WTF – career counselling for toddlers?

By Legal Eagle

The other day, I was talking with a kinder Dad who is a fellow lawyer. My daughter piped up, “Mummy is a Big Lawyer and I will be a Little Lawyer when I grow up.” The Dad and I exchanged looks, as I ruefully grimaced. “I’d really rather she didn’t become a lawyer,” I confessed. “Amen to that,” said the kinder Dad.

I suppose it’s natural that at the age of three or so, kids start to think about what they want to do when they grow up. My daughter has started speculating about when we can send my almost-5-month-old son to work. “Maybe next year he can go to work,” she said. “Umm, I think he needs to go to kinder and school first, at the very least,” said I.

Neither my sister nor I have followed my parents down their science-based career paths. The most I can say is that I married a scientist who coincidentally had the same area of specialisation as my parents. I suppose I could have done science myself, except that I was a klutz of the highest nature (as described here). But I chose law, despite the despair of an aunt who had just quit her job as a lawyer to live on a farm.

Sometimes a parent’s career can turn you off a particular vocation. My mother was a high school teacher for many years, and as a result of watching her, I was turned off secondary teaching for life. As far as I was concerned, it was a career where you were sucked of your will to live by nasty teenagers, a view which was confirmed when I went through high school.

Apparently there is a new push to provide career counselling for toddlers. Now this is just insane. I really don’t think you can take the expressed desires of a three-year-old seriously. The article in The Australian explains:

Kate Castine, who runs the Principals Australia career education project on behalf of the federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, is calling for “career development concepts” to be included in the new curriculum to be introduced nationally by July 1.

Her concern is that little children rarely think beyond what their parents and relatives do for a living.

“The argument that children should be exposed to career development concepts at an early age has been endorsed by current worldwide research,” she wrote in comments posted on the department’s official online forum, seeking feedback on the latest draft of the “early-learning framework”.

“Reference to career development competencies needs to be explicit so teachers understand its importance.”

Ms Castine said research showed students as young as six could identify what they wanted to do when they grew up.

“They identify very, very limited careers, usually associated with their family,” she told The Weekend Australian. “That makes quite good sense but what needs to happen is that children who are very young need to identify there’s a whole range of possible careers … and not just what they see at home.”

Well, of course kids often don’t think beyond what their parents do. However, that doesn’t mean they will necessarily become lawyers or scientists. You have to wait until the kid grows up to see what skills she has, and what she enjoys. I remember that when I was in the final year of high school, my father said to me, “We don’t really mind what you choose to do, as long as you are happy and do it to the best of your ability. We’re proud of you already.” I think that was the right attitude.

Actually, when I was six, I knew exactly what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a hobbit. Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked out so far — too tall — although I do have four cookbooks entitled “Mushrooms”.


  1. Posted April 8, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps more practice blowing smoke rings? Though I guess that particular hobbitly practice would be frowned upon nowadays.

    We had careers counselling right through high school, and a fat lot of good it did me. I maintained for a while there that I wanted to be a theoretical physicist, but that would have required me to be all learny and stuff. Never could have been bothered learning all those maths formulas. I just preferred making stuff up.

  2. Posted April 8, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    What about all the kids who play doctors and nurses, want to be a fireman like Fireman Sam etc etc. Kids do get lots of outside influences when it comes to job selection.

  3. Posted April 8, 2009 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    There can be some valid career counselling advice for some toddlers, where some future difficulties are known:
    * Autism spectrum: Consider moving to Denmark and becoming a software tester
    * Temporal epilepsy? Probably creative, but think more about generating the ideas rather than having a heart set on performing them at scheduled times: learn music to write songs, not because you want to be a pop star when you grow up.

  4. Posted April 8, 2009 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    no! No carreer counselling for toddlers. Just fuel their imaginations – books, films, kids shows, stories, whatever – and they’ll find their own paths when they’re ready.

    I still can’t identify what I want to do when I grow up. I probably had a much better idea when I was six … (anyone need a phoenix?)

    One of my nieces when she was about 5 wanted to grow up to become a factory process worker. She’d just watched a documentary about it. The next week, she wanted to harvest venom from snakes – another documentary. At 13, she wanted to be a lawyer just like her aunty Oanh. She’s 17 now, left school, going to hairdressing and business college and going to run her own hairdressing salon. No one in the family is a hairdresser. No one ever counselled her about her career (although i did chat to her about the skills one needs to be a lawyer and what it was like and what she might need to think about whether it suited her but that she had heaps of time to decide etc). At 17, she has a much better idea of who she is and what she wants to do then I did.

    You love ’em, you respect their ability to make decisions and you hope for the best. And I think I’ve said before – you be around to pick up the pieces if it all goes awry.

    Not that I have kids. Just a whole lotta nieces and nephews…

  5. Posted April 9, 2009 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    I think the careers “counselling” is in the imagination of the journalist keen to stir up a bit of chatter.

    The quote from the educator simply talks about exposure to career development concepts. This could be as simple as what kindergartens already do: talking about and roleplaying the roles of various folk (healthcare staff, emergency workers, shopkeepers, and so on), as part of a general play-based approach to learning.

  6. Posted April 10, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Err, actually, the proposal was exactly as bad as it sounded. An unusual case of the press not going cockahoop over nothing.

    Indeed, it was worse, with a large age inappropriate agenda of left-wing ideology put forward under the guise of essential education for toddlers. The career counseling thing was merely an afterthought, and one that looked innocuous compared with the rest of the rejected proposal.

    “In a victory for common sense, Canberra has decided its new childcare curriculum does not need advice on playground “politics and power relations”, which was in the original draft. As Natasha Bita reported in The Australian yesterday, warning about the way under-5s discriminate on the grounds of sexuality is also out, as are exhortations to encourage a sense of environmental sustainability among toddlers. And the original support for the apology to the Stolen Generations is toned down. But anybody alarmed by the changes should relax as the intention to focus on social justice issues is reported to still be strong.

    This may be a relief to social engineers who believe it is never too early to explain to children the way minority groups are oppressed and Australians harm the environment. But it will appeal to people who know children can be cruel, but more often than not look at life with wide-eyed enthusiasm.

    This proposal has a sense of those school curriculums that are written by academics keen on reforming society. Where classroom teachers care about their students as individuals, theory-focused scholars often see children as academic abstractions, or cannon fodder in wars over education ideology. It is hard to imagine anybody in close and caring contact with children believing little people who have trouble counting to 10 will understand the need to stop global warming. And it is equally unlikely that many parents with children in daycare will want them attending the equivalent of political education camps for toddlers.”

  7. Posted April 10, 2009 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    “Political education camps”? *snort*

    I don’t know about you, but I started teaching my kid to turn off the lights, turn off the tap, recycle, compost, and garden long before he was five. Early environmental sustainability learning doesn’t involve sitting toddlers down for a long didactic lecture on the mechanics of global warming.

    And yes, we also started the learning – as opportunities came up – about gender, disability, and so on, in response to things like “Why does that man have wheels?” “Only boys can be astronauts!”, etc. Assuming that children are, or can be somehow completely insulated from these concepts, is rather bizarre and unrealistic. (Mind you, there are people who think peripubertal kids shouldn’t be having any sex ed, so you can find these sorts of bizarrities everywhere.)

  8. Posted April 10, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    L.E – that’s one bright little girl. How interesting that she noted the scarf as being out of place.

    Lauredhel – decades before “sustainability” became a commercial enterprise – a private profit centre, rather than a public good – parents nagged their children to turn off lights, turn off taps and not to waste things. It’s not new, nor enlightened. It’s a household fiduciary responsibility.

    The notion of proselytizing to toddlers is not something I can support, if for no other reason than it robs them of their own thoughts and intellectual explorations. More practically though, I’d prefer they be taught how to read, write and do ‘rithamatic.

    Social and political conditioning is no more acceptable than religious conditioning. It has no place in secular education, but the ship has come and gone, so yes, I suppose the politically correct, left wing, relativism brainwashing may as well start in kindy, since there is no escaping it in primary, secondary, and higher education.

    The thought occurs that ‘back in the day’ there was none of this nonsense, yet bullying and discrimination were strikingly rare in the school yard. Today these matters are covered by policies, formal education, counseling, parental alerts and ‘re-education’, apparently to no avail, since bullying and discrimination is violent and rampant in schools, seemingly beyond control.

    Much in the way that people used to eat real food and were thin, with nary a scrap of knowledge about any food pyramids, then along came the pyramid, nutritional and fitness education, and low fat foods, and everyone got fat, obese, and awfully confused about the simple energy in / energy out equation.

    No, I’m not keen on some superficially educated kindy teacher politically and socially manipulating toddlers.

  9. Posey
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Caz #11: “The thought occurs that ‘back in the day’ there was none of this nonsense, yet bullying and discrimination were strikingly rare in the school yard”

    You really gotta laugh at people today who protest that “social, religious and political conditioning” of children, bullying in the playground, instilled prejudices and cultivated fashions around preferred clothing, body weight, skin colour, and concern about educational standards, are all something new; that the source of all these concerns is the evil machinations of “the left” and, most revealing of all, the fact that these worryworts reveal themselves to be pitifully bereft non-beneficiaries of the most elementary humanistic education which includes having read, as children, the classic works of (to name the most obvious) Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, William Golding, Harper Lee, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Miles Franklin, Ruth Park, and on and on and on.

  10. Posted April 10, 2009 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Being of the left, mostly extreme, and having had a classic and arts based eduction, your comment is lost on me Posey.

    You didn’t even attempt to address the basic propositions: violent and overt bullying is rampant in schools now, in a way unthinkable in the past; people are obese by the truck loads, also unthinkable in the past. This, despite all the policies and politically correct education and nanny-state admonishments.

    Why so?

  11. Posey
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Or, as teenagers, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, William Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, Anthony Powell, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Doris Lessing, Henry Handel Richardson, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Anton Chekhov, Keri Hulme, Walter Scott, H G Wells, Mary Shelley, Jack London, Franz Kafka. Leo Tolstoy, Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

  12. Posted April 10, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Yes, have read all of those too, and continue to this very day!

  13. Posted April 10, 2009 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    Surely learning via great works is not in the least akin to having ideology shoved down one’s throat, fully mashed and all too easily and unquestioningly digestible?

    There’s a great epistemological failure if we don’t appreciate the difference between the two, and if we fail to even notice that the latter method for churning out members of society has had startling unintended consequences.

    All the greater the epistemological failure if we’re too cowardly to admit that something has gone horribly wrong across a wide spectrum of social and political matters.

  14. Posey
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    and yet you think that ill-health (defined only as obesity) and bullying in schools are worse today than ever? After reading all those writers, you still think that??


  15. Posey
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Caz” “Being of the left, mostly extreme, and having had a classic and arts based eduction, your comment is lost on me Posey.”

    You are of the left, mostly extreme, etc??

  16. Posted April 10, 2009 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Caz: I’ve no idea what twentieth-century schools you went to that were free of sexism, violence and bullying, but they sure weren’t in my world. On the two continents I attended school, there was little said of what went on; the victims didn’t complain, because they would get nowhere. But I could relate tales that would make your eyes water.

    The rest of your comment is not holding together to me. Parents have been teaching children to conserve and reduce waste for decades, yet there was “none of this nonsense” back in the day?

    So, back to the point, for those with access to the source material, what actual “careers counselling” was being suggested? Was Little Janey being called onto the mat instructed that she might need to give up on her lofty thoughts of NASA training if she didn’t start telling red from purple quick smart?

  17. hmphh
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    As a kindergarten teacher I find that sometimes social justice issues do crop up. When one child tells another that they can’t play because they don’t have brown eyes, or because they are a girl or a boy, well yes, I’m going to step in and talk to the children about that. Those are just two examples from the last few weeks. I don’t think education can ever be free from politics. A discussion on the purpose of education any level will unveil a range of views that link in with peoples political beliefs.

    I work in a quite affluent suburb, and it’s interesting when we talk about occupations at kinder. The children tend to choose occupations that are visible to them and are more “tangible”. So we get hairdressers, firefighters, chefs, builders, doctors, nurses. It’s always interesting to see the parent’s reactions… I’m quite sure some of them would like career counselling for their child!!

  18. Posted April 10, 2009 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Posey – yes, but I have a very high IQ and a large sense of humor.

    Lauredhel – I went to school in the working class ‘burbs, and had zero exposure to bashings or harassments of the type that led to the need to call in police or doctors, or children transferring schools over such unbearable situations. Neither did my daughter. That’s not to say there were the usual taunts or in-groups and play ground power struggles,. but that sort of thing is nothing compared to being a grown up in paid employment – now that’s an ugly environment!

    Sexism: gosh, no one in primary school had a clue what that was. I went to a girls high school, so sexism wasn’t an issue, since girls were expected to achieve, regardless of their gender. My daughter learned more about feminism at home than she ever did at school.

    Schools shouldn’t exist to raise children, that’s the job of parents. No wonder teachers complain about not having time to teach anything, the curriculum has been over taken by matters that are the domain of the family and the community.

  19. Posey
    Posted April 10, 2009 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    You are just incoherent Caz.

  20. Posted April 10, 2009 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    I’ll leave you to it then.

  21. John Greenfield
    Posted April 11, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink


    Stripped of all your offensive gulag jackbooting, what you desribe was once more innocently and naturally known as “chores”.

  22. John Greenfield
    Posted April 11, 2009 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting watching how cynical kids become about Year 9 about how much “stolen enerations”, “Apology”, “genocide” bullshit they’ve had shoved down their throats since kindergarten.

    Very heartening.

  23. John Greenfield
    Posted April 11, 2009 at 8:19 pm | Permalink


    I’m with your daughter, I also wish I had brown skin. I would LOVE to be a great dancer!

  24. pedro
    Posted April 14, 2009 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    If it is any consolation, only one of my 3 has a vocational plan so far. My 4 year old daughter has her heart set on driving a rubbish truck.

  25. John Greenfield
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Be careful what you wish for. When I was about six years old, my precocious gift for mathematics committed my father to declare to the world his first-born – me – would not only be the first person even related to a Greenfield to finish Year 10, but would go to university and become – ta-day – an ACCOUNTANT!

    With the economy the way , probably a very sage ambition! 🙂

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