Teaching Children about Goal Setting

As an early childhood educator, you have it in your power to create the next generation of goal setters. Just as with most other skills of successful adults, the foundation skills can be traced back to early childhood. While Infants and toddlers probably won’t be interested in goal setting, it is possible that some of the preschoolers in your care will be capable of and even excited by setting and achieving goals for themselves.

The goal setting process for children may look a bit different, but many of the elements of adult goal setting apply. Children’s goals will most likely need to be concrete, short-term, and related to the children’s immediate interests.

You can introduce goal setting with children by incorporating language associated with goal setting into your everyday language:

  • When children choose a learning center, ask them if they have a plan for their play
  • When they are running on the playground, ask if they have a goal for how fast they want to run
  • When they are creating with playdough, ask if they have an end result in mind
  • When they are building with blocks, ask how many blocks they want to use in their tower
  • When they are at the writing center, ask then what they want to accomplish

If children appear interested in the conversation, continue by asking a few more questions:

  • Is there any way I can help you with your plan?
  • What do you need to do to reach your goal?
  • What tools will help you create your end result?
  • What steps can you make sure that you are successful?
  • Remind them that to achieve some goals takes time and practice

This type of critical thinking is a precursor to more formal goal setting that will take place later in life.

Ask children to think about the skills they do really well. See if they can identify how they learned those skills. Encourage children to think of new skills that they want to learn. Ask the children to think about the steps they need to learn to reach the final skill. Document all of this information. Ask children to draw a picture of themselves reaching their goals. Hang the pictures on a classroom goal board.

Here are a few other ways to promote goal setting with children:

  • Record a child’s goal on paper, then take a picture once the goal has been achieved. Ask the child to list the steps they took to achieve the goal.
  • Share goals that you have created and update children as you meet those goals.
  • Create a group goal and plan a celebration once the goal is reached. During the celebration, review the steps the children took to meet the goal.
  • Read books about characters (fictional and nonfictional) who have set and achieved goals.
  • For older children, ask “What’s Working?” and “What’s Not Working?” Encourage children to make a plan to fix items on the “What’s Not Working” list.

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