Why I Built This Kit:
There are lots of hard lessons out there that parents need to impart upon their children. How to look both ways before crossing the street. The proper way to hold a fork. Why sticking green peas up your baby sister’s nose is less than perfect behavior. Then there are the extremely hard lessons. The ones that concern themselves with building character and making model citizens out of your offspring. Some of these lessons are harder than others. If were rate them on a scale of one to ten with one being the least difficult and ten being the most then the notion of instilling a sense of perseverance in a child would be right up there around 9.5. Children deal with their frustrations in a number of different ways, and even adults have a hard time with the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” With all that in mind, here’s a little kit that will aid you in your attempts to show kids that you can’t get anything done unless you try and that mistakes can actually be a good thing.
“Perseverance” is such an esoteric term that it can be difficult for parents to apply it to real world examples for their kids. In NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman the authors discuss the importance of children making mistakes and soldiering on. They say, “People with this trait, persistence, rebound well and sustain their motivation through long periods of delayed gratification… The brain has to learn that frustrating spells can be worked through.” So how do you build perseverance in children? The authors suggest the radical strategy of not overpraising your kids too much. Sounds crazy? It turns out that intermittent reinforcement (i.e. praise) is more useful than constant reinforcement. In other words, don’t become a “praise junkie” and instead congratulate your kids for concentrating and persisting. Be specific too. When a kid does well in something like a sport, praise the specific efforts they applied to the game. Other strategies can be found on Bronson and Merryman’s book.
That’s just one method of course. Some people prefer the Little Engine That Could method of “I think you can”. If that’s more your style then you can head over to the site The Wonder of Children where they list the 6 Steps to Build Perseverance. Find the method that best suits your parenting style.
Books Discussing This Theme
Ballerina Swan by Allegra Kent, ill. Emily Arnold McCullyThere are, frankly, loads of picture books out there about various animals that dream of becoming ballet dancers. This one, by an actual professional ballerina, is undoubtedly the best.
Betty Bunny Wants a Goal by Michael Kaplan, ill. Stephane JorischeAt first Betty is thrilled to be playing her very first soccer game. She’s sure she’ll score ten goals all at once. But when reality hits and she fails to get even one goal, she has to learn that just because it’s hard to do something, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.
Giant Steps to Change the World by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, ill. Sean QuallsThis is a straight up motivational book more than anything else, but a good one. Referencing such figures as Harriet Tubman and Mother Theresa, the authors do a good job of making it clear that in spite of the challenges you have to work to achieve your goals. Not your average celebrity picture book.
Gumption by Elise Broach, ill. Richard EgielskiOne of the sillier books on perseverance, but no less worthy. When and boy accompanies his uncle on an expedition to see a rare gorilla, it’s the boy’s “gumption” and not the uncle’s that gets the two out of many a close shave.
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper, ill. George & Doris HaumanOne of the best known stories out there about not giving up, it remains the standard. Every kid should know what the term “I think I can” refers to, after all.
The Little Red Hen: An Old Fable by Heather Forest, ill. Susan GaberHard to top this most spectacular fable that drills home the notion of perseverance like nothing else. Gaber’s art is particularly gorgeous (who can resist that kitten?) and my kids always like the fact that it shows accurately how hard it would be for a hen to do things like thresh wheat and drag bags of flour.
Luke Goes to Bat by Rachel IsadoraA young boy wants desperately to be a great baseball star, but when he finally gets to play with the neighborhood kids he stinks. Fortunately he’s got a wonderful grandmother who takes him to a real baseball game and teaches him the benefits of never giving up.
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, ill. David RobertsRosie wants to make a flying machine. She’s good at making things so it shouldn’t be too hard, right? When the creation doesn’t turn out the way she’d planned, Rosie decides never to make anything ever again . . . until her aunt congratulates her on the failure and points out that now she can try again!
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley SpiresIt’s one thing to try to make something. It’s another entirely to fail and fail and fail and fail over and over until you get it right. In this tale a little girl learns that it’s only through continual trying and mistakes that you make your “most magnificent thing”.
Apps for Exploring This Theme
Axel’s Chain Reaction
A story app with a clear cut message. When Axel, a hyper third-grader, decides to build a moving insect it seems like a great idea. But when bully Daniel makes a huge mess, Axel has the wherewithal to realize that out of chaos came sometimes come beauty.
Spatter & Spark
Spatter the porcupine is an artist while his friend Spark the fox, loves to create inventions and solve problems. Showing how diverse gifts and talents can work together for a common goal the app has kids solve problems and overcome adversity. It takes perseverance, after all, to create a Rube-Goldberg doorbell or the perfect bouncy shoes.
Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame
The perfect app to teach kid about dealing with everyday frustrations. Everything from tying shoes to taking turns is handled by Mando the monster. Kids learn how to calm down and come up with different strategies for dealing with problems.
An inspirational video featuring real kids. Each child discusses someone important in their life who has had to persevere in the face of difficulty. A great video for taking the notion of persevering from the abstract to the concrete.
Sometimes it’s just nice if someone tells us we can do something. Internet sensation Kid President makes it clear that even when things are hard, you can pull through and get the job done.
This lovely little episode of the popular TV series shows that even if you can’t get something right the first or second or third time, only by trying over and over will you eventually get it right. Don’t give up!
What does the word “perseverance” mean? Why is it a good thing?
Have you ever had to do something that was really hard? Did you do it or give up? Was that a good or a bad thing?
Can you think of something you can do that you couldn’t when you were little? How did you get better at it?
What would you like to be able to do now that you can’t? What should you do to get better?
Come up with a list of people in the real world that persevered against the odds. Go to the Biography section of your local library and find some familiar names. People like Teddy Roosevelt (who was a sickly child until he started exercising regularly), Harriet Tubman (who escaped slave catchers time and time again and never gave up on rescuing people), and Cesar Chavez (who organized the farm workers). Then try seeking out some bios of slightly less known names. People like Matthew Henson (the first black man to reach the North Pole, anyone?), Martha Graham (making Appalachian Spring was no picnic), or my personal favorite Annie Edson Taylor (the first person to go over Niagra Falls in a barrel and she was 62 at the time!). And don’t forget the animals. Find stories about Balto (who led a pack of sled dogs through a blizzard) and Stubby the WWI dog (who was a stray mutt that went on to aid men in battle).
Name as many people as you can think of in your own life that have had to face some kind of challenge. Interview friends and family with the question, “Have you ever had to overcome something that was hard?”
Look at the daily news. Try to find as many stories as you can of people who show perseverance.
This is a handy way of showing that if you keep trying at something, eventually you’ll do better and better.
Begin by making a chart or poster, listing each day of the week.
Find an appropriate set of weights for your children, such as two soup cans. On the first day, have your children attempt to lift the weights 10-25 times, or as many times as they can without straining their muscles. Have them start with their arms hanging down at their sides while holding a weight in each hand. Then direct them to lift their arms up to shoulder height, forming a “T” shape with their body.
Each day, have them repeat the task and record the results. At the end of the week they should be able to lift the weights more often, and much more easily, than at the beginning of the week.
For added motivation, add stickers or stars to your chart for successful completion of the task.
Other ideas: You don’t have to just lift weights. Any kind of physical activity where you can see measurable progression will do. Consider instead sit-ups, push-ups, jogging or learning a skill that is challenging for your kids.
From Kids of Integrity
Long Term Crafts
These would be any crafts that have to be completed over an extended amount of time. Try encouraging your child to chronicle his or her year in a scrapbook or journal. Make sure they write in it every single day, explaining that it will take perseverance to complete this project since it will not be completed until the year is up.
Another option is to paint and decorate clay pots for a window garden. Once these pots are decorated, fill them with potting soil and plant a variety of flower seeds. As the plants grow, remind the child that perseverance often means starting off small and growing little by little.
A Butterfly Craft
What insect better personifies the notion of perseverance than the butterfly? This butterfly foot craft is particularly adorable.
Paint – washable paint works best
White Card Stock
Start by setting up your butterfly station, put your tablecloth down. Lay your card stock down ready for foot prints, and put paint and brushes out.
No matter if you are doing the painting or your child is, just sit down and start painting some feet. No need for a pattern, just use different colors and make sure the whole foot and toes are covered in paint. (NOTE: if making more than one print make sure there is a LOT of paint on feet so you can get multiple prints.)
Once foot is painted place on card stock. You want the feet to be facing out so that the big toes are to the edge of the paper. Leave just enough room between foot prints to make your butterflies body.
After your foot prints dry, use some paint and a brush to make your butterflies body.
Suggested Family Experiences
There is no family activity as simultaneously fun and frustrating to young children as mini golf. Since the creation of the world's first mini golf course in 1867 (it was the Ladies' Putting Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, in case you were curious) the nice thing about mini golf is its prevalence. It doesn’t matter if you live in a big or a small town, since there will usually be a mini golf course around somewhere. But what if you happen to live in a mini golfless part of the country? Make your own! From complicated courses found on sites like This Old House to simpler temporary backyard fixes found on sites like How Stuff Works, it’s fun and easy to create a little course. Not the Do It Yourself type? Just buy a backyard set! You can either go the cheap route with the $29.98 Plan Toy Mini Golf Set or the magnificently expensive $6,900.00 Live Putting Miniature Golf Arcade Game.
In some families it’s easier to just let the younger kids win rather than frustrate them with too many rules. The site how stuff works has some good advice on this matter. This includes;
The rules of score keeping remain the same: Get the ball in the hole with the least amount of shots possible. Have your child count out loud after each stroke -- most kids will find this concept easy to grasp, and as long as you make it fun, they'll be excited at the idea of achieving a lower score
When your kids are starting out, it's OK to let them move the ball if it has a bad lie. Making them hit out of the rough or on the side of a hill could be incredibly frustrating, and in the end it may make them lose interest. Instead, let them prop the ball on some grass or move it out of a sand trap. When they really start to get the hang of it, introduce the idea of not moving the ball.
- Finally, once your kids have a good understanding of these concepts, you can start to introduce rules like how and when you're allowed to drop a ball.
Definitely better suited for kids of the slightly older ilk, though kids as young as 5 can certainly participate. These days, family rock climbing is to the 21st century what family roller-skating in roller rinks was the late 20th (complete with shoe rental). There are two methods you may wish to pursue; indoor or outdoor rock climbing. Prefer your climbing away from the outdoor elements? It also makes for a great activity on those cold winter days when everyone’s suffering from cabin fever. Check with your local sports clubs to see if they offer walls for parents and children. And once you’ve found one, be sure you reserve your time beforehand, though, or this lesson in perseverance will be more about dealing with disappointment than anything else. Outdoor rock climbing more your thing? Check out this list of locations around the country. Just make sure you ask if they’ve anything for the younger kids.
Of all the activities listed here, perseverance is best typified by fishing. Few activities take this much time with the potential of yielding so little. Find a local fishing spot where you can settle down for the day. Pack lots of sunscreen and snacks. Then hunker down and wait. It’s hard to say whether the fish or the kids will start wiggling first, but patience patience patience is definitely going to be the name of the game.
Betsy is currently New York Public Library’s Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, reviewed for Kirkus and The New York Times and has also written the picture book Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman. In 2014, Candlewick will publish Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature which she co-wrote with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta. You can follow Betsy on Twitter @FuseEight or at her blog A Fuse #8 Production hosted by School Library Journal.