Making Mistakes


making-mistakesIn my classroom we use a huge e-vap fan.  It’s my job to empty it every Friday so it can dry out over the weekend.  On Monday I am supposed to fill it back up.  It holds close to 30 gallons of water and takes a good 5 or 6 minutes to fill up.  Last week I rolled my fan down to the shared bathrooms as usual, attached the hose as usual,  turned on the water as usual, went back to my room to do something as usual, and went to check on the progress a few minutes later as usual.  It was only about 40% full so I decided to do something else in my room as it filled the rest of the way.  Well, I forgot… A few minutes later I heard one of the Thai teachers yell, “Ooooooooo!”  As soon as I heard her and saw her run by I remembered that I had left the water on.  My heart dropped.  I followed her and sure enough there was water running all the way down the hall.

“Oh no! I’m so sorry!!”  I called lamely as I met her at the terrible mess.  She could have been upset.  She could have called me irresponsible (which I had been), she could have yelled at me to clean up my mess.  But you know what?  She immediately reassured me that it was okay and ran to get cleaning materials.  Together we cleaned it up in about 10 minutes: me using a sponge mop and her using a straw broom and dustpan (typical Thai).

This made me realize how important our responses to mistakes are.  When we make  mistakes, other’s reactions can greatly affect our overall experience.  I already knew that I had done something stupid, but my friend’s response made me feel like it was going to be okay.  She worked with me positively to fix the problem.

When your student or child makes a mistake, please react as gently and kindly as possible!  Help them recognize the problem.  Kids who are older may be able to identify the problem themselves, but younger kids will need help with this step.

1)   Let them know that things will be okay and you will help.

2)   Work through the solution together. 

3)   Talk about what should be done differently the next time.  (My students suggested that I stay by the fan as it fills in the future J).

4)   Remind them that everyone makes mistakes.  I feel like this is really healthy for kids to understand.

Now I realize that for some situations there will need to be an additional consequence (say they broke a neighbors window—they would need to pay for a new window), but overall these steps are universal.  We all make mistakes—that’s just part of life.  A part of life you can help your kids understand and work through.

“Can’t You See”?

Have you ever wondered why your child does not see a mess and know what needs to be done to clean it up?  Can’t they see what needs to be done?  The answer is, no.  NO, NO, NO. Kids do not look into a messy bedroom and think to themselves, “Wow, this place is a mess and needs to be cleaned up”.  They probably think something more like, “Isn’t it great that all my toys are already out and ready to be played with?”

This is true with all ages of children from pre-school to teenagers.

Last week I was at a service project where we were doing some lawn work. I handed a 17 year old a weed eater and they asked, “Where do I need to use this”? I thought, “Are you serious?” but only answered, “Around the tree trunks and the light post and anywhere the lawn mower can’t reach”. I was reminded at that moment that evaluating a situation, seeing what needs to be done, and breaking a job down into steps is not something we’re born knowing how to do.

When I was a very new mom and before I had this awakening myself, I remember a friend of mine telling me that she went into her 4 year olds bedroom and said, “This room is a mess”. To which her child just stared at her like she had no idea what she was referring to. She said she realized at that moment that her child honestly did not have a clue that something needed to be cleaned up. Over the years I’ve remembered the experience she told me but I didn’t think it was any great realization. However recently when the teenager acted so perplexed over where they should use the weed eater, I realized that kids, especially young children, cannot see what needs to be done without being told or shown.

I believe this is one reason kids respond so well to clean up games. When your child has an area that needs to be cleaned up play the “What to do next” game. Tell them:

-First pick up everything that’s blue

-Second pick up 10 things that are red

-Third pick up all the vehicles; cars, trucks, trains (Ah, ha, we snuck a new             word in there for them to learn)

-Next put away anything that is smaller than your hand. (Or use another familiar item for comparison)

-Next put away anything bigger than your hand


Besides getting a clean room, these types of activities have lasting benefits such as teaching kids:

How to break a big job down into smaller step so it’s not so over             whelming.


How to count

How to compare two things (the size of their hand to a toy)

How to organize

New vocabulary words


And that work CAN be fun (I think we all forget that sometimes)

And last I need to acknowledge that I know it’s easier and faster to clean up a mess yourself than to have a child do it. However think of the job as the vehicle for you to have an opportunity to teach your child so much more than how to work. AND I strongly believe that when we do a job and do it well we earn a feeling of satisfaction that we can get no other way (honestly, have you ever cleaned your store room, painted a bed room, or some other big job, and then gone back to peak at it several times later through the day just to enjoy your accomplishment?).  Work is it’s own reward, and that is an important thing to teach our children.

Growing up my mom recited this poem to us quite often:

“If a job is once begun,

Do not leave it till it’s done.

Be the labor big or small,

Do it well or not at all.”


Of course we wanted to choose “not at all” but that really was not one of our options.

Teaching a child how to recognize what needs to be done and how to do it is a big task that can feel daunting. However, if done, it will benefit them (and YOU) all through their lives!

What’s the secret?

Last weekend I went to the lantern festival in Chiang Mai Thailand.  It was easily one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced!


We took the train up to Chiang Mai and caught a truck/taxi to our hotel.  There were a few other people in the back of the truck with us and my husband and I started chatting with a man named Ben.  We learned that he is a teacher in Vietnam and was there for the same festival we were.  After talking about the festival for a while the conversation turned to teaching.  He learned that I’ve been teaching for about 6 years.  He’s been teaching for 2 months and was feeling a bit overwhelmed in a few areas especially classroom management.  He asked, “So…How do you keep your class under control?”  That’s a question almost every teacher has wondered at one point.  It’s the foundation for a positive learning and teaching experience.  I took a whole class at ASU on the subject.  I have spent 6 years fine tuning my personal style.  Ben wanted to know how to keep his class under control, but our ride was about to wrap up.  I quickly thought about what I could tell him in the last 3 minutes of our shared ride.  I sifted through everything I could have said and I came up with the following answer:

“You have got to be clear with what you expect, set a clear consequence, and be consistent.  You have got to help them learn that you mean what you say by following up every.single.time.  Decide what the consequence will be if they don’t follow directions and make sure that you never let it slide. “

He listened intently then asked, “Even with kids as little as 5 and 6?”

Especially with kids that little!”

He processed that and asked a few more questions, but that was the bulk of our conversation.  I’ve thought back on that conversation, wondering if I should have given him a different answer.  You know what?  If I could redo that conversation with Ben I would tell him the same thing.

As I mentioned, I spend a semester studying classroom management.  There are loads of other useful and helpful things one can do.  Dozens upon dozens of different tools and tricks.  Ben and I could have easily talked for hours about various strategies to implement, but when it comes down to it I told himthe most essential part.  This situation reminded me how important it is to: set an expectation, outline a consequence and follow through consistently.  There you have it.  Regardless of your students’ age, nationality, language, school, or country the same principles apply!