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What is a CDA Certificate? (The Only Guide You Need)

A CDA certificate is vital to your career as an early childhood educator. Read on to learn more about the credentialing program and requirements.

What is a CDA Certificate? (The Only Guide You Need)

The Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential is a widely recognized credential that the Council of Professional Recognition awards to early childhood professionals for competence in delivering high-quality education and care services to young children from zero to five years of age. 

To obtain the CDA credential, you must train in various CDA-approved subjects, work a designated number of hours with children, and take the CDA exam. The CDA certificate requires you to build a portfolio and complete a verification visit before receiving your credential.

You’re eligible for a CDA certificate if you’re an early childhood educator looking to grow your knowledge and skills in early childhood education and develop your career. Let’s delve into more details on CDA eligibility, training, certification, and benefits.

Preschool teacher sitting at table with children painting


What do you need to be eligible for a CDA certification?

To earn a CDA certificate, you must meet all the requirements of the CDA. You'll need to purchase materials and complete specific training to ensure you meet all the requirements before you apply for your credential. Here is what you need to be eligible:

Have a high school diploma

To be eligible for a CDA certificate, you must have a high school diploma or GED. If you haven’t earned your diploma yet, you can enroll in a technical program for early childhood education.

Your training hours in the program will count toward the CDA’s formal education requirements.

Select your preferred early childhood setting

There are four types of CDA-accredited early childhood settings: infant-toddler setting, home visitor setting, family childcare setting, and preschool setting. The CDA certification requires you to choose a career path among these settings.

Complete 120 hours of training in CDA-approved subject areas

To qualify for the CDA credential, you’ll have to undergo 120 hours of CDA training.

The training has to adhere to the CDA requirement, which states that you have to undergo formal education from an institution that specializes in early childhood teacher preparation in these CDA-approved training subject areas:

  • Children’s intellectual development: CDA certification strongly emphasizes that children’s intellectual and physical development has to be nurtured.
  • Learners’ emotional development: This is where you focus on cultivating and supporting children's emotional and social development.
  • Childcare program management: You’re trained to successfully and effectively operate and manage childcare programs.
  • Principles of education and development: This training area emphasizes all basic principles of a child’s education and development.
  • Nurturing family relationships: As a CDA-certified professional, you need to nurture family relationships effectively to positively impact the children’s development in the classroom and at home. 
  • Learners' behavior: You’ll be trained to observe, register and analyze the learners’ behavior to understand their development better.
  • The learning environment: You’ll be trained on how to create a safe and positive learning environment for the children.
  • Your professionalism: Your commitment to professional ethics and conduct is crucial to getting certification from the CDA.

You must spend at least 10 hours on each of these subject areas.

At the end of your training, the Council for Professional Recognition will require you to present a certificate of completion and an official transcript to verify that you accomplished the 120 hours of training in all eight subject areas.

Preschoolers raising their hands sitting in a circle with their teachers.


Attain 480 hours of experience working with young children

This is a crucial step in your CDA training and certification. You must have three years of on-the-job experience before taking your certification exams. You’ll need to gain experience in your area of specialization by working with children in a center-based program (or other approved program). 

Build your professional portfolio and apply for the CDA credential

Within six months of your CDA certificate application, you’re required to complete your professional portfolio.

The CDA Competency Standards book has all the requirements to help you prepare yourself adequately and apply for the CDA credential. It has complete details on the certification process, forms to use such as family questionnaires, portfolio, application forms, CDA competency standards, and the observation tool (an official comprehensive scoring instrument) that the CDA professional development specialist will use.  

In the portfolio, you’ll provide all your documentation, competency statements, a philosophy statement, resources, and family questionnaires.

To apply for the CDA credential, you can either choose between an online application or an in-person application, where you’ll fill out and submit a CDA competency standards form.

Afterward, you’ll be notified about scheduling your examination and CDA verification visit.

Children raising their hands and the teacher pointing to a child to respond.


Scheduling your CDA verification visit

The CDA certification process includes receiving an invitation for a verification visit.

For verification to occur, you must find a professional development (PD) specialist to oversee the procedure. The council chooses from a database with PD specialists. Select one in your area and send them a request to facilitate your visit. 

In response, the specialist will send you an ID number to help you complete and forward your application. The verification sessions are normally held at the center or institution where you work or volunteer to gain work experience.

A specialist will review your professional portfolio and other documents during verification. These include proof of completing your 120 hours of training, 480 hours of working experience and completing your professional portfolio. The council will then notify you to schedule your verification visit. 

The specialist will also audit your professional portfolio, which includes physically observing how you work with the children. Then, they’ll review your portfolio and conduct a supervision session where you’ll discuss your strengths and any areas that need improvement.

Taking the CDA certification exam

Many centers offer CDA certification examinations. Search for a testing facility near you. The exam has 65 multiple-choice questions, with some containing situational assessments.

Once you complete your exam, the testing center will forward your scores to the Council for Professional Recognition. The council will then rate your exam on a scale of 0-100, with a passing score being 70 or higher. You’ll receive your results three days after completing the exam. 

Receiving your CDA certificate

Once you’ve completed your CDA training, finished your verification visit, and passed the exam, it’s time to receive your credential. The Council of Professional Recognition reviews your exam and other documentation before making a decision, which takes about three business days. 

Teacher supporting student at the table.


Benefits of CDA certification

Earning a CDA credential is beneficial to both you and the children you work with. These include:

  • Giving you exposure to the world of hardworking and dedicated professional early childhood educators
  • Advancing your career to ensure your personal and professional growth
  • Meeting and even surpassing your job requirements
  • Boosting your confidence and capabilities
  • Creating room for better job opportunities
  • Enhancing trust among all the educators at your workplace
  • Giving you a better understanding of the best practices of early childhood education
  • Reinforcing your passion and commitment to working with young children

Cost of the CDA certification

While a CDA certificate will benefit you in many ways, getting this credential can be costly for some. New credentials are $425 for online applications and $500 for paper applications. When your certificate expires, the cost for online renewal is $125 and $150 for paper renewal applications. 

To prepare for the exam, there may be an added expense for the study books and other training materials needed to support your lessons. 

Some employers will pay for your CDA certification, and some institutions offer scholarships to employees planning to take the course.

Frequently asked questions

What should you include in your professional portfolio?

Your professional portfolio must include documentation of your education, including your CDA-approved training and college transcripts. You’ll also need a summary of the CDA education cover sheet and other verifications you completed within your 120 hours of training. 

The council will also need family questionnaires. This is a form with questions and answers collected from some of the families of the children you’ve worked with. It must have responses from over 50% of those families.

Also, include a collection of resources for early childhood learning and a summary of all your professional values and beliefs on early childhood education. This is a two-page professional philosophy statement about your role as an educator. 

In addition, you’ll need six reflective written statements of competence (about 300-500 words). These will be about your teaching practices, including one statement each to accompany other documents highlighted in the CDA competency standards book.

Teacher showing a child play dough art


How long will it take to get a CDA certificate?

Getting a CDA credential is a straightforward process. Once you submit your application, pass the exam, complete 120 hours of professional development, and pass the verification visit, you should receive your credential within 10 business days. 

What qualifies as a center-based preschool program?

The Council for Professional Recognition defines a center-based preschool as a state-approved child development center with at least 10 children enrolled and at least two educators working with children on a regular basis. The candidate must be observed working with at least eight children, all of whom are ages three to five years old.

How many hours do I need to work to qualify for CDA certification?

You must work 480 hours with young children in an accredited institution to gain experience.

Bottom line

With a CDA credential, you can confidently work in a variety of early care and education settings with children from birth to five years old. This certification offers limitless possibilities and opportunities, allowing you to advance in your career, gain recognition, and strengthen your early childhood education skills and knowledge.

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