Career Days: Helping Children Learn What They Want to Be

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Do you remember childhood thoughts about what you wanted to be when you grew up? Did you become what you dreamed of, or did you go down a bumpy path as you learned more about yourself and what you are good at?

Today, students have great opportunities to help them figure out the answer to the big question asked over and over again: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Career days can help students as young as elementary school start thinking more in depth about what they want to do as adults. There are numerous benefits to having career-focused programs in schools to prepare students for their futures with the hope that perhaps their road to a career will be a bit easier.

Career days give students an up-close-and-personal view of an array of occupations, especially ones they have never heard of. It can broaden their perspectives beyond classic, familiar jobs such as teacher or firefighter. They also can learn what skills and education are required for the industries and fields they have interest in and potential aptitude for and have the opportunity to ask questions.

A successful career day gives students examples of the many ways what they are learning in school can relate to educational and career opportunities in the future. Even more, it gets students excited. Education World, a free online resource for educators and parents, reports that during career days, “The speakers often showed how the hobbies and goals of the elementary students are being used in the workforce, which energized the children and made them feel both validated and valuable.”

What are additional benefits of career days for children as young as elementary school? Casey Doose, an elementary school teacher in California, told Education World, “Career day is great for elementary kids because it shows them early in their academic careers the importance of learning. Many young kids behave well in school and do what they are told because they want to live up to the expectations of the adults in their lives. We want them to see that the expectations we set should not solely be met because we said so. We want them to see the purposefulness of their learning. By doing this at an early age, we get them thinking before they have become disenchanted with learning and before too many negative attitudes have developed.”

GEMS: Girls Excelling in Math and Science is a more targeted approach for elementary girls. On the organization’s website, parents and educators can request information to start their own GEMS clubs at their school. There is a vast array of resources available throughout the website such as tips on what teachers can do to encourage girls in math, science and technology and a section for girls to explore the wide range of STEM careers. GEMS has partnerships with the National Center for Women & Information Technology, the National Girls Collaborative Project, Crypto Club and Click2Science, all of which have resources to support career day activities

In our digital world, educators are using software that can propel the concept of a career day into a full-on career plan. Programs such as Career Cruising encourage children to start thinking about their futures as early as kindergarten. Career Cruising notes, “Helping students build a future plan connecting school to real life positively impacts their academic achievement, classroom engagement, and career and life success. Motivated students contribute to higher-performing schools and stronger communities.” The website offers evidence-based research that for young people to be genuinely ready for both college and career, they need to pay attention to their academic achievement, their aspirations and plans for the future, their ability to make transitions and their ability to direct their own careers.

Career Cruising offers tools that range from self-awareness assessments to a digital portfolio in which students can store grades, resumes, journal entries, schools of interest and more. If that’s not enough, the Personalized Pathways section is a database of career profiles, schools, programs, scholarships and job-search tools to put students on the career path that’s right for them. With this program, teachers, administrators and parents can see the student’s progress and have the opportunity to be alongside them in their career journey.

Whether your child experiences a traditional career day during which parents, alumni, businessmen and businesswomen, tradespersons and community leaders come speak to them in class, or they start their digital life plan on software when they’re in kindergarten, it’s never too early for such a valuable experience.

It’s a short step from elementary school to high school. When students start honing their skills and aspirations at an early age, their career path can transition from a bumpy road to an easy cruise. ■

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