Insights from the School of Education and Social Policy at Merrimack College

Many teachers are attracted to early childhood education because they know the critical importance of these years to a person’s later development. Those who seek to become the best in this area choose to enter graduate-level early childhood education degree programs. In Massachusetts, completing a graduate-level early childhood education degree program is a requirement for staying in the profession. The Merrimack College graduate degree program prepares students to earn the initial state licensure through the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL). 

Why the emphasis on having well-educated and trained teachers for early childhood education? Because study after study has shown the importance of early childhood education on a student’s later academic accomplishments and even success in adult life. It’s so important that the National Education Association has compiled a long list of research on the topic. Graduate students in an early childhood education degree program are preparing themselves to become not only great educators but also leaders in this key area of education. 

What You Learn in a Graduate Program 

Students in an early childhood education degree program pick up valuable skills in subject matter knowledge such as curriculum design, instructional strategies, observation and assessment, communication and collaboration with families and the community. 

Teachers are taught both theory and how to apply it to practical situations. The Merrimack College program prepares teachers to earn their initial license to teach Pre-K through 2nd-grade classrooms in Massachusetts. The curriculum covers all the important aspects of practical, advanced teaching skills needed to get the best student outcomes during this critical time. The Merrimack College curriculum in the early childhood education degree program includes the following courses. 

Teaching and Learning in Inclusive Classrooms. Teachers learn different strategies for educating students of varying backgrounds, learning abilities and learning methods.  

Challenges in Learning and Development. Teachers learn how to identify those with disabilities and the steps taken to refer students for evaluation in the special education process. They also learn the characteristics of those with disabilities and the challenges they face. 

Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment in Early Childhood Reading and Language Arts. Teachers learn the foundations of teaching reading as defined by the National Reading Panel Report – phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. 

Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment in Early Childhood Math. Teachers learn the foundations of teaching math in early childhood education, including number sense, numeration, geometry, and data analysis. 

Practical Skills for Teachers 

At Merrimack College, an emphasis is placed on applying theories and best practices into real-world classroom situations. Students in the online early childhood education program participate in three pre-practicums and one full practicum. A practicum is required to earn licensure in Massachusetts. The pre-practicums last from 30 to 55 hours, depending on the teacher’s level of experience. The full practicum is 450 hours or 15 weeks. Students in the master’s program also have a course on sheltered English instruction that includes an opportunity for teachers to use their newly learned skills in the field. The course focuses on learning how language functions in an academic setting and how children acquire a second language. 

This combination of theory and practical application help set the Merrimack College early childhood development degree program apart from other graduate school programs. With the option of earning a degree online, teachers have a better opportunity than ever to earn their degree while maintaining busy professional and personal lives.