Interested in caring for youngsters, teaching preschool or even running a daycare? Before jumping into the career of your dreams, you will need the proper credentials and education. If you already know which degree and program is right for you, that’s great! But where should you start if you have no idea of where to begin? For many, the best starting point is to obtain a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. Many have launched a career in early childhood education (ECE) by taking the same first step, so you are not alone.
The CDA credential covers many of the components that research and subject-matter experts have deemed critical in both ECE curriculum and experience. Since 1975, this credential has stood as the foundation of professional development in the ECE field and is made more valuable by its national recognition and adaptability to any program for young children.
With a CDA, you can advance your career, increase your skills and knowledge and be eligible for more jobs.
Still not sure if a Child Development Associate credential is worth it? Keep reading to see what it takes to earn your credential and how it can further benefit you and your career goals.
Facts about the CDA
- The CDA requires 120 hours of professional education in early childhood development, and 480 hours of work experience along with a professional portfolio. Often times, these requirements can fulfill close to a semester’s worth of credits in an ECE degree program.
- There are four different settings in which you can become certified: Center-based preschool (works with children ages 3–5), center-based infant/toddler (works with children ages birth–36 months), home-based family childcare (works with children ages birth–5 years old) and home visitor (works with families of children ages birth–5 years old). There is also the option to obtain a bilingual specialization; if you know two languages and work in an immersion school or bilingual environment, you have the ability to put those skills to use.
- The credentialing process also values parental involvement. Studies have shown that the influence of a young child’s parents on their education is incredibly important. Therefore, a CDA candidate’s portfolio will include feedback from the parents of children with whom the candidate worked during the training process.
- To be officially granted the CDA, you must take an exam and participate in a verification visit. The verification visit is a direct observation of a CDA candidate by a council professional development specialist. This may seem a bit nerve-wracking, but it will give you more credibility and confidence knowing you were observed and approved by an ECE expert.
Why earn a CDA?
Now that you know a bit more about the details involved in earning your CDA credential, you’re probably wondering if it’s really worth it for you to obtain one.
In a nutshell, the answer is yes. But don’t take our word for it; we enlisted Rasmussen College Dean of Education Mary Muhs to weigh in on the importance of earning this credential. Read up on some of the benefits of acquiring a CDA credential.
The CDA requires you to not only learn about ECE best practices, but also gain hundreds of hours of hands-on experience and valuable feedback from expert observers. After being armed with this knowledge and experience, imagine the confidence you’ll have walking into a classroom full of young learners.
“The CDA credential shows that you already know so much about quality childcare and education before setting forth into a more formal higher education degree,” says Muhs. ”It gives you encouragement and a step up.”
There’s no denying that early childhood education is important. As the research supporting the importance of ECE increases, so does the demand for accredited and competent individuals with both academic training and applicable experience. Thus having a CDA helps qualify you for more jobs by showing potential future employers that you have reached a professional level of skill and knowledge.
Muhs explains that while a CDA may not always be required, it holds great value. The fact that the credential is recognized nationwide means that it can serve an individual well in the future. “It is highly respected and shows that you are committed to quality programs for children,” Muhs adds.
Perhaps you’re hoping that your teaching or childcare experience acts as a stepping stone toward a more advanced ECE career. Think of the CDA as a ticket into the ECE world. The hours of education and hands-on experience you get with your CDA will help launch you to the next level.
If you decide to advance your education further in the future, many degree programs will offer credits for CDA certified individuals.
“We know the importance of the CDA as the foundation for future education,” Muhs says.
Because of this, Rasmussen College allows up to 12 credits to be waived for verification of a current CDA credential.
Take a step toward success
So whether you aspire to climb the ranks of the ECE world or you want to gain experience working with children before committing to anything else, the CDA is worth it. The value and relevancy will help you begin your journey into the field of early childhood education, and that is just the beginning. Once you have your CDA, you can apply those credits towards a degree in Early Childhood Education. If you want to know how you can acquire your CDA credential and earn a degree, check out Rasmussen College’s Early Childhood Education Associate’s Degree page to learn more.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in May 2015. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2017. Insight from Mary Muhs remains from original article.