Child life specialists focus on child development and learn how to intervene when children and their families face stressful or other challenging experiences, such as a hospitalization. They use play, preparation, education and self-expression to teach children and their families coping mechanisms. Most child life specialists work in hospitals or other health care settings. A number of colleges offer degrees and certificate programs for students who want to become a child life specialist.
Most undergraduate child life programs include family and child development and related topics of study. The four-year plan of study at Illinois State University, for example, includes classes in family relationships, leadership development, counseling and human and family development. The undergraduate degree program at the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics at Syracuse University divides its child life program into different tracks. For example, you can specialize in early child development, youth and family development, early childhood education or the broader child life specialist track.
Undergraduate Program Characteristics
Some colleges, such as ISU, let you tailor your program to fit your interests by building in several program electives. Some colleges have a specific department for their child life programs while others include child life classes in a broader department or area of study. Louisiana Tech University, for example, includes its child life program in its College of Applied and Natural Sciences. Some colleges and universities also offer a two-year associate degree in child life. However, holding an associate degree may not meet an employer’s education requirements.
Child Life Specialist Certification
After earning a degree in child life, you may also need to earn a certification before being eligible for some jobs. The Child Life Council, a professional organization for child life specialists, offers the most-recognized child life specialist certification. After earning the certification, it is good for five years. After this five-year period, you can apply for re-certification. To earn certification, you must take and pass a 150-question multiple-choice exam. Some colleges offer classes to prepare you for certification. Arizona State University gears its Certificate in Child Life program for students who plan to take the Child Life Council certification exam. This certificate program at ASU includes courses such as early childhood intervention, child dysfunction in the family, play in child life and foundations of therapeutic recreation.
Education Prerequisites for Certification
The Child Life Council offers certification for child life specialists who have at least a bachelor’s degree. While it doesn’t specify the type of bachelor’s degree you must hold, to be eligible for certification you must complete a total of 10 college-level courses in child life. Courses that count include child, family or human development; family dynamics; psychology; counseling; sociology; and therapeutic recreation. You must also meet minimum experience requirements as well before becoming eligible for certification. Though the Child Life Council does not certify colleges and other educational institutions, it maintains an online database of child life academic programs in the United States and Canada. It also includes information about online child life certificate programs.
- Child Life Council: Child Life FAQ
- Child Life Council: Certification Eligibility Requirements
- Child Life Council: Academic Program Directory
- Child Life Council: Certification -- The Examination
- Illinois State University: Department of Family and Consumer Sciences -- Human Development and Family Resources
- Illinois State University: Department of Family and Consumer Sciences -- Human Development and Family Resources Four-Year Plan of Study
- Louisiana Tech University: College of Applied and Natural Sciences -- Family and Child Studies, BS
- David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics: CFS Undergraduate Degree
William Henderson has been writing for newspapers, magazines and journals for more than 15 years. He served as editor of the "New England Blade" and is a former contributor to "The Advocate." His work has also appeared on The Good Men Project, Life By Me and The Huffington Post.