Hands-On Career Awareness Activities for Early Elementary Students
By Marilyn Brink
After much thought about how to introduce careers to my K-2nd students, I decided to develop stations for various careers because kids enjoy doing “stations.” The next question was what careers could I easily develop into a hands-on station, with developmentally appropriate and safe activities? With my tendency to focus on activities that include reading, writing, math (measurement) and problem solving, I created four stations: carpentry, art (quilt designer), problem solving (career-related games or critical thinking/logic games) and research-a-career (using library career books). I had the advantage of being able to set up the stations in one room and the students come to the room during their life skills class time. However, with a little modification and planning, these stations could be placed in containers and transported on a cart to each classroom.
During my first year, I used one 35 minute class time with the four stations – it was very rushed. The next year I planned on two class times with the following guidelines and meeting format:
- Use 2 guidance / life-skill class times (30-35 minutes each)
- Plan enough stations so that group size at each station is 3-6 students (smaller groups work better).
- Duplicate stations could be used to keep group size small and reduce overall prep-time.
- Allow 5 to 10 minutes per station – plan activities accordingly.
First class meeting
- Introduce Careers – What is a career?
- Link the students’ current academic learning (reading, writing, math, problem-solving and cooperation) to adult careers – What skills are they currently learning and how will they use those as an adult?
- Introduce each career station and the activities students can choose to do at that station (20-25 minutes), assign students to small groups (pre-planned) and to one career station. Let student explore one station (5-6 minutes).
Second class meeting
- Brief review of each career station’s activities and safety issues (students can assist)
- Review group assignments and start on the next station
- Set timer and move groups from station to station (5-6 minutes per station)
Carpenter’s Station: At the carpenter’s station, students had the opportunity to measure real 2” x 4” lumber cut into various lengths with small carpenter tape measures (12 ft size). There was also a simple diagram for framing a small wall (2’ by 4’). The students needed to measure and layout the lumber needed to frame the wall like a carpenter. I also have a level and a carpenter’s square for the students to use. Materials needed for the Carpenter’s station:
- 2 x 4 lumber cut to various sizes (12”, 18”, 24”, 36” & 48”)
- 12’ Tape Measures
- Carpenter’s Square
- Diagram of a small scale wall (2’(h) by 4’ (w))
- Instruction plans for constructing a piece of furniture
- Samples from real carpenter who builds furniture
- Routed edges
- Tongue & groove pieces
- Joint biscuits
Quilt Designer’s Station: The quilt designers had a chance to design their own quilt on the quilt design wall using pre-cut fabric squares. The students also had a chance to practice measuring their designs or the fabric squares, to look at quilting patterns (reading & measuring) and to look at a sewing machine. Materials needed at the Quilt Designer’s Station:
- Large Design Wall (Warm & Natural ® 100% Cotton Batting) or several tri-fold display boards covered with the batting
- 100% Cotton Fabric scrapes cut into 3 ½” squares (these will stick to the batting like an old-time felt story board)
- Extra quilt squares
- Tape Measures
- Quilting Rulers
- Quilting Magazines
- Sewing Machine (optional)
Research-A-Career Station: For this station, I ask the librarian to pull all of the age-appropriate career books from the school library. This station gives students a chance to explore other career options, in which they might be interested.
Problem-Solving Station: I have used Logic Links® or Noodlers® from Mindware. Logic Links® requires good reading skills and problem-solving/logic skills to correctly order the color disk according to the clues. Noodlers® is a visual problem-solving game. Students are given a picture with icons that must be separated into their own space using a certain number of sticks. Both activities were purchased from Mindware .
My goal has been to develop two new career stations each year so that I have a three year rotation. In year two, I developed the Plumber’s and the Plant Scientist’s stations, and in year three, the Architect’s and Auto Mechanic’s stations.
Hands-on career stations provide early elementary students the opportunity to explore career possibilities. Student engagement at each station is at a high level and students eagerly recall activities associated with the career stations the following year. Feedback from the faculty has been extremely positive as well. Overall, I feel that the hands-on career stations are a developmentally sound method of sparking career awareness and linking the need for academic learning in kindergarten, first and second grade students.