Got child care experience? Here are 7 great careers, plus tips for getting ahead

Feb. 27, 2019

Caring for kids can be a rewarding and fun job, and — because you’re ambitious — you might naturally start to wonder: Where can I go with this? The good news is, with child care experience, there are several different career paths you could follow — and you get to decide which one you want to take.

“There are so many careers in which experience working with children can be beneficial — the possibilities are really great,” says Amy James, franchise owner of Primrose School of Nashville Midtown and Primrose School of Brentwood in Tennessee. “Every [child caregiver] has a ‘niche,’ something they feel they’re very good at and something they enjoy most about what they do. Explore yours: Is it art curriculum? Training new teachers? Helping your [day care] center keep up with changes to regulations? Once you figure it out, you can narrow down which professional routes you want to pursue.”

Child care career options

Your child care skills and qualifications can send you in a number of directions job-wise, whether it’s becoming a classroom teacher, a specialized nanny or a day care owner, among many possibilities. The great thing is that, regardless of where you start in your child care career, there is job mobility.

Many job pathways, especially at schools and child care centers, allow you to climb a more traditional career ladder, in which you start in an entry-level position, gain experience and then progress into higher levels of pay, skill, authority and responsibility. For instance, you may start as an aide in a day care center and advance to become an early childhood educator, an assistant director or even up to a director. Perhaps you even decide to open your own day care.

Or you could use your job experiences to shift your career to different job types. For example, you get a few years of child care experience in a preschool or day care center, but then you branch out on your own as a professional nanny or start your own in-home day care. Or, after building a teaching career, you decide to take on a job in a non-profit that tackles big picture policy issues around education and child care.

There are many creative ways to mold your child care expertise and use it to constantly challenge yourself and land a dream job. Start with one of these job options below — and you decide where you want to run with it!

1. Day care provider

Considering working at a day care center? It’s not all playing with babies and changing diapers. (Though, there can definitely be a lot of that.) The great thing about many day care centers is that they can offer you the room to move up. There are entry-level assistant roles, or you can take on the role of a day care or preschool teacher, which, depending on day care and state, may require a certain number of hours of experience and some higher education before you become a full-fledged teacher who runs her own classroom. Beyond a teacher role, there are also supervisory roles, like assistant directors and directors, which may require you to be a licensed Child Development Associate (CDA) or to hold a National Administrator Credential (NAC), as well as an associate or bachelor’s degree.

2. Day care owner

If you have an entrepreneurial mindset, you may want to consider opening a day care center in your home, a.k.a. a family day care. First, you’re going to need a business plan, money (maybe a small business loan), licensing, insurance and tons of supplies. James says it’s sometimes possible to work your way up within a company to one day own a franchise. Taking business courses and/or earning a master’s degree could speed up the process of becoming a day care owner.

3. Nanny

Being a nanny can offer you the flexibility you likely wouldn’t get working for a corporate child care company or organization. You can set your own rules and hours as a nanny, but you may not get the professional support and benefits you would working at a child care center. If you want to branch out on your own and become a nanny, having babysitting or other child care experience is an excellent stepping stone for you. Check out the Professional Guide for Nannies for tons of tips on how to get started in this field.

4. Private or public school teacher

If you like working with older kids, becoming a preschool, elementary or even middle or high school teacher can be a great career option. Your experience working with kids will be an asset, but you’re probably going to need at least a bachelor’s degree in education and some student teaching experience before you get a full-time teaching job. Public schools will also require a teaching certification in your state.

5. Specialized or special needs teacher

Looking to specialize? You can often make more money by doing so, whether it’s nannying for autistic children or teaching dramatic arts for kids. Look into what’s required and/or desired in your area. For example, special needs teachers are usually expected to have a bachelor’s degree in special education. An art teacher is expected to have an art background, in addition to a teaching degree.

6. Working in policy/advocacy

If you’re passionate about education and want to work on the bigger picture, you could go the route of working in education policy and/or advocacy. There are a ton of options here, including working for a school district or school board, a non-profit group, a government agency or teacher’s union.

7. College professor

You may be at a point in your career where you want to help others achieve the child care experience you had. One route is teaching in an early childhood education program at a college. Pass along your expertise in caring for and/or teaching children.

Ways to take your skills up a notch

To gain more skills, knowledge and marketability in the child care field, you may consider some of these types of training and education.

  • Get certified: A CDA certificate may be required for the job you already have. If not, you may consider getting it, so you can qualify for other roles. Your employer may help you work to achieve this, as well.

  • Take training courses: There may be relevant training courses in your area, or even some available online, to help you sharpen your skills in areas such as infant CPR, billing and creating lesson plans. These may be great resume boosters, especially if there’s a bit of experience you don’t have but could be desired for future positions.

  • Take business courses: Taking some business classes can help you get into a billing department and/or becoming a director one day. If you’re interested in owning your own center, business courses can help you create business plans, gain marketing skills and do just about everything else an entrepreneur needs to do.

  • Earn a college degree:

    • Early childhood education degree: A diploma or associate’s degree in early childhood education can give you a firm understanding of child development and how to be a great teacher. It can make you super marketable to day care centers and, depending on the requirements, could set you up to be a teacher or perhaps an assistant director.

    • Bachelor’s degree: A four-year education degree is an excellent tool for becoming a teacher at a public or private school or for starting a career in policy or advocacy. You can set yourself for a much greater earning potential. Know that bachelor’s degrees are time-consuming and expensive, so be sure this is the right path for you before you dive in.

    • Master’s degree: Consider a master’s degree if you want to be almost any kind of boss, an administrator or a professor one day.

Before you pay boat loads of money to further your education, do some research into what day care centers and schools in your area are looking for when hiring for the types of positions you aspire to land. Talk to a few directors, look up state early childhood education requirements and read through online job listings to get a sense of what you’ll need to get where you want to go.

There’s no one-size-fits all roadmap to a child care or education career, so don’t be afraid to do your own research, ask questions, get advice from those you admire and try out a few new experiences along the way. For some, it works best to just keep working hard, learning, growing and seeing where their career takes them.

You might even take this advice from James: “Don’t be afraid to just focus on what you are good at and enjoy!”

Read next: How to successfully negotiate pay for a caregiving job

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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