FRESH IDEAS: Setting, keeping goals is a powerful strategy for life

"If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else."

- Yogi Berra

Last Tuesday, President Obama spoke to schoolchildren, asking them to accept responsibility, set goals and work hard to achieve them. A few days later, I witnessed first-hand the consequences of his speech and the suggested follow-up lesson. Fourth- and fifth-graders wrote three personal goals related to their schoolwork. Those goals were then posted for others to see.

A few of these 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds expressed long-term aspirations: Graduate from high school. Go to college. Become a doctor. Other students listed more immediate, short-term goals: Listen. Follow directions. Read 30 minutes a day. Do my homework when I get home. Practice typing 15 minutes a day. Learn division. Pass math tests. Be good. Pay attention.

If you ask me, those short-term goals are just as important as the more lofty ones. They focus on the critical skills and work habits that will help students achieve those bigger objectives. Mini-goals are the stepping-stones toward an ultimate goal. Once one interim goal is achieved, a new one will take its place, always with an eye on the desired outcome. Good practice for life, I'd say.

These students also demonstrated the importance of putting goals in writing. Written goals are harder to ignore. Written goals become priorities. Some people post them on the refrigerator or bathroom mirror.

Along those same lines, we grown-ups might do well to create and post our own short list of personal goals that would help our children meet their goals. I invite you to generate your own or try two or three of these:

• Read with my child 30 minutes every day.

• Visit the library frequently.

• Monitor and limit my child's time in front of the TV, computer and video games.

• Take a walk or ride bikes with my child regularly.

• Check my child's backpack daily for homework and other important papers.

• Eat dinner together at the table most nights with the TV off.

• Enforce reasonable bedtimes.

• Be sure my child has had a good breakfast before school.

• Volunteer often at school.

• Say, "I love you" to my child every day.

Trust me, faster than you can imagine, this year will pass, and then another. Soon, the kids will be grown and gone. Now is your chance to guide your children toward becoming responsible, hard-working adults who know how to set and reach their goals. How far can they go? Just look what those qualities did for a skinny black kid with a funny name.

• Lorie Schaefer is a retired teacher.

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