Why We Need to Let Our Kids Fail

Over the past six weeks or so, our Grade 4-8 students have been working hard to hone their entrepreneurial skill set. Their teachers guided them through an integrative, project-based learning challenge from concept to prototype to sale in preparation for our school's Student Entrepreneurial Marketplace, a project where they sell actual products to actual customers. The process is fraught with challenges, iteration, hurdles, and seeming failure. We love it!

At our school, we believe in "accepting failure as a stone on a path to mastery". We know that wrestling with feelings of failure, doubt, and inadequacy are part of the creative design process. We want our students to have safe, teachable opportunities to grow accustomed to the ups and downs of a risky process.

2016-02-29-1456773218-4063887-IMG_1902.JPGJessica Krebs Photography for Willowstone Academy

I work in communications and development at Willowstone Academy, a private elementary school in the beautiful city of Kelowna, BC, Canada. I am fortunate to have all four of my children attend the school. Of those four, three of them participated in the Student Entrepreneurial Marketplace this year. For my younger two, it was their first crack at being entrepreneurs. My oldest is a well seasoned, third year veteran.

My oldest would be the first to admit that her last two projects were utter failures. They stunk. For two years in a row, she suffered through the entrepreneurial project feeling uninspired, disorganized, and discouraged. And we let her. We watched her fail, hoping and praying that she would grow and learn.

After "Entrepreneurial Fail #2" last year (decorative tape-wrapped pencils), my daughter decided that she was going to hit it out of the park the next time the Student Entrepreneurial Marketplace rolled around. She decided on a product that she was interested in (lip balm), started testing out recipes, researched containers and labeling on the Internet, and bounced ideas off of her Dad and me.

This year, she launched "Balm Shell Lip Balm", a product that aligns with her value of being a consumer of environmentally responsible cosmetics and food sources. She developed her business plan, designed her logo, calculated her costs, ordered her supplies, gained feedback from parents and peers, thought carefully about the aesthetic of her booth, and packaged her product. Also in alignment with her personal convictions, she decided to donate 25% of her profits to help her teacher support a Syrian refugee family that is creating a new life in our city.

And, like the last two years, we watched.

Because we trust our daughter's teacher as the expert, we were able to view her years of frustration as an evolution towards mastery rather than getting stuck in the moments of failure. As a result of giving our daughter the space to fail on her own for a couple of years, we were able to give her the space to succeed all on her own.

And succeed she did! I am pleased to report that she completely sold out of her product at our school's Student Entrepreneurial Marketplace. Her pride and sense of empowerment in her accomplishment was evident!

In a culture of trust, held sacred in relationship between parent, teacher, and student, our children are gifted with the space to practice, fail, and iterate on their learning. The current shift towards innovative and creative curriculum will demand this type of resiliency and tenacity in order for students to truly begin to design and own their learning successfully.

In short, we need to let our children fail and we need to love the heck out of them when they do. And we need to trust our teacher's long game instead of stifling their process the moment we hit a bump in the road.

When have you seen your child fail at school? What was your reaction? What would happen if we trusted our teachers as experts in education? Join the conversation at Learn Forward on Facebook or Twitter and let us know what you think is most important for children.