What Does an Early Childhood Educator Do?

Updated December 2023

If you research the role of an early childhood educator, you'll find job descriptions that sound a lot like this: 

Early childhood educators organize and lead activities to promote the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical development of children under 12.

They help kids adjust to the world outside their family circle and get ready for the next stage of structured learning.

Now, that certainly sounds accurate - but what exactly does it mean? What does an early childhood educator (ECE) actually do all day?

The truth is an ECE's responsibilities can vary depending on the work environment. For instance, teaching toddlers in preschool is very different from assisting a licensed teacher in a third-grade classroom.

But most ECEs work in daycares and preschools, so that's what we're focusing on in this post.

We provide a breakdown of a typical day for an early childhood educator so you'll know what to expect on the job.

Considering a career in this field? Here's how your workday could look.


ARRIVAL of children at the daycare or preschool

As an ECE, your day begins by greeting the children as they arrive.

Drop-off can be a tough transition for some kids, so you need to be positive and energetic. The goal is to make the children feel happy about being there so that they're OK separating from their parents.

Parents often have tips or instructions you need to remember as well. Maybe Tommy is having a tough morning because his mother is away for a couple days, or Aaliyah absolutely should NOT have a nap today.

Once the kids have all arrived and the parents have left, you will also oversee the process of stowing belongings in cubbies or lockers, putting on inside shoes, and washing hands.


Getting started with MORNING ACTIVITIES

The next task is often to bring the kids together in a circle to help them get ready for the day.

You might sing a song, read a story, have everyone do some stretches or jumping jacks, or just talk about what each child did the night before.

Some daycares and preschools even have pets for the children to look after, and circle time is an opportunity to feed and interact with the animals.

Other morning activities might include art, crafts, dancing, or dramatic play.

An early childhood education program will teach you how to plan appropriate educational activities for each age group and stage of development. You will learn how to supervise the activities and encourage each child to reach learning milestones through projects and play,


organizing SNACK TIME

A mid-morning snack break might come next.

In some cases, the kids bring their own snacks from home. In other cases, the ECE might be responsible for cutting up fruit, spooning yogurt, or giving out crackers.

Older children might help with setup or pour their own drinks.

You must guide everyone through the hand-washing process, model appropriate table manners, and help the kids learn how to socialize politely and clean up after themselves.

Note: If you're working with very young children in a daycare, you will also need to change diapers regularly. The post-snack period is often a good time.



Overseeing outdoor play is a key part of an early childhood educator's day.

You might supervise the children as they climb trees, play games, or enjoy free time with a sandbox, water table, slide, or other playground equipment. You might also lead group activities like maintaining a garden, building a fort, identifying plants, or completing a scavenger hunt.

It can be a challenge to get everyone dressed in the appropriate gear, but the benefits of fresh air and exercise are worth it.


getting ready for LUNCH 

Lunch is a busy time at a daycare or preschool!

You have to convince the children to come back inside, take off their outdoor gear, wash their hands, collect their lunches, and sit quietly at a table.

While everyone is eating, you might guide a discussion about what the kids have done so far that day and what they liked or didn't like about each activity.

It's a great time to practise both table manners and conversation skills.


settling down for NAP OR QUIET TIME

Once lunch is over, you need to transition to some rest time.

Some kids might go down for a nap, while others work on a quiet activity like colouring, looking at a book, or doing a puzzle.

To help the nappers settle, you might dim the lights, play soft, soothing music, and set up mats or cots. You'll need to make sure the children who aren't sleeping don't bother the ones who are.

It's also important to have a routine for waking the children up and putting away quiet time materials.



Freshly energized, the kids will be ready for some fun.

You might begin a group craft, set them free to choose an activity centre, or go back outside for more active play.

Routine is at the heart of everything at a daycare or preschool. Early childhood educators map out each day and carefully plan the routines so children have the structure they need to learn and thrive.


Closing the day

To wrap things up at the end of the day, you typically bring the group back together. Toys and materials must be put away and children need to start getting ready for pick-up.

Some ECEs will use a clean-up or goodbye song to help move this process along. And they will help younger children gets coats on and gather belongings.

And there you have it! That's a typical day for an early childhood educator at a daycare or preschool.

Whether you're leading the group yourself or assisting a more experienced educator, you will be doing some version of this routine each and every day.



Interested in becoming an early childhood educator? Your first step is to learn about training requirements. If you want to build a successful career in this field, you will need to complete a college ECE certificate.

Start by exploring the early childhood education program from Herzing College. This training can be completed in just 14 to 24 months (depending on the pace you choose).

The program includes eight weeks of real work experience through an internship at a daycare or preschool.

Our ECE students learn how to plan educational activities, deal with challenging behaviours, build trust with children, and communicate professionally with parents and caregivers.

Still have questions? An admissions advisor can walk you through all the details of the training and help you decide if it's right for you.

Click below to get more info on the early childhood education program and chat live with an advisor. We're here to help!

Explore the Early Childhood Education Program

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