Child Development vs Early Childhood Education: Career ROI

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Updated: February 29, 2024, Reading time: 10 minutes

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From TVs to tablet-based toys, technology is all around us—it’s what parents use nowadays to keep children occupied as they do other house chores. While technology offers several benefits, it also inflicts harm on some children.

Because technology use reduces the amount of time children spend connecting with others, it can lead to physical and cognitive development issues.

Children need professionals and experts, both intellectually and physically, to help them grow as functioning adults in society. Two majors come into play when discussing addressing children’s diverse needs and promoting their overall well-being:

If you share a passion for helping children grow and develop, you’re most likely considering pursuing a career in these fields. 

Child Development and Early Childhood Education are two overlapping fields, with the former related to how a child grows and the latter related to teaching pre-teen children. If you’re confused about the root differences between these two fields, this article will help you.

You’ll learn their differences, from methods and techniques to education/license requirements and average salaries. 

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

A Quick Look At the Differences Between Child Development and Early Childhood Education

Child DevelopmentEarly Childhood Education
Average Salaries$45,796$35,364
Job Growth 
6 percent3 percent
FocusTailor therapy programs specifically for children with developmental and psychological issues.Help preschool kids with social-emotional development, reading, numeracy, and critical thinking.
License/Certification Required* Child Development Associate (CDA) to work with children under five
* Child Life Specialist (CCLS) to work with children five and above
Depends on the state and institution type.
Education RequiredBachelor’s/Master’s in Child Development, Applied Psychology, Child Advocacy, or Family StudiesAssociate/Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education

What Does a Child Development Specialist Do?

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Child Development is the process of a child’s growth from conception to adulthood, encompassing physical, intellectual, language, emotional, and social aspects. Each aspect influences the others, with physical brain development influencing intellectual abilities and social exploration. 

Factors affecting Child Development include innate biological makeup and external influences like family, society, economics, health, and culture. Nutrition, affluence, parenting styles, education, and peer interaction also impact development.

As a Child Development specialist, you’ll work with educators, families, and caregivers to determine the best support for the child’s holistic development. You’ll carry out several tasks to address the needs of children with developmental and psychological issues.

Job duties include:

In some cases, you’ll observe that children need a lot more than familial and early childhood educators’ support. Some children may actually need the support of therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists. It’s often your job to connect parents with the right specialist/s. 

Child Development specialists assist families needing help with their kids with autism, ADHD, Down Syndrome, and other developmental delays and disabilities.

In this case, you must also help them find organizations that offer free or low-cost need-specific programs. It is essential that as a Child Development specialist, you must be familiar with organizations offering low-cost or subsidized services for children with developmental delays and disabilities.

Some of the most known organizations that help students with disabilities include the Administration for Children and Families and the Special Needs Alliance.

Child Development: Education and Career Path

You can start a career in Child Development by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Child Development, applied psychology, or any closely related field, such as child advocacy and family studies. A Child Development program will teach and train you how to identify, intervene, and treat developmental and psychological disorders in children. Some of the courses covered include:

The most important knowledge you need to obtain to qualify as a Child Development specialist includes Child Development, family dynamics, behavioral disorders, neuropsychology, neglect, abuse, gender, anatomy, age, neuropsychology, gender roles, communication, parent education, and counseling.

A Master’s in Child Development offers specialized skills that are highly valuable in the field. Today, universities offer what is known to be an Accelerated Bachelor to Master’s degree or 4+1 programs. These types of programs provide a quicker path to enter the field. You can often pursue a dual degree to open more career opportunities beyond Child Development. 

After earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree, you should pursue certification to prove your professionalism and abilities. There are various certifications available. However, the most respected is the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential.

Many employers demand that candidates complete the CDA before working with young children or those under five. You can earn the CDA through working with infants and toddlers, family childcare, preschools, or home-visitor programs. 

If you want to be able to work with children older than five years old, you must pass the Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) exam. This certification does not require a master’s degree. You only need a bachelor’s degree, 480 hours of supervised, hands-on clinical practice, and completion of one or more child life or development courses.

Some of the most common career paths of Child Development graduates include: 

Child Development ROI: Education Cost and Salaries 

According to the US News and World Report, the average cost of online bachelor’s programs in Child Development is $30,000 and $54,000 in tuition alone. If you pursue a master’s degree, you can expect to pay an average of $20,513. 

The salaries of Child Development specialists vary widely depending on their experience level, position, and geographic location. However, according to ZipRecruiter, the average salary of a childcare development specialist in the USA is $45,796. Moreover, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows an overall job growth of 6 percent from 2022 to 2032. 

A career in Child Development is for you if:

A career in Child Development is not a great fit if:

What Does an Early Childhood Educator Do?

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The National Association for the Education of Young Children defines Early Childhood Education as “the learning period from birth to eight years old.” It most frequently refers to the preschool or “Pre-K” years, which are the years between a child’s birth and kindergarten age.

These early years are when children gain formal and informal educational experiences that shape their cognitive, physical, and emotional development. 

ECE allows toddlers to learn, explore, and play in a secure, caring setting outside of their home. They’re encouraged to investigate colors, letters, numbers, sounds, nature, art, and other subjects in these environments. ECE aims to promote curiosity among toddlers to help them develop social and core motor skills.

As an early childhood educator, your job is more than just looking after kids. You will serve as the foundation of the community, particularly given that the initial years are essential for a child’s education and development. Research indicates that a staggering 90% of brain development occurs before age five. 

In addition to inspiring kids in their early stages, you are responsible for promoting safety and security. You will be a protector, a facilitator, a guide, and an advocate for each child. As an early childhood educator, your main duties include:

Early Childhood Education: Education and Career Path

The educational path to pursuing a career in ECE depends on the state where you plan to get employed and your goals. A high school degree is required in some areas and markets, but ECE degrees and certifications, which include preschool through third grade, are necessary for others. 

The country’s Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that most preschool teachers in public schools must have a bachelor’s degree in ECE. The minimum requirement to become a Head Start preschool teacher is an associate’s degree; however, 50% of Head Start teachers possess a bachelor’s degree in ECE or a closely related field with experience.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another teaching specialty, you can still become an early childhood educator. You must pursue a teaching certificate or add an Early Childhood endorsement. You’ll then take the required tests to earn an Early Childhood endorsement in your state.

With a Master’s in Early Childhood Education, you deepen your knowledge of the field and gain the professional skills for high-level positions working in childcare facilities, schools, and other agencies. This two-year program for full-time students qualifies graduates for:

Pursuing a Doctorate in Early Childhood Education includes these options: Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), and Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Students must complete a dissertation to contribute to the field through original research. Upon completing their ECE doctorate, professionals can take on research, education policy, and teaching and leadership roles.

Early Childhood Education ROI: Education Cost and Salaries

The US News and World Report indicated that the tuition range for online associate degrees in ECE is between $5,000 and $28,000. On the other hand, online bachelor’s degrees range from $30,000 to $60,000

In terms of salary, early childhood educators are paid slightly less than Child Development specialists. ZipRecruiter listed that the average annual salary of early childhood educators is $35,364. Employment for ECE professionals is expected to grow by 3 percent from 2022 to 2032.

A career in Early Childhood Education is for you if:

A career in Early Childhood Education is not a great fit if:

Child Development vs Early Childhood Education - fact

While both focus on helping our youngsters become functioning adults in the future, Child Development and Early Childhood Education are different. While Child Development specialists focus on addressing developmental and psychological issues in children, Early Childhood educators provide formal education and structured learning experiences for preschool-aged children, emphasizing cognitive, emotional, and social development in an educational setting.

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