Recent newspaper stories about career development learning in young children have sparked a national discussion. When is too soon? When is it too late? When is the best time for children to start learning about the world of work and their future careers? It’s a moot point. Kids start learning about work as they watch and listen to the world around them. Kids will be what they see.
Children’s stories, for example, are a powerful source of wonder and exploration. Stories also introduce kids to the world of work. Consider the Dr Seuss book Who Are You, Sue Snue? The story begins:
“Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Yes, you, Sue Snue. Happy birthday to you—….Now, Sue, that you are older than two, it’s time for you choose something to do.” (Rabe, 1997, pp. 1-3).
Story-telling is essentially about learning, imaginatively experiencing new perspectives, and growing. Hearing a story and reading a story can be transformative. Indeed, people actively think in metaphors (Lakoff & Johnson, 2008) and they experience their lives in and by their unique stories (McAdams, 1993). There is ample evidence of metaphors in people’s stories about work and career (Creed & McIlveen, 2017).
Sue Snue’s story continues…. Sue is offered a range of exciting occupations for her grown-up self, such as a Canner of Peas and Trainer of Fleas, but in the end Sue decides:
STOP, EVERYBODY! I know what I’ll do. I’ll just be myself, my whole self and not you. I’ll be true to myself. That’s just what I’ll do. No uncle or aunt can tell me ‘You can’t!” No mother or pop can tell me, ‘Please stop!’ I’ll do what I want to. That’s what I’ll do.” (Rabe, 1997, p. 36).
Play is Child’s Work
Little Sue’s words can be understood in terms of contemporary educational and career development theory. Children begin their exploration of the world-of-work early in life, as early as three years of age (Gottfredson, 1981) and their understanding and engagement in the world-of-work is influenced by exposure to stereotypical occupations. It is during these early years that they discover–rightly or wrongly–what is and what is not possible in their futures. Children’s early imaginings and work-related play are progressively transformed throughout the years of formal schooling, until ultimately a young adult transitions from high school to the next stage in his or her career development.
Play is the work of children. Early childhood teachers use stereotypical occupations as part of play-based learning (e.g., dress-ups). Most of us remember the good fun of playing these games. Despite the importance of the early years in the formation of personal identity, of which occupation and work is of central concern, there is scope to closely consider how early childhood education approaches career learning. Theories and practices of early childhood education in current university programs for this specialist field should provide for a model of play that is about learning how to engage in the world of work. But, a reading of the Early Years Learning Framework (Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009), for example, reveals a need to refresh how early childhood professionals are prepared to understand the psychology of identity development and career development learning.
If play is taken to be the work of the child, then how should early childhood educators conceptualize work and how should they integrate career learning into the curriculum. The theories are there, ready to be used; it’s a matter of putting them to use (e.g., Skorikov & Patton, 2007). Given the current media attention, now may be a good time to rethink how society can support early childhood teachers. Attention should be focused on the professional development and resources that they need so that they can get on with their important work of preparing the next generation for the very exciting futures. Would it be too much perhaps to be a Canner of Peas or a Trainer of Fleas?
Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations. (2009). Belonging, being & becoming: The early years learning framework for Australians. Canberra, Australia: Australian Government.
Creed, A., & McIlveen, P. (2017). Metaphor identification as a research method for the study of career. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance. doi:10.1007/s10775-017-9345-2
Gottfredson, L. S. (1981). Circumscription and compromise: A developmental theory of occupational aspirations. Journal of Counseling Psychology Monograph, 28, 545-579.
Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2008). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago press.
McAdams, D. P. (1993). The stories we live by. Personal myths and the making of the self. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company.
Rabe, T. (1997). Who are you, Sue Snue? New York, NY: Random House.
Skorikov, V., & Patton, W. (Eds.). (2007). Career development in childhood and adolescence. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
This article was written by ACCELL’s Dr Peter McIlveen. He expresses thanks to his colleague Dr Karen Noble who inspired his interest in children’s early learning about the world of work.