The Best Way to Teach Career Programming for Elementary School

My lesson plan for February focused on career exploration for elementary students. I would imagine that to most laypeople, a lesson on “careers” in elementary school might seem a bit overzealous. However, career education is part of our counseling standards. My goal in teaching elementary-aged students about careers is to help them determine their current strengths and consider future problems that they might want to solve, not help them pick out an actual job.

Research indicates that many of the careers that our elementary-aged students will have don’t even exist yet, which is why they will need transferable skills that will last a lifetime.

When I first taught a career lesson in elementary school, I observed that students seemed to focus on career titles, not necessarily the function of the work itself. Upon reflection, I realized, it is natural for students to see careers as just a name because adults are continually asking them, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

My new question for my career programming this year focuses less on job titles and more on actions. Instead of asking the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I flip the question and ask them, “What problem do you want to solve right now?” which more accurately reflects the ways that most people who deliberately consider their career paths make that decision.

Finding a resource to support this newly established goal was not easy, but with a lot of research, my fantastic intern found the work of Carol, The Middle School Counselor on TPT. Carol has developed a fantastic career lesson called “My Career Plan,” which helps students focus on their interests, accomplishments, and problems they hope to solve.

In one of Carol’s worksheets provided in her packet, she asks students to focus on their favorite things, such as their favorite foods, animals, games, and what they love to do. And perhaps most importantly, it asks students to consider their current strengths and areas for improvement. On another page, you can include one of two choices for your students to exercise their creativeness. On one page, students can draw themselves in their desired future role and why they prefer that role OR they can draw a career that they already know about and answer what people in that particular role do for work. This activity is such a great way to get to know your students!

Career for elementary students looks vastly different from the high school curriculum. Still, the foundation we are laying for the future is stable and will prepare them for the road ahead by providing them explicit context for career.