The start of the school year often means that your children —and you — may be doing some goal setting.

Personally, what happens for me is that we start strong, list some goals, talk about the school year and then get sidetracked by all of the other fall activities that start simultaneously. It seems that it takes a few weeks to get adjusted to the new schedule. This year, for me, seemed like absolute craziness because it has been two years since we returned for a “normal” school year. If you are like me, read on. I have some techniques you can use to get your child’s goal-setting back on track.

My office wall holds a large poster with a place to plan SMART Goals. If you have not heard of using this technique, it is pretty helpful for determining your goals to be measured and accomplished. I also suggest writing the goals and posting where they can be seen each day.

The first step is to be specific. List what you want to accomplish. For example, “getting better grades in math” is a good goal, but “getting a B in math” is more specific.

The same concept holds for extracurricular activities. The more detailed the plan, the easier it is to measure. And the goal needs to be personal. A child setting a goal that their team will win the championship is great, but maybe not everyone on the team has that goal and will not practice or be dedicated to winning.

Measurable is step two in the process. You can measure a “B in math” with quiz and test grades and quarter grades. Sometimes activities seem harder to measure. For instance, advancing skills in a sport or physical activity takes a bit longer. You may need to track progress. “Running 5 miles a week” and “practicing a musical instrument 30 minutes per day” is measurable.

Consistently participating in the activity brings results. Malcolm Gladwell is a proponent of the 10,000 hours rule. He states in his book “Outliers,” “it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of complex skills and materials, like playing the violin or getting as good as Bill Gates at computer programming.” That may be too much for most of us since that is one hour per day for 27 years, but you get the idea. Practice makes you better, no matter what activity you engage in.

And that brings us to achievable. The goal has to be realistic. If your child

struggles with math and typically gets a “C” grade, making a goal to get an “A”

in the first quarter of a new year may

be unrealistic. We can use goal setting

to build confidence. Going from a “C” to

a “C+” is probably an achievable first goal.

Set time for practice, stick to a routine and the goal can be met. Then, go for a better grade (if desired) because you have a pattern in place to follow. Here’s a fun example: I can make a goal to become an Olympic figure skater. I have never ice skated. I’m 56 years old. I don’t like cold. Achievable? Not really. Maybe I can train for a marathon?

I’m getting personal here, but I must tell you: I have no desire whatsoever to run a marathon. None. At all. And that is why the goal needs to be relevant to the person making the goal. If the goal is not essential to the person, then the goal will not be met.

I have friends who are runners. They invite me to run with them. Not my idea of fun, so making a running goal would be setting myself up for failure. I will repeat: The goal has to be essential and relevant to the person making the goal!

The last step in the SMART Goal setting process is it has to be time-bound. State when the goal be complete. Not setting a date for the goal to be reached will lead to procrastination getting started — and possibly not getting started at all.

Be realistic with timing. For example, all of the marathon-training individuals will need more than two weeks to train. Seasons and school breaks offer reasonable time limits for goal setting.

Now that we are comfortable with our school routine and fall activities, take some time to set a goal, make a plan and achieve your goals!

Sandi Graham is a 4-H Extension educator in Lackawanna County. Administered in Pennsylvania by Penn State Extension, 4-H is a community of more than 6 million young people across America learning leadership, citizenship, and life skills. Penn State Extension 4-H youth development educators in all 67 counties throughout the commonwealth administer local 4-H programs through non-formal education and outreach. To find your local program, visit the Penn State Extension website at