How to Earn Your CDA Credentials

Want to advance your career in child care?  If you're thinking about earning your Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credentials or maybe you're still just investigating, we hope this guide will help you in your decision-making!


Introduction to the CDA

If you're looking to move up professionally or simply want to build on your knowledge of early learning, the Child Development Associatiate® (CDA) Credential may be just for you!  It is one of the most well-recognized credentials in early childhood education and a great opportunity to grow your career.  It is designed to assess and credential early childhood education professionals. 

The Council for Professional Recognition, a non-profit organization located in Washington, DC (commonly known as the CDA Council), administers the CDA Credential program.

Earning your CDA Credential is a big commitment, but one that will build confidence and help you develop a good understanding of today's best practices for teaching young children. Nearly 400,000 people have already received their CDA Credentials since the program's initial offering. In fact, there is growing demand for the CDA Credentials internationally, as more and more countries seek to improve the learning environment for young children. 

CDA Credentialing Process Overview

CDA Webinars and Tutorials

Resumen del proceso de certificación CDA


Determining if You Need a CDA

Just as all child care programs are different, the requirements for professionals within these programs may vary. Talk with your program staff about their policies and also check our state resources page for links to your state's early learning agencies for requirements in your state.

While not all positions require post-secondary education, adding new knowledge and skills can be a great way to grow your career. The CDA Program is a tool for professionals who work in all types of early care and education programs: Head Start, pre-k, infant/toddler, family child care, and home visitor programs. 


Benefits of the CDA

The Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential is a key stepping stone on the path of career advancement in Early Childhood Education.

What could that mean for you?

  1. Advance your career – additional education and credentialing could open doors and take you to the next step in your career path! You may also be eligible to receive college credits by earning your CDA (check with your college regarding their policies).
  2. Earn more money – who wouldn’t like to earn more money? With additional career opportunities, your earning power will continue to grow!
  3. Gain more confidence – knowing more about the early learning field can certainly help make you feel more confident working with children as well as speaking with parents, which can help put parents’ minds at ease too!
  4. Increase your knowledge – in such a broad and complex field, the learning never stops, from behavior management to good nutrition. And what could be more important than teaching tomorrow’s leaders!

Many teachers find that having earned their CDA actually makes them a better teacher.  Watch this inspiring video about several teachers’ experience with the CDA.


The CDA Application Process

The process for earning your Child Development Associate® (CDA) Credential is outlined on the CDA Council website.  It is a multi-step process involving continuing education, experience and observation.  You can also review our Guide to Preparing for Your CDA Credential for more detailed information.  Here is an outline of the process:


Anytime before I apply

  • Earn a high school diploma, GED or be enrolled as a junior or senior in a high school career and technical program in early childhood education.
  • Complete 120 hours of formal early childhood education training, covering the growth and development of children within the ages of your selected setting (i.e., infant/toddler, preschool, or family child care), with no fewer than 10 training hours in each of the eight CDA subject areas. 

CDA Subject Areas

- Planning a safe and healthy learning environment
- Advancing children's physical and intellectual development
- Supporting children's social and emotional development
- Building productive relationships with families
- Managing an effective program operation
- Maintaining a commitment to professionalism
- Observing and recording children's behavior
- Understanding principles of child development and learning

Within 3 years of submitting application:

  • Obtain 480 hours of professional work experience in a center-based setting with children of the ages specific to your selected setting.

Within 6 months of submitting application:

  • Prepare your CDA Professional Portfolio - You are required to put together a collection of reference materials related to your work. Please follow the detailed instructions in your Competency Standards book to prepare your CDA Professional Portfolio.
  • Find a CDA Professional Development (PD) Specialist  - To learn more about CDA PD Specialist's role in the CDA credentialing process click here.



  • Once you receive your Ready to Schedule notification from the Council, you are ready to schedule your CDA Verification Visit and CDA Exam.


  • Scores are electronically submitted to the Council by the CDA PD Specialist and Pearson Vue testing center.
  • A Council committee will review the results of your assessment and render a decision whether to award you the CDA Credential. If your credential is awarded, the official Child Development Associate® credential will be mailed to you. If the committee decides you need more training, the Council will let you know the next steps to take to earn the Credential.


CDA Renewal

Keeping your CDA Credential current is an important step in continuing your professional development in your work with young children and their families. The early care and education profession is very delicate and it is imperative for early educators to stay up to date with the latest theories, research/studies, appropriate practices and latest trends in the early childhood education field.

The continuous professional development of CDA Credential holders is a must to ensure the quality of care and education provided to our nation’s youngest children. Keeping this in mind, the Council requires you to renew your credential every three years.

When Should You Start Preparing for Your Renewal?

  1. You should be preparing for your renewal well in advance of your application submission date.
  2. If you are renewing for the first time, you can begin preparing for your CDA renewal as soon as you earn your CDA Credential.
  3. If you have renewed before, you can begin gathering the requirements after the issue date of your most current credential.

When Can You Submit Your Renewal Application?

Your CDA is valid for three years from the award date so it is very important for you to renew your CDA Credential before it expires to remain an active CDA. The Council must receive your application by the expiration date to be accepted.

Unfortunately, there are no exceptions or extensions. If your CDA Credential expires, you will have to reapply to obtain a new credential.

  • Candidates should submit their renewal application on or before their expiration date.
  • Candidates can submit their renewal application up to 6 months before their expiration date. 

CDA Renewal Requirements:

  1. Complete 45 hours of continuing education or training courses in the setting of your original credential (Training taken after the issue date, not older than 5 years)
  2. Choose an early childhood education (ECE) professional to complete your recommendation
  3. Achieve First Aid and Infant/Child (Pediatric) CPR certification
  4. Work with young children in the setting of your original credential
  5. Join or renew your membership in a national or local early childhood professional organization


SafeGard Classes Online CDA Training Packages

One of the key elements of the credential program is the requirement for 120 hours of continued education training or 45 hours for the renewal.  That's where SafeGard Classes Online can help!  As an IACET Accredited Provider and Partner to the CDA Council, your can be assured our classes meet the high-standards required for the Credentials.  You will also earn Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) for all classes.

We offer numerous training packages to meet your needs:

Intial CDA

Earning your initial CDA requires completing 120 hours of early childhood education training, with at least 10 hours in each of the 8 CDA subject areas: 

CDA Subject Areas

  1. Planning a safe and healthy learning environment
  2. Advancing children's physical and intellectual development
  3. Supporting children's social and emotional development
  4. Building productive relationships with families
  5. Managing an effective program operation
  6. Maintaining a commitment to professionalism
  7. Observing and recording children's behavior
  8. Understanding principles of child development and learning

Additionally, the training needs to be specific to your chosen CDA setting (i.e., infant/toddler, preschool or family child care).  

While that might seem intimidating, fret not--we've got you covered!  Our 120 hour packages contain pre-selected classes with at least 10 hours of training in each of these areas.  You can select from 3 different packages, each specific to your CDA settting:

120 hrs: Pre-selected 80 hours + You Choose 40 hours - this option provides the required courses in each of the CDA Subject Areas plus 40 hours of classes that you can choose from our wide range of classes.

120 hrs: Pre-selected for CDA Setting Type - this package contains the best selection of classes to meet both the CDA Subject Area requirements as well as being specific to your chosen setting type.

120 hrs: Pay-As-You-Go - this 3-part package helps you manage your budget by paying at your pace.  Like our other packages, it contains the best selection of classes to meet both the CDA Subject Area requirements as well as being specific to your chosen setting type.

80 hrs: Pre-selected for 8 CDA Subject Areas - if you already have at least 40 hours of training, you can select this package which offers 10 hours of classes in each of the 8 CDA Subject Areas, also specific to your CDA setting type.

Renewal CDA

You'll need to renew your CDA every 3 years to keep your skills fresh and stay updated on the latest child development theories and practices.  

For the CDA renewal, there are several required steps, including completing 45 hours of early childhood education specific to your CDA setting type.  We offer 2 training packages for the renewal:

45 hrs: Pre-selected for CDA Setting Type - this packages has 45 hours of classes chosen specifically for each CDA setting type and to supplement the initial CDA curriculum.    

45 hrs: You Choose Classes - if you'd like to select your own classes, this will allow you to customize 45 hours of classes specific to your unique needs.  You can choose from a wide range of classes in topics from Autism to Working with Humor.

So, depending on your needs, we've got a package that's best for you.  Our CDA Training page has more details about each of these packages.  

Get started growing your career today!