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Career Paths in Early Childhood Education

Explore the various career paths available to people interesting in having an impact in the lives of young children. Consider taking our Career Path Survey, a short quiz that will help you find the career path you are best suited for.

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for a quick look at the possible career paths in each category.

Working Directly with Children

Positions in this Category

Jobs that involve working directly with children on a daily or very frequent basis.

  • Afterschool provider
  • Assistant teacher
  • Audiologist
  • Babysitter
  • Bus driver
  • Child care aide
  • Child care worker
  • Early intervention services provider
  • Family day care provider
  • Infant caregiver
  • Informal child care provider
  • Occupational therapist
  • Optometrists
  • Paraprofessional
  • Pediatric nurse
  • Pediatrician
  • Physical therapist
  • School nurse
  • School psychologist
  • Special education teacher
  • Speech therapist
  • Teacher
  • Teachers aide

Careers in this category have greatest degree of involvement with children. These include a wide range of professional areas including health, education, psychology, recreation or social service. Regardless of the particular content emphasis of an individual’s training, that content will be applied in working directly with young children.

Careers in this category also vary according to the amount of professional training and the degree of responsibility the individual exercises in planning services for young children. These include individuals who work directly with young children as teacher’s aides, assistant teachers, assistant group leaders, housekeepers, family day care workers, and other positions that often do not require extensive professional preparation. Higher levels of professional preparation and responsibility for children’s services are required for careers such as pediatric nurses; nursery school, child care, or head start teachers; school nurses; and primary grade teachers. Considerably more specialized professional training is required for pediatricians, dietitians, speech therapists, and physical therapists and school psychologists.

Individuals in these careers have contact with the families of young children and frequently use support services of trained specialists or other professionals. A strong liking for young children that leads to interacting easily and competently with young children is an absolute prerequisite for these careers. In the box to the right are examples of positions that you might consider.

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Delivering Services to Families

Positions in this Category

Jobs that involve helping families provide for their young children.

  • Clergy member
  • Education specialist
  • Family therapist
  • Health services coordinator
  • Home visitor
  • Homelessness liaison
  • Nutrition services coordinator
  • Parent educator
  • Parent involvement coordinator
  • Public health nurse
  • Social worker

This category includes individuals whose daily work is focused on delivering services to families, although contact with young children in these families may be frequent as well. These services can affect the quality of life for all members of the family unit including young children. Professionals in these careers are committed to working through parents to help children, and much of their efforts focus on helping adults realize their potential.

Most careers in this category require a moderately high degree of professional training. Individuals who are employed to deliver services to families must be capable of working directly with families as well as working with agencies and organizations that provide services. Some of the careers are social workers, family therapists, educational specialists in a prenatal clinic, and parent educators or parent coordinators.

Individuals can often increase the amount of contact they have with families of young children by specializing. Thus, a social worker could primarily work on adoptions, a public health nurse may work with child abuse cases, or a case worker may work through a community mental health center counseling grandparents who are raising grandchildren. In the box to the right are examples of positions that you might consider.

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Leading and Organizing Services for Children and Families

Positions in this Category

Jobs that involve directing and organizing programs and services for children and families.

  • Board members
  • Consultant
  • Director
  • Early intervention services coordinator
  • Education director
  • Preschool owner
  • Program coordinator
  • Recreation director
  • School principal
  • School superintendent

Leadership and organizational duties are the primary responsibility of men and women who work in careers of this kind. While a teacher may reach 20 children, a leader might reach 20 teachers who in turn will reach 400 children and their families. In the box to the right are examples of positions that you might consider.

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Providing Support to Those Who Work with Children and Families

Positions in this Category

Jobs that involve working with other professionals who in turn work with children and families.

  • Advocates
  • Early childhood librarian
  • Early childhood program administrator
  • Evaluation specialist
  • Higher education professor
  • Philanthropist
  • Policy makers
  • Professional development provider
  • Researcher
  • Trainer or staff developer

These careers include individuals who are experts in various content areas related to programs and services for children and families. These men and women provide support services and disseminate their information and skills to other professionals who work with children, families, agencies, services, and program that more directly affect young children. These individuals are not likely to be found in frequent or sustained contact directly with children or families, and they do not usually supervise other or administer programs.

Careers in this cluster include a wide range of professional interests. The most common jobs are university-based researchers, trainers, librarians, teacher resources center staff, and agency and referral specialists. Individuals who choose these careers have received extensive training.

People seeking these kinds of careers exemplify a strong orientation towards skills and knowledge in particular content areas. Many individuals who successfully pursue these careers have worked directly with young children at one time or another. Such experience often aids them in providing realistic and practical help to those they serve. In the box to the right are examples of positions that you might consider.

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Providing Goods and Services to the General Public that Assist Children and Families

Positions in this Category

Jobs that provide to the general public goods and services affecting children and families.

  • Architect
  • Children’s book author
  • Department store buyer
  • Dietitian
  • Freelance writer
  • Interior decorator
  • Librarian
  • Museum docent
  • Newspaper or magazine reporter or editor
  • Park guide
  • Radio commentator
  • Religious education director
  • Television programmer
  • Website / software developer
  • and many more!

The key to careers of this kind is the phrase "general public." Individuals who work in these careers serve the general public, not just individual children, families, or professionals. In serving the general public, such people provide goods and services that are particularly helpful to children, families and professionals. Most individuals in these careers have strong knowledge and skills in the particular career area in which they work. They may acquire skills and knowledge relevant to young children and their families through their work experiences. Like professionals in careers described above, these individuals have the option of directing some of their efforts to areas that will affect children and families. In the box to the right are examples of positions that you might consider.

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Adapted from: Careers with young children: Making your decision. Authors: Judith W. Seaver, Carol A. Cartwright, Cecelia B. Ward and C. Annette Heasley. 1979. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Washington, DC.

It has been modified where appropriate to reflect updated language and/or fit the needs of this resource.

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