holiday learning gifts
December 2019

Linking Play to Future Careers

Career Pathways: December 2019

By Mary Gaukel Forster

The holiday season provides opportunities to give career exploration gifts and to reflect with our children about what toys and games teach us about ourselves.

Traditionally, we may think of trucks, dolls, kitchen sets, erector sets or video games.  Here are some conversation starters for all ages, that link play to future careers, and suggestions for toys and games that entertain and teach.

holiday learning gifts

Younger Children

Parents can help younger children connect their toys and play with skills, interests, and possible careers through questions and conversation. With practice and observation, a parent can encourage career awareness from a young age as a natural part of parent and child communication. When viewing something your child has designed and built, maybe with building blocks, you might ask your child to explain the structure, why they placed blocks in certain places, what it is used for, and how it looks to them. Parents might follow up by talking about the skills used by the child: designing, planning, constructing. The next level would be to mention that an architect designs buildings; talking about the purpose of the building, materials used, and how it looks.

Over time, it will become natural to help your child be aware of their skills and interests, and the careers that connect with those, as they play with toys and games. 

Preteens and Teens

“Do you remember when” was always a great and non-threatening conversation starter when my children were in the preteen and teen years. 

“Do you remember when you asked for owl pellets for Christmas?” I asked my middle son.  He nodded yes. “You were so interested in the natural world. Taking apart the pellets and assembling the skeletons from the rodents the owl ate. You were so curious, patient, and attentive to detail. You were doing what a naturalist or environmentalist might do as part of their job.”

For my daughter, “Do you remember when you were in kindergarten and you asked for a desk and bulletin board so you could play teacher? You were leading opening circle, teaching numbers, and letters. You might become a teacher someday.” 

Here are gift suggestions:

Gifts for 3 Years+

  • Dentist Set (Plan Toys)
  • Robot Turtles for Little Programmers (Thinkfun) teaches how to correct bugs in programming and sub-routines and loops
  • Little Architect (ARCKIT PLAY)
  • Dress-Up Clothes (Lakeshore Curriculum)
  • Busy, Busy Airport (Busytown)

Gifts for 7 Years+

  • Make a Robotic Arm (Curious Engineer Kits)
  • Dr. Eureka, Mix the Molecules, Master the Formulas DNA & Traits (Yellow Scope)
  • Ground Up Construction (Skill Arcade Games)

One great place for educational gifts is Wonderland Toys and Classroom Resources, 4101 Soquel Drive Suite B2, Soquel, CA 95073 (and at the Museum of Discovery for the holiday season).

Mary has taught elementary, middle and high school students and was a principal. She is executive director for the non-profit Your Future Is Our Business, which partners with schools to link students to careers. Reach Mary at [email protected]

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