Masters in Early Childhood Education Programs

What is a Masters in Early Childhood Education?

Masters in Early Childhood Education (ECE) programs explore the learning needs of children from birth to age eight. Most ECE Masters programs discuss theories of how kids and toddlers acquire language skills, and develop socially, cognitively and emotionally. Masters degree seekers could therefore study how to plan lessons for young minds, assess their needs and foster a great environment for growth and discovery.

Masters Degrees in Early Childhood Education written by Rana Waxman

Masters in Early Childhood Education Overview

Masters in Early Childhood Education programs may be designed with either the current or aspiring educator in mind. In some states, masters level education is required by state education boards as per the BLS. Consequently, some Early Childhood Education Masters programs could help prepare students to pursue their initial certification for teaching pre-kindergarten through grade four. This type of ECE program often includes core coursework and competencies required for a certification in a specific state or region. For example, students usually need to put in a specified number of field experience hours each semester. Since programs and state requirements vary, it’s important to check with your state education board to ensure you meet all the requirements. ECE programs could help teachers who have their initial teacher licensure prepare to add credentials. For instance, teachers who have their Elementary Education Certification may want to build their skills and knowledge to address the needs of preschool and primary-level children.

Popular Schools with Masters in Early Childhood Education Degrees

ProgramInstitutionDegree Awarded
Early Childhood EducationMillersville UniversityMS
Early Childhood Education/Special Education, M.A.University of Saint JosephMA
Master of Science in Teacher Education (Early Childhood Education Option) Youngstown State UniversityMS
Master of Education in Early Childhood EducationChamplain CollegeMEd
Early Childhood EducationSt. John's UniversityMS
Early Childhood EducationUniversity of New HampshireMS
Master of Education – E-Learning Northcentral UniversityMEd
MED: Curriculum and Instruction: Early Childhood EducationLiberty University OnlineN/A
M.A. Early Childhood EducationPacific Oaks CollegeMA
M.A. Teaching, Interdisciplinary Early Childhood EducationCampbellsville UniversityN/A
M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education (ITL)Grand Canyon UniversityMEd
Master of Education in Early Childhood EducationArcadia UniversityMEd

Early Childhood Education Curriculum

An early childhood education curriculum could be a dynamic mix of psychology, pedagogy and professional development. While courses vary a great deal, most aim to help students develop a grasp of developmental stages and ways to adapt teaching methods to children’s learning needs. Courses in how to plan lessons that foster student learning and curiosity, as well as how to chart progress, are often central. Instructional methods could include lectures, seminars, case studies, role play and team assignments.

Admission Requirements

Applicants to Masters in Early Childhood Education programs should typically hold an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. Additionally, they could be required to submit transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and any relevant standardized test scores.
Prerequisites: With respect to prerequisites, some Masters in ECE programs require the student to possess a valid state teacher license. Students could also need to have courses such as Math, English, Science, History, Art or Music under their belts. Background Checks: Often, state and federal criminal background checks, a TB test, and a child abuse clearance could be necessary for individuals who want to work with young children. Both the universities on your list and your state board of education should be consulted if you have any questions.

Degree Requirements for Masters in Early Childhood Education

Degree requirements for Masters in Early Childhood Education programs differ as each university stipulates credit weight and time to completion. In most cases, to be awarded a masters degree in Early Childhood Education, students must complete between 30 and 46 course credits. Credits could be allocated to coursework, a for-credit research project and/or supervised teaching. Time to completion could range from 2 years (full-time) to 4 years (part-time). You should refer to individual programs for more information.

Types of Masters Degrees in Early Childhood Education

Graduate schools that offer Masters in Early Childhood Education programs could award several types of degrees: a Master of Education (MEd), Master of Science (MS), or Master of Arts (MA). Each of these come with its own set of objectives, so keep your own aims in mind as you review various programs. Are you interested in initial teacher certification? Do you need an add-on to your teacher license to be able to teach kindergarten or elementary school? These are a few things to look for.

Master of Education in Early Childhood Education Programs

A Master of Education (MEd) in Early Childhood Education program is often planned-out to help advance the knowledge base of certified classroom teachers. As such, it might prepare current and new teachers to work with children through grade 3 using courses that tie teaching methods to best practices and research. Students in some Early Childhood Masters programs may also pursue Early Childhood certification (as an add-on or as an initial teacher certification). These students may need to complete extra coursework along with supervised field experience.

MEd-ECE Curriculum

The coursework for a MEd in Early Childhood Education program can be different in each school. Often, core courses explore theories of how young learners develop and ways to observe, document and assess kids in their early years. Other foundational courses might explore issues in educational psychology and ways to work within each child’s unique family and cultural environment. As a result, students could learn how to put into use age-appropriate curriculum activities such as play. Early childhood education courses further discuss things such as early literacy and how language develops from birth to kindergarten. Geared to help classroom teachers plan lessons, other courses could review math, social studies and science education for the early years (PreK-4). A sample of the types of courses one might find in a Master of Early Childhood Education program is below.
  • Infants and Toddlers: Development, Methods, Curriculum & Assessment (Birth – 3)
  • Pre-Primary Education: Development, Methods, Curriculum & Assessment (Ages 5)
  • Primary Education: Development, Methods, Curriculum & Assessment (Ages 6 – 8)
  • Inclusive School Practices
  • Seminar in Special Needs Students
A big part of an MEd program in early childhood education could also be devoted to research and ways to apply evidence-based tactics to the instruction of young children. Typically, apart from coursework, candidates for an MEd degree must conduct an independent study (action research) related to their major field. For instance, they might research the effectiveness of a specific type of teaching style. Contact individual programs to learn more.

Master of Science in Early Childhood Education

A Master of Science (MS) in Early Childhood Education program is often intended for educators with post-baccalaureate experience who want to add an early childhood specialty to their license or certificate. It could help teachers enhance their classroom skills to do what they love –teach young people, only with new insight. For instance, students may learn to provide early childhood special education instruction or use data to help improve their classroom skills. In contrast to the MEd, the MS program is often based on the practitioner-scholar model. This means it typically stresses methods based on scientific studies. Furthermore, the MS program often devotes itself to clinical experience and critical analysis. Students could acquire skills and knowledge through direct practice with both children and their families, and explore new ways to successfully work with them. Graduates might thus choose to continue to teach, or pursue other avenues such as research or public policy down the road. Some programs might allow students who already hold an initial teacher certificate to work towards an Early Childhood Special Education letter of approval by completing just the emphasis courses. These courses could in turn each require a specific number of field experience hours where teachers work with special needs children and their families. Contact schools to learn more.

MS-ECE Curriculum

A MS curriculum is often broken down into core courses, emphasis courses,  classes on research methods and a practicum. While coursework could vary in each university, there is usually a strong focus on data and how to apply it. Often, core courses expose students to a variety of concepts, theories and assessment methods that delve into standards-based ways to teach, plan lessons and effectively promote student success. Early Childhood Education courses in an MS program could draw from the topics below.
  • Psycho-social Development
  • Infant and Child Development
  • Cognition, Language and Play
  • Teaching and Learning in Diverse and Inclusive Settings
  • Classroom Management
  • Early Childhood Reading and Literacy

Special Needs Early Childhood Education

Some MS programs focus on an area such as inclusivity and special needs. This concentration could discuss service delivery approaches, program models, and how to work in teams and with families to handle diversity and issues in early childhood special education. Students might thus explore how to observe, assess and screen young children, as well as how to plan lessons for the special needs child through age five. Ultimately, if your goal is to pursue a MS in Early Childhood Education degree that could prepare you for an initial license, you should contact a student advisor or your regional education board for more information.

Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education Programs

A Master of Arts (MA) in Early Childhood Education could be one of the broader and more flexible of the Masters in ECE programs. MA programs may expand on national trends, theory and philosophies that are supported by research into the education of young children. Some MA programs are non-licensure teaching programs, therefore courses might address standards for advanced professional preparation.

MA-ECE Curriculum

By contrast with a MS, a MA in Early Childhood Education  program could require students to take a series of courses and complete a research capstone. The capstone is often a review and critical analysis of current educational research focused on a specific question. Required courses could overlap with MS and MEd topics, with a heavier emphasis on ethics, education policy and education in multicultural settings. While course topics vary between graduate schools, the topics below are some examples of other possible required courses.
  • Diverse Classrooms
  • Ethics for Educators
  • Legal and Legislative Issues
  • Public Policy
  • Communication and Community

Licenses & Teacher Certification

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers are typically certified to teach early childhood grades, which are usually preschool through third grade, or elementary school grades, which are first through sixth or eighth grade. Additionally, some states require all teachers to earn a master’s degree after receiving their teaching certification.


You could find Masters in Early Childhood Education programs at regionally or nationally accredited colleges and universities. Institutional approval often addresses things such as whether a school is fiscally stable, eligible for federal financial aid and the quality of student services. Accreditation is a voluntary process where a school puts itself up for review to show it meets or exceeds third party standards. Individual programs in a regionally or nationally accredited school could be professionally approved by agencies such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and/or the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Programmatic approval, also voluntary, tends to address the specifics of course curricula. Both types of accreditation need to be maintained by the school periodically.

Online or On Campus?

Do you prefer to learn via computer or in person at a graduate school? Masters in Early Childhood Education programs could be offered in online and on-campus formats. Some of the online Masters in ECE programs might weave in summer residencies, while others may be fully web-based. Choose the format that best fits your schedule needs and learning style, whether this is face to face or on your own.

After Graduation

Graduates with a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education might continue their studies through a Doctor of Education (EdD), or PhD. Others might pursue careers in and outside of the classroom. Examples of early childhood education professionals include Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers, Principals and Childcare Center Directors, Preschool Teachers, and Instructional Coordinators.
Top States for Employment for Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education
StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York80,930$77,300

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA$85,80020,180
Bend-Redmond, OR$84,020700
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA$82,80042,560
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT$80,3404,860
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA$78,50085,940

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top 13 Graduate Schools with Masters in Early Childhood Education Programs

  • Northcentral University

  • Liberty University Online

  • Pacific Oaks College

  • Campbellsville University

  • Grand Canyon University

  • Arcadia University

  • Arkansas State University

  • Concordia University - Saint Paul

  • Concordia University-Portland

  • Binghamton University (S.U.N.Y.)