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One Step at a Time

Progress can be made in small steps

by Gill Hartley (revised, originally published in 2001)

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To focus on taking one step forward at a time, rather than becoming overwhelmed by the task ahead.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a picture that is stuck to the wall with Blu Tack, just out of reach; a non-slip standing stool or small stepladder (please check your school’s health and safety policy); and a set of children’s building blocks.

  • Have available the following images and the means to display them during the assembly:

    - Mount Everest, available at:
    - Edmund Hillary and his guide, Tenzing Norgay, available at:


  1. Draw the children’s attention to the picture on the wall. Demonstrate by jumping that it is too high for you to reach. Move the standing stool or stepladder and demonstrate that by climbing, you can now reach the picture and remove it from the wall.

  2. Ask for a volunteer to start from one side of the room and make his/her way to the opposite side. Hopefully, your volunteer will walk, although try not to use the word ‘walk’ in your instructions. As the volunteer does this, ask the children if he/she was able to reach the opposite wall instantly. No, of course not! The volunteer had to get there by taking one step at a time, which is another way to describe walking.

  3. Ask the children if they know the name of the highest mountain in the world.

    Show the images of Mount Everest and of Edmund Hillary and his guide, Tenzing Norgay.

    Explain that many people had tried to climb to the summit of Everest before it was finally achieved 65 years ago. On 29 May 1953, Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, finally reached the icy summit. They were the first people to do so and it had been a difficult and exhausting climb to get there.

  4. Ask if anyone knows how high Mount Everest is. The answer is that it is 8,848 metres high, or 5.5 miles.

    Ask the children how they think Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay managed to climb that high. Did they do it all at once - all in one day?

    No, it took them many days and they set up camps each time they stopped to rest overnight, all the way up the mountain. They climbed the world’s most difficult mountain by moving from camp to camp, one step at a time, until they finally reached the top.

  5. Ask for some more volunteers and ask them to build a wall by using the building blocks. Ask the other children to watch how they do it.

    When the wall is complete, ask the children who were watching to explain how the volunteers did it. Emphasize that the wall was built by putting one brick in place at a time. For a bit of fun, ask someone to try building the wall with all of the bricks at once.

  6. Ask if anyone knows the name of the most famous city in the Roman Empire. Tell the children the famous saying, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. Ask the children what they think it means.

    Listen to a range of responses.

    Explain that, in literal terms, it means that the city of Rome was too big to build in one day. However, the saying has come to mean that anything difficult cannot be done all at once, it has to be done a bit (or a step) at a time.

  7. Ask the children to tell you about how they write a story. A story requires a beginning, a middle and an end. Use this to illustrate further the point that difficult tasks cannot be achieved instantly. Instead, they take time and have to be tackled one section (or step) at a time.

Time for reflection

Ask the children to close their eyes and imagine the following scenario.

Your teacher asks you and your friend to clean up the paint cupboard. You open the doors and look inside. The shelves are full of paint pots, brushes and mixing trays, all covered in paint. You panic - you’ll never get it all done by home time. As you stand there wondering what to do, your friend says, ‘Let’s collect all the mixing trays and wash them first.’ Together, you do that and leave them to dry.

After that, you suggest taking out all the paint pots to wash. You leave them to dry as well. That only leaves the brushes. Your friend passes them to you and you wash them. By now, the mixing trays and paint pots are dry and you can put them back in the cupboard. You put the brushes in a jar and close the cupboard door.

The bell rings. It’s home time, and you’ve finished! You hadn’t thought that you would finish in time. How much easier it is when you do one bit at a time!

Dear God,
Help us when we have to do something hard.
Help us to see what needs to be done first.
Keep us calm to work out what needs to be done next.
Give us patience to keep going on to the next step.
Help us to keep going to the end, until it is finished and we can enjoy our success.


‘One more step’ (Come and Praise, 47)

‘The building song’ (Come and Praise, 61)

Publication date: July 2018   (Vol.20 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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