We all know that setting and achieving goals is a life skill necessary for success and happiness. But it’s one that even adults REALLY struggle with: Studies say that only about 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions!
How can we teach children to set realistic goals — and actually follow through?
Make it fun!
Before you continue, be sure to check out our popular 2023 Goal-Setting Kits to help your child or teen learn how to set goals while having fun!
Research shows that children learn best when they’re playing and enjoying themselves at the same time. Fun experiences increase levels of endorphins, dopamine, and oxygen, all of which promote learning.
Here are 7 fun goal-setting activities that can make the process more enjoyable and effective.
1. Make a Bucket List
Typically, a bucket list lists accomplishments, experiences, or achievements that someone wants to have during their lifetime.
To teach your children goal-setting — and have fun in the process — you can create a YEARLY bucket list.
Do you have teens? Encourage them to create a digital family or personal bucket list. This gives them a chance to use their technical knowledge and creativity in a meaningful way. They can share their lists with the family and help track everything online. This is a great way to include older children in a family project and build connections.
It’s even more fun if the whole family gets involved.
Here's what to do:
- Gather your family together, grab a piece of chart paper and some markers, and start brainstorming.
- As a family, discuss what you would like to do, experience, and achieve over the next 12 months.
- Once you're done brainstorming, put the list somewhere where everyone can see it often (for example, by the kitchen table).
Your family will have tons of fun accomplishing items on the list and checking them off throughout the year.
As the year progresses and you notice several items remaining, you can talk about if you still want to accomplish each of these goals or if your family’s goals have changed. If you still want to accomplish them, how can you go about doing so? What steps will you need to follow?
Research shows that in addition to learning through play, children also learn effectively through experiences. Keeping track of and planning toward goals will be a valuable learning experience for your child, and it’s a fun way for your family to bond!
At the end of the year, you can look back over everything your family has accomplished. You may even make creating an annual bucket list of goal-setting activities into a new family tradition!
2. Draw a Wheel of Fortune
The idea for the “wheel of fortune” was created by Dennis Waitley, author, and authority on personal development.
Here’s what to do:
- Help your child draw a wheel divided into SEGMENTS. In each segment, your child will write important categories in their life: Family, Friends, School, Tennis, etc.
- Your child will then choose one category that they would like to focus on first. For this category, they will write out each goal they want to accomplish in a set period of time (this year, for example). For instance, if the category is “Tennis,” your child might write that they would like to practice at least three times a week, improve their forehand, and learn to serve.
- Next, talk to your child about the steps they will take to achieve these goals and what obstacles they may encounter along the way. If they do encounter these obstacles, what will they do to overcome them?
- Let your child color and decorate the wheel however they would like, then hang it somewhere prominent.
As your child reaches their goals in one segment of the wheel, do something to CELEBRATE, then repeat the process above for each additional segment.
Over time, your child will improve in many aspects of their life, all while learning to set and reach goals.
Don't forget to download our FREE Affirmation Bracelets. The affirmation bracelets are great for boosting a child's confidence!
3. Create a Vision Board
A vision board is a great way to help your child visualize their goals. Your child will also have fun with this meaningful arts and crafts project.
Here’s what to do:
- Take out some old magazines and ask your child to cut out pictures that represent their hopes and dreams. If your child has something specific they want to include that they can’t find, you can print pictures from the Internet.
- Your child will then paste these pictures onto a piece of poster board. They can also decorate with colors, glitter, feathers, etc.
- When it’s finished, hang the vision board somewhere in your child’s bedroom, where they will frequently be reminded of their aspirations.
Making the vision board helps your child think through their goals, and it also serves as a powerful visual reminder of everything they would like to achieve.
Revisit the idea of the vision board often. Ask your child what different pictures represent and how they plan to achieve their various dreams.
If the goal is a big one, help them break it into simple pieces. What are some small steps they can take now to achieve their long-term goals in the future?
Your child will learn to set goals, think critically, and plan ahead. They’ll also develop the understanding that what they do now and throughout their life does matter and can positively impact their future.
4. Play 3 Stars and a Wish
3 Stars and a Wish is a fun way to get children thinking about their goals while also providing some positive affirmation.
Here’s what to do:
- First, your child comes up with 3 “Stars,” or things they already do well. This can be anything from running fast to solving math problems to comforting their friends when they’re feeling sad.
- Talk to your child about HOW they became so good at these “Stars.” Did they have to practice?How long did it take to learn? Or did they magically acquire these skills overnight?
- Next, have your child come up with a “Wish.” The “Wish” is something that your child needs or wants to work on (a goal).
- Ask your child WHAT they can do to help make their wish come true. Explain to them that this isn’t chance; it’s choice. They can choose to take steps that will lead to the fulfillment of their wish.
Make sure that you or your child write everything down. If your child is old enough, it’s a good idea to have them write about their progress toward their wish on occasion.
Psychology professor Gail Matthews found that writing down your goals on a regular basis makes you 42% more likely to achieve them.
Having your child share their hopes and dreams with you makes them more likely to achieve them, too. Dr. Matthews found that people are even more likely to achieve their goals if they share them with a friend (or parent) who believes they will succeed.
The Big Life Journal is a great place to record your child's dreams, ask big questions, and have meaningful conversations. You can also explore how others turned their dreams into reality. Topics include: Be Persistent, Effort Is Key, and Make a Difference in the World.
5. Ask Fun Questions
Asking your child questions about what they would like to accomplish is a standard component of the goal-setting process.
However, you can get creative and make the process more enjoyable with fun questions like:
- What would you do if you won the lottery?
- What is your biggest dream?
- If you had a superpower, how would you use it?
- If you found a genie and could ask for three wishes, what would you wish for?
Of course, some of these questions may prompt unrealistic answers from your child, but you can help your child tweak them to be more achievable.
Then discuss that they may not win the lottery or find a magic genie, but they can take their fate into their own hands by making a plan to achieve their hopes, goals, and dreams.
6. Use Interest Maps
Older children can learn a lot about themselves by paying attention to their interests. Do they like art or science or writing or sports? Write down all their favorite interests.
Next, see if they can find patterns in the things they enjoy doing. Do they enjoy working with people? Animals? By themselves? Once they see their interests mapped out, they can create goals.
7. Create Stair-Step Goals (or Goal Ladders)
Using a stair-step visual for goal-setting, teens can break down their goals into doable steps.
Follow this simple method:
- Write down your DREAM at the top of the staircase.
- Write down your FIRST GOAL at the very bottom of the staircase and the first action towards that goal.
- Create your second goal and the first action towards it.
- Create your third goal and the first actions.
- Continue “climbing” the stairs. Add dates, drawings, anything that helps motivate you!
For example, your child chose “basketball” as an interest. They can now create stair-step goals based on their interests such as:
- Practice every day for 30 minutes
- Run 1 mile 5 days a week
- Score 50 points this season
- Make 25 rebounds
- Encourage my teammates
Looking for additional resources? Be sure to check out our Big Life Journal for Teens & Tweens (Ages 11+). Our science-based journal helps tweens and teens develop a resilient, growth mindset so they can grow into confident, happy adults.
7 thoughts on “7 Fun Goal-Setting Activities for Children”
January 10, 2019 at 17:10pm
Kelli Smirniotis says:
April 17, 2018 at 09:18am
This is wonderful stuff. I want to add though in response to the comment from the special needs teacher – I promise you those kids did indeed earn their “given” awards and grades, just maybe not in the ways you expected. They earned it by facing struggles like bullying, physical pain, exclusion, sensory overload, etc. etc. and still showing up as best they can. I don’t think we can blame “given” awards for lack of resilience when it comes to special needs children: I think we can blame being misunderstood, ignored, put down, facing failures through no fault, etc. I understand what you are saying, I do. However, the “system” is set up against them. They are facing adversity with every breath of their being. There is sometimes nothing a child is capable of to meet the requirements of standard grades or awards… and imagine being that child, never “measuring up”. Inclusion needs to go beyond applying standardized grades/awards to extraordinary children: we don’t seem to be there yet.
Take it from a special needs person raising a special needs child… it is very hard to be atypical in a neurotypical world. Without those grades and awards, their self esteem would be shattered. They do need to learn to goal set, as all children do, but I would not say “it’s because of everything being given”. A growth mindset will build their self esteem and confidence. These resources are extremely wonderful for all kids.
Thank you for this. I teach special needs transition students and they have a very difficult time understanding “goal”, probably because everything, from grades to awards, has been given rather than earned. This is helpful in teaching them to earn money and to earn position within a job. It is also helpful in teaching them to “earn” respect and put actions into making friends.