Is it ever OK to let children fail?

When I was a child, if I ever got frustrated at doing something wrong my dad would tell me not to worry because I’d learned twice as much as if I done it right: I’d learned how not to do it as well as how to do it! He was right. Sometimes doing something wrong first makes the right way to do it far more memorable.

I once watched a Year 6 pupil plot a graph of the temperature during one day where he had put the time up the y axis and the temperature along the x axis. I saw the confusion on his face when the graph line took an unexpected twist, but I said nothing and let him finish.

Afterwards I asked him what he had done wrong. He wasn’t sure, so I asked him instead what he was sure he had done right. We reinforced the fact that he had chosen a sensible scale to draw the graph, that he had remembered to label the axes, that he had given the graph a title, that he had correctly read the information from the table, and that he had correctly transferred this information to the graph.

I then asked him if he had done all these things correctly, what made him so sure that something was wrong. He twisted the page round and said “Because I expected the line to be this shape.” I asked him what he could change to make the graph the shape he expected it to be, and the penny dropped that he needed to put time on the x axis. I then made him redo the whole graph.

I could have stopped him at several points during the session – when he first explained how he was going to draw the graph, when he labelled the axes, when he first realised that the point he had just plotted wasn’t where he expected it to be – and prevented him from going wrong, but is being told you are about to make a mistake as memorable as seeing the result of something you have done wrong and having to work out how to do it right? I don’t think so. If I had stopped him, I think it is possible he would have made the same mistake again in the future.

At no point was he allowed to feel silly for making a mistake – just the opposite, I emphasised everything he had done right. As he was redrawing his graph he said, “Sally-Jayne, I’m never going to make this mistake again!”  And do you know what? I don’t think he ever will.

Teaching Column Addition and Column Subtraction

This is my lovely place value teaching tool. It was custom-made for me by my brother at Sen Clock and my dad. Prior to this I’d been using a paper sheet and laminated tokens, but I was fed up with them sticking together and getting lost. This magnetic version is much more practical.

I find this really useful because we if stick the tokens to the board, children have visual proof that once there are 9 tokens in a column there is no room for any more, so if they wanted to add another One in, it’s time to exchange 10 Ones, which won’t fit, for 1 Ten, which will. Physically clearing out the column, exchanging 10 One tokens for 1 Ten token really helps them to understand what happens when I want to add 1 to 109.

It’s great for subtraction too. When presented with – calculation lots of children will try to do 3-1. With this place value board, they can see that we only have one counter so we can’t take away 3. Then we can physically exchange 1 Ten for 10 Ones. I’ve made the column wide enough to accommodate them and the children can then see that they have enough in the column now to subtract 3, and that the tens column has one less token than it had before. I find this works really well side by side with a written column subtraction to iron out any misconceptions and to understand how the written method works.

35 activities for children in your own garden

I have noticed over the last few years, that fewer and fewer children know much about nature. In fact a few weeks ago I was surprised to discover than none of the children I was working with in school knew what a buttercup was.

I know it’s hard to find time in busy lives to get to the park or walk in the country, so here are a few suggestions of things that can be done without leaving your own garden.

 Important notes for the adults
This post contains lots of ideas to help your children connect with nature in your own garden. There are also ideas included for linking some of these activities to maths, English, science and art. Your child may need help or supervision carrying out these activities. These activities are suggestions only – it is your responsibility to ensure that it is safe to carry them out. Although I have used the websites and apps suggested, I have no control over their availability, content or any adverts that are placed on those sites and I cannot therefore accept responsibility for them.

Important notes for the children
There are some suggestions of things to eat in this list, but never eat anything you find in your garden without checking with an adult that it is safe to do so.
Make sure you ask an adult’s permission before doing any of these activities, and especially before visiting any of the websites or downloading any of the apps suggested here.
Always wash your hands after touching things found in your garden.

Thirty-five ideas of nature-related things to do in your home or garden.

  1. Race two raindrops down the window pane. Describe the path they take – straight or curvy, fast or slow?
  2. Count ladybirds in the garden. How many did you find? Make a tally chart of how many have two spots, four spots, etc. What was the highest number of spots? Which amount of spots was most common?
  3. Close your eyes outside for two minutes. What sounds can you hear?
  4. We talk about the seven colours of a rainbow but they don’t really have 7 colours. Look at a rainbow. What colours can you actually see?
  5. Choose two pretty stones from the garden. What is the same about them? What is different about them? Look at the patterns. Draw one of the stones.
  6. How many different coloured butterflies can you see? Have a look at a butterfly identification chart- can you identify any of them?
  7. Place a blade of grass between your fingers and blow. What sound does it make? What happens if you use a thicker or thinner piece of grass?
  8. Look at the flowers in the garden. Either find one for each colour of the rainbow, or find 3 the same colour and order them from lightest to darkest.
  9. Make a daisy chain.
  10. Touch the soil on a dry day. What does it feel like? Touch it again after it has rained. Describe the difference in texture (how it feels).
  11. Watch the bees. Which sort of flowers do they like best?
  12. Count how many different sorts of birds visit your garden. How many can you name? If you don’t know what sort they are, have a look at the RSPB site to try to identify them.
  13. Open the windows early one morning and listen to the bird song.
  14. Plant some meadow flower seeds to attract the wildlife to your garden. Don’t forget to water them on the days it doesn’t rain.
  15. Make your own rain gauge and measure the rainfall. If you measure it over a few days, you could draw a graph of your results.
  16. Eat your lunch outside.
  17. Look for spiders webs. How many different sorts of spiders did you spot?
  18. Lots of people don’t like wasps. Find out about wasps and write down one reason why we should be grateful to them.
  19. Tie a ribbon to a stick. Which way is the wind blowing? Watch it for a few days. Does it always blow in the same direction?
  20. Plant some runner bean seeds and wait for them to grow – don’t forget to water them if it doesn’t rain. When the beans develop, you can pick and eat them!
  21. Ask five different people what their favourite flower is and why. Write down their replies.
  22. Make a bark rubbing.
  23. Lift up a stone or log. How many different insects do you see? Note which insects like which habitats. UK Safari is a useful site  to help you identify what you have found.
  24. Count the number of petals on different flowers. How many arrangements can you find? How many had 3 petals? How many had four? How many had 5? How many had more than 5? Draw a bar chart to show your results.
  25. Lie on your tummy and look at the grass. Have a look at the tiny insects you can see. Can you see any more if your use a magnifying glass?
  26. Smell the flowers. Which one do you like best?
  27. Make a collection of leaves. Pay attention to the size, colour and shape. Are they smooth, prickly or furry? Are the veins (the lines running through the leaves) hard or easy to see? If they are leaves from trees, see if you can identify them from the Woodland Trust website or download the free woodland trust app.
  28. Watch a sunrise or a sunset to find out which direction is east/west. Remember the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Paint / draw what you can see, or write a description/poem about it.
  29. Plant some nasturtiums. They are climbing plants, so they look really pretty growing up walls and fences and you can eat the flowers and leaves on bread and butter!
  30. Look at the clouds. How many different types can you see? Have a look at the Royal Meteorological Society website to help you identify them. What colours can you see? How quickly are they moving? Can you see any pictures in the clouds?
  31. Grow your own potatoes.  Grow your own potatoes has some instructions for how to plant them and some instructions for how to look after them.
  32. Make a sundial. You can also do this with a stick in the ground instead of using a board and a nail, and by placing a stone where the shadow falls each hour, instead of marking the board with a pencil. Don’t forget to paint the numbers 1-12 on the stones!
  33. Enjoy a thunderstorm. Work out how far away the storm is. Is there sheet or fork lightning or both? Learn how to spell the word lightning (tip – there’s no ‘e’ in it)!
  34. Look at the sky at night and try to pick out some constellations. SkEye is a useful app for knowing what you are looking for, or you could try the Astronomy Now website.
  35. Feed the birds. Use proper birdseed – bread is really not good for them. Make sure that if you decide to put out peanuts, they only go in a proper peanut feeder – otherwise very small birds can choke on them.

And above all – have fun!