February 2018

Learning About Careers Can Be Fun

By Cathy Smith
This year, I made the tough decision to leave my position as a high school counselor and accept one at an elementary school. I have been a school counselor at every grade level and thus far, my favorite had always been high school. I enjoyed seeing my students grow into young adults ready to tackle the next phases of their lives, and nothing was more rewarding than guiding them to make well-informed choices, particularly ones that fit their personal visions of who they wanted to become. When I moved down to the elementary level, however, I faced a daunting task: how would I encourage my students to think seriously about careers when most of them are under 10 years old?

There are certainly joys about school counseling at an elementary school level that are harder to find in high schools. At the elementary level, students love you almost as a parent and are generally happy to see you. (Some days, while walking down the hall, I feel like a rock star.) The classroom lessons are naturally fun and interactive, and perhaps because of this, elementary students usually remember my lessons. After spending half a year in this school, I have realized it is precisely these characteristics of elementary school counseling that make careers not a daunting topic but a lively, relevant and exciting one.

As I’ve discovered, a great way to introduce careers to elementary students is through dress-up and play. While wearing various clothes, even using Halloween costumes, students can play as various types of professionals, such as chefs, doctors, firefighters and teachers. Games such as bingo or Jeopardy! are also great ways for students to learn information about different careers. For example, I have a game called “Occupational Bingo.” In this game, I read a description of a career, and the students must search for the career title on their bingo cards. We typically discuss these careers as we are playing, such as what people in these careers actually do or other names for that career. My students have learned that cosmetologist means beautician and that a pastor is a preacher. When it comes to careers, my students are always learning, competing and having fun.

In some ways, I admit, talking about careers with my high school students was easier; these students were very close to starting their careers, while elementary students’ career knowledge is limited. However, because it is limited, there is so much more exciting exploration to do. For this reason, school counselors seeking to incorporate careers into their lessons should embrace this fun, dynamic learning experience. In the past, I loved taking field trips to universities and seeing those happy faces when students got into the programs or universities of their choice. For now, I am perfectly happy to be at the elementary level, playing bingo and dress up.