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"Children are like wet cement: whatever falls on them makes an impression."
- Haim Ginott · noted child psychologist and education pioneer
Among people, arguably the most impressionable time is during early to middle childhood -- the period of time stretching from preschool to primary school. At this age, children can grasp abstract concepts and understand the world around them, but have not yet solidified their beliefs and personalities. This makes it a powerful time for career learning.
In fact, the UK's Department of Education recognizes that primary school is a viable time to get started on career education. Likewise, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published a working paper advocating schools to encourage career learning at the earliest levels.
Given this fertile time in a child's mind, now would be a good time to introduce them to different professions, and thus empower them to pursue a fitting career path as they grow and develop.
Here are six ways to stimulate career learning in primary school kids.
Share your own job
The cornerstone of any young child is their parent or guardian. As the first person they know from birth, you exert a great deal of influence on their young psyche. Therefore, their first introduction to the world of career choices should come from you.
- Tell them a story of your own career: what your job title is, what it entails, and the industry or field you work in.
- Share what your daily routine is like at work. Who are the people you interact with? What impact or ramifications does your job have on others?
- What is your role in the organization, and why is it an important part of the company?
To make this activity interesting, use multimedia. Show them photos of your office, or better yet your personal workspace. Play clips from your industry so they can concretely see what type of field you're in, and relate it to other job industries.
Chart your career path
For any child, it could be hard to imagine daddy or mommy as any other person than the one they see now. It might surprise them to know that you weren't always this way -- and that includes your job.
- Take them on a journey of your career. Show them the first job you held and why you chose it.
- As you go through your work history, identify milestones and turning points. What made you leave a particular company? What influenced you to jump into a different industry?
Remember that children are visual learners. To aid your story, show photos and videos from your earliest working days. Draw a chart or timeline of your occupation history, and share anecdotes at each stop.
Use tactile tools
In addition to visuals, children learn best by manipulating objects. Don't limit yourself to oral stories or old Facebook videos… use items creatively to portray your work!
- Toys such as building blocks and Legos can be useful in illustrating occupations. Build an office building, a shop, or better yet a neighborhood that shows different businesses.
- Dust off those Matchbox and Hotwheels cars from the bin. A small city is a good example of different industries in action and how they interact with each other.
Kids are more likely to pay attention and remember details when playing. Besides, roleplaying is always fun!
- Have them wear a tie or put on a hardhat so they "feel" what it's like to be in your shoes for a day, and have fun impersonating you or other people.
- Put those plastic toys to good use. That kiddie cooking playset, cash register, or construction kit is a good way to bond with your child while showing them how different jobs operate.
- You can also visit places like Kidzania, which offers full-fledged mini "cities" where kids can experience different professions ranging from bakers and F&B attendants to airline pilots and even firefighters!
Learn through TV and movies
There are plenty of people whose career trajectories were influenced by shows they watched during childhood. For example, people who work in technology and scientific disciplines often cite Star Trek as an instrumental factor.
- Expose your child to different shows and movies, not just the ones you love. They might find their calling in the stars through The Martian, or be inspired to take to the field from seeing Moneyball or Any Given Sunday.
- Medical series like CIS or Dr. House can result in a budding doctor, nurse, or forensic specialist.
- Educational TV shows like The Science Channel's How It's Made or Discovery Channel's Extreme Engineering can spark their interest in manufacturing, engineering or construction.
Tap the power of video games
A 2011 study of children between the ages of 2 and 17 found that 91% play video games. Today, the mass availability of mobile phone games and tablets means that figure can only go up. Turn it to your advantage by using video games for career learning.
- Both the Google Play Store and Apple Appstore are filled with free games that combine fun gameplay with career exposure. There are games for cooking and restaurant service, business management, and even ownership and development of different industries like hospitals, prisons and cinemas.
- For Android devices, School Teacher Job Simulator is an example of an educational game that allows kids to explore what it's like to be on the other side of the teacher's table.
- You can also let them try life simulation games such as the ever popular game The Sims. Not only can they choose from different occupations and climb the career ladder, it also teaches them about daily life management and saving money.
Career discovery is one of life's learning experiences that each of us has to go through. As adults, we are so entrenched in our own profession that we pay little attention to other fields outside our own. But for a child just starting to learn about the world, career learning is a very important time that can shape their future choices. These activities will empower them to discover their own interests, and get them started on the right path to a fulfilling career.