When we think of vocational skills we often think they are something to target in the future. BUT… the earlier we start getting our students ready by targeting pre-vocational skills, the more successful they will be.
Why target pre-vocational skills
Pre-vocational skills are the basic skills that a person needs to possess to be ready to enter a vocational program or the career field. It is important that a person has strong pre-vocational skills. As a result, students will be more successful in any job. Students should begin practicing and mastering these skills as early as possible.
tips for building pre-vocational skills
My students each have two pre-vocational tasks that they practice daily for a week. We rotate the tasks at the end of each week and make adjustments to the difficulty of the activities if needed. Here are some tips and activities you can have your students do to help them establish a good set of pre-vocational skills.
These activities can be done with any materials you have available. You can have students sort by color with legos, blocks, crayons, etc. They could sort coins, those awesome erasers from Target’s Dollar Spot, plastic utensils, pencils vs markers, words by categories for students who read … the possibilities are endless. As a bonus, it’s easy to add in other skills and core subjects. For example, we often practice sorting in our science centers.
As they improve at sorting and master an activity, increase the complexity. Try adding more items to the pile they are sorting from or expand from sorting just two or three colors to sorting five or six colors.
Being able to match things is another important pre-vocational skill. Many time sheltered workshops and vocational opportunities have visuals or templates that students need to use to complete the task. Being able to match and copy are vital skills.
At first, start with more basic matching such as matching colored blocks to the correct color cups or matching letter or number cards. Similarly, you could also have students make pairs of matching socks or mittens and clip them together. Again, as your students progress with their matching skills, you should be increasing the difficulty of the tasks.
Making sets is not only an important foundation for math skills, it is also a necessary skill to do most jobs. Ways to practice making sets include:
- Counting the correct number of objects into a container or bag
- Stamping sets to match a given number
- Students can also make sets of utensils (put one spoon, one fork and one knife into a baggie)
- Sets of money by value (a muffin tin with different amounts of money written on paper liners works great for this
- Prep food for a recipe by making sets with food. For example, 2 eggs, 6 apples, etc.
- Sets of blocks (put 2 red blocks, 3 green blocks and 1 blue block in each container, etc.
Like sorting, making sets is a pre-vocational skill that can be practiced with almost any material you have on hand. Click HERE for a list of my favorite and most versatile manipulatives. Remember to expand the skill in the amount of materials they are working with as they make progress.
Fine motor and assembly activities
These activities can be anything that will help strengthen a student’s fine motor skills. Some examples of tasks I use with my students are:
- Using tongs to move small items (I use colored stones and ice cube trays from the dollar store)
- Putting lids on to bottles and containers (this is also a good matching activity)
- Have students put erasers on the ends of pencils
- Assembling different colored and shaped nuts and bolts together (another good matching task)
- Building with legos to match a picture (start small with just 3 or 4 large legos)
- Putting batteries in flashlights
Put in activities
For young students this can be as simple as putting a block in a cup, poker chips in a slot on the lid of a container, crayons in a baggie, or a piece of paper in an envelope. When students master the basic idea of “put in”, you can move on to filling containers.
They could fill empty salt shakers with salt or a small container with rice, beans or pasta. I also move my students on to matching a name on a paper with a name and address on an envelope and putting the correct paper in the matching envelope. So many options!
Tips for increasing difficulty in pre-vocational skills
It’s important to change the pre-vocational task up as students begin to show success. There are many different ways to adapt tasks, but here are a few that work with most tasks:
- Increase the amount of items a student is working on
- Add in distractors or unneeded materials that students will need to figure out that they don’t need
- Make the differences in materials that students are sorting or matching less obvious.
- Combine pre-vocational tasks to increase the complexity of the task. For example, when given a pile of mixed coins, the student begins by sorting the coins. Then, the student has to make sets of each type of coin.
- Vary the types of materials you are using. For example, practice sorting coins with real coins, plastic coins and printed coin activities to build functional skills that can be used anywhere & with any materials.
Starting pre-vocational skills early is the only way we can give our students the basic skills they will need to be successful at a vocation or job in the future. It doesn’t take much time, effort, or fancy supplies to get started. The most important thing to remember is to start at whatever level a student is at and to then expand upon skills as your students master them.