Wide Open Spaces….Room To Make The Big Mistakes

Yesterday I spent the afternoon volunteering in the boys’ class.  They had an in-class field trip where they have a visitor come in armed with materials and stories and enrichment activities – in this case, the activities were related to their “Building” unit.  Each child was to build a three dimensional zoo animal and enclosure – along the lines of a diorama.  Dioramas!  Fun!  They were looking for parent volunteers and so off I went. 

As a side note: I volunteer extensively for the school but I try to avoid field trips.  I tend to get anxious that I’m going to accidentally lose a child, or one of those calamities that are listed on the waivers will come to pass.  But an in-class field trip – that sounded more along the lines of where my abilities lie.  Also my kids wanted me to come, and since they make up over 10% of the class, I thought I had better step up.

Here are the finished products:

This is Mark’s rhinoceros enclosure. 

This is Jake’s lion enclosure.  There is a complicated explanation for all the string,
feathers, and nesting stuff.  It has to do with food and bedding.
After school, I was chatting in the playground with the other moms and we were all relating amusing anecdotes about volunteering with in-class projects.  I mentioned one little girl who kept using the glue stick on the materials to be glued, rather than on the cardboard to which the materials were to be glued.  The results were that a googly eye was shoved deep into the glue stick, by accident; that same glue stick became covered with cotton from a cotton ball, little pieces of nesting materials were stuck on the glue stick and also mysteriously stuck on my sweater.  One mom smiled and said “That’s what I love about letting kids explore things on their own.  That’s how they learn!  From making mistakes!”  I nodded, smiling, but inwardly I was not totally on side.  After all, I did encourage the little girl to use the glue stick properly, rather than smearing the gluey cotton all over the place. 
In theory, I do agree.  I do agree with letting children learn from their mistakes, and I do agree with allowing them to experience natural consequences of their actions.  However, I do not agree with this all the time.  I do not agree with this when three other children have to use the glue stick that is now covered with cotton ball remnants, rendering it unusable.  I do not agree when there are googly eyes jammed far into the glue stick, causing the glue stick itself to explode over its plastic tubing and result in the cap getting glued onto it, resulting in no one being able to remove the cap.  This is school property, people.  My job as volunteer is to make sure that the building materials are not ruined by the building project.  And yes, it is just a glue stick.  But in these days of education cuts, we need all the glue sticks we can get.
Obviously, I opted to put my children in the regular, rather than the Montessori, stream at school.
But I did think about it for a while.  Do I allow my children room to make mistakes?  Am I too rigid?  Should I be allowing them to suffer more consequences?  I like to think I allow them freedom to do so, but do I really? 
I tend to be a person who has rules for my children; rules that they are expected to follow in terms of behaviour, household chores, and manners.  But maybe I don’t allow them to make enough mistakes.  Maybe I’m hindering them in some way.  Maybe one day my kids will be seeing a therapist and complaining about my rigidity. 
But maybe not.  They seem to be okay.  Plus, check out the game they played this morning before school!
Can you tell what this is?

They are animal towers!

It might look obscene, but they were very complex and required balancing and spatial skills.  Creativity!  Maybe the kids are all right, despite my rules and regulations.  They figured out how to balance them all on their own, toppling a few towers in their endeavours.  So I guess they are allowed to make mistakes.  Maybe they won’t need therapy after all.


  1. The animal towers are great! Looks like a fun game. This is a great post. I would have corrected the little girl and her glue stick habits too. That was a learning opportunity for her. I am sure she will remember that tip for the rest of her life. I am not joking.

  2. You should have taken that covered-in-googly-eyes-and-feathers-and-cotton-balls glue stick and glued that judgmental mom’s lips shut. Correcting kids who are destroying something (that doesn’t belong to them, no less) or setting rules or assigning chores is not the same as squashing their creativity or stifling their innate desire to learn.

    The animal tower game is very cool. So are the dioramas.

  3. I just say to myself,’The jury is out’. Who knows how much or how little we will totally mess our kids up. We do have an obligation to guide our children and to model for them.

  4. Oh no kids!! Here comes Godzilla…cue my leg and foot…baawweerawwweer…
    Yea I’m mean like that.

  5. The mistake that particular child could have learned was that when you misuse glue sticks, you get them taken away from you. 🙂

  6. Okay. That should have said the LESSON that child could have learned. D’oh!

    I guess my lesson to learn is to proofread!

  7. Right on! Showing the little girl the proper way to use the glue stick was your best option.

    Afterall, her take away from the natural consequence of misusing the glue stick could have been that using a glue stick is beyond her skill set and she may never have attempted it again. And we all know that you could never be a productive member of society without proper crafting skills.

    You saved her future!

  8. In the dayhome I always show the kids the right, non-destructive way to use my craft supplies. Because I buy those with MY money, and if one kid wrecks a glue stick, then that’s one less glue stick for everyone else.

    I also will only let the kids use markers instead of crayons once they’ve demonstrated that they can use the markers without just making dots! forever! really hard!! which flattens out the tips and rams them up into the marker tube, rendering them crappy for everyone else. You’d be amazed at how fast most of them learn how to use the markers responsibly. 😉

  9. I’m with you on the glue stick. FWIW.

  10. It’s a balance. In somethings, we can let them make their own mistakes.

    In others, I think guidance is a good thing!

    I’m totally singing right now, btw. I LOVED that song when it came out!

  11. I’m okay with kids learning from their mistakes, however not all kids learn that quickly. Sometimes it seems like they’re never going to learn particular lessons on their own. In those cases, a little push in the right direction is totally appropriate. Especially when it comes to wasting money/resources. I’d totally have told that little girl she was doing it wrong. WRONG! Though possibly in a nicer way. 😉


  1. […] alley.  The last time I volunteered for one of these in-class field trips, I ended up spending a vast amount of time digging googly eyes out of glue sticks.  I much enjoy the non-crafty, brainstorm-then-write-it-down age […]

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