Monday, January 04, 2010

Teaching Children to Set Goals

New Year’s Resolutions. Weekly goals. Day planners. To do lists. All of these are at the forefront of our brains at the beginning of each year. It’s good to make plans. If we don’t plan, we’re guaranteed we won’t reach our dreams. If we do plan, we might catch some of our dreams. I’d rather bank on 50% failure than 100% failure.

Children can learn to set goals too. But how? Should we waste our time teaching children how to set goals? Why not! Setting goals surrounds our lives with structure and discipline. When there is a lack of discipline, folly moves in to fill the void (Proverbs 5:23). We – and the children we teach – will grow faster and more effectively in our spiritual lives if we purposely set out to grow in specific ways. The idea behind the biblical phrase, “seek the Lord,” is looking for specific ways to please God.

In college, one-third of my class on educational psychology was devoted to the art and psychology of setting goals for students. We learned such big words as cognitive, affective and psycho-motor. We learned that goals should be attainable, realistic and specific. How do you translate that to a child’s level? Yesterday, in our junior church session, we taught the kids about goal setting. Here was our lesson plan:

First, we asked the kids what they had accomplished in the last year, what did they enjoy doing, what did they do for the first time? Next we asked them what they would like to see happen in the next year. We told them no idea was a bad idea – at this point, we’re just dreaming.

The kids were a little shy. I can understand why. It’s difficult to share your inner dreams with adults you don’t know well. To encourage their thinking, I read a list of my daughters’ goals they had written in 1998 when my husband and I did this exercise with them. Soon, each child in the class was able to list one thing they wanted to do in the next year: play more baseball, learn the guitar better, learn a classical piece on the piano.

We talked about what they would have to do to accomplish their goals. We talked about wording the goal in such a way that it was possible to reach it. A boy may have the dream of playing professional baseball but circumstances beyond his control may keep him from reaching that goal. But he can reach his stated goal, “I will ask my older brother or dad to practice baseball with me every day this summer.”

Next, we talked about setting spiritual goals. I told the group God is more interested in who we are rather than what we do. He wants us to become closer to him. I think they had a harder time with this section, but at least we planted some seeds. We looked at such Scriptures as Proverbs 16:3, 16:9 and 21:21. Proverbs 21:21 is a great verse for spiritual goal setting, for the verse tells us that if we want success, long life and a good reputation, we must seek righteousness and love. How will we learn what is right? Kids came up with the goal to read the Bible every day.

Our next step will be to work on some art projects that will be visual reminders of the students’ goals. They’ll decorate the front of a journal where they will write their goals and keep track of their progress. They’ll make a calendar where they will put reminders to themselves to schedule time for working on their goal.

You know, God has set some goals for us as well. Psalm 40:5 says, “Many, O Lord, are the wonders you have done/The things you planned for us no one can recount to you/Were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.” Proverbs 16:9 says, “In his heart, a man plans his course but the Lord determines his steps.” God has wonderful plans for us. He has an exciting, fulfilling life planned for us with an even better eternal existence. When we insist on our own way, we thwart God’s best plans for us. Regardless of how we try to live life our own, we are not in full control. God has the final say regarding our eternal destiny. Our job is to commit to the Lord whatever we do, then our plans will be successful (Psalm 37:4,5).


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