In this post, you can get a goal ladder worksheet. But what is a goal ladder? And how can you use a goal ladder in goal setting for kids? Today, you’ll learn about how to use a goal ladder to support goal setting for students, and anyone wanting step-by-step support to achieve goals.
What is a goal ladder?
A goal ladder is a tool used to set and achieve goals. Each rung of the ladder represents a smaller goal that leads to the bigger goal. By making smaller sub-goals, this is more motivating, less intimidating, and more manageable than one huge overwhelming task.
This post shares more about using a goal ladder to support kids in achieving personal goals.
The goal ladder is a visual representation of the task and goal I would like to achieve. People with good executive function love lists and spreadsheets. This is how they naturally stay organized. People struggling with their executive functioning skills could benefit from lists in order to stay on top of goals.
At the bottom of this post, you’ll find a free goal ladder worksheet. This can be used with kids, teens, and adults to help with goal setting and breaking down a goal task into manageable chunks. Use the goal ladder along with SMART goals to support goal accomplishment.
What is a goal?
A goal is something to achieve or be accomplished. It is important to set goals in order to find direction. People with good executive function skills often set and achieve goals as part of their daily routines and habits.
Many times people who have difficulty with executive function do not know how to set goals or how to achieve them. The entire task seems overwhelming, therefore nothing gets done.
Supporting executive functioning skills, specifically planning, prioritization, task completion is all part of the goal setting process. Try these activities to challenge and support executive functioning skills:
- Fall Executive Functioning Skill Activities
- To-do Worksheet for Kids
- Tips to Improve Prioritization
- How to Teach Planning and Prioritization Skills
SMART GOALS FOR KIDS
The best goals are called SMART goals. Not only are they really smart in terms of being successful, the acronym SMART is helpful to remember all the necessary parts to a goal. Each goal should have the following characteristics in order to be successful:
- S: specific – did you detail what it is you want to achieve?
- M: measurable – how are you going to measure success?
- A: is this goal attainable or too lofty?
- R: is this goal realistic? Can you actually swim across the Atlantic in six weeks?
- T: timebound – Do you have a set timeframe for this goal to be measured?
How to start brainstorming and writing a goal
Determine the overall goal: for example, I would like to eat more vegetables.
If I leave the goal this simple and vague, how will I know I am eating more vegetables or when I have met this goal?
Let’s make this a SMART goal to make it more attainable
- S: specific – I would like to eat 5 more types of vegetables
- M: measurable – I will eat ¼ cup of each vegetable one time per week
- A: attainable – I will not try and eat a whole cup of vegetables
- R: my doctor says I need vegetables for my overall health
- T: timebound – I will do this over the course of 4 weeks
Therefore my large goal might sound like this, “In four weeks I will eat ¼ cup of 5 different vegetables each week to improve my overall health and well being.
Because this is a large goal and I really dislike most vegetables, I am going to have to break down this goal into smaller chunks in order to make it manageable and attainable. This is especially important for children, as they are more receptive to short term objectives with rewards at the end of each objective.
How to break down tasks to achieve a goal
Because I do not like vegetables, I am going to need to break this down into smaller pieces to get it going. If the end goal is to eat five vegetables, maybe I need to start with a list of vegetables I already eat, as well as a list of all of the other options available in my area.
Then research ways to cook or serve these vegetables to make them more appealing. What about a reward system that will motivate me to try these new veggies?
I could start with a variety of vegetables each week or just try a couple at a time. There are many variables in breaking down a goal.
- Break the larger goal into steps (good for a multi-step task)
- Break the larger goal into time-based accomplishments (Select a date to accomplish the large goal and work backwards, selecting dates to accomplish each step)
- Break down the goal into learning processes (first learn about this, then practice. Then learn about another aspect. Then practice.)
Goal setting for kids
Why is goal setting so important for children? Kids are easily overwhelmed by tasks in front of them, which often leads to shut down or refusal. By kids setting goals, it gives them direction.
Adults/teachers/therapists set goals for children as a way to measure progress. Without goals it is easy to get lost in all that a child can not do. With a SMART goal in place, it is much easier to track data, discover obstacles, and make necessary changes.
It is important for people to choose their own goals. This makes it more meaningful and relevant (The R in SMART). Choosing one’s own goal also helps it to be more motivating. When children feel in control of some aspect of their lives, they are more likely to succeed.
Helping kids choose their own goals
To anyone trying to learn twenty new tasks at once, choosing a goal can be overwhelming. Start by asking the child what they want to accomplish. This may be too broad of a question, therefore choices may need to be offered. Also ask the parents/caregivers what they would like their child to master.
Too often therapists choose and start working on goals that are not meaningful or relevant to the child or their family. As a treating therapist I have spent time spinning my wheels trying to teach students to fold laundry, load the dishwasher, sleep in their own bed, or eat certain foods, goals that were not important to their family. Once I asked the family what goals they wanted their child to achieve, my treatment became much more relevant and focused.
Make a list of goals and tasks that need to be learned. With the help of the caregivers and children, prioritize which goals are more important than others. Once the goals are selected, use the goal ladder to break it down into measurable chunks, focusing on no more than one to three goals at a time.
Check out these quotes about goals for more inspiration on goal setting.
How to use a goal ladder
A goal ladder can be a powerful visual representation of each step of accomplishing a goal. Kids can use a goal ladder to work on multi-step goals or larger tasks that otherwise seem daunting.
There are several steps of using a goal ladder to accomplish tasks:
- Get Specific on the Goal- One important first step in using a goal ladder is getting specific on the goal. Another important piece to the puzzle is the “buy in” from the child or student. Are they involved in setting up the goal? When kids are involved in the goal setting process, they are more motivated because the goal is meaningful to them.
- Write down the goal at the top of the goal ladder.
- Determine the “why” behind the goal- Help the student or child to determine “why” the goal is meaningful to them. Is it a personal interest? Is the goal for their health or education? Is the goal important because they are learning about something interesting? When personal interests, passions, and talents are incorporated into a goal, it has that “why factor”. When we determine why something is meaningful to us, it has more staying power. That “why” is something that we can return to when the goal process slows. For kids, we can help them see why their goal is important in the bigger picture.
- Help kids identify their “why”
- Write this down so you can refer to it in the future. This letter to future self is a great activity to predict and identify future goals.
- Consider all aspects: wellbeing, social-emotional, development, personal interests, etc.
- Break the goal down into smaller steps- The ladder imagery is perfect for a larger goal because it really points out that each step leads toward a bigger goal. There is no way to get to the end result without putting in the work of moving up each step.
- Start out with the long term goal at the top of the ladder, using the rungs below for the short term objectives and rewards.
- Write down the steps to achieve the big goal on the goal ladder. Each rung of the ladder is a smaller goal that has it’s own objective.
- Remember SMART goals along the way!
- Incorporate rewards for each goal rung.
- Brainstorm potential obstacles and be ready for them. Kids can help with this process. What are some reasons that they may not accomplish a step on the goal ladder? What can they do to prevent that obstacle? Or, how can they deal with obstacles as they come. Being prepared for the falls from the ladder will help to set the user up for success.
- Consider obstacles for each rung on the goal ladder.
- Be prepared with solutions.
One of the biggest issues for goal setting with kids is that the goal sometimes fails. You might ask yourself: “I set goals but they fail, why?” Let’s take a look at potential obstacles to goal setting.
Example of a Goal Ladder
In our example goal ladder, we’ll continue with the theme of eating more vegetables.
The top of my ladder might say, In four weeks I will improve my diet to eat ¼ cup of 5 different vegetables to improve my overall health and well being.
The subsequent rungs might look like this:
- Make a list of the vegetables you currently eat
- Make a list of all of the vegetables available in your area
- Select 5 vegetables to try during the next 4 weeks
- Find 2-3 recipes or ways to serve each vegetable
- Try one vegetable the first week, reward yourself with cheesecake if ¼ cup is eaten
- Try a second vegetable the next day. Continue to eat the first vegetable if able. Reward yourself with a chocolate bar
Continue the rungs in this fashion until 5 vegetables have been added in 4 weeks.
*This goal can be modified to be even more specific. Maybe I need it to say I will eat 5 different vegetables EACH week, or continue to eat them in my regular diet after trying them during this 4 week trial.
Goal setting is important and a SMART way to teach skills!
In the goal ladder worksheet below, you’ll notice some details that impact successful goal accomplishment:
- A larger goal is identified.
- There is an end reward identified.
- The user identifies steps to accomplish the overall larger goal.
- Each step of the process has it’s own end date and reward.
- Users can check off each step as they achieve it.
- They can then re-group and see what the next step on their ladder is so that they climb toward the bigger goal.
Free goal ladder worksheet!
Pair this printable goal ladder worksheet with SMART goals for kids, teens, or adults to accomplish those big tasks!
Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.