So you’re looking to get a degree in early childhood but are not sure if you are ready to devote your attention to early childhood education or early childhood development. That makes sense as there are key differences and similarities between these two fields. Our goal is to help you navigate these and determine by the end of this article which path is the right one for you.

First, let’s take a look at Early Childhood Education

What is Early Childhood Education?

Early Childhood Education is a branch of education for infants to children age 8. This branch of education uses age-appropriate pedagogical practice to teach young children. Jean Piaget, and early childhood education philosopher, describes using play as a method for educating young children. Those who employ Piaget pedagogy use play to enhance children’s curiosity and imagination ensuring that play education touches on the following areas: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Social (PILES) needs of children. Rudolf Steiner, Margaret McMillan and Maria Montessori all emphasize the value of play in early childhood education. Early childhood education also prepares students (through developmentally appropriate activities) for entry into upper grades, and more advanced social scenarios. A child may be taught to empathize with other children, listen, take turns, raise their hand, signal to to teachers when they need to use the bathroom, become bathroom trained, learn about safety, and other fundamentals. Other components of early childhood education include classroom design, curriculum design, parent education, advocacy for quality programming, and understanding and compliance with legal and ethical practices. Early Childhood Education is very specifically about teacher behavior towards early learners, their peers, and the supporting community.

Next, let’s take a closer look at Early Childhood Development

What is Early Childhood Development

You may have guessed that in many ways Early Childhood Development is a larger field than early childhood education. You are correct in your assumption as early childhood development encompasses multiple disciplines. Early Childhood Development is a term used to describe all specialty areas that take participate in the research, relationship, and understanding of the developing minds of young learners. This field changes each year as we continue to learn more about the developing mind. Neuroscience is absolutely a very important science that contributes heavily to the field of early childhood development. As we start to understand more about the brains of babies and young children the field evolves. Though early childhood development is not just neuroscience for young minds, it’s that and more. The “more” is developmental psychology, pediatrics, biology (such as physical growth), behavior science, developmental milestones (both physical and mental), and mechanisms like nature vs nurture, cause and effect etc.

Okay, so where do the two fields overlap?

Are there similarities between early childhood education and early childhood development?

Both fields concern themselves with early learners- how a learner understands, changes, can grow, and improve. If a young child has a developmental delay both early childhood education and early childhood development focus on what is happening with that young child, how to best facilitate that child’s growth and proper care. Where ethical areas are concerned: a child’s nutrition, or malnutrition, income, child abuse, IQ etc… both early childhood educators and those who work in the myriad fields of early childhood development are involved in finding solutions for these young learners. Any variable that could potentially impact a child’s health and safety and their ability to access quality of life, are concerns for both early childhood educators and early childhood development.

What are the job differences for early childhood education and early childhood development?

Early childhood educators focus primarily on setting up the learning environment in preparation for learning, creating lesson plans, and teaching young learners. Some roles require, like assistant teacher, require an associate degree in early childhood education (which can even be completed online!) A bachelor’s degree in education is the baseline degree for early childhood educators, but it is much more common for individuals in the field to obtain an advanced degree such as a master’s degree in early childhood education. A common career for individuals who work in early childhood development is developmental psychologies. The developmental psychologist will student the changes in development including social changes, intellectual and emotional changes as well as cognitive changes across the lifespan. You can focus on early childhood development. A doctoral degree is typically required for individuals looking to work in this field. If you are unsure whether or not childhood development is right for you, take a look at these online degrees in childhood development.

Here are some other things to consider before signing up for a degree program
  • The median salary of an early childhood educator is $28,790 for preschool teachers and $54,310 for elementary school teachers.
  • The median salary for a developmental psychologist is between $69,000-$91,000 per year.
  • Average time spent in higher education for early childhood educators is 2 years.
  • Average time spent in higher education for developmental psychologists is 4-7 years

What will I study in Early Childhood Education?

Students who study early childhood education in the 21st century are going to have a different curriculum than those from even 10 years ago. Our understanding of early childhood education has changed recently and so along with it (should) the curriculum. You should expect to study childhood development, methods for setting up the learning environment, a variety of evidence-based pedagogical practices, emergent literacy, mathematics in early childhood education, as well as curriculum and instruction for diverse learners. If you are looking for a great degree in early childhood education, there are a number of great options.

What will I study in Childhood Development?

Depending on your area of interest, the curriculum will change. Developmental psychologist should expect to both research and apply their learning during their degree. You may study socio-cultural theories of developmental psychology, methods for studying infants, information processing theories and cognitive change, relationships and attachment, parenting and parenting styles, temperament and personality, intelligence and the debate over nature versus nurture, self esteem identity among others.

Hopefully, this helped clarify a few of the differences and similarities between early childhood education and early childhood development. We recommend researching various scholars in depth such as Jean Piaget, and Maria Montessori for more clues into what career would be a good fit for you.