Learning to set goals is a life skill

Life skills help youth navigate life successfully. Learning how to set goals and work to achieve them is one of the skills that youth need to learn.

Use these ideas to help youth learn how to set and achieve their goals.
Use these ideas to help youth learn how to set and achieve their goals.

Life skills are a basic foundation that prepare youth for success in life. Michigan State University Extension suggests setting a goal that every youth possess the necessary life skills to succeed and lead a productive life. As an adult it is our responsibility to help youth reach their full potential by teaching necessary life skills.

It is easy to incorporate life skills into your learning experiences. Using the Targeting Life Skills (TLS) Model by Iowa State University life skills can be intentionally planned into learning experiences through the use of simple hands-on activities and discussion questions.

Goal setting is an important life skill that youth should learn in their development. Learning experiences should help youth learn how to set and take steps towards accomplishing goals. Some of the skills youth can learn when setting goals include:

  • Learning how to identify something to work toward; a desired purpose or result
  • Identify tasks/steps necessary to achieve their goal
  • Make and follow an action plan
  • Evaluate how it went
  • Revise their plan if their goal was not met

Youth should be able to complete the following skills at each age range. Since children and youth develop at different rates, these skills are only a guide and are not a complete list of skills.

Ages 5-8:

  • Complete simple projects
  • Explore possibilities (can be more important than accomplishing an actual goal)

Ages 9-11:

  • Set short term goals
  • Complete more complex projects

Ages 12-14:

  • Set long-term goals
  • Plan steps to reach goals

Ages 15-19:

  • Identify and implement steps for reaching long-term goals
  • Manage resources and work towards completing their goal
  • Identify milestones to reaching their goal

Here are some ways that you can help youth learn the skill of goal setting:

  • Practice setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely)
  • Use the 4-H record book to keep a list of all the goals that they accomplish during their 4-H projects; list all the steps needed to complete their project with due dates or timelines.
  • Look back at what they have accomplished and celebrate their accomplishments. Reflect on the goals they have completed.
  • In your 4-H experiences, explore career opportunities, training and schooling needed for each career. Think about goals that would need to be met in order to achieve their career goal.

Using discussion questions after an educational experience can be a great way to help youth talk about what they experienced and connect their new learning to things they already know. This process is called the Experiential Learning Model (ELM). Here are some sample discussion questions by age range that you can use with your activities and experiences.

Ages 5-8:

  • How did you decide what to choose?
  • What problems came up during the activity?
  • How did you overcome those problems?

Ages 9-11:

  • What were some decisions that you had to make during this activity?
  • What was the most challenging or difficult part of the activity?
  • What did you learn?
  • What would you do differently next time?

Ages 12-14:

  • What did you do to plan and conduct the activity?
  • Give an example of a challenge that you had and what you did to solve it.
  • Why was this important?
  • How could the things you learned today be used in other situations?

Ages 15-19:

  • What were some decisions you had to make during this activity?
  • What did you learn from this activity that you didn’t know before?
  • What other situations like this have you experienced?
  • What did you learn today that you will be able to use in school?

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, visit the MSU Extension website.

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