What is a CDA? Everything You Need to Know

The Child Development Associate (CDA) Certificate is the simplest, quickest, and most inexpensive way to further your career in early child care and education. Receiving your CDA can help you become a lead child care teacher or open your own licensed child care center in Virginia. The certificate is also valid in all fifty states, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virginia Islands. 

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How to Get a CDA (Child Development Associate Certificate)

Woman getting her CDA online through ChildSavers training.

It can take less time to get your certificate than an associates degree! You earn your CDA by:

  • Meeting 120 hours of qualified professional development (typically completed through a CDA training course)
  • Meeting 480 hours of professional work experience
  • Passing the Child Development Associate Certificate exam, given by Pearson VUE at a designated testing site
  • Passing your Verification Visit
  • Passing a review of your Professional Portfolio

It is recommended to enroll in training for your professional development hours. You can find many inexpensive options (like ChildSavers’ Online CDA Training) that will help you purchase your books, calculate the 120 hours of training and 480 hours of professional work experience needed to earn your certificate, put together your Professional Portfolio, train for your Verification Visit, and prepare you to take (and pass!) your exam.

Important note: You will need to choose which child care setting you will be applying for (Center-Based Preschool, Center-Based Infant-Toddler, Family Child Care, or Home Visitor). Within 3 years of submitting your CDA application, you must obtain 480 hours of professional work experience in your applied child care setting.

How to take the Child Development Associates Certificate (CDA) Exam

To take the CDA Exam, you must first purchase your study book(s), enroll in a training course to gather your 120 professional development hours, and apply to the Council of Professional Recognition. The fee to apply online is $425. All exams must be scheduled and taken through Pearson VUE at a local testing site.

Scheduling Your Verification Visit (Observation)

After you apply to the Council of Professional Recognition, you will schedule your exam and your CDA Verification Visit (Observation). An approved specialist will visit your workplace to observe your interactions with children in a specific age group. The specialist will then sit down with you to review your strengths and areas of improvement. They will also review your Professional Portfolio. Their findings and evaluations, along with your exam scores, factor equally into whether or not you will earn your certificate.

What goes in a CDA Professional Portfolio?

You will need to submit a Professional Portfolio along the road to earning your CDA. According to Child Care Aware, your Professional Portfolio needs to include:

  • My CDA Professional Portfolio cover sheet
  • Summary of CDA Education cover sheet plus documentation of your CDA training and education such as official training record or college transcript, certificates, or other verification that you have successfully completed a minimum of 120 hours of training with no fewer than 10 clock hours of training in each of the eight CDA subject areas.
  • Family Questionnaires Summary sheet plus completed Family Questionnaires, a form you distribute and collect back from the majority of the families of children in your care (a return from more than 50% of families is required).
  • Six Reflective Statements of Competence: Written statements of your own teaching practices, including one for each of the six CDA Competency Standards (300–500 words in length).
  • Resource Collection: A specific collection of early childhood resources
  • Professional Philosophy Statement: A written summary of your professional beliefs and values about early childhood education, how young children learn, and your role as an early childhood educator (no more than two pages in length).

How long does it take to get a Child Development Associates Certificate?

The timeline to get your CDA is flexible, but it normally takes less time than an Associates degree. Earning your certificate is also usually cheaper than taking college courses or earning a college degree.

Typically, child care professionals sign up for a training course, which can vary in length. These training courses help prepare you for the exam, purchase the study book(s), earn your required professional development hours, build your portfolio binder, and much more.

You receive your CDA once you’ve passed your exam, completed your 120 hours of professional development, passed the review of your Professional Portfolio, and passed your Verification Visit.

How much does it cost to earn your CDA?

The fee to apply for your CDA exam and assessment is $425. This includes a review of your Professional Portfolio and Verification Visit. Low-cost online training like ChildSavers‘ 13-month training course costs $20 per class ($260 total) and $80 for books.

We also offer an additional, quarterly Portfolio class for $40. This workshop will provide step-by-step instructions over two nights as to how to complete your CDA Professional Portfolio. The Professional Portfolio is a requirement in completing your CDA.

In total, earning your Child Development Associates Certificate could cost as low as $805 when you train with ChildSavers.

How much does ChildSavers training cost?

Woman enrolled in ChildSavers online CDA Training

There are 13 classes in ChildSavers CDA Training Course. Each class costs $20 (one class/month) and books for the course cost $80. We also offer an additional, quarterly Portfolio class for $40.

Please note: Our class does not include the $425 CDA application fee. You will need to pay for that separately.

ChildSavers offers CDA classes online! Our training is 13-month course leading up to your test and observation. We’ll help you on your journey to earning your certificate, which will include:

  • A monthly class for 13 months. Don’t worry, multiple evening classes are offered per month!
  • 13 chapters of homework (1 per month), feedback about your assignments, and a portfolio notebook that we’ll help you complete.
  • Upon completion of our training program, you will receive a certificate of completion for 120 hours of study needed to apply for credentialing through the Council for Professional Recognition in Washington, D.C.

What are the requirements to enroll in ChildSavers’ CDA training?

To participate in training, you must:

  • Be at least 16 years of age AND/OR hold a high school diploma/G.E.D. and participate in an early child care class
  • Be currently employed or volunteering in a child care center or family day home
  • Attend a ChildSavers CDA orientation (offered December, March, May, August)
  • Attend your designated monthly CDA class and complete required assignments (first classes start January, April, June, September)

How to Renew Your Certification

Those who earn a CDA will need to renew their certification every three years. To renew your CDA Credential, the cost is $150 for paper applications. Candidates who apply online will receive a $25.00 discount and the cost for renewal is $125.00.

Ongoing Professional Development with ChildSavers

If you’re in need of additional professional development hours after you receive your Child Development Associates Certificate, or for your program, check out ChildSavers’ free and low-cost training for child care professionals.

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