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How to Obtain Your CDA License

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If your dream is a career in early childhood education, becoming a child development associate is often a good first step. Technically, you don't get a CDA license, but a CDA credential. It shows employers you have plenty of hands-on experience working with children five years old or younger. By the time you've acquired your CDA certification, you can be confident you have the skills and the temperament for your chosen career.


Becoming a child development associate takes 120 hours of online coursework. You'll also need 480 hours of hand-on experience working with children under five. Once you've completed both types of training, you can apply for an exam.

Get an Education

To begin the CDA credential process, you must have a high school diploma or GED. The exception is if you're still in school, in a career or technical program offering training in early childhood education.

Once you have your diploma, you'll need 120 hours of online coursework as part of your CDA training. One hour of coursework equates to an hour in real time, so it's possible you could finish in as little as month. It's okay to take up to a year. The coursework includes at least 10 hours in each of eight subject areas, such as observing children's behavior, understanding child development and supporting children's social and emotional development.

Work in a CDA Program

CDA certification takes hands-on practice, not just online study. You'll need 480 hours of experience working with small children, choosing one of four paths:

  • Preschool, working with at least eight children, ages three to five.
  • Infant/toddler, working with at least three children under three years old.
  • Family child care, working in a child-care home with at least two under-five children who aren't related to you.
  • Home visitor, going to homes of parents with small children and helping them meet the kids' needs.

If you're fluent in two languages, you can qualify as a bilingual specialist as well.

Verify Your Skills

Once you've completed your coursework and training, you have to prove you've got the right stuff. Contact the Council for Professional Recognition, which oversees CDA credentialing, to arrange for a verification visit. A CDA professional will show up at the scheduled time and review your performance working with kids.

You'll also have to verify what you've learned from all that online study. That requires an online exam. The council scores both the verification visit and the test results, then adds the scores together. If the total is high enough, you get your credential.

  • For experienced childcare professionals, the process is quite different. You must have at least 480 verifiable hours supervising children within the past five years. You must also have 120 hours of formal child care education within the past five years. These hours can be credit or non-credit. If you meet the requirement, you'll need to obtain the correct application packet -- preschool, infant and toddler -- from the council. Once you submit the application with proof of your credentials, you will be contacted for an observation and an interview.

Over the course of his career, Fraser Sherman has reported on local governments, written about how to start a business and profiled professionals in a variety of career fields.. He lives in Durham NC with his awesome wife and two wonderful dogs. His website is

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