Career Education Skills for Toddlers to Teenagers

When planning for your child’s future livelihood, you may have heard the wise advice to “begin with the end in mind.” This means we need to envision the skills and knowledge we would like to impart to our kiddos before they reach adulthood so that they are adequately equipped to one day engage and enter society as competent and confident adults. Easy, right? If you are like me, you might think something more like “Yikes”!  

While it IS a tall order to fill and can feel overwhelming to view your job as a whole to prepare the little human(s) you are raising for such a task (deep breath), it’s essential to remember that you are not alone! You have many supports available to you through your child’s education team and resources here through APH to help you pace yourself and your child as you reach that ultimate goal of independence and meaningful employment. Let’s take a few minutes to dig into some ideas you may want to include in your game plan.  

What Exactly are Career Education Skills? 

Career education skills for our children who are blind or have low vision should focus on developing tools and resources to access information, communicate effectively, and pursue meaningful employment.  As with most other skills and concepts for our youngsters, starting early is best! Whatever the age or stage your child is in, there are plenty of skills to keep them (and you) busy.  

Assigning specific ages to skills can be tricky because every child has unique abilities. Below are some skills that will be helpful to your kiddo’s career development path. Developmental age ranges are suggested, but don’t worry if you address a skill with your child outside the listed age range! Start with more basic skills and refine them as your child progresses. 

Self-Awareness and Advocacy 

Preschool  

  • Help your youngster understand their likes and dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, and emotions by offering specific language (surprised, excited, frustrated, interested, etc.). Ask questions about their feelings during an activity to help them process their reactions. 
  • Develop imagination and creativity through arts and crafts, music, and imaginative play. 
  • Encourage your child to make choices and view mistakes as learning opportunities! 

Elementary  

  • Help them identify their interests, values, strengths, and growth areas. Ask specific questions during activities and offer your observations for discussion starters.  
  • Continue to encourage imagination and creativity through arts, music, and other forms of self-expression. 
  • Allow them to develop responsibility for their actions and belongings. 
  • Help them develop the ability to adjust to changes and new situations.  

Middle and High school  

  • Begin to relate their interests, values, and strengths to career opportunities. For example, if your child enjoys cooking or baking, discuss possibilities for future jobs that might highlight that particular interest.  
  • As your teen builds a knowledge base of accommodations they require at school, they can determine what accommodations they may require in the workplace and how to request them. 

Communication 

Preschool  

  • Encourage your child to communicate effectively with others through their words by listening well and using their body language to demonstrate they’re paying attention to a speaker. Model appropriate interactions during your conversations with them.  
  • It is also age appropriate to interject and model appropriate language and responses during peer interactions, as most kiddos this age need some refinement in their communication skill set! 
  • Build their self-advocacy skills by teaching them to communicate effectively with others and advocate for their needs in school and home. Teach your little one to ask for help when needed and politely decline unnecessary assistance if offered. 

Elementary  

  • Help your kiddo develop effective listening, speaking, and written communication skills.  
  • It is especially important to model effective listening and speaking skills. 
  • Provide specific instruction and have conversations about body language and facial expressions.  

Middle and High School 

  • Help your child understand the importance of “knowing your audience.” Discuss how to tailor communication efforts with different audiences.  
  • Work with your child and their education team to identify and utilize local community resources such as vocational rehabilitation services and disability advocacy organizations to support their career goals. 

Critical Thinking / Problem Solving 

Preschool  

  • Narrate cause-and-effect relationships you notice happening through your child’s actions. 
  • Encourage your kiddo to think critically by asking open-ended questions. This promotes a foundation for building problem-solving skills as your little one grows and matures. 

Elementary, Middle, and High School  

  • Identify problems that naturally arise and discuss ideas to address the issues. Encourage your child or teen to carry out the plan they deem appropriate in a given situation and then talk about how it went. Was it a helpful solution? Do they need to try another approach next time? 
  • Help them make informed decisions and consider the results and consequences of their actions in advance by “thinking through” their plan of action for a task.  

Time Management  

Preschool & Elementary  

  • Awareness of time and time concepts can be fostered through a simple daily calendar. This helps your little one anticipate what is next after a given activity. 
  •  Encourage your little one to stick with tasks and persevere through challenges. 

Middle and High School 

  • Encourage your teen to set long-term and short-term goals and help them develop plans to achieve them. They can be related to school, sports, hobbies, or anything interesting or motivating! 
  • It is hard to learn to manage time effectively, but this is the time to give your child more responsibility and space to practice following a schedule, completing tasks within a given time, and prioritizing activities. 

Team Work 

Preschool and Elementary 

  • Foster your child’s ability to work with others in a group setting to achieve a common goal and learn and take turns.  
  • Role-play scenarios to help your little one understand how to work effectively with others in groups and resolve conflicts. 

Middle and High School 

  • Participation in clubs, sports teams, and other extracurricular activities is a great way to gain experience working collaboratively with others and hone those social skills! 
  • Interpersonal skills such as active listening, empathy, and conflict resolution take time to build. Your guidance in these areas will help your teen develop the framework for later building positive relationships with colleagues and supervisors. Model, role play, and talk out real-world situations as they arise. 

Literacy  

Preschool and Elementary 

  • If you and your child’s education team believe your little one will be (or already is) a braille reader, build braille-rich environments around your child. 
  • Same advice for all our low-vision kiddos who will or do utilize print – repetitive exposure and practice are crucial! 

Middle and High School 

  • Continue to support and maybe even offer incentives to help motivate your teen to continue to build their fluency and to broaden their vocabulary and general knowledge base just by sitting down with a good book!  
  • For all ages – audiobooks are a great option to support literacy goals and can build in some bonus assistive technology practice. 

Digital Literacy 

Preschool 

  • Provide exposure and experience with simple devices and allow playful exploration. Little fingers often enjoy pretending to record information on a keyboard or refreshable braille notetaker. Encourage these types of electronic “scribbling” as much as possible! 

Elementary, Middle, and High School 

  • Typing and refreshable braille usage require practice – build them into as many activities as possible. Have your kiddo help record grocery and other shopping lists, develop contact lists on a device, keep an electronic journal, etc. 
  • Teach digital skills, including using technology to gather information, create content, and communicate with others. 
  • Screen readers, braille displays, magnifiers, and speech recognition software will likely be invaluable tools your child may use to help them access digital information and communicate well with others. 
  • Encourage teens to take courses to stay savvy with the latest programs, apps, and other technology. 

Financial Literacy  

Preschool and Elementary  

  • Work on basic money concept development. Pretend play is a great way to introduce the idea that people trade money for goods. Concepts can be honed as your kiddo develops, including different coins, bills, bank and credit card use, tax on certain items, and electronic cash exchange (Venmo, PayPal, etc.).  
  • Introduce chores for pay and take your little one shopping to spend their hard-earned money!  

Middle and High School   

  • As your older child or teen earns money through chores or odd jobs for others, introduce basic financial skills, such as budgeting and saving, and reinforce the value of money concerning the cost of everyday life.  
  • Older teens will benefit from specific instruction on advanced financial skills, such as managing credit, investing, and understanding taxes and insurance. If this is outside your wheelhouse, don’t hesitate to outsource to a friend, family member, or education team member! 

Career Exploration 

Preschool and Elementary 

  • Learn about different career options by discussing the different workers you observe and interact with in natural situations. 
  • Play pretend games to role play different community jobs. 
  • Go on outings and family “field trips” to see who’s doing what in various stores. 
  • Ask businesses for opportunities to explore and learn about behind the scene jobs. 

Middle School  

  • Work with your student to begin building a resume and discuss the function of a resume. 
  • Talk about strategies for determining whether a business is hiring and how to go about the job application process. 
  • Conduct a mock interview for your student after helping them prepare to build confidence with interview skills. 
  • Talk about workplace etiquette and how some aspects of expected behavior may change depending on the position.  

High School 

  • Discuss the concept of entrepreneurship and skills that might be required to run a small business. Set up a time for your student to interview a local entrepreneur! 
  • Encourage valuable real-world experience through internships, job shadowing, community volunteer work, and summer work experiences. 

Whew…you made it through! Don’t let any list overwhelm you. Take this information solely for what it is – suggestions to springboard you and your child into developing their career education. 

It is NOT an exhaustive checklist you must feel bogged down by! If you’re unsure where to start, choose one area your child is most interested in and lean into that area. Teachable moments will present themselves, and you may just find yourself surprised at how quickly your list of career education skills that are specific to the needs and interests of your child or teen will form. 

Remember the goal: to equip your kiddo with skills and concepts they will need to enter the world of employment; skills and concepts will vary from child to child. They will also vary for the same child as they grow and learn.  Also, don’t be shy about inviting collaboration with other parents, teachers, and disability advocates. They are there to help. So, find your starting point, lean in, and enjoy the process with your kiddo!  

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