Last year, my two children, Harper and Frank, attended a multi-age preschool housed in the basement of the gym my husband and I belong to (but rarely work out in).

While it may not sound like the most ideal placement for a classroom, their program is second to none!

Not only do the teachers create fun and engaging lessons for the students, but they have the ability to make physical education as much a part of the curriculum as academics, giving young children what they need most... time to RUN and PLAY! 

It's unlike any other early learning center I've ever seen before; 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old students take Zumba classes, go swimming in the outdoor and indoor pools, take tumbling and gymnastics classes, learn how to play basketball in a full-size gymnasium, and play in volleyball court sized "sandboxes."

I could go on and on because, as a former-Kindergarten-teacher-turned-mom, it was a dream come true!

What I loved most about the program however was the fact that discipline never seemed to be an issue; I honestly do not recall hearing my children complain about their classmates' behaviors...ever.

What I didn't realize then -but do now that my daughter is attending Kindergarten at a different school- is how much I took the lack of their complaints for granted.

Attending a new school with new teachers and, therefore, new strategies in place to manage their students' behaviors, all I seem to hear my daughter talk about after school these days is which students in class were "bad," or had to "flip" their cards, and which ones were "good," receiving "Bee Bucks" for their behavior.

If you've watched my TEDx Talk from 2014, "Helping Our Littlest Helpers," you know I have strong opinions about the use of extrinsic rewards such as "Bee Bucks" in the classroom but -while preparing for that talk- what I didn't have any first-hand knowledge of yet -due to the fact that my children's preschool didn't implement such practices- was the amount of anxiety children seem to experience as the result of them.

Diving a little deeper into techniques commonly used in the classroom that inadvertently decrease students' abilities to be compassionate, while at the same time increase their levels of anxiety, I'm working on a future post that'll highlight some shocking statistics, but for now I'm going to focus on a much more obvious source of their stress... testing.

In the state of Kentucky, each child is required to participate in MAP testing every quarter to assess each his/her knowledge of the Common Core State Standards. In addition to that however, I've just learned that my daughter's class will also start taking weekly spelling tests as well... in Kindergarten.

I'm not suggesting children (as young as five) shouldn't be taught how to spell words correctly, then be tested on their progress, but it's no wonder my daughter's anxiety levels have spiked these last few days; not only has she been putting a lot of pressure on herself to "do" good on her first spelling test (which happens to fall on the same day of her MAP testing), but she's putting a ton of pressure on herself to "bee" good too.

Crumbling under the weight of it all, an otherwise happy and confident six-year-old child has been crying herself to sleep at night, saying she's scared she won't remember how to spell the words correctly; she's scared she's going to fail her MAP tests; and she's scared she's going to get in trouble for doing so, both at home and at school.

As my heart was breaking, listening to my sweet little girl go on and on about her fears, my own fears began to escalate as I struggled to reassure her that failure is just a pathway to success and that mistakes are made right by the lessons we learn from them... but then I remembered something that happened to me earlier this week.

While cleaning out the basement, trying to make room for holiday storage, I stumbled upon all of my old Giving Families "prototypes," facing three years worth of failures head-on including:

An Online Donation Platform providing children learning how to Save/Spend/Give with an educational outlet to give...

Save/Spend/Give sticker sheets that kids can use to decorate their piggy banks, reminding them to save, spend, AND give...

And Birthday Party Invites that ask for donations instead of presents, helping families support their favorite causes...

The list goes on and on and yet from each of those "failures," I learned some extremely valuable lessons that have not only helped me grow as a person -one who welcomes constructive criticism from families interested in supporting Giving Families' mission- but also as a mom who desperately wants to make sure her children don't crack under the pressure of always trying to "bee" and "do" good. 

In an attempt to put Harper's fears to rest, I took her to the basement and gave her a tour of my "Museum of Failures."

Dusting off the embarrassment that often comes from making mistakes, I shared with her each lesson I had learned, explaining "Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something."

Surprisingly, a few words of encouragement reminding her that we love her no matter what actually worked; she aced her test, spelling all five words correctly because she knew she'd have a chance to try again at home if she "messed up" at school.

Funny thing is, the only reason I knew what to say to Harper in her moment of angst -and the only reason I felt comfortable sharing my "Museum of Failures" with her...and now you- is because just a few days prior I'd received an email from a new friend of mine, congratulating me on my recent successes with Giving Families and asking if she could mention me in an upcoming blog of her own, inspiring others to shrug off the "naysayers, real or imagined" and purse their childhood dreams whatever they may be.

Coincidence? Absolutely NOT!

Rachel's email was exactly what I needed at the exact moment I needed it, reminding me I NEEDED to stop being my own worst critic but, more importantly, I NEEDED to teach my daughter the importance of embracing her failures so she can stop being her own worst critic, too. 

In the days since, I've been thinking about an interview I read several years ago that shared billionaire founder of Spanx, Sarah Blakely's childhood memory of being asked "What did you fail at this week?" by her father at dinner each night, encouraging her to embrace her failures growing up.

Moving forward, I want to start celebrating our family's failures more often by asking my children that very same question, empowering them to accept their failures as opportunities to gain knowledge necessary for TRUE success, both personal and professional.

Undoubtedly, it may take some time for that shift to occur but I believe reminding them that failure is not only accepted, but encouraged, will be time well spent. It worked well for Sarah Blakely, right?!?

Apparently, she's not the only one as Thomas Edison once said, "I've not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

 GOOD NEWS! My "Museum of Failures" is celebrating three years of existence with a CLEARANCE SALE. Need any stickers?!?

 

Beth Nowak is a former Kindergarten teacher and mother of two who wanted to make memories with her children while making a difference in her community. Helping other parents do the same, she left the classroom to create Giving Families' Good Mail Challenges... fun and easy, family-friendly giveback activities that can be completed anytime, anywhere using materials readily available in most homes. To learn more and join the family, visit GivingFamilies.com.