Kids go to school to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic—in addition to plenty of other subjects. But ultimately, education prepares kids to be contributing members of society and to go on to have a meaningful career in a field they enjoy. So thinking and learning about career options prior to high school is always a good idea. But when should kids begin career education? Would career exploration in elementary school be helpful for younger kids?
Kids Naturally Contemplate the Future
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? A teacher? A doctor? An astronaut? A professional baseball player? Without any prodding, even preschool-aged children naturally think about their future careers. By imagining, exploring, and role-playing different personas, kids gravitate toward categories that interest them. Encouraging this career role-playing is healthy and can be quite telling; kids often clearly prefer either left- or right-brained roles.
When Should Career Education Begin?
At some point beyond the role-playing stage, students should be exposed to a more formal career education curriculum. You may assume that career education isn’t all that necessary until kids graduate from high school, because that’s when they’re usually expected to get a job or choose a course of study in college or trade school. Experts disagree.
“The impact of early engagement can have a hugely positive impact on wider academic attainment,” writes Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Select Committee in the UK, “motivating and inspiring both children and their families, by helping them to see a future to which they can aspire and which feels achievable.”
Many experts embrace what’s called the the developmental approach, which proposes that career education should begin as young as kindergarten on a very general level, and gradually become more focused and specific for older kids. They suggest career exploration in school should progress as follows:
- Kids in elementary school should learn about why people work, and why a career-focused society is valuable.
- Kids in early middle school should learn about the economic system (the importance of a career in earning a salary, etc.)
- Kids in grades seven through ten should begin to explore different occupations. Additionally, this is when parents should begin discussing college with their kids, as well as other continuing education options, as a pathway toward becoming qualified for a career, according to John Briggs, community director at RSC, a college and career counseling company.
- Kids in grades ten and beyond should focus on discovering their strengths and interests, identifying suitable careers, and engaging in specific activities to help them gain insight into where they should focus their future educational efforts in order to become qualified for the career category they’d like to pursue.
Career Education Makes a Difference for Kids
Early access to careers and the concept of work prepares students for the real world, and helps keep them engaged by making the connection between what they’re learning in school and why they’re learning it. For instance, if a child wants to build skyscrapers and knows that math skills are necessary to pursue such a career, she’ll be more likely to embrace, rather than hate, math. Exposing kids to age-appropriate career education opens their minds to all that is possible. And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what every parent and educator wants for their students?
If your child’s current school doesn’t offer career education, consider an alternative choice. Destinations Career Academies combine traditional high school academics with industry-relevant, career-focused courses. Courses vary by school, so search for a school in your state to learn more.