Career day is typically designed to help high school students decide what to study in college. Yet career exploration is an important topic for elementary students, too. Introducing young children to potential career options early on in school can keep students focused and engaged in subjects throughout middle and high school.
Here’s how to plan career days that are fun, memorable and inspiring.
Planning Elementary Career Exploration
Before planning a career day, teachers should check in with students about how they feel about attending such an event.
It’s especially important to talk to students about their goals and objectives, says Gail Woolf, partnership manager at Montgomery County Public Schools. This ensures that the event addresses topics they’re interested in.
Well-planned career exploration can have a host of long-term benefits for students. These benefits include improved academic performance and more positive career attitudes, explains Kara Goldenhorn at Julian Krinsky Camps. Career exploration also helps students understand how their skills and interests can translate into careers. In turn, this helps them better understand their overall place in the world.
Career exploration is all about helping students carry an idea into reality. “In the truest sense, this is the end-goal for creating access to career; career exploration used as a building block to create a well-educated workforce,” consultant Chanel Fort explains.
She stresses that teachers should help expose students to career paths specific to their state’s workforce development requirements — an idea we’ll explore later on.
Speakers and Storytelling Activities
Elementary career days should also place an emphasis on broadening student horizons. Bringing in inspirational speakers to share their stories can help students realize potential careers. Speakers might talk about places they’ve traveled to, for example, and what they experienced during different chapters of their lives. This allows students to understand the benefits of working hard in school, writes Donovan Ervin at leadership blog, Thin Difference.
Guests who can speak directly to certain fields of study can be brought in throughout the year. During a research project, for example, inviting a journalist who reviews video games or writes about cars might help bolster student interest in research and writing reports, education writer Kim Haynes offers.
Subject-specific guest speakers can also help students understand why they’re learning a certain idea or lesson. This instills meaning into everyday coursework and gives it context — something essential for motivation.
Career experts can also be invited to help students tackle real issues in the world. Students need meaningful opportunities where they can apply their skills to real problems, education writer Suzie Boss explains. If your students are tackling a project about improving access to fresh, healthy food across the globe, hearing from farmers and sustainable food developers can be a great introduction to the unit.
This lets students see what it actually means to be on that career path, and helps them apply their skills and interests to solve real problems.
Activities and Tools for Career Exploration
Meaningful career days offer students an opportunity to explore their personal interests. A self-assessment helps students identify personal interests and links them to potential career options, says Sarah Layton at Applied Educational Systems.
Understanding the link between interests and professions is important for elementary students because it can guide their extracurriculars and coursework throughout middle and high school. It can also help teachers and parents provide resources that further these interests.
Initial self-exploration can be as simple as a worksheet. As school counselor Tanya Kirschman shares at the American School Counselor Association website, an “interest inventory” helps students identify their top career cluster. Once these have been identified, students can use online exploration tools to learn more about those job tracks.
This research process is important for introducing students to concepts such as a college majors and teacher-student ratio. It also helps students look at relationships between their skills and success beyond college.
The Benefits of Job Shadowing
Job shadowing is one of the best ways to expose students to new career paths. But how can elementary students engage in meaningful job shadows at such a young age?
Part of career day at Central Elementary School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, has students spending time with community professionals, reporter Terri Brewer writes. The jobs include principals, administrative assistants, college administrators and professionals in the University of Alabama Athletics Department.
The job shadow day is part of a larger project that goes on all semester, Brewer adds. It’s a competition designed for students to explore career opportunities while developing essential soft skills they’ll need in the workplace.
The best career day should introduce students to many different careers. Fletcher Elementary, part of Henderson County Schools in North Carolina, is a strong example of this model. Fletcher’s career day exposes students to a variety of professions they might not otherwise get to experience first hand. The list includes jobs that cater to math and science skills, such as pilots, medical professionals and engineers. Creative professions are represented too with chefs, stylists and dance teachers present.
If you’re unable to connect professionals and students in real life, elementary students can benefit from virtually job shadowing careers as well. Virtual Job Shadow is a website that helps elementary students explore job descriptions across 17 different career clusters.
This tool focuses on the relationship between academic performance and overall life success. It also helps students understand and take ownership of their strengths and talents, building confidence at school.
A host of career exploration videos are available online as well. A roundup by Erin Macpherson at We Are Teachers has videos for future doctors, entrepreneurs, journalists, professors and scientists. Many are accompanied by lessons and activities to encourage interest and exploration.
Real-World Skill Exploration
Exposing students to new career paths should always be combined with skill development. In a Connections Academy interview, science teacher Meredith Stasik says most schools focus too deeply on the college experience and not enough on real-world skills. Yet, skills such as critical thinking, creative problem solving and inquiry based learning are all essential for success in the workplace.
Serial entrepreneur in the EdTech space and StudySoup CEO Sieva Kozinsky agrees. “Methods such as inquiry-based learning require students to dig through any prior knowledge they already have, apply that knowledge to a posed question, and use problem solving to arrive at an answer,” he writes.
Students need to learn the hands-on experience and skills that modern employers are looking for. Using career exploration as an avenue to teach these skills helps students make a clear connection between skills and professional success.
State and Federal Career Resources
Government resources can also be an excellent starting point for promoting student career exploration.
Kids.gov and CareerOneStop are two helpful resources, suggests Kate Fuchs at Connections Academy. Kids.gov has over 50 different career videos, games, interviews and informational texts that students can explore. With CareerOneStop, students can find more than 500 videos that explain job descriptions, education requirements and career interest clusters.
Many states offer career exploration resources. This is great for classrooms with limited resources. For example, a project from South Carolina’s public education system is called Kidswork. South Carolina ETV explains the program as “a virtual community of workplaces designed to give students an interactive job exploration experience that connects school work to real work.”
The layout of Kidswork provides a helpful example for how to introduce students to career professionals in a way that doesn’t feel intimidating.
Florida’s career exploration website, MyCareerShines, pursues a similar goal. In addition to offering self-assessment and career cluster exploration tools, MyCareerShines offers helpful information on Florida’s top 50 jobs. This includes statistics about which jobs will have the greatest number of openings in coming years, plus which industries are booming in Florida. Job placement isn’t the sole factor that students should consider when pursuing a career, but it can be a helpful guide.