Instilling Perseverance in Children

By Leah Davies, M.Ed.

Perseverance means having the self-discipline to continue a task in spite of being confronted with difficulties. Albert Einstein said, “It’s not that I'm so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

The following are classroom activities that promote perseverance:

1. Lead a discussion on what perseverance means and does not mean. For example: keep working until the assignment is complete, instead of trying only a few times and quitting. With the help of students list the steps that are needed to learn a new skill such as riding a bicycle, learning to swim or memorizing the multiplication table.

2. Read the following: Abraham Lincoln said, “People are about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” Mr. Lincoln experienced successes in his life, but he also failed in business in 1831, was defeated for legislature in 1832, lost his bid for congress in 1843, lost his run for the Senate in 1855, and was defeated for Vice President in 1856. Yet, in 1860, Mr. Lincoln was elected President of the United States. List and discuss the qualities he must have had. For example: positive attitude, tenacity, diligence, courage, boldness, self-discipline, and determination.

3. Have each student write a report on a person of their choosing who demonstrated perseverance. Some examples are: Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, Harriet Tubman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mother Teresa, Madame (Marie) Curie, Ray Charles, Rosa Parks, or Christopher Reeve.

Have them answer the following questions in their report:

  • How did he or she show perseverance?
  • In what ways are you like the person in your report?
  • In what ways are you different from that person?
  • What did you learn about yourself from writing the report?

4. Read and perhaps act out “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “The Little Engine That Could,” or another story of your choosing. Have children divide into groups to write a simple poem, song or a short story that exemplifies perseverance. Have them perform their works for each other or for children in lower grades.

5. Have the students locate newspaper or magazine articles concerning a person who demonstrated perseverance after experiencing failure. Ask them to report what they learned.

6. Have the students write or draw a picture illustrating a time when they persevered and succeeded even though they felt like giving up. Then discuss the feelings associated with their achievement, for example: pride, happiness, self-confidence, and self-esteem.

7. Use puppets or students to role play situations where individuals demonstrate perseverance. Examples: a child who stutters and keeps trying to speak fluently, a child who has learning problems yet puts forth much effort to learn, a student in a wheelchair who tries to do new things.

8. Lead a discussion on how negative comments from others can influence a student's attitude toward learning. Discuss what children can do to prevent these remarks from hindering their efforts. Talk about ways one can be successful in spite of them. (See Encouraging Thoughts.)

9. Ask a respected, community member who overcame obstacles to speak to your students about his or her life. Ask the individual to discuss the principles that led to his accomplishments. Then have the children compose and send a thank you card or letter.

10. Ask the students to make out a list of things that are difficult for them and easy for them. Then discuss the fact that every child has strengths and weaknesses, but if the children keep trying they will most likely be successful.

11. Brainstorm and list obstacles, habits, and attitudes that prevent people from accomplishing their goals. Then have the children write down or draw a picture of what they want to be or do when they grow up. Divide into pairs and have them share their ideas. As a group list the general steps they will need to take to fulfill their dreams.

12. Have the students create a list of questions that they would like to ask an older relative or family friend. For example:

  • What was the most important thing that you learned from your mother or father?
  • What values are most important in your life today?
  • What are you most proud of doing?
  • Name a mistake you made.
  • What did you learn from your mistake?
  • Can you describe a time when you kept trying even though you felt like giving up?

    After completing the interview have the children write a report on what they learned.

Ways Educators Can Encourage Perseverance in Students

1. Believe in each child’s ability to achieve.

2. Expect them to finish what they start.

3. Avoid accepting excuses for unfinished work.

4. Give positive feedback when a child puts forth extra effort.

5. Help students realize that everyone makes mistakes, but what is important is to keep trying. (See the Kelly Bear Behavior book.)

6. Teach children how to regroup and start over.

7. Motivate them to try new things.

8. Encourage children to take responsibility for themselves and make constructive choices.

Since perseverance is a necessary ingredient for student achievement, it needs to be encouraged. Helping children learn to be patient and to persist in spite of failure are attributes that will contribute to their future success.

Used by permission of the author, Leah Davies, and selected from the Kelly Bear website [], 8/05.

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