January 22, 2020
Fifty years ago, Mary Poppins advised that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, and vitamin manufacturers took note. Before you knew it, kids were clamoring for their daily dose. Y4Y’s recently archived webinar, “College and Career Readiness (CCR): Elementary” explores benefits and practical ideas in introducing elementary students to planning for their futures. But the sugar and bright coloring in this arena is, quite simply, playtime!
You don’t need to think of CCR as something that demands dedicated time and resources. Rather, like a multivitamin, a CCR framework can be a tidy way of bringing together current program initiatives like literacy, STEM, social and emotional learning, and more. Here’s an overview of the kinds of structured thinking you can apply to your intentionally designed activities to start preparing young students for their future careers.
Stepping Stones: What’s the Connection?
Since elementary students love to imagine themselves in various adult roles, 21st CCLC programs are the perfect place to infuse the structure that will convert natural playtime into visible stepping stones to future careers. Y4Y offers a Career Station Planner, for example, to get those creative juices flowing. Studies show you’ll improve engagement when students can see how their learning builds on what they already know. Your job is not to push all seven-year-olds toward college, but to open their eyes to limitless career options, and to the types of skills and knowledge (stepping stones) they can gain along the way to make each option a reality.
Three goals should drive your intentional CCR activities for elementary and middle school students: connecting academic learning to higher education and careers, expanding student options and awareness of career options, and encouraging 21st century thinking skills. How do you think? What do you know or not know? What steps or actions are required? These are questions you can ask and explore with your students.
Employability Skills: Plays Well with Others?
The U.S. Department of Education has established nine critical skill areas for employment in any field. These skills are an important component of CCR. It’s never too early to be thinking about how growth in each of these can be woven into 21st CCLC activities.
- Interpersonal skills: Give a less-than-natural leader a quiet leadership role, such as writing out rules for a new board game.
- Personal qualities: Call out the value of honesty and propose that a specific student be named the banker in a game of “town.”
- Technology use: Can the program’s computer be used for some new application?
- Systems thinking: Empty your desk or cubby and reorganize!
- Information use: Take five fun facts about dogs and suggest a new product.
- Resource management (time, money, materials, people): Build a five-layer pyramid using all the clay in front of you. How much is needed for each level?
- Communication skills: Charades!
- Applied academic skills: What did you learn in math today, and can you think of how you might use that lesson at the grocery store this weekend?
- Critical thinking skills: Name some things a teacher, a firefighter, a doctor, a postal worker and a car salesperson have in common in their jobs.
Flavors of Activities: Grape, Cherry or Hands-on?
Now that we’ve reviewed some of the elements of possible 21st CCLC activities that could be structured to get young students thinking about future careers, consider to what degree the activity engages students. Time, student needs and abilities, and resources will demand that all of the following levels of engagement be incorporated into your program at different times:
- Awareness: These activities are simple exposures to possible careers and educational paths. They help students connect academic learning to possible applications. This could be an introduction to various mentors and role models. For example, you could invite a local physician to be a guest speaker. You might ask her to talk about what it’s like to be a doctor, to share her experience with schooling, and to explain that there are many different specializations within the medical field. Check out Y4Y’s Awareness Activities tool for more ideas.
- Preparation: These activities develop goals and outline steps to accomplish those goals, such as completing paperwork or practicing life skills. One example might be a show-and-tell career day that includes costumes. Students could be given a writing assignment that mimics the work, such as a scientist’s lab report or an attorney’s closing argument in the case of the missing jelly beans. Check out Y4Y’s Preparation Activities Planner to get started.
- Exploration: These activities go beyond awareness and preparation activities to offer students more independence and a deeper exposure to careers in their areas of interest. More important, exploration activities start to connect student interests (such as sports, being outdoors or “becoming rich”) to a wealth of career options. One example might be touring a science lab and interviewing people in various job roles in that facility. For older students, be sure to consult Y4Y’s Exploration Toolkit (Grades 6-12).
Bring Those Partners Along
Families will play the crucial role in CCR activities that they always do in 21st CCLC programs. Offer families tips on exposing their young students to career options. Survey parents on their child’s interests, however unrelated to career options they might seem. Your parent base is always the best place to start for professional examples. Students’ family members may welcome the opportunity to demonstrate that skills and knowledge are needed in every job. Next, reach out to the community, bearing in mind that some of your students may not have access to professionals in STEM or finance careers, for example. Partners in institutions of higher learning, whether universities or trade schools, can help connect students’ favorite playtime activities to real careers.
Career Counselors à Gogo
Who knew when you signed up to work with elementary students in a 21st CCLC program that you’d be adding “career counselor” to your job description? Besides Ms. Poppins, be sure to get advice from Y4Y’s CCR Train Your Staff materials around building college and career readiness, engaging families and planning age-appropriate activities. You may not staff magical nannies, but as a well-trained team, you’re sure to create a happy head start for your students.