Is it practice, or is it a goal?

Last week we talked about the formula for self-confidence: independent choice, practice, mastery, and next challenge. But how do you help a child reach that level of mastery and be ready for another challenge?  

First, it's critical you understand the difference between practice activities and goal activities.


Practice activities work on one particular step in a process. It looks like endless repetition of the exact same thing.

ex: Stacking blocks, Pouring water between two cups, Opening and closing a lid, Dustpan and brush on a tray.


Goal Activity

Goal activities are a series of steps in a specific order that have a clear start and end point. Most of what we do as adults are goal activities.

ex: Sweeping the floor after a mess, Putting on a pants, Washing your face, Building a puzzle, Eating lunch. 




Most mastered skills are the result of many practice activities which form a sequence to reach a goal. It's all about breaking down tasks into small, clear steps and allowing time for practice of each step.  You can tell the difference between a goal and a practice activity by asking these questions:

  • Does the end of the activity look the same as the start?

  • Is it easily repeated?

  • Does the activity feel monotonous and boring to you (the adult)? Does it take less than 2 minutes to finish?

If you answered yes to these questions, it's most likely a practice activity.  Otherwise, it's a goal and you'll need to help break down the tasks into practice skills for your child.  

Children need lots of time to practice individual skills before they can be successful at meeting a goal on their own. We take a lot of these skills for granted as adults, and it's easy to forget that young children need to practice skills like saying excuse me, waiting, expressing anger, controlling impulses, making choices, following a sequence, using a fork, etc.  

Putting a young child in a situation where you expect them to perform, where you must meet the goal with success will not go well if she is still in the practice phase (like G in this photo, more interested in scooping than feeding the dog). 

Start your child on the way to self-confidence by choose 1-2 small goals she has shown interest in doing herself (tying shoes, putting on pants, writing her name, making tea, making her bed).  

Next, break down these goals into clear, short steps that could be practiced on their own (pulling the tongue up on the shoe, finding the tag on pants, hearing letter sounds, measuring water, fluffing pillows).

Slowly demonstrate the practice skills (young children) or goal (for older children).  Note what your child mastered, and what she struggled with.  

Finally, offer follow-up demonstrations, and create a practice activity if necessary.  


About the Author:

Leanne Gray, M.Ed has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained. 

She's on a mission to raise a generation of kind, confident, responsible children, and does this through her work with families and schools.   Read more here.