Improving my Teaching Practice

A Moment in our classroom: Mistakes are learning experiences

Learning experiences

A moment from our classroom:

A few weeks ago, a child (I’m going to refer to them as Keegan) wanted to open two of the plastic spice jars we have in our classroom. These jars have flip caps. Keegan brought me the spice jars and asked me to open the jars, so I did. Keegan shut the lids, came back to me and presented the jars. I said “I want to see you try, I’m not going to help you right now.” Keegan started protesting (crying without tears) and I said “I see you’re upset.” Keegan continued to protest and tried several times to hand me the jars and I kept repeating, “I want to see you try.” At some point, between Keegan’s protests, Keegan would sit down and touch the tops of the lids. Then Keegan’s crying changed, it went beyond protesting and then some. Keegan started calling out for mom and then the crying intensified even more. At this point it really hit me, I had made a mistake somewhere in the situation. I said to Keegan, “I saw you try. I can’t…” at this Keegan’s crying escalated again. I finished my sentence “I can’t help you when you are holding both spice jars. You can put on one the ground and I will help you with the other one.” Keegan’s crying stopped. Keegan set down one of the spice jars and I helped open the other one. I told Keegan step by step what was going to happen, “hold the jar, then pop open the top” I placed my hands over Keegan’s and assisted in the getting the flip cap open.

It’s taken me awhile to write about this situation because I’m not happy with how I handled it. I needed a lot of time to reflect on the moment. I strongly believe that all mistakes are learning experiences and I learned a lot from this situation.

  1. I can’t imagine how confusing it was for Keegan after I opened the spice jars the first time and then I stopped helping. I needed to be clear about changing my mind. I could have said, “I helped you open the spice jar the first time but now I would like to see you try to open it.”
  2. “When a toddler hands you something it is an indication that the child trusts you” (Lansbury, 69). What was my refusal to take the spice jars telling Keegan? That I can’t be trusted to help in a time of need? That I’m not interested in Keegan’s work? Was this why Keegan started calling out to mom, because mom is trustworthy, always?
  3. I kept saying, “I want you to give it a try” but looking back at it now, Keegan was trying. Keegan was trying to open the jars in a way that I wouldn’t, so I didn’t pick up on it right away. By touching the tops of the lids Keegan was trying, by looking down at the jars Keegan was trying.
  4. What does try even mean to a toddler? What information does it give them? All of the one year old teachers in the school I work at get together for a weekly meeting. This week we discussed the saying “you can do it” and how this saying does not give a child any information on HOW to do it. It some situations we need to give children the “how to” information not just the encouragement.
  5. When I said to Keegan “I saw you try. I can’t” the tears escalated right away. I think this is another moment where I needed to say, clearly and in a positive way, that I changed my mind. I wish I would have said, “I saw you try. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do. I changed my mind; I’m going to help you. I’m sorry I didn’t help you sooner.” Then started in on the steps of how to open the jar.
  6. I’m not sure how I feel about how I finally did help Keegan open the jar. I believe in helping children through a situation with the least amount of assistance possible. “When we help a child to do something she might be able to do for herself, we are robbing her of a vital learning experience and ultimately not helping at all” (Lansbury, 70). This is how I feel, I strongly believe in this statement. By giving the least amount of assistance to a child we are still allowing them to have control over the situation while helping them to be successful. I also remember learning in the RIE foundations course that there is only one rule….it depends. How we respond to a child in a situation totally depends on the child and the situation. In this case, maybe the least amount of assistance I could provide while helping Keegan to be successful was guiding Keegan’s hands to open the flip cap.
  7. I know there are many more learning experiences in this situation that I will discover as I continue to reflect on it

So many things to think about and reflect on! I could easily have beat myself up and “should” on myself about this situation but I allowed myself time to reflect on it. We all make mistakes and we all have teaching moments that we are not happy about. It’s important to always remember that mistakes are just learning experiences. So give yourself all the time you need to reflect and discover the underlying learning experiences.



I pulled a lot of information I have learned from reading Janet Lansbury’s blog, even though there are not many quotes I know that’s where I got my information from. Such a great resource!

Lansbury, Janet. Elevating child care: a guide to respectful parenting. Chp.13 Allowing your toddler to succeed : JLML Press, 2014. Print.

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