Positive Failure

In supporting and educating children in the need to be more resilient, and in order to help prevent the complex mental health issues and extreme anxiety that I am seeing more of when working with youngsters, we need to enable children (and ourselves!) to learn how to fail. But not just learn that it is ok to to fail. The critical learning point is to pick yourself up and try again, and again and again, all the while constantly learning, adjusting and developing successful strategies.

This happens a lot in the outdoor play environment. A child will try to light a fire using a striker and it takes practise…you don’t get instant results. You need to adjust the pressure on the striker, the angle of the strike, the type of tinder you use, the number of tiny sticks you add to build the fire and so on. Children implicitly learn resilience because they are extremely self motivated to succeed when they are playing outside in the woods at OWLS Club.

We also see this in babies learning to sit up….picture a 6 month old wobbling as they sit on their bottom and then toppling forward or backward and hitting the floor. They don’t give up…they persevere. Imagine a 13 month old learning to walk and falling over and over and over again.

As educators, perhaps we should be encouraging children to learn to fail, and then try again. Our teaching culture (particularly in maths) is very focused on success and getting the answers right. Perhaps we should be spending more time on enabling our youngsters to fail and then learn from their setbacks, for example in open-ended and enterprising problem solving. This would not only enable their maths skills to develop and consolidate, but also to develop their resilience and ability to pick themselves up after failure and try again.

As Noel Coward said, “The secret of success is the ability to manage failure.”

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