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Let children learn from their failures
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A coworker at The Covington News was a little puzzled about a project her son was assigned in preschool. She assisted as he completed the project. The key word there is assisted. When she and her son arrived at school with the project, she was chagrined to find that other parents had not only assisted, but had made great productions of their children's projects, and the children arrived with professional looking exhibits. She was proud that her son had done his own work but felt that she had somehow failed as a parent as her son's project didn't measure up to the polished parent-created ones.

It reminded me of my first brush with science projects. I cannot tell you how much, as a parent, I dreaded science projects. We grew plants upside down (They don't care; they still grow up.), under different colored lights (They like red.) and under various other tortuous situations. We did other things as well, but we always seemed to come back to torturing plants.

Perhaps it is because we started our science project career with plants. I am embarrassed even now to admit what I did for my older daughter's first science project. If you are or were a science teacher, don't read this.

I think my daughter was in the second or third grade. She came home from school on a Thursday and said very nonchalantly that she had a science project due on Monday, as in Monday three days away Monday. I am sure her teacher had assigned this project much earlier, but when it became apparent that she would actually have to produce something in the near future, she decided to tell me about it.

Now normally, we would have had the weekend to complete some kind of project, but my husband and I had a trip planned and were leaving Friday and would not return until Sunday. We were leaving the children with a babysitter.

In panic mode, I rushed out and bought two plants and a piece of poster board. I can't even remember what kind they were, some kind of flowers in plastic pots. I put one on the porch and put the other one in the freezer. (I told you, we tortured plants often for science projects.) Then I left on my trip.

When I got home Sunday afternoon and gathered up my children, I took the plant out of the freezer and let it defrost. We then made a poster that had about three sentences on it. I think it said, "Do Plants Like Light?" Science projects always have to begin with a question. One sentence explained that one plant, the one not frozen, had been sitting in light for more than three weeks. It looked healthy and happy. The other sentence said that the dead and now thawed plant had been sitting in a dark closet for the same three weeks. It obviously was not healthy and happy. It took us maybe 30 minutes to get the poster done. Instant science project. I just wanted to get something done. I was not going for a prize.

Oh what a tangled web we weave when it comes to children and school projects. I was mortified about a week later to see my child with her healthy plant in The Covington News. She had won first place.

I promise I learned my lesson. From then on, I did science projects on the up and up. Let me rephrase that, we did science projects on the up and up. My children did most of the work; I bought needed supplies, tried to be helpful and nagged about getting the work complete.

Last weekend, I was visiting my daughter and grandchildren in Macon. My oldest granddaughter wanted to cover a bulletin board with cloth and then crisscross the board with grosgrain ribbon, making spaces to insert pictures or other memorabilia. We went shopping and after much (translation almost an hour) deliberation, she picked out the material and ribbon. It took us about two hours to complete the project. I did the ironing and held the fabric while she hot glued. I got a couple of hot fingers. But I would have done that anyway. I am dangerous with glue. I can't tell you how often I have glued my fingers together with that instant glue.

When we were finished, she said this was the best day ever and went running to show it to her parents.

The moral of all three of these stories is that we need to let children do their own work. They learn from failure as well as success. I know this is difficult to do. And I have been guilty of stepping in when I should have let my children alone. But children learn from the process. You sometimes have to do something wrong before you know how to do it right.

Paula Travis is a retired teacher from the Newton County School System. She can be reached at