It’s an age-old question that can both trigger a child’s imagination and stump a college student: what do you want to be when you grow up? That question sparked a unique collaboration between the Career Center and the Center for Children and Families to create an inspiring children’s art exhibit.

Painted by four and five year olds from three pre-kindergarten classes, 46 self-portraits now hang in the lobby of the Center for Children and Families as part of a mobile art exhibit.

The art project culminated a career series that the children had been exploring in their classes. Guest speakers, career-themed activities and readings of books like “When I Grow Up” by Al Yankovic and “Career Day” by Anne Rockwell encouraged the children to think about careers that suited their individual interests. One teacher organized a role-play activity and conducted interviews with her students using a homemade, toy microphone.

The self-portraits depicting the child’s career interests demonstrate a process known as guided discovery, an approach to learning that utilizes play as core focus to stimulate child learning, explained Jody Taylor, director for the Center for Children and Families.

The exhibit also adds a personal touch to the child’s artwork. Each portrait is accompanied by a caption, explaining in the child’s own words, what they want to be when they grow up.

“I wish superheroes were real so I could be one,” said William in his statement. “But I decided to be a zookeeper. The green’s the hair and the inside of my eyeballs. The red is me. I have a key for the cages and a tool.”

“I’m a ballet teacher and the tops are the spotlights and the bottom ones are little dots on the wall,” described Julia about her self-portrait.

“There is purpose to every detail in their art,” added Taylor. “There is meaning behind their color choices and the shapes they draw. Their work is more than paint on paper. It puts things into a child’s perspective.”

Career Center Director Pam Wells knows that while most people don’t know at the age of five what they really want to be, the process of assessing your interests and exploring career fields is applicable at any age.

“Introducing children to careers at a young age helps them discover possibilities and interests that they may have never imagined, and sometimes college students can feel that same uncertainty about what career options are out there; so they come to the Career Center to explore fields, assess their interests and identify careers that best suit their skill sets,” she said.

The traveling exhibit will remain on public display this week at the Center for Children and Families from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The installation will then relocate on Monday, May 7 to the University Auxiliary and Research Services Corporation, located at 435 E. Carmel Street, San Marcos.

The children’s art exhibit is a collaborative campus-wide initiative supported by the Center for Children and Families, Career Center, University Advancement, VPA students and Student Arts Association.

“Introducing children to careers at a young age helps them discover possibilities and interests that they may have never imagined, and sometimes college students can feel that same uncertainty about what career options are out there; so they come to the Career Center to explore fields, assess their interests and identify careers that best suit their skill sets,” said Pam Wells, director for the Career Center at CSUSM.