How early should students start planning their futures? Consider spending some time on career exploration for elementary students.
As someone who has taught college, high school, and elementary, nothing really shocks me anymore. I like to think that I have seen it all by now.
However, it still does surprise me when high school and college students admittedly state they have no idea what they want to do for a career. This inevitably leads to them choosing classes or jumping into careers with no strategy (or passion) behind it.
Still, as educators, this is something that falls on us, too. There are things we can do to ensure each student has at least an idea about the career they want to pursue. A 2012 Gallup Student Poll showed that 8 in 10 elementary students are actively engaged in school. By middle school, only 6 in 10 students are engaged. Further, in high school, a mere 4 out of 10 students are actively engaged.
But there’s something we can do about this: Start earlier. If we help our elementary students construct a plan and set goals for their future from the elementary school years, we can only keep them more engaged.
After all, engaged students from K–12 are 4.5 times more likely to be confident about their futures compared to those who are not.
Traditionally, Career Discussion Starts Early but Not seriously
All of us ask children what they want to be when they grow up. As we half listen, we smile, say that’s good and then seldom give it another thought. In any case, we should consider their response to the question much more than we do. Perhaps they already have a very basic idea about what field they would flourish in, even if they don’t know exactly the role they will hold.
Children in the primary grades are actually pretty observant. In fact, this is when many of their likes and dislikes are formed. Think about it: I became a New York Mets fan around this age, while my whole family loved the Chicago Cubs, and I still am decades later (even through the very bad years). I also developed inordinate hate for chicken nuggets and I still refuse to touch one.
These years are some of our most formative. So why are we wasting an opportunity as educators to help these students develop their path at this age to the career they want later on as an adult? Their love for a certain career can grow throughout the years as long as we are helping to make it blossom.
It is an opportunity wasted. We are big on emphasizing teachable moments in the classroom that come about unexpectedly. Yet, we are not following up on introducing children to certain career paths when the opportunity presents itself.
Tip: Take Career Exploration for Elementary Students One Step Further
Instead of moving on to the next child after you ask a kid what they want to do later on in life, take it a step further. Ask a follow-up question that will make them start thinking. Ask how they expect to get there.
Of course, this will probably take them by surprise. Most young children don’t know the steps they have to take to get to that job they want to have. They’re unaware of the subject areas they must develop a love for. If you introduce them to actions they must take in the future to help them reach the possibility of achieving their aspiration, they will have a much better chance at success.
Wait… Is Elementary Really the Time for Career Exploration?
There is no better time than now to get elementary students thinking about their future. In addition to day-to-day learning, focusing on career exploration will give them something to get excited about throughout their years in school.
We just have to find the perfect way to keep them engaged and in the driver’s seat of their future.
Bring Career Exploration into the Classroom: Where to Start
There are always a couple of ways to tackle a problem. Of course, we could go the traditional route and ask parents and professionals to talk about how they pursued the career they are in.
However, a more innovative way to spark career curiosity is through a self-driven, future-readiness solution that allows all students to move at their own pace and be actively in control each step of the way.
Make career exploration for your elementary students an active part of your classroom. There are even online programs available to districts and schools across the country. The programs differ a bit based on age level, but with young learners in elementary, career awareness can be created through fun learning activities and play.
With programs like these, elementary students are invited to make self-discoveries as they identify their interests, individual achievements, and examine how it may guide them in life. They can take their likes and dislikes and figure out which type of industry they would most enjoy working in.
Go Beyond the Technical skills: Paving a Path for Self-Discovery
Taking an interest in their academics is great, but elementary students also need to evolve and mature to develop their social-emotional skills—skills that especially need attention in the 21st century.
With a dedicated college, career, and future readiness program, it empowers students to go beyond the books and develop the professional skills to help them shine in the future.
Students will develop skills such as self-awareness, resiliency, self-management, and even empathy. These are all abilities they need to acquire to become successful in their careers and in life.
Right now as educators, we’re all probably thinking about how we wished something like this was available back in the day as elementary students. It could have been a game-changer. In fact, some of us may have pursued a totally different career path than the one we happened to stumble upon when choosing our major in college at the last moment.
It’s like Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Let’s do our best to keep our students from failing by introducing a career exploration program that will keep everyone on task through their school years.