I do firmly believe that we have become too frightened of letting our children "fail", miss out or become disappointed. How many place little gifts in every layer of "Pass the Parcel"? How many give prizes equally to everyone at parties, competitions and events?
It is such a travesty that so few Primary Schools in particular feel it is "right" or "fair" to hold a competitive event each year. I have had to endure seven years of the most excruciatingly painful events where "everyone's a winner" but the reasoning behind them is just so intrinsically flawed.
"We can't all be good at Sport and it isn't fair on the less able." Is the excuse I usually hear. But how about the classroom then? Because there are *always* those more able in maths, literacy etc. and I doubt (and seriously hope) no one would advocate holding the more able back to allow everyone to catch up in class? I know it isn't a popular idea that very academically able children have Special Needs (i.e. recognition that they need extra support/attention/consideration to help them realise their potential, avoid boredom and lack of attention and progress because they can become quickly disillusioned) but deliberately holding the most able back would be so very, very wrong.
So why do we do it on the sports field?
Firstly it is rarely the academically gifted who shine at sport and it gives everyone a valuable alternative environment to compete. I know several children who live for their one day of glory having struggled all year in class they sweep the medals board each Sports Day. The same was true when my Mum was teaching years ago. She has many stories to tell of children who found their niche and self confidence in sporting activities.
Then there are those who are just not naturally good at something in particular - it's far better to focus on their strengths and help them find they "niche" than pretend we are all good at everything. My daughter is tiny, she hadn't a hope at her Sports Day High Jump (and indeed had to be lifted over the bar!) but she had a fun time trying, didn't mind in the least that she didn't win this event and more than made up for her lack of success that day when she excelled dancing at a fete two days later.
Life isn't fair, and trying to make it so sets our children up for a different kind of failure, albeit not the one we are so desperate to protect them from. And in any case, children DO need to learn how to fail, and as Prince Andrew says success should not be automatic, there needs to be a learning process behind it, and part of that is a general assumption that failure is possible - even likely - but can be learned from.
“failure is not something to be afraid of or something to feel guilty about, because so much of life is about understanding failure and the lessons to be learnt from failure”
We seem to have this absurd idea that failure and success run in opposite directions. "Failure" has become become such a loaded word but is normal and expected to fail at some things in life and it can be a springboard for success. It's all about balance too, too many children are exposed to such failures in the classroom throughout the year, but without the learning process essential for them to appreciate and learn from it or the alternative opportunities to succeed.
Trying to create the proverbial level playing field is neither fair, feasible or advisable. It also makes us as adults look pretty stupid, because the children are not daft and know *exactly* who is best at which event and more often than not feel cheated and fobbed off when offered a paltry sticker. Our children are tougher and more savvy than we give them credit for being. They certainly don't expect - and most wouldn't want - an artificially "safe" environment. It's like Health and Safety gone mad all over again but this time interfering with our children's emotional curriculum. You don't have to unkind or uncaring, just realistic. Most primary teachers are innately good at this in any case, and if children are taught to deal with disappointment at a young age in an appropriate setting, whilst being given alternative opportunities to succeed it can only be beneficial.
The real world - be it the Natural World, the Animal Kingdom or Human Society is competitive at all levels from start to finish. Pretending otherwise is to deny the essence of life itself. So bring back reading schemes, House points/credits and grading in our primary schools, the kids love it, they know where they are and it is the most realistic and useful preparation for life after school.
Celebrate success at every level, recognise effort but don't demean outstanding achievement in any field for fear of upsetting someone. Otherwise there are no winners - only precious, emotionally overprotected individuals who go under the first time they don't get a prize in the proverbial Pass the Parcel. And that's really not good preparation for life in the real world.
As C.S.Lewis said "Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement."
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