Beyond Games: 4 Exercises to Improve Effort

There’s a saying that “work comes before success in everything except the dictionary.” And for some kids, effort comes naturally. But others need to experience a sense of accomplishment — their own or someone else’s — before effort really feels worthwhile. In this edition of the LearningWorks for Kids Beyond Games series we suggest strategies that can improve effort and lead to persistence across all areas of a child’s life. These four exercises in effort will help your child try harder:

Do it yourself. The most effective modeling is realistic, so let him see how you accept and overcome a challenge. Rather than pretend that you want to clean the house, cut the lawn, or go to a boring training session for work, let a child understand that you often have to do things you do not want to do. You can demonstrate perseverance by starting on a task that may be difficult (such as remodeling a room in the house) and continuing to work on it, dealing with the numerous obstacles along the way. Make such statements as, “I won’t quit,” “This is hard, but I’ll keep going,” and “I’ll give it the best I have,” as difficulties are encountered in the work.

Watch and learn. Watch movies that portray the positive impact of sustained effort, choosing films that include topics or individuals of interest to a child. He might enjoy watching a movie like Finding Nemo, in which the main character must persist through various obstacles in order to reach a final goal. Watch sports that portray the positive impact of stating a goal and sticking with it. The family might watch a video about Michael Jordan and discuss how many game-winning shots he missed as opposed to how many he made, pointing out that “sticking to it” and working hard made him a better player, and that even superstars are human.

Play video games. While it is important to limit the amount of time that a child plays video games, many present the types of ongoing challenges that help develop focus and sustained effort. Encourage him to be persistent while playing these games by giving your own support and suggesting he use video-game walkthroughs or help from a peer. In the long run this will help him understand the value of sustained effort. Game series like the Legend of Zelda, Professor Layton, and Final Fantasy demonstrate this type of effort.

Chores for a change. Assign a child an important chore, like the feeding, grooming, or walking of the family pet. Encourage him to consider the pet’s needs by pointing out his own, prompting him with questions such as, “Are you hungry?” or “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” This will illustrate the need for ongoing daily attention to the needs of the pet and of himself. Use digital technologies like Nintendogs for the Nintendo DS game system, Takamichi from Virtual Pets, or online games like Neopets to help prepare him for becoming the main caregiver of his pet. Talk with him about the amount of sustained effort that will be necessary for his virtual pet to survive.

Complementing these core strategies with the use of apps, websites, and other technologies often leads to the best solutions to improve a child’s ability to identify practice and models of persistence. Some of the best tech tools to help a child identify practice and models of persistence include:

ChorePicker is an app that helps kids keep up with their assigned chores. Kids who need help practicing sustained effort will benefit greatly from ChorePicker’s step-by-step approach to completing tasks. Not only are tasks in a list, but each task is broken down into subtasks, allowing kids to see the details and reducing the chances that they’ll become overwhelmed.


Dragon Shapes Dragon Shapes is a game that brings the popular tangram geometry puzzle set to Android and iOS. Helping your child expand his or her capacity for sustained effort means building their flexibility and organization, and Dragon Shapes exercises both of these executive functions. In the game, as in life, kids will need to focus, look at a problem from multiple angles, and persist through obstacles to succeed.


Wii-BowlingOne thing that will improve effort is practicing self control, and kids will have fun working on this skill with a game like Wii Sports Resort: Bowling. Using the Wii’s motion sensor controller, kids bowl in the game by physically miming the action. The challenge of timing the release of the ball and getting angles and curves just right means kids have to work and practice to get good — just like in real life.


Featured image: Flickr user North Charleston

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