Small Successes Matter

Aug 03, 2017 | Posted by Nathan King


“Children like to do what they think they can do.”
-Andrew Pudewa

               Dream big! Seize the day! Change the world! Our environment is full of these sorts of confident, inspiring statements, and our children are taught history that is replete with individuals who seem to be larger than life. Comparing the ambitious achievements of history with our own seemingly mediocre efforts can lead students to discouragement. A student may ask, “Do big ideas and grand potential really apply to me?” If their experience tells them that they cannot succeed in what they do, children may choose to believe that they don’t ultimately “have what it takes.” Continuous experiences of failure thus undermine motivation, and without motivation, education cannot occur. However, if a student is given the opportunity to achieve small incremental successes through modeling and repetition, his education can thrive!

               Small successes lead to larger ones. Parents and instructors can give their students the best chances for success by breaking large projects down into smaller tasks. As the common metaphor states, an elephant can be eaten . . . one bite at a time. Never underestimate the long-term power of baby steps! Massive goals seem overwhelming, but a student can tackle small objectives bit by bit until much larger intentions are realized. Together these little achievements combine over time to create larger successes.

               Small successes often come from clear instruction. Modeling a task is one of the best ways to clearly communicate what a parent or teacher expects from a student. Once the student sees the task at hand, a teacher can give him the opportunity to imitate the exercise and achieve success. As the student gains in aptitude, the instructor can continue to hone the student’s ability to succeed through continued coaching. Modeling builds a foundation for imitation, which creates a context for coaching a student from small successes to larger ones.

               Small successes don’t have to be all new challenges for the student; they can sometimes mirror past successes. In Andrew Pudewa’s talk Teaching Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day, he shares his experience of teaching his very dyslexic son to spell. Every day Andrew would start with the same word: “stick.” The boy knew how to spell that word, and so Andrew would always give him the opportunity to spell it first. One success. Then, Andrew would give him a very similar word such as “thick.” Emboldened by his small success, Andrew’s son would take the risk and succeed at the next word. The repetition of the exercise served as an encouragement, not a detriment. Small successes gradually led to larger ones, and mastery was the final result.

               Motivation is the elusive grail of education. Children resist doing difficult things because they either know they cannot do them or else they think that they cannot do them. Therefore, if a child is given the opportunity to succeed in an area, he will be more likely to try a related task again. If a child can excel in something, he is less likely to resist working at it. Teachers and teaching parents know this, and a wise instructor will find ways to allow her students to see themselves excelling when they apply themselves to their work. If student motivation is the goal, targeting small incremental successes will lead to bigger and bolder successes later. Small successes ultimately allow a student to dream big, seize the day, and even change the world.


Nathan King, the customer marketing manager for IEW, grew up as the son of a pastor in Wichita, Kansas. Following his graduation from Manhattan Christian College and Kansas State University with a degree in secondary education in history, he worked for thirteen years as a youth pastor in his hometown. Since he began working for IEW, Nathan has enjoyed both the marketing and customer service sides of his position. Nathan and his wife of thirteen years, Melissa, homeschool their four children, but it is his amazing wife that does the lion’s share of this vital mission!

Live Chat with IEW