As a former elementary school counselor, I’ve always been passionate about helping children discover their gifts and talents and establish the much-needed link between school and a future career.

Children typically don’t recognize the importance of school subjects, work/study habits, play, and extracurricular activities. There is so much that can be realized about children by simply paying attention to how they approach these important tasks. Here are some considerations for how to instill a sense of childhood curiosity about careers.

Create awareness of oneself and the world of work.

During elementary school, children develop an awareness of the world around them and who they are in relation to others. Not only can they share what their favorite ice cream flavor is, but they also can share what they’re good at, what they enjoy doing, and – more often than not – what they want to be when they grow up.

Despite the definite preferences and non-preferences that children exhibit, we, as adults and professionals, may not capitalize on promoting curiosity about careers early enough.

Find time to have conversations about future career possibilities.

Children often have jam-packed days filled with reading, math, language arts, science, and social studies alongside evenings of extracurricular activities like dance, baseball, and piano, to name just a few. This leaves very little time during the day to foster communication about careers and the possibilities that exist for children in their future.

It’s not surprising that conversations centered on careers often don’t begin until middle school or later. Career theorists identify the period of childhood as a critical stage in the process of lifelong career development, but there is often a void when it comes to bridging that theory with actual practice.

Make career exploration a priority.

In my work as an elementary school counselor, I would visit classrooms and teach guidance lessons on career development as well as academic and social/emotional development. These domain areas are intricately related and deserve equal attention, but career initiatives often fall short due to other school demands.

I was first introduced to Kuder Galaxy® in my doctoral program at The Pennsylvania State University under the mentorship of Drs. Jerry Trusty and Spencer Niles. I was interested in the opportunity to address career development for children in a new way – via the computer.

At that time, there were few programs that focused on the developmental needs of elementary school students as they relate to career development. Plus, school counselors, like me, were always on the hunt for novel, innovative, and time-efficient ways to reach students. Enter Galaxy!

Use a novel, fun, and educational approach to target the needs of students.

In my dissertation research, I had the opportunity to study how an online career development program (specifically Galaxy) compared to a traditional classroom career guidance program. Although research existed in terms of using web-based career development programs with adolescents and adults, there was no research examining their use with children.

I was excited by the prospect of bringing new insights to the field of career development. My research, which was accepted for publication in The Career Development Quarterly, the official journal of the National Career Development Association, is the only study of its kind to examine how a web-based career planning system impacts elementary school children.

So many children are drawn to using computer-based technology for both recreation and education. I think that’s one of the real benefits of Galaxy, in that it attracts children with its exciting graphics and fun characters. During my research study, students routinely commented that they wished they could have been in the Galaxy group because they perceived that group as having more fun using computers to learn about careers than the alternative group.

Students were delighted to use a novel program in the classroom and saw it as a real treat in comparison to the traditional type of learning that occurs in educational systems on a daily basis. They looked forward to the weekly guidance lessons using Galaxy and the change of pace in the learning environment.

Children see the program as playtime, but the learning that occurs is an important and essential byproduct as well. Teachers, school counselors, and principals can appreciate that the curriculum allows linkages to national and state career standards and allows for reporting and accountability.

Inform stakeholders of the value of online career planning.

After graduating from Penn State and leaving my position as a school counselor, I was hired as an assistant professor and director of the school counseling program at The University of Scranton. One of my early tasks was to teach the graduate-level College and Career Readiness course for school counseling majors.

A component of this course was to expose graduate students to several web-based career development programs that they might encounter in their future work as school counselors. I encouraged these aspiring counselors to examine and evaluate the choices that exist for promoting career development for school-aged students.

School counselors are in prime positions to make recommendations to principals and superintendents about meeting the career planning needs for PK-12 students. So, one of the course objectives was to expand these future school counselors’ knowledge of the resources that exist to support state mandates and initiatives in addressing career awareness and preparation.

In a state like Pennsylvania, for example,  all schools must report student level data through the Career Readiness Indicator for the Future Ready PA Index and Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This takes into account the Pennsylvania Career Education and Work Standards, the Career Portfolio, and the I statements with student-centered activities and competencies.

In Pennsylvania, fifth graders must have six or more pieces of evidence or at least two pieces of evidence accumulated at the end of third grade, and at least two pieces of evidence in fourth and fifth grade. Galaxy was created with such requirements in mind so that all educators would be able to easily collect and provide the evidence and accountability very much needed in educational settings today.

As a counselor educator, my job is to make sure that future school counselors are sophisticated consumers of the plethora of resources that exist to help them do their jobs better, faster, and with greater intentionality and efficiency.

Contributing to the Galaxy redevelopment project was one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my own career journey. 

This past spring, Kuder contacted me to ask if I would be willing to assist in redeveloping the newest version of Galaxy. I was honored to have the opportunity to work alongside Drs. JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey and Spencer Niles – prominent worldwide leaders in career development.

I also enjoyed being able to involve several of my former graduate students (now practicing school counselors) to gain their practitioner perspectives in creating content that would be engaging and appealing to children as well as helpful and useful to educators and parents.

Galaxy provides a wonderful opportunity to create career awareness with children through creative videos, activities, and games that can be used independently or with instructor support. Galaxy is also based on the well-researched Holland theory of vocational choice.

In Galaxy, children visit six planets in outer space (each of which corresponds to one of the six Holland work environments – Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional) and learn what workers do on each of those planets. Each of the grade levels (PK-5) also center on a specific career-related theme:

Contributing to the new Galaxy’s content development has been one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my own career journey. It’s inspiring to think that millions of children, parents, and educators across the globe can benefit from the accessibility and utility of Galaxy.