Childhood Development Careers: 2023 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

Childhood development majors hold the unique position to observe and analyze a child's growth from life's first moments. A thorough understanding of physical, emotional, and cognitive changes enables them to develop an environment where children can grow with tremendous success. Graduates use their knowledge to create comprehensive learning experiences tailor-made for each age group. In addition, they consider various social factors that could have significant implications on the outcome desired by experts.

Aside from the academe, childhood development careers in advocacy work are also viable, where graduates tackle issues relating to children, childcare, the family, and education.

For those who want to have a career in this field, a degree in early childhood education is recommended. In 2019, 12,806 bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education and teaching were awarded, which translates to a 41.5% share (Data USA, 2019) of all degree types. In this article, learn all about the various options one has with a child development degree plus, the salary and job outlook for such roles. In this way, one can envision one’s career and create a professional development plan for childhood educators.

Childhood Development Careers Table of Contents

  1. Why pursue a career in childhood development?
  2. Childhood Development Career Outlook
  3. Required Skills for Childhood Development
  4. How to Start Your Career in Childhood Development
  5. How can I advance my career in childhood development?
  6. Alternative Career Options for Childhood Development

Why pursue a career in childhood development?

Pursuing a career in childhood development can lead to many interesting career paths. As such, the roles and responsibilities of professionals in this field are varied. However, a common ground they share is that they provide an avenue for children to become disciplined learners. Preschool teachers, for example, help children develop their language, motor, and social skills. On the other hand, child life specialists assist children who have illnesses and disabilities. Meanwhile, preschool and child care directors oversee the day-to-day operations of their organizations.

Jobs in childhood development can lead to personal and social fulfillment as one has the opportunity to impact the lives of children at a crucial stage of their lives. Experts say that the first eight years of a child’s life can lay the foundation for future health and life successes. Thus, child development professionals can teach children lessons that they will carry with them for life.

In addition, working with parents, other educators, and community leaders enhances the relationship-building skills of child development professionals and broadens the impact of their work. One example can be seen with the Head Start program, a federally funded program that provides early childhood education and other services to children aged three to five. Head Start teachers often meet with parents to report on children’s performance and progress reports (Resilient Educator, 2020). However, data reveals that many three-year-old children continue to be left out. This can be seen in the declining Head Start enrollment which counted 339,275 enrolled three-year-old children in 2019—a decline from 364,073 in 2018 (The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2020).

Source: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2020

Jobs for preschool teachers and child center directors are expected to grow by single-digit rates from 2019 to 2029. The only downside is that this growth is slower than the growth rate for all occupations. As for the salary, preschool teachers may have a lower annual median wage compared to the wage for all occupations at the entry level. However, once they take up further studies such as a doctorate in educational leadership,  they can go on to become preschool and childcare center directors which have a higher annual median wage than other professions.

Childhood Development Career Outlook

The average early childhood development salary in the U.S. is $40,626 a year (ZipRecruiter, 2023). Annual salaries can be as high as $79,500 or as low as $19,000. However, figures vary for specific roles and job types.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs for preschool teachers will grow by 2% from 2019 to 2029 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). Meanwhile, jobs for preschool and childcare center directors are projected to grow by 1% for the same period. Job growth for these two occupations is lower than the growth rate for all occupations which is at 4%. While this may signal that there is a low demand for this profession, childhood development majors should note that there are plenty of other careers that require expertise in this field.

In terms of compensation, preschool teachers earn annual median wages amounting to $37,390, which is lower than the median annual wages for all occupations in the U.S. amounting to $41,950. Teachers in elementary and secondary schools in state, local, and private institutions earn the highest at $55,364.

On the other hand, preschool and childcare directors earn a median annual wage of $55,279 which is higher than the median annual wage for all occupations. They tend to earn the highest at elementary and secondary schools in state, local, and private institutions where median annual wages equal $63,172.

Childhood Development Salary and Job Outlook



Job Outlook
Preschool teachers$37,3902%
Preschool and childcare center directors$55,2791%

Childcare worker$32,326


Child life specialist$51,4667%
Source: PayScale, Glassdoor

Required Skills for Childhood Development

Childhood development workers who interact closely with children need to have a good grasp of developmental monitoring so they know what milestones the child should achieve at a given age. If they work in the academe, they should have good classroom management and curriculum planning skills as well. Meanwhile, those in early childhood administration roles should have excellent organizational skills. Soft skills such as communication skills, problem-solving, and decision-making skills are also useful in various professional settings.

Essential Skills for Childhood Development

  • Developmental monitoring. Frequently interacting with children puts early care and education providers in a unique position to observe how a child learns or behaves compared to other children of the same age. As such, they should know how to look for developmental milestones, check the tracking signs of development, and identify developmental concerns. According to a study by Zablotsky et al. titled “Prevalence and Trends of Developmental Disabilities among Children in the United States: 2009–2017” published in the Pediatrics Journal, “the percentage of children diagnosed with a developmental disability increased significantly between 2009 and 2017, resulting in a growing population of children (∼1 out of every 6) with 1 or more developmental disabilities. Given this growth, additional research may help to better understand the characteristics of children with developmental disabilities, the complex risk factors associated with developmental disabilities, and the accessibility of services and interventions, which have been shown to improve long-term outcomes for those diagnosed with a developmental disability.” Identifying developmental delays early is critical so that the child can benefit from early intervention services (Centers for Disease and Prevention Control, n.d.).
  • Classroom management. Child development professionals who wish to work in educational settings must be able to maintain rules and discipline when working with a group of children. They must also be adept at keeping track of children’s progress, maintaining efficient use of classroom resources, and promoting a feeling of community within the classroom.
  • Curriculum planning. Preschool teachers must know how to create a learning environment that is safe, healthy, inviting, and appropriate for children’s ages. They must create a daily classroom schedule that incorporates activities that address all areas of development, from physical development to language and literacy. The schedule should also be balanced with a mix of indoor and outdoor activities. If the activity involves using gadgets, it will also be useful to know the best educational apps for kids.

Childhood Development Image 1

General Skills

  • Communication skills. Child development professionals need to have strong written, verbal, and nonverbal communication skills to function effectively in their jobs. Their written communication skills can be utilized as they come up with lesson plans or organizational policies. As they communicate assignment requirements to students or let staff and parents know of school policies, they need excellent oral communication as well to ensure that they get their point across. Even body language such as facial expressions and tone of voice is important as it enables you to engage and connect with others.
  • Problem-solving skills. Child development workers must know how to deal with issues as they arise. For instance, they must deal with children who are throwing temper tantrums or showing unruly behavior with patience, encouragement, and positive reinforcement. They likewise have to relay issues and concerns to parents in a courteous, professional way.
  • Decision-making skills. Working with children involves making sound choices every day, from what lessons to teach to choosing their activities and accounting for learning differences. Child development professionals should practice good judgment so they would be able to respond to the situation and decide what is in the best interest of the child. They might also encounter emergency situations where their quick response is crucial.
  • Organizational skills. Child development professionals must have systems in place so they can cope with the large amount of paperwork they need to fill out. They must keep an efficient filing system in place so that memos, assessments, and other important documents are not lost.

How to Start Your Career in Childhood Development

Your career goals in childhood education will dictate the degree type that you will pursue. For example, a bachelor's degree in childhood development can lead you to become a child care professional or early childhood educator. In some cases, childcare workers would only need a high school diploma or an equivalent to get a job though requirements vary by state, employer, or institutional setting. In the same vein, preschool teachers usually have an associate degree but in public schools, a bachelor’s degree is required.

What can I do with an Associate's Degree in Childhood Development?

Childcare worker

Childcare workers tend to the needs of children of various ages. They are expected to play with babies and toddlers and organize their mealtimes and snacks. They may also help preschool-age children prepare for kindergarten by conducting activities for them to build language, vocabulary, and other developmental skills. For school-age children, childcare workers can provide assistance with their homework and after-school activities.

Median salary: $32,326 (Glassdoor, 2022)

Preschool teachers

Preschool teachers educate children aged five and below to prepare them for primary school. They teach children basic concepts such as identifying shapes, colors, numbers, and letters. Preschool teachers supervise and guide children as they play and participate in activities that stimulate their developmental growth. They see to it that school policies are observed inside and outside the classroom. They also provide a weekly schedule to parents and coordinate with parents and other professionals if they observe developmental concerns with a child. This profession is also an ideal career option for psychology majors who want to be involved in childhood education. Preschool teachers tend to have the highest salaries when employed in state, local, and private schools with a median annual wage of $41,555.

Median salary: $37,390 (PayScale, 2022)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020

What can I do with a Bachelor's Degree in Childhood Development?

Preschool or childcare center director

The main responsibility of preschool or childcare center directors is to supervise preschool teachers and childcare workers. They are in charge of developing educational programs and standards and making sure that these standards are maintained. Administrative duties include preparing budgets, meeting with parents and staff, and ensuring that facilities comply with state regulations.

Median salary: $55,279 per year (PayScale, 2022)

Child life specialist

Child life specialists work with children diagnosed with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. They provide these children with emotional support and help the family members adopt coping strategies. One of their responsibilities is to simplify complex medical jargon in an age-appropriate way so that children will understand their illness. Child life specialists typically work in child life departments of hospitals or dedicated children’s hospitals. During the children’s stay in their facilities, child life specialists ensure that they are on track developmentally. They do this by providing opportunities for socialization in a playroom. They may also conduct art activities for children to express their emotions about their diagnosis or procedures.

Median salary: $51,466 (Glassdoor, 2022)

Can you get a childhood development job with just a certificate?

A certificate in early childhood education opens job opportunities where you can work with children from birth to eight years old. Such jobs include being a tutor, teaching assistant, credentialed nanny, after-school care worker, or camp counselor. You can also use your certificate as a stepping stone to pursue other careers in the childcare field.

How can I advance my career in childhood development?

If you wish to further your career goals in childhood education, you can pursue a master’s or doctorate degree. With a master’s degree, you can be an early childhood consultant or special education teacher. Meanwhile, you can be an early education childhood professor or education researcher with a doctorate degree. Another avenue is to pursue certifications, such as Child Development Associate (CDA), Certified Childcare Professional (CDP), or Montessori certification. If you are worried about the cost of pursuing a certification or a graduate degree, there are affordable online colleges that offer programs relevant to this field.

What can I do with a Master’s in Childhood Development?

Early childhood consultant

The work of early childhood consultants is steeped in research, funding mechanisms, legislative recommendations, and policy development. Such consultants gather data from surveys of children, parents, and childcare workers, which they then analyze using qualitative and quantitative methodologies. They also investigate the impact of early childhood policies on the public and prepare briefings for policymakers and key stakeholders. Early childhood consultants may also assist in contract negotiations between government and private firms. Employment in schools and nonprofit organizations

Median salary: $58,482 (Glassdoor, 2022)

Special education teacher

A special education teacher works with children with varying special needs and disabilities. They adapt general education lessons to create their own that are appropriate for children with developmental challenges. To keep track of student’s progress, they develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). They then discuss the student’s IEP with parents, general education teachers, and school administrators. Over the course of their job, they also coordinate with these people in promoting the child’s well-being.

Median salary: $59,823 per year (PayScale, 2022)

What kind of job can I get with a Doctorate in Childhood Development?

Early childhood education professor

A full-time faculty position as a childhood development professor requires one to teach early childhood and development courses at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Professors are expected to prepare course materials, such as course objectives, course syllabi, online materials, and assessment instruments. They also provide support to postgraduate students conducting their research and collaborate with others in initiatives related to research and knowledge exchange.

Median salary: $99,119 (PayScale, 2022)

Education researcher

Early childhood development researchers decide on the research design and approach for research programs that aim to improve educational outcomes for children. They also select the appropriate quantitative, qualitative, and other tools for data collection and analysis. Part of their job entails interpreting the data and delivering final reports and presentations to key stakeholders. They may also provide thought leadership by participating in conferences or responding to requests for information from the media, Congress, and other researchers.

Median salary: $72,805 (PayScale, 2022)

Childhood Development Image 2

Which certification is best for childhood development?

Some widely known childhood development certifications are CDA, CDP, and Montessori certification. With a certification, you can interact with a community of childhood educators who are committed to providing quality childcare. Certifications also allow you to exceed job requirements and gain the confidence of parents and employers that you have the competence to take care of and educate children. Such certifications include:

  • Child Development Associate. Awarded by the Council for Professional Recognition, a Child Development Associate (CDA) is one of the most notable certifications for early childhood teachers. It is proof that the professional has the requisite knowledge and has gained industry practice in early education for children aged five and below. It shows their deep understanding of a child’s developmental stages and all aspects of a child’s development (ChildCare Education Institute, n.d.).
  • Certified Child Care Professional. A Certified Childcare Professional (CDP) is a nationally recognized two-year credential awarded by the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA). It recognizes teachers and early childhood educators who have met the NECPA’s standards of excellence in childcare and early childhood education. Candidates are evaluated using nine professional ability areas and must complete a prescribed number of hours in childcare experience, education, and training (The NECPA Commission, Inc., n.d.).
  • Montessori certification. A Montessori certification allows teachers to be certified to teach students using the Montessori method at various developmental levels starting from birth to students aged 18. Credentials are also available to school administrators. A Montessori credential typically takes one to two years to complete and includes developing a year-long project plus, completing a practicum of the same length (Montessori for Today, n.d.). Such certification will allow one to teach in 5,000 Montessori schools in the U.S. (Forbes, 2019).

Alternative Career Options for Childhood Development

Though the main career path for childhood development majors is teaching, they can also fulfill this in a supporting role in the academe. They can also engage in social work if they are more passionate about serving the community.

What else can a childhood development professional do?

Parent educator

Parent educators assist parents to create a positive home environment through adopting parenting strategies and providing them with the education and resources they need to be effective parents. They conduct home visits and help parents develop goals for themselves and their children as well as plan activities that create positive interactions between parents and children. Parent educators also teach parents proper nutrition, effective budgeting, stress management techniques, and responding to tantrums and bad behavior.

Community development worker

Community development workers engage with communities on issues that impact them so that they can effect change and improve their lives. They connect marginalized communities with volunteer groups and government authorities. Community workers also provide assistance in raising and managing project funds, implementing community projects, and keeping track of the progress of the communities where they are assigned.

Child literacy specialist

Literacy educators assist children who have difficulty with reading or writing. They develop strategies to instill a love for reading and writing, taking into account the student’s individual development, cultural background, and other factors. They may also coordinate with other educators to boost literacy program efforts at various levels. Doing so will help students prepare for their future careers where written communication skills are a much-sought-after job requirement. In fact, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 82% of employers look for written communication skills in a job applicant’s resume (NACE, 2019).

Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2019

Caring and Educating Children for the Future

American social reformer Frederick Douglas once said “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Childhood development careers give professionals a unique opportunity to leave an indelible mark in the minds of impressionable children. This makes their work even more important.

But, undeniably, many challenges beset the field. One of these is the small growth in wages for childhood development careers, which on average was at $55,844 in 2019 or just a 1.69% increase compared to the previous year. Despite this, there are still those who heed the call of caring for little ones as evidenced by the estimated five-million strong workforce in the field of early childhood education and training, which showed an increase of 1.11% in 2019 (Data USA, 2019). To these individuals who rise to the challenge, educating and nurturing young minds is simply priceless.

If you are interested in exploring other academic paths that can lead to a career in childhood development, you can consider checking other education degree types. This lets you understand the different foci available to professionals in the field.