Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Failure: Not something to be discounted

As adults, we are afraid of failure and often are more than willing to pass this fear on to children.  Luckily, the world of adults and the world of kids are, well, worlds apart.

Today my class decided, (while playing on the balance beam), that they didn't want to walk on the balance beam, they wanted to "swim" under the balance beam like a "bridge."  Since the balance beam is about three inches off the floor, this made for an interesting proposition.

Miss Elizabeth, can we make the balance beam higher so we can swim under it?
Yes, what are you going to use?

Failure #1:  A dispute erupts: Some children want to use chairs, others want to use blocks.  Screaming starts, and I step in as a mediator.
"How do you think we can decide whether to use blocks or chairs?"
Eenie Meenie Miney Mo!
A vote!
"Should we use Eenie Meenie Miney Mo, or vote?"
You have to love democracy. Finally after taking a vote, it is decided that they will use chairs first.  A few "you're not coming to my birthday"s and "I don't want to play anymore"s, and the children with chairs were on their way.

Failure #2: They tried putting chairs under either end of the balance beam at first, but couldn't get the balance beam to stay on them. After witnessing the first failure, the children who wanted blocks decided to come back offering a different way to use the chairs:

Failure #3:  They tried resting the balance beam on a row of chairs, but then they couldn't crawl under because the space between the chair legs was too narrow.

Failure #4:  The initial craftsmenship of the the blocks that would support the balance beam was far too shaky to actually support it even for a second.

Failure #5:  The new, more stable block supports, in actuality did not make the balance beam much higher at all, at least not tall enough to crawl under.

Success! They put the supports that the balance beam comes with on top of the the block supports and are able to crawl under the "bridge."  

Failure #6:  One child insisted on lifting up one end to put more blocks under to make it higher which resulted in the demolition to the end shown below.  Angry voices shouted "hey stop!"  "you're breaking it!" Still, the builder continued, until Daisy walked over and said, "look over there.  You are breaking that end," while pointing to the damaged end, "can you please stop doing that?"  The demolisher stopped and helped to repair the other end.  They rebuilt the broken end and made the ends level again.  

It is very hard, sometimes, as an adult to not jump in and help.  It is hard not to "just show them" how to put the balance beam on blocks so that it is high enough to crawl under.  It is hard not to jump in and stop the child who is demolishing one end of the supports.  However, if I had stepped in to help the first time that the balance beam could not be supported by their designs, what would they have learned?  They would have learned that grown ups can do it.  That's it.  
Because they were allowed to do it themselves, they worked together on a group goal.  They used communication and conflict resolution skills; once they had help to resolve a conflict, but they resolved a major conflict on their own and several smaller conflicts on their own as well.  They learned many, many principles of building, and enhanced their spacial understanding.  They had to deal with principles of balance and cause and effect.  
Whenever a child "fails" or "does it wrong,"  they learn to do it better; they eliminate a possibility, and go on to a new attempt or possibility.  Sometimes they implement their new understanding immediately, and sometimes, they store the information for another day.  Still other times, they need to repeat the same thing to fully understand.  This process is important, and it is an age old practice:  trial and error.  
This endurance, this perseverence, we can only hope will stay with them when they face adversity, adversity that everyone has to face in one form or another as a youngster or an adult.  We hope that in letting THEM make mistakes and seeing achievement rise from those mistakes, that they will carry this lesson with them, that they will have a undying belief and confidence in themselves that will carry them through their lifetime.  

Blogs and articles on related topics:

Everything I know about parenting I learned from Mythbusters by Kevin Makice  (I believe it was KJ who pointed me to this blog)

For those of you wondering what happened after the "final" achievement of building the bridge, they celebrated and crawled under it for about two minutes; It was, after all, all about the process.  "We really just needed a boat to sit on, so the sharks don't eat us."  They told me, as they all sat on the balance beam.  

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