Early Childhood Education vs. Child Development

A child’s early years are integral to their physical, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive development. From birth to age 8, children go through rapid phases of development and growth. They learn to talk, crawl, walk, play, learn, and behave. Since this development is so essential for a child’s health and wellness, professionals devote careers to researching, monitoring, and helping children and their families.

The differences in the fields of early childhood education vs. child development may not be obvious. People interested in learning more about the experiences and relationships that impact child development can consider pursuing an online Bachelor of Arts in Human Development and Family Studies degree with an Early Childhood Development track.

A preschool child draws with a colored pencil in a classroom

Definitions of Early Childhood Education and Child Development

Early childhood education is the learning activity of children before elementary school. It includes any educational institutions children attend prior to kindergarten. Programs can be full time or part time. They can include settings such as childcare centers, public preschools, early childhood educators’ homes, and church nursery schools. Early childhood education professionals can work as preschool teachers or childcare center directors, among other occupations. Another common location is a child’s home, with a nanny or babysitter.

Early childhood education also refers to the learning experiences a young child goes through as they develop. Any activities that help a child gain social, physical, behavioral, or cognitive understanding are part of their education. This is where the overlap occurs in early childhood education vs. child development.

Child development tracks children’s physical, emotional, psychological, and cognitive growth. Professionals in this field can work in research, education, social work, or psychology. They study how families and communities can aid in the positive development of children and help create awareness through educational programs.

Moreover, child development professionals implement prevention and intervention programs for childhood disabilities, birth defects, and blood disorders.

Similarities Between Early Childhood Education and Child Development

Research reveals that children who get an excellent education early are likely to be successful as adults. According to the National Education Association, children with a high-quality education are more likely to finish high school and then earn a high salary.

When it comes to early childhood education vs. child development, professionals working in both fields share the goal of understanding how children grow and develop. They want children to be healthy, receive a quality education, and get the tools they need to succeed in life.

Early childhood education and child development experts are equally concerned with giving children safe environments for learning. They also want to offer essential resources to families who have children with disabilities, disorders, or diseases.

Professionals in both fields aim to eliminate negative educational experiences and unhealthy parenting practices. They advocate for educated teachers and smaller class sizes that permit teachers to establish one-on-one relationships with students. They also recommend the consistent involvement of parents or legal guardians.

Differences: Early Childhood Education vs. Child Development

Even though experts in each field have the same overall goals, a closer look at early childhood education vs. child development reveals several key differences.

The primary difference is that child development is a broader field that encompasses the development of children and adolescents. Experts examine relationships between family members, such as between parents and children. On the other hand, early childhood education focuses on supplying young children with the best environment for an effective education. Additionally, while early childhood education centers on engaging students in learning and development activities, child development roles can include conducting activities, observing children, and identifying and solving problems.

As a result, child development professionals work in a wide range of settings including healthcare facilities, while early childhood education professionals primarily work in childcare and school settings. Child development career options may also be more varied.

Early Childhood Education Careers

Early childhood education experts focus on implementing tools to help students reach certain growth milestones, such as talking and walking. Professionals can work in the following roles:

  • Preschool teacher
  • Childcare teacher
  • Nanny
  • Babysitter
  • Childcare worker
  • Preschool director

Directors of early childhood education facilities supervise children’s activities. They help cultivate positive experiences that lead to growth and development. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), preschool and childcare center directors earn a median annual salary of $48,210.

Child Development Careers

Child development professionals study how students develop naturally. They supply resources for those who need help. They usually conduct research or study children in the following settings:

  • Schools
  • Childcare facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Nonprofit youth organizations
  • Treatment centers
  • Government agencies
  • In-home environments

Specific careers include the following examples:

  • Certified family life educator
  • Certified family life specialist
  • Mental health counselor
  • Substance abuse counselor
  • Behavioral counselor
  • Social worker
  • Community service manager

According to the BLS, counselors who work in careers related to human development and family studies earn a median annual salary of $46,240.

Earn a Human Development and Family Studies Degree

Working in an early childhood education or child development role can be a rewarding career for someone who wants to make a difference in the lives of children and their families. Professionals in these fields gain an understanding of how children develop, allowing them to contribute to society in a meaningful way. Their work includes studying how children grow, educating families, and promoting child wellness.

When comparing early childhood education vs. child development, individuals may want to explore Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Human Development and Family Studies, which offers an Early Childhood Development track. In the degree program, students take courses such as Family and Community Partnerships, Sociology of the Family, Interpersonal Relationships, and Critical Thinking in the Social Sciences.

Discover more about how Maryville University can help you pursue your professional goals in early childhood education or child development.

Recommended Reading

How to Become a Child Life Specialist

What Do Community Health Workers Do?

What Is Family Life Education?


American Institute for Research, “Early Childhood and Child Development”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Child Development Basics”

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Early and Middle Childhood

National Association for the Education of Young Children, About Us

National Education Association, “Early Childhood Education”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Preschool and Childcare Center Directors

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

U.S. Department of Education, Early Learning Definitions

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