Early Learning is Birth - 3rd Grade

Early learning encompasses all areas of a child’s learning and development from birth through 3rd grade. During these first eight years, children learn essential skills and develop rapidly—physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. Their early experiences lay the groundwork for their future success in school and in life. Early learning professionals provide knowledgeable, high-quality care and education to help young children achieve their full potential. 

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Education Levels for an Early Learning Professional

Careers in ECE vary depending on the educational level of the professional

High School Diploma

For some positions, early learning professionals must have a high school diploma (or its equivalent, such as a GED). Typically, a diploma is awarded at the end of four years of study, when the student has met general educational requirements at an accredited high school. The requirements may be set by local, state or provincial authorities, so they vary from one jurisdiction to another.


Stackable Certificate

In Washington, early learning professionals can advance their education by earning “stackable” certificates at colleges across the state: The courses in early childhood education that students are required to take will build on one another in a sequential manner and deepen levels of applied learning along the way. Stackable certificates are part of Washington’s system of early childhood education (ECE) statewide credentials. Colleges across the state offer common courses, course titles, course numbers, course descriptions and student outcomes. All courses are aligned with the Washington State Core Competencies for Early Care and Education Professionals. 


12 credits
  • 5 credits: ECED& 105 -- Intro to Early Childhood Education
  • 5 credits: ECED& 107 -- Health, Safety, Nutrition
  • 2 credits: ECED& 120 -- Practicum: Nurturing Relationships


Initial ECE certificate plus one of the following 8-credit specializations
Early Childhood Education (General)
  • 5 credits: EDUC& 115 -- Child Development
  • 3 credits: EDUC& 130 -- Guiding Behavior
Infant/Toddler Care
  • 5 credits: EDUC& 115 -- Child Development
  • 3 credits: ECED& 132 -- Infant/Toddler Care
School-age Care
  • 5 credits: EDUC& 115 -- Child Development
  • 3 credits: EDUC& 136 -- School-age Care
Family Child Care
  • 5 credits: EDUC& 115 -- Child Development
  • 3 credits: ECED& 134 -- Family Child Care
  • 5 credits: EDUC& 115 -- Child Development
  • 3 credits – ECED& 139 -- Administration of Early Learning Programs
Home Visitor 
  • 5 credits: EDUC& 115 -- Child Development
  • 3 credits: ECED& 130 -- Home Visitor and Family Engagement
Outdoor Learning
  • 5 credits: EDUC& 115 -- Child Development
  • 3 credits: ECED& 137 -- Outdoor Learning for Young Children


Initial ECE Certificate
ECE Short Certificate
27 additional credits
  • 5 credits: English 100, 101 or above
  • 5 credits: Math (quantitative or computational math above 100 or designated “Q/SR”)
  • 3 credits: EDUC& 150 -- Child/Family/Community
  • 3 credits: ECED& 180 -- Language & Literacy Development
  • 5 credits: ECED& 160 -- Curriculum Development
  • 3 credits: ECED& 190 -- Observation and Assessment  
Varies by college, these courses are also an option:
  • 3 credits: ECED& 170 -- Environments for Young Children
  • 3 credits: EDUC& 130 -- Guiding Behavior


Associates Degree

To earn an associate's degree, you must complete a program that is at least 90 quarter credits, usually at a community or technical college. These degrees may be designed to transfer to a four-year college or university. A full-time student usually completes an associate's degree in two years. Part-time students will take longer than two years, depending on how many credits they take each quarter. Requirements usually include general education courses in addition to coursework in the major area of study. Depending on the program, an associate’s degree with a major in early childhood education (or early care and education) may be offered as an associate’s degree in applied science, an associate of technical arts degree, or an associate in arts degree. 


Bachelors Degree

To complete a bachelor's degree, one must complete 180 quarter credits or 120 semester credits. Full-time students typically complete a bachelor's degree in four years, although this varies with the program and individual student. A number of colleges and universities offer the bachelor’s degree with a major in early care and education. Such majors include:

  • Early childhood education
  • Early childhood and family studies
  • Human development with specialization in ECE
  • Children’s studies/childhood education
  • Elementary education with one of the following endorsements:
  1. Early childhood education
  2. Early childhood special education
  3. P-3
  4. P-3 special education

In addition to completing courses that meet the college or university’s general education requirements, a candidate for the bachelor’s degree must earn the credits specified for the major field of study. (If the student already has an associate’s degree, some credits may transfer.) Some schools offer online degree programs.


Masters Degree

Students who complete a graduate-level course of study at a university or college can earn a master’s degree. Admission to the master’s program usually depends upon fulfillment of prerequisites (such as a bachelor’s degree). The particular requirements for earning the master’s degree—including required courses, number of credit hours, and internships—depend on the program and on the area of specialization chosen by the student. In the field of early learning, the degree awarded is usually a master of education (M.Ed.), and typically takes two years for a full-time student. The options that students have for areas of specialization (or majors) differ from program to program; examples include early childhood special education and human development.