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.

Career Stations
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
  • Level
  • 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
  • Quilt(s)
  • 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.

Marilyn Brink has a Masters of Education and Education Specialist in School Counseling and has 10 years experience as a school counselor. Currently, she is an elementary school counselor with the Evansville Community School District, Evansville, Wisconsin. Prior to moving to Wisconsin, Marilyn was an elementary school counselor in Starkville, Mississippi. She can be reached at brinkm@evansville.k12.wi.us.

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