Career Exploration For Your Elementary Students – What, Why, And How?

Kai Frazier
November 8, 2022

When you entered college, did you know what career you wanted to work toward, or did it take a while to find your passion? In a 2022 survey by Intelligent.com, 29% of respondents reported working in a different field from their field of study. Whether this is due to the changing job market or changing minds, career exploration is one way to help curb this problem. And why not start as early as possible?! Career exploration for elementary students is the perfect way to put them on the right path at the beginning of their academic careers. 

Career exploration is the process of discovering, evaluating, and learning about modern career paths and how students can pursue the careers of their choice. But it's more than that. Elementary school career exploration should spark curiosity, showcase career opportunities, and foster self-awareness. It should help students learn more about themselves, so they can make informed decisions about what kind of job would be fulfilling and aligned with their unique skills. 

Kai XR believes effective career exploration should begin early as a digital learning platform. We help students engage with potential careers and build relevant skills through immersive virtual field trips and makerspace classrooms

In this article, we'll discuss the following: 

  • Why career exploration is important
  • How to integrate career exploration into your elementary classroom

Let's start exploring! 

Why Career Exploration for Elementary Students is Important 

With the ever-changing job market, it is more important than ever to understand career paths and what they entail. The importance of this is especially true for elementary students because they have a lot to consider when it comes to their future careers.

Career exploration is an integral part of a child's education. It can help children by allowing them to discover their strengths and weaknesses, as well as what they enjoy doing outside of school time. Students who are taught how to explore their interests, skills, and values will be better prepared for future career decisions. In addition, when students have the opportunity to explore careers, they gain valuable information about themselves and what it takes to be successful in different fields of work.

It helps them to understand what they enjoy, what they are good at, and what they are not. Elementary school teaches children basic math, reading, and writing skills. Career exploration can contextualize these skills to make them feel more valuable. 

Introducing career exploration to children in elementary school offers several benefits for them, their families, and society. 

In elementary school, kids have begun identifying their areas of interest, talents, and dreams. This is the perfect time to discuss what a career is and how it relates to all of this. They can learn about the different aspects of a job and begin to choose which one they want to pursue. Each element can be broken down into smaller details so that kids can better understand what they want to do when they grow up (and possibly create a successful career).

There are many reasons why career exploration should begin in elementary school, but for this blog, we'll focus on two: 

  1. Self-concept starts in elementary school
  2. Career exploration builds a foundation for skills development 

Self-Concept Begins in Elementary School

While it may feel like teaching a third grader how to plan out their future career is premature, research shows that awareness and aspirations for a career path can start as early as 9-10 years of age. In addition, students can describe what they like and dislike as early as age 5, and they begin to understand and discuss stereotypes associated with certain jobs by the 5th grade. 

The National Career Development Association (NCDA) provides guidelines for elementary school students with three areas of focus:

  1. Self-knowledge
  2. Education and occupational exploration
  3. Career planning 

Self-concept, or self-knowledge, requires understanding one's own behaviors, abilities, and unique characteristics. If a young person doesn't have a developed concept of themselves, they can struggle in picking what direction they want their life to go. Essentially, it is going through the process of figuring out what you like and don't like, categorizing those likes and dislikes, and prioritizing them within your own scope to define yourself personally. In essence, asking themselves, "who am I?".

When students think about their future careers, they need to start by reflecting on the things they like and dislike doing. They must also consider what makes them happy or sad when doing certain tasks or activities.

Once students have established a strong sense of self, they can be more engaged in education and occupation exploration, career planning, and skills development. By understanding their options and the skills needed to succeed in those roles, they can focus their learning on developing those skills. 

It Builds a Foundation for Skills Development

For many students, elementary school is a time of exploration and discovery. It's also when you develop your interests, hobbies, and skills that will stay with you throughout your life.

Career development builds a foundation for skills development, which is the second piece of the puzzle. Students need to know what skills are required for specific jobs and how to acquire those skills. It is important to explore careers with students at this age level because they will be able to remember this information and use it as a reference throughout their lives.

When students are young, they tend to have very concrete ideas about what they want to do when they grow up. As they get older, their interests become more defined and specific. They also understand that school is not just about getting good grades. It also prepares them for the real world and helps them find their place in it.

Skills development is one of the essential parts of modern education. In the past, most schools have focused on teaching students how to read, write and calculate. However, as educators become more aware of the changing world around them, they realize that it's also important for students to learn about careers. This helps students understand what jobs exist and what skills they need to succeed at those jobs.

Three frameworks are incorporated into modern classrooms: 

  1. Social-emotional learning activities - Skills that foster emotional regulation, communication, and responsible decision-making
  2. 21st-century learning skills - Skills such as leadership, innovation, and collaboration that help students succeed in a 21st-century workplace
  3. CTE skills - Soft and technical skills that can be applied to specific jobs 

Let's look at an example to illustrate how they all work together. 

If a student wants to be an architect when they grow up, there are specific skills within these frameworks they will need to master. For example, they will need to use social and emotional skills to understand how to build relationships with engineers who can design the buildings and contractors who will build them. They will also need to consider how their project may impact the surrounding community positively or negatively. Again, this ties directly to social-emotional skills, which begin developing in preschool and kindergarten. 

When it comes to leveraging their 21st-century skills, an architect would need to learn how to collaborate with their engineers and contractors to produce the best possible structure. They may also need to leverage their innovation skills to solve complex problems in the design process. 

Finally, they will need to leverage their understanding of mathematics and physics to ensure the building plans will stand the test of time. 

And while it may seem far-fetched, all of these skills can be built during elementary school! 

Integrating Elementary Career Exploration

If you want your students to be prepared for the world beyond school, you need to give them opportunities to explore what they want in the future. Career exploration can be integrated into any class and is a great way for elementary students to learn about themselves and the world around them.

If elementary career exploration is a new concept to you, you may be wondering how to integrate it into your classroom best. We've simplified the process into four recommendations: 

  1. Create opportunities for exposure
  2. Model curiosity
  3. Talk about the process
  4. Use the power of play

Make sure that all students have access to the same information. You don't want to give one group of students more information than others. Instead, you should provide opportunities for all students to access the same resources so they can make informed decisions about their futures.

Educators should also give students multiple opportunities to explore careers and interests. Students will have different interests at different times during their lives, so it's important that they have multiple chances to explore different careers or educational paths before making decisions about what they want.

Create Opportunities for Exposure

Many of us have had teachers who encouraged us to think about our futures. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" was a question we often heard as children.

A child may be able to identify what they are interested in doing, but they need to know more about it. This is where educators can support career development by creating opportunities for exposure.

Teachers can provide opportunities for exposure in a variety of ways, including: 

  • Field trips
  • Community involvement
  • Access to resources like books and articles
  • Role-playing or job simulations
  • Hands-on lessons 

Let's dig into the details of these techniques! 

While career exploration can take many forms, one of the most effective ways is through field trips. Students visit companies and organizations that offer different types of jobs, from accounting firms to hospitals, from retail stores to restaurants. This allows them to understand better what each job entails and whether or not it is something they would like to pursue as an adult.

One of the challenges of relying on school field trips as a form of career exploration is that many schools face limited budgets, and planning takes a lot of time and coordination for the teacher. However, with virtual field trips, you can get the best of both worlds! You gain access to job roles from across the globe, and lessons become more engaging with better outcomes. 

A few of the most significant benefits of virtual field trips for career exploration are: 

  1. Virtual field trips make a more engaging learning experience to help students understand concepts more thoroughly.
  2. Virtual field trips are more accessible and can give students access to experiences they would otherwise not be able to have.
  3. Virtual reality provides opportunities for students to build digital literacy skills. 

Kai XR partners with programs and schools to provide over 100 engaging, fully immersive VR field trips that help students explore the world, discover new careers, and hear from professionals.

Teachers can also expose students to different possibilities by getting their students involved with community organizations and introducing them to professionals in their field of interest. For example, if students want to be artists, they can visit an art museum or take drawing lessons at a local art center. If a student wants to be a chef, they can learn how to cook from someone who already has experience in the kitchen or volunteer at a local soup kitchen. 

Students should also have access to books, articles, and other resources to help them understand what jobs are available in different careers. For example, suppose a student knows that they want to be an engineer but doesn't know what engineers do daily. In that case, they should be able to go online and read about careers in engineering or talk to someone who works as an engineer.

Role play is another great way to immerse students in potential career paths in a group activity. Each student may take on the role of different occupations and interact as a professional. For example, maybe a student wants to open a bakery. They would role-play as a bakery owner, and another student may role-play as a demanding customer. The bakery owner must use communication and self-management skills to maintain a positive customer service experience. 

Finally, children learn best through doing rather than simply reading or listening. Therefore, encourage students to participate in hands-on activities related to their interests as much as possible to develop fundamental skills in these areas and gather information about potential careers. For example, if students express interest in computer programming, they would benefit from using tools like an Arduino and RaspberryPi in a makerspace classroom. Here, they can develop the CTE skills they need to become a future robotics programmer or tech innovator. 

Model Curiosity

Career exploration should be unbiased and inspire students to explore what's possible. Educators can inspire this by modeling curiosity in the classroom. 

One way to engage students is by inspiring them to stay curious — not only about the world around them but also about the possibilities for their future careers. When educators ask questions about what students want to be when they grow up or what kind of work interests them most, it helps them begin thinking about these things themselves. Ask students to imagine their future. What would make them happy? How might they feel fulfilled in a career? Curiosity is the best pathway to lead students to explore a million possibilities that lay in front of them.

Curiosity creates a growth-oriented mindset because students are inspired to push further and pursue their dreams. It requires self-awareness and self-motivation. Without curiosity, we wouldn't be sending astronauts into outer space! 

Talk About the Process

Another essential element of elementary school career exploration is ensuring students understand the whole process of career exploration and preparedness. One study found that 98% of surveyed teachers agreed that introducing children to the world of work was important, as it helped children link school subjects with the world of work. 

While career exploration and preparedness aren't linear, below is a general overview of the lengthy process. First, students must understand the time and energy they'll spend over 12+ years preparing for the workplace. 

  1. Career awareness - Making students aware of different career options.
  2. Career research - It gives students the space to dig into different career paths to ensure they fit their lifestyle. 
  3. Career planning - Once students feel confident about the path they want, help them map out a plan to help them achieve it! This can include high school course selection, college selection, creating a resume or portfolio, and more.
  4. Building credentials - Achieving academically, taking internships and volunteer opportunities, and joining professional organizations are great ways to pad their resume. 
  5. Job Search - Students will need to prepare for their job search by thinking through desired salary, benefits, company size, etc., so they know what to look for on their quest. Then they'll compile their resume, cover letters, and other materials they need to submit applications. 
  6. Interviewing - Students must be prepared to communicate their skills and interests to interviewers. 
  7. Leveling Up - Career exploration doesn't stop when you get hired! Students should also be equipped with a passion for lifelong learning and motivation to continue progressing throughout their careers. 

While this may be overwhelming to elementary school students, it's also important to make them understand that their families, educators, and community members will be there to help them every step! 

Use the Power of Play 

When it comes to learning in elementary school, play is the best way! Using play in career exploration lessons keeps students more engaged and active participants in their education. 

Play is a powerful tool for learning because it involves imagination and creativity. When students play games or engage in other activities that don't have specific goals or outcomes, they can create solutions without the pressure of failure hanging over their heads.

Play also encourages students' natural curiosity about the world around them. It allows them to explore new things without fear of judgment from others. This makes it easier for them to take risks and try new things. Along the way, they may discover a career they wouldn't normally consider!

One way to incorporate technology and play into career exploration is with metaverse games. It's a perfect way to make learning feel like a game. At Kai XR, we believe that the future of education is interactive, engaging, and tech-forward learning. The metaverse is a powerful tool to achieve this. The fact that it helps students understand cutting-edge technology is just a bonus! 

Start Exploring Today

Starting career exploration early can create positive outcomes for students. Kai XR can help you integrate career exploration into your elementary school in a fun, modern, and engaging way.  

We pair 360° immersive experiences with critical thinking prompts to help them develop 21st-century learning skills that they'll use in various job roles. Through experiential learning, students develop the skills to ask better questions, make better decisions, and draw conclusions about the world around them – including the role they want to play! 

Schedule your demo to get started! 

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In memory of my sunshine, Ky(ra) G. Frazier. Love you to the moon and back.