures that the education you receive is of high quality. Getting a certificate from an accredited school is often a requirement of licensure as well, which makes it all the more important.

Our rankings take these three factors into consideration when determining a course’s score. Let’s explore each of them in more detail.

Methodology to Determine the Best Early Childhood Certification Online Courses

Our three factors – affordability, accessibility, and accreditation – are each scored differently. The three individual scores make up a total course score. This allows you to evaluate each course with a critical eye. You can consider individual factors, like affordability. But you also benefit from having an overall score. This gives you a wider picture of how well a course might fit your needs.

Affordability

In many cases, the cost of early childhood certification courses online is the number one factor that students consider.

The cost of certification programs ranges a lot. Some certificates cost less than $100. Other certificates are part of a degree program. This means paying for two, four, or even more years of schooling. Those costs can certainly add up.

This factor is scored as follows:

  • Under $1,000: 5 points
  • $1,001-$1,500: 4 points
  • $1,501-$2,000: 3 points
  • $2,001-$2,500: 2 points
  • $2,500 and above: 1 point

Note that the more affordable a course is, the more points it gets. This is to reflect the importance of minimizing costs for so many students.

However, it should be noted that affordability should not be the only factor you use to evaluate a course. There are many high-quality early childhood certification courses online that are more expensive.

So, while it’s important to stick to your budget, it’s also important to understand that a more expensive course might be better suited to your needs.

Accessibility

Not all early childhood certification courses online are equally accessible. Sure, they are all online. But some offer features that improve your ability to easily access course materials.

Some courses have offline resources. This might include downloadable texts. Some courses are available on mobile apps, which enables you to more easily study while you’re on the go. Additionally, you’ll find that some early childhood certification courses online have features like technical support. They might offer mentoring. You could get direct access to instructors that make the course more accessible as well.

We take these and other features into account when assigning accessibility points. Points are assigned as follows:

  • High accessibility: 2 points
  • Moderate accessibility: 1 points

Each course in our rankings offers at least moderate accessibility. Courses that had low accessibility were not included in the final rankings.

Accreditation

The final criteria we used for our rankings is accreditation. Each course in our rankings is from an accredited school or organization. But the type of accreditation might vary.

For example, some of the courses in our rankings are from colleges or universities. These schools are all regionally accredited by one of the six regional accreditation organizations in the United States.

Regional accreditation is considered the most elite. These accreditations hold member schools to a certain set of criteria in order to be accredited. Doing so ensures students at any of the member schools get the same quality of education.

Other courses in our rankings are offered by organizations that are professionally accredited. One of the primary professional accrediting bodies is the Council for Professional Recognition. This organization is responsible for the Child Development Associate credential. This is one of the most widely sought-after certifications for early childhood workers.

Other courses in our rankings may come from schools with national accreditation. This type of accreditation is common for religious schools, online schools, and for-profit schools.

National accreditation is not considered to be as good as regional or professional certification. There are many reasons for this, the primary one being that course credits are less likely to transfer than those earned from a regionally-accredited school.

This being the case, regional and professional accreditations are assigned more points in our rankings, as follows:

  • Regional or professional accreditation: 2 points
  • National accreditation: 1 point

Using the scores from these three criteria, we have ranked the ten best early childhood certification online courses below.

Ranking the Best Early Childhood Certification Online Courses

#10: Early Childhood Education Certificate

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This is a 30-credit program offered by Fisher College. The program is a first step in professional training in this field.

This certificate prepares students to become early childhood educators. You can get many different jobs in early childhood education with this certificate. However, it is not a license. You cannot teach school at public schools with only this certificate.

Graduates can also apply these credits to getting an associate’s degree in early childhood education.

There are different areas of focus for this certificate. They include:

  • Infant and toddler
  • Preschool
  • Family childcare

You have the flexibility of choosing which option you pursue. This enables you to tailor your learning to the type of early childhood career you wish to pursue.

Visit the course website.

Points: 5

Affordability: Approximately $11,850

Accessibility: High accessibility. This certificate can be done completely online. Access is available any time of day or night. 

Type of Accreditation: Regional. Rasmussen College is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).

#9: Early Childhood Education Diploma

This diploma program prepares you to work with young children. It does not lead to licensure. Instead, this is a diploma or certificate that will enable you to seek other jobs in early childhood education. This might include teaching assistant, tutor, or childcare worker, to name a few.

You can choose between two tracks. You can specialize in child development. You can choose to specialize in special needs as well.

Other features of this program include:

  • Hands-on experience to put your learning to the test
  • A variety of resources to support your learning
  • Fast-track option that allows you to finish the program in as little at 15 months

This diploma does not offer a certification. Instead, it prepares you to apply for the Child Development Associate certificate. 

Visit the course website.

Points: 5

Affordability: Approximately $9,954

Accessibility: High accessibility. This diploma is done completely online. Rasmussen College offers Flex Choice, which allows you to do self-assessments in place of some requirements. 

Type of Accreditation: Regional. Rasmussen College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

#8: Birth to Five Endorsement Program

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This early childhood certification program is offered by the University of Wyoming. Completing this program prepares you to work specifically with kids younger than five years of age.

Course requirements are based on professional standards. Specifically, this course is based on the National Association for the Education of Young Children initial licensure standards.

To obtain this endorsement, you must:

  • Complete six courses
  • Complete a 6-credit supervised internship
  • Get satisfactory scores on six common assessments

Note that this is not a degree. Simply having this endorsement will not qualify you to teach in public schools. Instead, it is intended to be an endorsement that current early childhood education students or teachers can add to their credentials.

However, the classes you take for this endorsement might count toward an early childhood education degree from the University.

Visit the course website.

Points: 5

Affordability: Approximately $15,075

Accessibility: High accessibility. This course was designed for distance education. There is a nice mix of online and offline learning opportunities. This includes audio teleconferences and compressed video.

Type of Accreditation: Regional. The University of Wyoming is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

#7: Early Childhood Credential

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This certification program is offered by the ChildCare Education Institute (CCEI). It is a basic introduction to early childhood education. You will complete more than 180 hours of professional development. These studies are broken into eight units, which include:

  • Principles of Child Growth and Development
  • Safe and Healthy Environments
  • Social and Emotional Development
  • Motor, Language, and Cognitive Development
  • Principles of Assessment
  • Program Management
  • Relationships with Families
  • Professionalism

This certification is earned by completing various tasks. This includes readings, coursework, essays, and classroom observation.

This certification is recognized by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It meets part of the requirements for an alternative pathway to become a Designated Program Administrator.

Visit the course website.

Points: 5

Affordability: $2,800

Accessibility: High accessibility. This course is completely online. It is available 24/7. Rolling enrollment means you can start at any time. There are many resources available for studying. This includes offline activities like classroom experiences.

Type of Accreditation: Professional and national. CCEI is recognized by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). It is also nationally accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). This is scored as a professional accreditation.

#6: Early Childhood Education Certificate

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This online program is offered by Portland State University. It is a 12-credit course. The credits you earn might count towards a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree. Likewise, these credits can fulfill part of the requirements for the Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential.

You can expand your knowledge of early childhood education by taking courses on:

  • Inclusive education
  • Infants and toddlers
  • Contemporary issues in early childhood

These courses are taught by experts with real-world experience in early childhood education. They are research-based courses. This enables you to practice early childhood education with a formal foundation of research-based practices.

Upon completion of this program, you will be better prepared for working in a variety of roles. This includes child care, intervention specialist, and program director.

Visit the course website.

Points: 6

Affordability: Approximately $2,259 (for in-state students)

Accessibility: High accessibility. All courses are online. You can take courses in any order you wish. Courses are offered every quarter to improve accessibility to a range of classes. 

Type of Accreditation: Regional. Portland State University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

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#5: Early Childhood Education Certificate

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This early childhood education certificate is designed to prepare you for the Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential. The credits you earn in this program will apply to the 120 hours of professional education needed for the CDA.

Furthermore, you can choose to continue your studies to get an associate’s degree in early childhood education if you wish. That program is also completely online.

The curriculum includes studies in the following areas:

  • Career in early childhood education
  • Curriculum development
  • Creative expression and play
  • Children’s literature

You’ll also learn about health and safety, nutrition, and discipline. There are several other units of study that help prepare you to work with young kids.

Visit the course website.

Points: 8

Affordability: Approximately $999

Accessibility: High accessibility. This certificate was designed to be done completely online. It is a one-semester program that is self-paced. 

Type of Accreditation: National. Ashworth College is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).

#4: Child Development Certificate

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This child development certificate is provided by Penn Foster. It is an online program that you can complete in as little as five months.

The program prepares you to apply for the Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential. In fact, this certificate fulfills the requirement for 120 hours of formal education for the credential.

Class you will take include:

  • Fundamentals of early childhood education
  • Child growth and development
  • Health, safety, and nutrition for the young child
  • Assessment in early childhood education

You also get access to many learning tools. This includes virtual simulations, video lectures, and goal-setting tools.

Visit the course website.

Points: 8

Affordability: Approximately $459

Accessibility: High accessibility. Each course in this program is available online. You can study at home or on-the-go with Penn Foster’s mobile portal. Access is available 24/7.

Type of Accreditation: National. Penn Foster is nationally accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).

#3: Infant-Toddler Certificate

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If you want to work with very young children, the Infant-Toddler Certificate from the ChildCare Education Institute is a good option.

This is a 45-hour class. By completing it, you can get 4.5 hours of continuing education credits. There are many different areas of study. This includes:

  • Developmental milestones for infants and toddlers
  • Requirements for mandated reporting
  • Assessment strategies
  • Literacy
  • Curriculum development

You’ll also learn communication strategies. This is an important skill to have. You need to be able to communicate well with clients, both children and their parents or guardians. 

Visit the course website.

Points: 9

Affordability: $499

Accessibility: High accessibility. This course was designed for ease of access. Start whenever you’re ready. There are no set enrollment dates. There are observation and evaluation criteria that have to be done in person.

Type of Accreditation: Professional and national. CCEI is recognized by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). It is also nationally accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). This is scored as a professional accreditation.

#2: Preschool Child Development Associate Credential

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This is a professional course. It can be earned through the Council for Professional Recognition.

This is not a typical certification course. Instead, you have to meet various criteria to get the credential. You must also submit proof of certain achievements.

For example, you must be a high school graduate or have a GED. Students that are currently enrolled in an early childhood education program may also apply.

You also need to complete 120 hours of formal early childhood education training. Training must cover each of the following subject areas:

  • Planning a safe and healthy learning environment
  • Advancing children’s physical and intellectual development
  • Supporting children’s social and emotional development
  • Building productive relationships with families
  • Managing an effective program operation
  • Maintaining a commitment to professionalism
  • Observing and recording children’s behavior
  • Understanding principles of child development and learning

Additionally, you must get 480 hours of professional work experience. You also need to prepare a CDA portfolio. There is a CDA verification visit as well as an exam.

Visit the course website.

Points: 9

Affordability: $75

Accessibility: High accessibility. This credential requires no official online courses or activities. Instead, you must complete each step of the application process on your own time. 

Type of Accreditation: Professional. This credential is offered by the Council for Professional Recognition.

#1: Family Child Care Credential

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Like the preschool credential discussed above, this is a professional course. The Council for Professional Recognition offers it as a way to enhance your knowledge of early childhood education.

This is a self-paced process. You must first have a high school diploma or a GED. Then you must finish 120 hours of training. These trainings must include 10 hours of study in each of the eight CDA study areas.

For example, you must prove you’ve got 10 hours of training in how to build productive relationships with families. You must also have at least 10 hours of training related to professionalism. The same holds true for the other six content areas.

Other requirements include, but are not limited to:

  • 480 hours of professional work experience
  • CDA portfolio development
  • Family questionnaires
  • CDA verification visit
  • CDA exam

Visit the course website.

Points: 9

Affordability: $75

Accessibility: High accessibility. This credential requires no official online courses or activities. Instead, you must complete each step of the application process on your own time. 

Type of Accreditation: Professional. This credential is offered by the Council for Professional Recognition.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the requirements to get an early childhood education certification online?

The requirements for early childhood certification courses online varies quite widely. Below is a sampling of certificates along with their basic requirements.

Child Development Associate (CDA) – The CDA certificate requires that you have a high school diploma or a GED. Additionally, you must work in an early childhood setting or be able to complete field experiences in an early childhood setting. You must also be at least 16 years of age, have access to a computer and printer, and have a valid email address.

Early Childhood Education Undergraduate Certificate – This certificate program is offered by Ashworth College. To enroll, you must have a high school diploma or GED. If you pursue a graduate certificate in ECE, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school.

Early Childhood Education Certificate – This certificate is offered by Rasmussen College. The only requirements for admission are that you have a high school diploma or GED. There are no application fees. You also are not required to submit ACT or SAT scores.

Child Development Certificate – This is an associate’s-level certificate from Eastern Wyoming College. To enroll, you must have a high school diploma or GED. You must also provide ACT scores or take placement exams to ensure appropriate class placement.

Infant-Toddler Certificate – This standalone certificate requires students to be at least 18 years of age. You must have a high school diploma or GED. You must have access to a computer and printer. You must also have an email address. Access to the internet is required. You must also work in an early childhood setting or be able to conduct fieldwork in an early childhood setting.

Early Childhood Generalist Certification – This certification is from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. It results in national certification as an early childhood generalist. This certificate requires a large amount of work. You must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. You must also have at least three years of teaching experience in an early childhood setting. A state teaching license is also required. Additionally, you have to pass a computer-based assessment and complete three portfolios that focus on instruction, teaching practice and learning environment, and being an effective and reflective practitioner.

How long does it take to get an ECE online?

Generally speaking, an early childhood certification or certificate will take about two years to complete. 

For example, a student that already has a bachelor’s degree in education might spend two years finishing the ECE certification if studying on a part-time basis. Another student seeking the same credential might be able to finish it more quickly, say, in nine months, if studying ¾ or full-time.

As another example, a student might pursue an associate’s degree in early childhood education that comes with an ECE certificate. Typically, associate’s degrees take two years to complete. Again, this timeline might be shorter or longer depending on the enrollment status of the student.

There are other variations in how long it takes to get an ECE certification or certificate.

For example, the requirements of some certificates vary. So, while one certificate might involve taking six classes, another might require nine classes. As another example, one certificate program might require one semester of field experiences while another requires two semesters.

The level of certification will also influence how long it takes. Getting national board certified might take several years. But getting a basic early childhood certificate might take just 2-3 semesters of study.

There might be some variation based on which state you intend to work. Some states, like Alabama, require early childhood educators to have an undergraduate degree in early childhood education. Other states, like Washington, require you to have just an associate’s degree if you’ll be teaching preschool. These varying requirements can greatly impact how long it takes you to complete your ECE online.

Are there free early childhood certification courses online?

Technically, yes, there are. However, the free early childhood certification courses you find online offer completion certificates, not professional certificates.

The difference between these certificates is very important. A completion certificate merely shows that you finished a course or certificate program. It does not earn you an educational or professional credential, which is part of what you need to get a job as an early childhood educator.

This isn’t to say that online courses that have completion certificates are bad for you to take. In many cases, they can be valuable for you in learning new skills that will help you be a better educator.

However, if your goal is to be a certified and licensed early childhood educator, you’ll need to take early childhood certification courses online that require a fee. Fees vary for these programs quite widely. Fees can vary based on the type of certificate. They can also vary based on the school that offers the certificate program. Even the learning level – associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s – can influence how much you’ll need to pay for a certificate program and the individual courses within it.

What jobs can you get with an ECE certificate?

Armed with an ECE certificate, there are many jobs for which you might qualify. Below is a list of a few options:

Preschool Teacher – One of the most popular jobs for people with an ECE certificate is preschool teacher. These teachers work in many types of settings, from private preschools to early childhood education centers in public school districts. Their job is to develop curricula for early learners and implement that curriculum through various learning activities.

Childcare Worker – Childcare workers typically work with kids that are preschool age and younger. They work in nurseries, daycare centers, and early learning centers, just to name a few. This job involves providing basic care for children, like changing, feeding, and providing emotional and social support.

Tutor – In some cases, a worker with an ECE certificate might be employed as a tutor. Tutors usually focus on helping children with their developmental skills. This is an important task for students that might have less developed cognitive or social skills prior to the kindergarten year.

Teaching Assistant – Though some teaching assistant positions require an associate’s degree, in some cases, you might find an opening with just an ECE certificate. Teaching assistants work alongside lead teachers. They assist kids with learning tasks, supervise kids in the classroom, and help prepare lesson materials.

Personal Care Aide – In some cases, an ECE certificate might qualify you to work as a personal care aide. These workers are essential for assisting students with special needs. This might include administering medication, tutoring, or helping with activities of daily living. Personal care aides accompany a special needs student throughout the day. This usually includes to and from school and to out-of-school appointments like medical checkups.

Can you be a teacher with an early childhood education certificate?

The answer to this question is that it depends.

If you get an early childhood education certification, the answer is often yes. This is because a certification in this field is usually completed after getting a bachelor’s degree in education.

So, for example, if you graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and passed a certification exam like the Praxis, you might then pursue an early childhood education certification to add to your credentials. With these credentials, you could become a licensed teacher.

If you get an early childhood education certificate, you may not be qualified to teach in public schools and most private schools. This is because many certificate programs lead to an associate’s degree and/or a certificate. To be a licensed teacher, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree.

For example, you might pursue an associate’s degree in early childhood education. You might get an early childhood education certificate along with it. With these credentials, you might be able to get a job as one of the following:

  • Daycare worker
  • Tutor
  • Preschool teaching assistant

In some private schools, you might find a classroom teaching job with only an associate’s degree and a certificate. This is rare, though.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. There are some bachelor’s-level early childhood education certificate programs. There are even some at the master’s level. Obviously, if you have one of these degrees in education already, you are most likely eligible to be a licensed teacher.

So, the key is to remember that in most cases, you need a bachelor’s degree or higher to be a teacher. Adding a certification or a certificate will enhance your knowledge and understanding of early childhood education. It might also make you a more attractive job applicant.

Is early childhood education a good career?

Early childhood education can be a very good career. It just depends on you and your specific goals for the future.

For example, if you have a desire to make a difference in the lives of others, this can be a very rewarding job. Going to work each day knowing that you can make a positive impact on a child’s life can lead to high job satisfaction. This is just one metric people use to gauge whether a career is “good” or not.

As another example, if you’re very energetic and an effective leader, early childhood education could be a great fit for you. These are qualities that people look for in good early childhood educators, along with patience. You can’t work with young children all day without your patience being tried! Being able to adapt, stay calm, and work with kids at their level will help ensure that you have a good experience working in this field.

This is also a good career for people that want the flexibility of having the summers off. Though not all early childhood educators get long summer breaks, the majority do. This is in addition to typical winter and spring breaks, with federal holidays and weekends off as well.

Of course, there are some things about this job that could make you question whether it’s a good career or not. Perhaps the biggest factor is the pay.

Early childhood educators are not paid all that well when compared to many other career fields. There are always exceptions, but on average, preschool teachers and other early childhood educators make just over $30,000 per year. If you’re in it to get rich quick, this is not a good career for you.

This can also be a very stressful job, thus the need for patience. This is not a job focused solely on education. You will often be a referee, a parent-like figure, a negotiator, a janitor, a secretary…the list goes on. At the end of the school day when kids go home, you could very well have a few hours of work still ahead of you.

How much money do early childhood educators make?

The amount of money you make as an early childhood educator depends on a number of factors.

First, your level of education will greatly determine your salary. If you have a bachelor’s degree, you will make less money than someone with a master’s degree. If you have an early childhood certification, you might make more money than a co-worker that does not.

Second, your years of experience will influence your earnings. The more experience you have, the higher your salary will be. Many school systems have a pay scale that automatically increases your salary each year. However, those pay scales are often capped at 30 years.

Third, the place in which you work can affect your salary. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that preschool teachers earned a median salary of $30,520 in 2019. However, preschool teachers that work for public or private school systems earned a median salary of $46,710. Those that worked in child daycare service settings earned a median salary of just $28,700.

Bear in mind that these salary figures are based on working ten months of the year. If you work year-round, your salary might be higher.

Additionally, these salary figures do not include benefits that come with the job. For example, some school districts pay for their employees’ health insurance if they are single. Likewise, public school systems pay into state retirement funds for you to draw on upon retirement.

So, when hunting for a job as an early childhood educator, don’t just consider the take-home pay. Also look at the benefits that are offered as part of the employment package. It could make a significant difference in the value of the offer that is presented to you.