Putting toys to work

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Endorsed by Career Development Association of Australia

2 - 7 years
Child playing with blocks

Playing with toys is one way your child explores the world around them – including the world of work. If you want to broaden the range of jobs they explore, here are nine tips to help enrich their play and have even more fun with jobs!

Provide workers

To explore the world of work, your child needs some workers! Children love giving jobs to their toys, so there’s no need to buy toys with special work outfits. Make sure there are some teddies, dolls, soft toys, or action figures, and watch as your child turns them into teachers, bus drivers, fossil hunters and rock stars – and a different set of jobs the next day.

Inspire workplaces

Children don’t need much to create a workplace either. Their imagination will turn building blocks into a building site, a tea set into a café, and a few tools into a repair business. If they run out of ideas, you can suggest some things from around the house – a few food tins and boxes are enough to create a supermarket, and a towel, hairbrush and elastics make a great hairdressing salon. All you need to do is give your child the freedom to run with their imagination, and help them pack everything away at the end of the day.

Take it outdoors

Taking your child outdoors opens up a whole new set of jobs for them to explore through play. They can become construction workers in the sandpit; lifesavers at the beach; astronauts in the cubby house; and divers at the pool.

Stretch boundaries

If your child has any toys that are dressed for a particular job, especially those with traditional gender roles, encourage your child to give them different jobs occasionally. It’s a good way to break stereotypes, and plant the idea that who you are now does not determine who you become.

  • Maybe your princess doll could be the astronaut!
  • Would your superhero toy like to be the teacher today?

Extend the pretend

Your child’s play will probably focus on the jobs they see personally and in books, television shows and movies. If you suggest some less familiar jobs from time to time, you’ll expand the range of jobs they are aware of, and broaden their future aspirations.

  • Would Monkey would like to be a snake catcher today? He’s very brave and good with animals!

Build vocabulary

Sometimes your child will want to play without you, but other times they’ll want to chat away with you, or even invite you to join in. These conversations give you opportunities to develop your child’s work vocabulary:

  • equipment – Teddy looks very professional with that stethoscope.
  • tasks – Wow, Monkey repaired that engine quickly.
  • workplaces – Does Kitty grow roses at a nursery, or at the botanic gardens?
  • names of jobs – Rabbit makes a good receptionist.

Plant seeds

Your conversation can also plant ideas about how careers develop:

  • interests – What did Monkey like to do when she was little? Is that why she decided to become a mechanic?
  • education – Where did Kitty learn to be such a good farmer? Did he have to study special subjects?
  • career change – Does Teddy want to be a hospital doctor forever? I bet she could become a researcher if she wanted to and help find the cure for a disease!

Make it personal

Your child won’t need to make any career choices for a long time yet, but it’s good to throw in the occasional comment or question about what they might do in the future:

  • It looks like Mouse loves being a truck driver. Would you?
  • I really like this house you built me. Maybe you could be an architect one day!
  • What parts of an astronaut’s job would you like?

Even if your child announces I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up, they’ll probably change their mind next week or next month. And that’s a good thing – their ‘job’ at the moment is to have fun, to use their imaginations, and to explore the world (and sometimes the world of work) through play.

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Last modified
19 April 2020