People often ask young children “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Very young children will typically respond with something like football player, firefighter, doctor or princess. Their list of options is limited by their experience, or lack thereof. They see athletes on television; visit doctors and nurses in their offices; community helpers are introduced in preschool and kindergarten; and there is no shortage of princesses in storybooks and children’s movies. The odds are very against children ending up in the jobs that they talked about when they were 5 or 7 years old. However, there are things that we can do to expose children to many more of the hundreds of the different types of jobs and careers that are out there.
Children come into contact with people who work in a wide variety of careers, but they just don’t know what the job titles or responsibilities are. Parents and other adults can take advantage of natural opportunities to help children learn more about the world of work. A routine visit to the grocery store could lead to discussion about the work of anyone, from the obvious cashier and stock person to the baker, meat cutter or store manager. It’s hard to not see people who drive trucks, buses, and taxis for a living. If you are lucky enough to live in NASCAR country there might even be a chance to watch race car drivers and their crews take driving to the extreme!
A trip through an airport also offers almost endless possibilities for talking about the different kinds of work that people do to help passengers and make air travel happen. Some manufacturers will schedule tours through their plants so that visitors can see how things are made. This might be possible with some power or water-processing plants. Art festivals offer a chance to look at many types of creative occupations. You might see sculptors, painters, photographers, glass blowers, potters, quilters and jewelry makers.
Just like kids gradually increase their vocabulary to go from calling all canines “dog” to recognizing and naming several breeds of dogs, we can help them become more specific in their understanding of some professions over time. You can help interested children and youth learn about the different specialties that lawyers and doctors practice. And just think about all of the different occupations that make hospitals work!
The opportunities to explore jobs are all around us. We just need to use them to help our children learn more about their world and the role that they may want to play in it when they become adults. Not everyone is going to become a firefighter who save lives and homes. Some people will have jobs of designing, building, inspecting and maintaining those homes, and so on…. So many choices!