Plan-Do-Review is one of the best approaches I know of to address impulsivity. The psychology behind this intervention to improve self-regulation is pleasingly straightforward.

For some children, being asked to reflect on their behaviour, “Go in there and think about what you just did” is as impossible for them to do as it would be for me to calculate the square root of a large number in my head.

The American project  High/Scope was the most successful of a number of similar ventures that were carried out to improve life chances of children from disadvantaged homes.

The programme offered input to young children in an attempt to prevent later problems such as crime, drug and alcohol abuse and teen pregnancy.

Self-regulation develops very gradually in children. The development of self-regulation is dependent upon brain development, especially development of the frontal lobes and environmental factors such as how stable, organised and predictable the home is.

The Plan-do-review aspect of High Scope was identified as one of the main features of the programmes’ effectiveness:  “Research supports the idea that young children can become thoughtful problem solvers if they are encouraged to plan and reflect on their actions (Epstein, 2003).

The plan-do-review sequence required children to :

a) Plan what they want to do, who they want to play or work with, what materials they want to work with etc.

b) Having made a plan, however simple, of what they want to do, they get on with it.

c) Then the children talk about what they did and whether it was the same as, or different to the plan they had made.

N.B. The purpose of PLAN-DO-REVIEW is not that the child should stick to their plans, nor that they should evaluate them. The very act of thinking into the future and reflecting back is in itself the behaviour that helps the child to develop “planfulness”. During an observation of such a session in a Reception class, I heard one child say, “I planned to play in the sand, but when I got there there were too many people so I went to play outside instead.

In Piagetian terms, PLAN-DO-REVIEW helps the child to move from Pre-operational stage (about two to seven years) to Concrete-operational stage (about seven to 11 years as children start to think logically and begin to see the world from others’ perspective) and hopefully on to Formal operational stage (age 11 to adult – Hypothetical and abstract reasoning with systematic problem solving and abstract thinking).

Studies on mindfulness and impulsivity demonstrate that the cultivation of mindfulness, “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, quoted in Stratton, 2006:52) prevents impulsive thought and behavior because the maintenance of attention on the present moment and the qualities of acceptance, openness, and curiosity are not compatible with impulsivity.

I tend to think of the Plan-Do-Review in a much simpler way: that by thinking forward, and reflecting back without the need to make evaluations or be judged helps the child to develop a mental agility to be able to join up the past with the present and the future.

Although High-Scope was aimed at pre-schoolers, I have found that the Plan-do-Review recommendation works with  children of 4 upwards, when adapted to their personal circumstances and local opportunities. Like physical exercise, it doesn’t seem to matter what activities you practice Plan-Do-Review on, it still appears to improve impulsivity.


Epstein, A. S. (2003). How planning and reflection develop young children’s thinking skills. Young Children, 58(5), 28–36.

Epstein, A.S. (2008) An Early Start on Thinking Educational Leadership February 2008 Teaching Students to Think  Volume 65 Number 5 Pages 38-42

Stratton, K. J. Mindfulness-Based Approaches to Impulsive Behaviors The New School Psychology Bulletin. Volume 4, No. 2, 2006

Photo Credits:  giveawayboy


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