Habits of Mind: Precision and Accuracy

Aug 1, 2013 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Early Literacy

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons (emiliokuffer)

The sixth Habit of Mind is striving for accuracy and precision. In simple terms, accuracy refers to doing an action correctly, and precision means you can repeat the action over and over again.

The Davis Early Childhood Center for Technology explains this distinction using a helpful dart board analogy.

Of course, we want our children to possess both traits! But if this sounds like a BIG task to you, don’t panic.

My suggestion for this habit is to merely lay the groundwork for later conversations about accuracy in homework assignments or larger life tasks.  You don’t even necessarily need to use the terms ‘precision’ or ‘accuracy.’ Just start with talking about some examples.

Here are some easy ways to start a conversation with your child about this Habit of Mind:

  • Ask your child, “What does it look like when your room is clean?” (ex: toys in bin, books on shelf, bed made) Together, make a picture based check list of age-appropriate tasks. Refer to these tasks the next time you tell your child to clean his room.  If he misses 1 task, ask him to take another look. Which part is missing? (This helps the child to recognize accuracy.)
  • Talk about the steps in a daily routine, such as washing hands or getting ready for bed. For example, my bedtime routine consists of washing my face, brushing my teeth, putting on pajamas, and reading a book. I nearly always complete each of these items. What other tasks require regular practice? (This helps the child to recognize precision.) Any example of a routine is an opportunity to mention the importance of each step in the routine toward reaching the goal.
  • Teach your child a process…such as making cookies.  You must measure accurately, or your cookies won’t taste good.  You must place the dough on the cookie sheet precisely, or you will have one big cookie instead of 20 little ones. Precision and accuracy are both important to the final outcome of good cookies!
  • Work on mastering a task such as using a glue stick, cutting with scissors or making a puppet.  Practice drawing straight lines and circles, which will help with reading and handwriting later on.  Simple origami has steps you can master.  Simple fingerplays and rhymes often require precision and accuracy to master.

Discussion will also arise naturally from examples of characters in stories who didn’t pay attention to details and the mistakes that may result. If you watch a movie or TV show together, point out characters who skip a step.  Also, you can notice people around you who are great at following the steps in a process and talk about out their success.Max Cleans Up cover

Children particularly love silly or absurd examples and that get them giggling. Try creating a game by asking ‘skip-a-step’ questions to your child. For example, “What would happen if you got out of the shower and got dressed immediately (without drying off)?” Sample responses include, “Your clothes would stick to your skin!” or “Your clothes would get wet!”

One of my favorite books is for examples of precision and accuracy is Max Cleans Up, by Rosemary Wells. In this book, Ruby goes through all the steps to clean her brother Max’s room, from putting the toys in the toy box, to placing the pillow back on the bed. (examples of accuracy) She also finds old items that need to be thrown out, which she places in the trash. However, Max has a different plan. He ‘rescues’ each of the old items by placing them into his pocket, one by one. (example of precision) This funny twist on a common household challenge will have both you and your child laughing!

Here is a list of books that will spark conversation about precision and/or accuracy:

Those Messy Hempels by Vanessa HieHow Groundhog's Garden Grew cover

Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Inchworm and a Half  by Elinor J. Pinczes

How Groundhog’s Garden Grew by Lynne Cherry

A Twisted Tale by Carolyn Fisher

Ella Takes the Cake by Carmela and Steven D’Amico

How to Teach a Slug to Read by Susan Pearson

Blue Bowl Down by C. M. Millen

Feeding the Sheep by Leda Schubert

Roadwork by Sally Sutton

One note of caution: Make sure that your focus on precision does not enter the territory of perfectionism.

This is an important distinction—Precision and accuracy deal with completing a task correctly and consistently. This does not mean it is error-free. (This is why it is easier for young children to learn from  the example of steps in a process. If all the steps are followed, the task was completed correctly.) Perfectionism stems from a paralyzing fear of errors, which may actually hinder completion of the task.

If your child naturally tends toward attention to detail, she may not need the extra focus on precision.  If you do have a budding perfectionist, shift your focus to the completion of the task in a timely manner. Try setting a timer for a short task, and praise the child when the task is completed before the timer goes off!

For more information about perfectionism in children, visit the National PTA website.

1 Comment + Add Comment

  • This is an excellent post. Any skill, especially parenting needs a firm and basic foundation and this in the simplest terms puts parents and children in the correct framework to succeed. Thank you for your insight. I look forward to more post of this quality.

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