One of the most valuable questions a parent can ask their child each night is, “What did you learn in school today?” It opens the door to some wonderful conversations — conversations about books, conversations about current events, conversations about favorite subjects, or conversations about the struggles in school for both the parents and child. This can be a wonderful way to bond with children and to show them the importance of school.
However, one very important thing that is being taught might not make it into the conversation. That’s because your child will not likely reply, “I learned how to fail and not give up.” But that is exactly what students are learning, and it is proving to be very powerful.
The STEM lab in each of Valparaiso Community Schools’ eight elementary schools is one example of a place where students are learning to fail successfully. That sounds like an oxymoron, fail successfully, but it is precisely what is happening.
Kindergarteners are being asked to build a house of toothpicks that can withstand the force of a leaf blower. First-, second- and third-graders are being asked to write working computer programs. Fourth- and fifth-graders are being instructed to design and build fully functional models of machines that can help zoo workers rescue a trapped animal.
And in each case, the students fail. But the failure isn’t negative. There are no tears, no hurt feelings and no one gives up. Instead, the children smile and keep working. They talk about what they learned and what they can do to improve. And that’s failing successfully.
From the start of the school year, the students have been learning that we, as humans, learn more from a failure than we do from a success. The kids have been learning that as long as they keep going, they haven’t really failed.
Why is this so important? First, because these children are going to face hard tasks in school. They are going to be asked to sit and take tests that are difficult, and it is not OK for them to just give up. But more directly, it is important because we need to build resilience and teach children the life skill of perseverance.
It is so easy to give up, or say, “I’m not good at that.” It is hard to keep going, especially when we struggle. In life, not everyone wins every time. Not every attempt is a success. And we need our children, our future, to be strong enough to pick themselves up and keep going.
So, the next time you ask a child, “What did you learn in school today?” see if they can also tell you about a time they failed successfully.