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by Mary Mazzoni on July 31, 2011

When our kids are small, we plan and act for them.  We work behind the scenes.  Meals are served, clothes are washed, and arrangements are made.

As our kids grow, we want them to learn how to set their own goals, make their own plans, and take action for themselves.

Too often, people with and without disabilities never learn these skills growing up. They don’t plan and work toward their own goals. Life just sort of happens to them.

Two Websites

Two websites teach a simple strategy called Think-Plan-Do. The first targets “typical” adults. The second is for people with developmental disabilities.  The basic strategy is the same. The method for learning and using the strategy can be individualized.

Think Plan Do Repeat

This site, developed by entrepreneur Michael McCafferty, includes a free pdf “Quick Start Guide” to use the strategy for personal and business planning.  Nifty logo, too.

California Department of Developmental Services

The Consumer Corner of this website includes Think-Plan-Do videos and learning materials produced by adults with disabilities. Take a moment now to click here and watch a brief video. For more videos and materials, click here.

Why is Think-Plan-Do so powerful?

Learning this strategy can be life-changing.  Successful Think-Plan-Do experiences will teach kids:

  • to identify a “goal” (something they really want that is attainable with effort)
  • to get what they want by making a plan and taking action
  • that they are not helplessly dependent on “luck”
  • that they are competent in ways that matter to them
  • that they have power and influence over their own lives

The key is that kids have successful experiences using the strategy.  Here are some tips for how you can teach your child to use the strategy successfully.

Start small

This is really important. Begin with simple, immediate goals (that can be achieved in a few minutes). Then move on to goals that can be achieved in a day or two, then a week or two, then a month or two. For example – I want a tuna sandwich for lunch.  Then – I want to go to the movies on Friday.  Then – I want to have a birthday party next month.

Be visual

Kids will learn the strategy best if you use a graphic organizer. This is a visual format that helps your child see each step. Here’s an example:  Think-Plan-Do-GraphicOrganizer Tailor the graphic organizer to your child’s needs.  You can use pictures instead of words. You can use paper and pencil or a computer or ipod.

I Do – We Do – You Do

Research shows that the best way to teach a new skill is to first demonstrate it (I Do), then do it with the child (We Do), then give the child a chance to do it himself, with supervision and feedback (You Do).

So, begin with “I Do”.  Model the strategy several times for your chid. Choose one of your own goals. Use the graphic organizer and “think out loud” with each step.  First choose immediate goals (I want a clean bathroom, I want to plant flowers today), then goals that are more complex and happen over time (I want to serve dinner for friends Friday, I want to go on a vacation in two months, etc.)

Then move to “We Do”.  Help your child use the graphic organizer to state her goal (what she wants), to plan the steps, and to check them off as she does them.  Start with immediate goals (I want __ for lunch), then goals that are more complex and happen over time (I want to ___ on Friday, I want to ____ next month).

Your child will need you to ask questions to guide her at each step.  For example:

  • THINK- Your child may choose a goal for which she does not have the needed resources. Ask questions like “Do we have the ingredients?  Do you have enough money?  Is there enough time?”  This will help your child understand the kinds of questions to ask when he develops future goals.
  • PLAN – Your child may need help thinking of steps needed to reach the goal.
  • DO – When your child begins to plan goals that occur over time, arrange daily or weekly “check in” times to ask if he has done the steps he planned. (Don’t check-in at random times, or your child will perceive this as nagging)

It’s always best that any “Think-Plan-Do” times are pre-arranged so your child knows you’ll be spending time together and you’re not taking him away from a favorite activity without notice. We want our kids to experience this as a positive time of empowerment for them and interaction between us, rather than drudgery that takes them away from fun.

After many “We Do” experiences, encourage your child to use the graphic organizer on his own (“I Do”), or with another person such as a trusted family member or friend – to plan for a goal that is important to him.

After your child has had many successful experiences with Think-Plan-Do, you and your child may want to sit down with his teacher and explain the strategy so that his teacher can support his use of the strategy at school.

Hey, this takes effort!

Yep.  There are complex skills involved in this “simple” strategy.  Your child will need many successful, supported experiences with it before he is able to use it on his own. And some kids will always need support using the strategy. Even so, Think-Plan-Do provides a framework for family and friends, school and agency staff to support your child in leading a more self-determined life.

Do I have the time to teach this now?

Your life may seem full to the max already.  There are many high-priority skills for your child to learn, and there are only so many minutes in each day. Is this the right time to begin teaching these skills to your child?

How does your child’s mastery of Think-Plan-Do fit into your vision for his future?  Are there other skills your child needs to learn first?  Is it best to wait a few months until a time when life will be less stressful for your family?  Only you can answer these questions. Be realistic and gentle with yourself as you set priorities.

What do you think?

Are you interested in teaching your child the Think-Plan-Do strategy? Would you like some ideas about how to modify teaching methods to your child’s individual needs? What are your thoughts?  Please share them in the comments!

Graphic Credit – from Logo by Saul Castellanos. Website by Michael McCafferty

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jimnp72 August 14, 2011 at 7:37 am

this practice is a lifestyle rather than a procedure, a good, progressive lifestyle at that!


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