Goal Setting for Kids: The Ultimate Guide

Review some of the most popular goal-setting frameworks for kids, from S.M.A.R.T. Goals to WOOP Goals, and get strategies and printable resources for implementing them with your kids.

Emily Veno
June 2, 2023

Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community.

As a parent, helping your child set and attain their own goals can be one of the most rewarding experiences. It’s one thing to tell your child you’d like them to do something, and quite another (better) thing to give them ownership over what they achieve!

The process of setting goals is just as important, if not more, than the particular goal. Whether your child wants to ace their high school math course or reach 100 subscribers on their YouTube channel, effective goal setting can boost their self-confidence and foster a growth mindset. So it’s important for us to make goal setting for kids fun and engaging!

At Prisma, each of our middle school and high school learners is matched with a mentor coach, who gets to know them as an individual, and works with them to set academic and personal goals throughout the year. In regular 1:1 meetings, coaches check in on progress toward goals, cheering learners on and providing inspiration and support.

The goal-setting process should be driven by your child as much as possible so they feel ownership over their personal goals. We recommend a process of experimentation with different goal-setting systems until you find the one that resonates with your kiddo.

In this blog post, we’ll review some of the most popular goal-setting frameworks for kids (including the ones our learning coaches use with kids at Prisma!), and provide concrete strategies for trying them at home.

Goal Inspiration

At Prisma, we believe that the secret to motivating kids to do anything is making it fun, interesting, and connected to their passions. So if you want to teach your child goal-setting skills, we recommend doing it in the context of something they really care about. Once they learn how easily they can achieve hard things with persistence and a strong system, it will be much easier to apply that same system to less fun goals, like higher grades or a clean room.

Would any of the below types of goals be exciting for your child?

  1. Learning a new creative skill, like graphic design, sculpture, or electronic music
  2. Building an ambitious product, like a computer or a treehouse
  3. Raising money for a worthy cause (Prisma learners recently raised over $4,000 for the Handicapped Pets Foundation as part of our Collaborative Problem Solving Workshop)
  4. Earning their own money to pay for something they’d like to buy
  5. Planning a fun event, like a birthday party or artistic performance
  6. Creating their own business, podcast, YouTube channel, or website


S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Now, let's dive into one of the most popular goal-setting systems, S.M.A.R.T goals - an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals. It’s a simple yet effective way of setting goals that are clear and reachable.

Here are the steps to devising a S.M.A.R.T. Goal:

  1. Specific: Encourage your child to be as specific as possible. Instead of setting a goal to "get better at guitar," a more specific goal might be "be able to play three new songs on guitar by next month."
  2. Measurable: How will your child know when they've achieved their goal? By making goals measurable, progress can be tracked. With our guitar example, the specific number of songs leaves less ambiguity.
  3. Attainable: It's essential to ensure that the goal is realistic. Our guitar goal of learning three new songs in a month probably only makes sense if the child already knows the basics.
  4. Relevant: The goal should be important and relevant to your child. As we mentioned above, interest and passion are important for any goal-setting system to work!
  5. Time-bound: Each goal should have a timeline. The amount of time will depend on the goal. Short-term goals might be achievable in a week or a month, while long-term goals might take a year or more. The guitar goal example sets the specific timeline of “by next month.”

The pros of S.M.A.R.T. Goals are the specificity, which help your child know exactly what needs to be achieved. Some people who prefer other goal-setting systems find S.M.A.R.T. Goals to be too rigid and intimidating, since they are so specific. It’s also important to note that this system only helps you set a goal, not create a process for achieving it!

Printable resource for S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting

WOOP Goals

While S.M.A.R.T goals are a fantastic tool for goal-setting, let's explore another strategy: the W.O.O.P. approach. W.O.O.P. is an acronym that stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan.

Here's how you and your child can use the W.O.O.P. strategy:

  1. Wish: Start with your child expressing a wish. This could be anything from wanting to read a certain number of books in a month, to learning a new sport, to improving a friendship. This step is much like the 'Specific' part of S.M.A.R.T goals, where the child identifies what they want to achieve.
  2. Outcome: Next, have your child envision the outcome. How would they feel if they achieved their wish? Encourage them to imagine the sense of accomplishment and joy. This step helps your child visualize the reward of achieving their goal, which can be a powerful motivator.
  3. Obstacle: This part is crucial. Ask your child to think about the potential obstacles that could stand in the way of their wish. Is it lack of time? A skill they need to learn? By anticipating challenges, they can better prepare to overcome them.
  4. Plan: Finally, help your child develop an action plan. If they encounter the obstacle they identified, what will they do? Creating a plan not only equips your child with a strategy to overcome challenges, but it also builds their problem-solving skills.

Let's put it into a concrete example. Suppose your child's wish (W) is to join a competitive travel high school basketball team. The desired outcome (O) might be the joy of being part of a team and playing a sport they love. The obstacle (O) might be the need to improve their shooting skills. The plan (P), then, could be to practice shooting baskets for 30 minutes every day.

The W.O.O.P. approach is a powerful tool in the goal-setting process because it well-incorporates the emotional components of goal setting, that some other systems tend to leave out. It also helps kids envision an action plan and how things might go wrong. It's particularly useful for helping your child understand that obstacles aren't roadblocks, but rather opportunities for growth and learning.

W.O.O.P. goals can be combined with S.M.A.R.T. goals, but again, be careful of over-engineering the process with too many steps.

Printable resource for W.O.O.P. goal-setting

Agile Goal Setting

At Prisma High School, our learners use the Agile system to set goals for their schoolwork, with support from their learning coach.

The Agile methodology is a technique initially designed for software development but now used in various fields, including personal goal setting. This system involves "sprints" (short, focused bursts of work) and "points" (a measure of the effort required to complete a task).

Here's how you can use this system with your kids at home:

1. Break down goals into tasks: The first step is to identify the goal and break it down into smaller, manageable tasks. For instance, if your child's goal is to read a specific book, the tasks could be reading a certain number of pages each day.

2. Assign points to tasks: Points are used to estimate the effort required to complete a task. The point system can be simple, like assigning 1 point to an easy task, 2 points to a medium task, and 3 points to a hard task. In the reading example, each page could be worth one point.

3. Plan sprints: A sprint is a set period during which specific tasks are completed. For kids, a sprint could be a week. At Prisma High School, our “sprints” are two weeks long. At the start of each sprint, decide on the tasks (and thus points) to be completed by the end of the sprint.

4. Regular check-ins: Have daily check-ins to discuss progress, just like a "daily standup" at tech companies who use Agile. This helps your child learn to monitor their progress and adjust their effort as needed. At Prisma, each learner has a daily standup with their cohort, as well as regular 1:1s with their learning coach for this process.

5. Review and retrospective: At the end of each sprint, review your child’s progress. How many points did they earn? Did they meet their goal for the sprint? Discuss what went well and what could be improved for the next sprint. Use this process to make sure each sprint contains realistic goals that aren’t too overwhelming for your child.

6. Celebrate milestones: Celebrating the completion of tasks and sprints helps keep your child motivated. Perhaps they earn a reward for a certain number of points, or you have a special celebration at the end of each sprint.

Remember, the goal of this system isn't just about achieving goals—it's also about teaching valuable skills like planning, time management, and self-reflection. With this Agile-inspired system, goal setting can be a fun, rewarding, and educational experience for your child!

At Prisma High School, coaches use a simple Google Form to complete Agile check-ins with learners. You could set up something similar to monitor progress on your child’s goals.

More Goal-Setting Activities

To make the process more engaging, here are a few more fun goal-setting activities and resources, including links to some free goal setting templates and goal setting worksheets available online:

  1. A goal ladder can be a fun way to help kids visualize the steps of achieving a goal. Each rung represents a small step towards achieving goals.
  2. New Year resolutions or the beginning of a new school year can be a great opportunity to start this goal-setting process with your child. But remember, any time is a good time to set new goals!
  3. Make a Yearly Bucket List: This activity involves your family coming together to brainstorm and list experiences or achievements each member wants to accomplish in the next 12 months. Seeing the list regularly, like by the kitchen table, can serve as a constant reminder of the goals. As the year progresses, you can discuss the remaining goals and plan out the necessary steps to achieve them​​.
  4. Draw a Wheel of Fortune: In this activity, your child draws a wheel divided into segments, each representing an important category in their life like family, friends, school, etc. They then write down the goals they want to achieve in a set time frame for one chosen category and plan the steps to accomplish these goals. Celebrate each success and repeat the process for each segment​.
  5. Create a Vision Board: This involves your child cutting out pictures from magazines, newspapers, or old books that represent their hopes and dreams, and pasting them onto a poster board. You can also do a digital version of this process using Pinterest, Jamboard, or Canva. This visual representation of their goals can be a powerful reminder of what they aspire to achieve.
  6. Play 3 Stars and a Wish: In this activity, your child comes up with 3 "Stars" or things they're good at, and a "Wish" or something they want to improve on. This helps them understand that they can work towards their goals through consistent practice and effort. Regularly writing down their progress towards their wish can help them stay on track​.

Goal setting is not just about achieving goals; it's also about the journey. It encourages problem-solving, step-by-step planning, and helps kids develop personal skills like discipline, persistence, and decision-making.

By instilling the habit of setting and achieving goals from a young age, we equip our children with the tools they need to navigate life successfully. Happy goal setting!

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