The power of a mistake maker

Last fall my family took the mini-cruise from Copenhagen to Oslo and back.  This trip was all about our then seven year old twins and we basically spent the entire trip in the children’s section and on the childrens’ activities schedule.  The cruise line cleverly had created a story  with four main characters that guided all of the activities.  You could also purchase merchandise of these characters.  (Yes, we were those kind of parents who did buy the character stuffed animals.) One of the characters was a wizard who could never get his spells right.  His magical attempts always backfired with hilarious results.  I watched as my shy kids after hearing one of the wizard’s stories decided that they could try to make a balloon sword because they thought they could do better than the wizard had.  I later saw them running all over the ship as part of the kids’ scavenger hunt and reading difficult clues, even though they weren’t very confident readers yet.  My son told me, “I can try to read it because if I mess up, I’ll only be like the wizard and I like him.”

Boom.  I had an epiphany.  They were more willing to try things that were new or hard for them because somebody had already made a mistake and made mistake making ok.  Hmmm.  How to translate this into the classroom? I always tell my students that mistakes are welcome but as humans we have an innate need to succeed and do things in a way that we can be proud of.  How can I translate that pride not into the outcome but instead a pride in the journey of learning that might involve mistakes?

power-of-mistakesI always focus on praising the process and not the outcome but I decided to introduce a mistake maker into my classroom.  I bought an extra wizard stuffed toy on the cruise and brought him to my class.  I introduced him to the class and told him that this wizard was there to help our class but that he might make some mistakes.  We had a class discussion about welcoming him to the group and what we would do if he or anyone made a mistake in learning.  I then let him (the wizard)  try to sound out and spell some of our target words for the day.  Wouldn’t you know it; he made a few mistakes but he kept trying.  I made sure to make his responses to his mistakes humorous.  The kids were laughing and shouting out encouragement for him to try again.

I kept the same format up for a week and quickly saw my students in the subjects I had modelled mistakes in … willing to make mistakes.  If they realized that they had made a mistake they generally laughed about it and tried again immediately.  They often wanted to share their mistakes with the whole class at the end of the day.


Here he is counting Danish coins as a challenge for my kids.

I use the wizard all of the time now.  Any character you create will work.  I suggest letting them model common mistakes your students make or will make and then letting them work through those mistakes.  I eventually let the wizard model behavioral mistakes or friendship mistakes to aid my students in their social learning.  It is also nice that they feel they can educate the character about the right thing to do.  This makes every student in your class an expert and that may be a new role for some kids.  They love finally getting to take that role on.

Give your students the chance to as Ms. Frizzle would say, “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.” They may be more willing to do it if a kind but hapless stuffed toy models mistake making for them.

Little Vikings




Role Play Writing – Writing Wednesday

writing wed header

I’m linking up with other bloggers to talk about writing and how important it is in all of our curriculums.  The last Wednesday of every month will be dedicated to talking about writing strategies and ideas.  This time, I want to highlight how to give opportunity for meaningful writing outside of a set writing time by creatively using role plays and play-based learning.

Both Sweden and the International Baccalaureate focus on play-based learning as essential until at least age 7.  At first, I kept asking how I would get my curriculum in and then I realized the key: play-based learning simply gives curriculum a meaningful context.

fairy tale store cover

Here is an example of what this could look like:  we set up a fairy tale store role play in our first grade classroom.  We wanted to use what they were learning in other times of the day to create meaningful writing opportunities.  In their set “writing time”  we were explicitely teaching how a story has a beginning, middle, and end, how to fracture a fairy tale, and how to get their ideas down on paper.  We first set up a section of the store where they could buy fairy tale books.  These were books that were written and illustrated by their classmates.  Our book sales were through the roof!

rhyming spell

The kids then kept talking about potions and spells and we set up a section of the store where they could write rhyming spells and sell them.  Here is an actual student spell:

A spell for flying when you need it the most
Bim bam boom
Fly on a broom
Fim fam foom
now I can fly to the moon.

Suddenly, they were playing with rhymes (and almost rhymes) and writing spells faster than they could sell them to each other.  I even heard these spells being “used” at recess.  We then set up a potion station so they could play with capacity and writing.  They started measuring in teaspoons and milliliters and creating terrifying potions that involved dragon claws, and mud from between your toes!  Again, they loved it and we saw them beggging to get more writing time to create longer fairy tales, more spells, and more terrifying potions.

potion formulaWith emergent writers, we want them to write (and write a lot) so that they become more comfortable with the process.  Their spelling and handwriting also improved dramatically because they wanted to sell their products and we all know that a good product should be neat and readable.

Feel free to check out both the fairy tale store role play and the dinosaur museum in my store.  They are both role plays that have lots of built in writing for emergent writers.

Also check out these other great resources for Writing Wednesday from other teacher bloggers.

Thanks to Lit with Lyns for setting this up!
Little Vikings


Build a dinosaur skeleton from toilet paper rolls

build a dino skeletonOur PYP 1 class has an amazing unit on extinction.  They inquire into dinosaurs, fossils, and why things that used to be on Earth aren’t anymore.   We typically take a trip to the local natural history museum in Copenhagen so that the kids can touch skulls, see actual dino bones, and interact with fossils in person.  This year, Europe has a refugee crisis.  Which suddenly means that going across the bridge from Sweden to Denmark became an insurmountable obstacle of needing every child’s passport!

museum 1We wanted to duplicate the museum experience, which is what made us create the paleontology museum role play.  We figured out how to make fossils with salt dough but how would we get the huge skeletons?  Build one

Step 1) collect a million toilet paper rolls. Seriously, you’ll need a lot

Step 2) take a large piece of chart paper (or several taped together) and draw a rough outline of the Dino’s skeleton from one side

build a dino

Step 3) place yarn or strong string on the backbone of your drawing.

Step 4) have the kids place toilet paper rolls on the lines you’ve made for rib cages, legs and arms   On the backbone and tail they can start stringing the the rolls onto the string. (i.e the string is inside the rolls and then they tape the rolls together). We discovered that if you use masking tape, you will use mountains of tape. Go for duct tape if you can.

dino skeleton making

Step 5) once you have created a backbone and one side of the rib cage, use more string to hang your dino up. (You will probably have cheering children at this point.)

Step 6) talk about symmetry – build a duplicate rib cage so you have two of each rib, arm, leg, etc.  The kids love this step.

IMG_4348 (1)

Step 7) with rolled up paper create the claws/fingers and toes and attach to your arms and legs

Step 8) name your dino.  Pictured here is “Blood Roar”.  Proudly display in your museum.

Zahra (banner)Little Vikings





Classroom Reading Doodles

The Google Doodle yesterday was in honor of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthday.  There were several Anne of Green Gables references played out on the top of our search engine and my students loved it.  I had told them earlier how this was one of my favorite books both as a child and as an adult.  When we opened up Google on the Smartboard and Anne and Diana were running across a bridge, my class collectively got excited for me.  This led to an unplanned but valuable reading activity: Design a doodle for your favorite book.

Kindergarten book reviews

Our PYP 3 friends are in the midst of a unit on how ICT has changed communication.  They were quick to point out that this is a great way to preview books and get other people excited about reading.  We decided to make doodles to promote Book Week.  So here are some examples of our search engine doodles (some motivated souls have decided that they will make their own search engines when they grow up.  Google you have been forewarned.Though considering these artists are five years old, you have some time.)

book doodles by kids

Little Vikings


Tattle Dog and Whiny Kitty

This has to be the weirdest thing I’ve ever done in teaching, but I learned it from a veteran teacher and now that I’m a Coordinator I’ve passed the knowledge down to all of my teachers.  On the outside, it looks like kids talking to the wall.  From the teacher’s perspective, it is an amazing life saver and from the kids’ perspectives they always feel like they have someone to talk to.  tattling and whining classroom helpers

This is the rough story of how we explained the pictures that had suddenly appeared on classroom walls.  Tattle Dog and Whiny Kitty love to listen to kids and adults and they are just as kind and loving as the pets you have at home.  The same way that there are special animals that have been trained to help people who are blind, or to help people dealing with a loss, or even to help the police  -we have two animals that help kids in class.  They are trained to hear all of the whining that you need to talk about.  Just talking to Whiny Kitty about the little things you are unhappy about makes you feel better.  Tattle Dog is trained to listen to all of the thoughts that are more about getting someone in trouble than actually telling the teacher something that is important.  Just telling Tattle Dog helps you not have to think about what made you angry and then you can go back to the person you are angry at and talk to them.  

We tried this because we realized kids needed an outlet for these emotions but the adults in the room did not have enough time in the day to hear them all.  I remembered this working but once we decided to try it as a school for our lower primary, I was amazed at the results.  Every classroom and specialist teacher has a Tattle Dog and Whiny Kitty.  If a kid starts to whine, the teacher kindly says, “I’m sorry that is something you should tell to Whiny Kitty.”  So the children get up and walk to the picture on the wall …. and talk to it.  They almost always come away smiling.  I think in part because their feelings are still acknowledged and they also like being “in” on the imagination at play.  We now regularly see lines of kids after break times.  They quickly pop by to talk to Tattle Dog or Whiny Kitty and then come straight to the carpet.  They also don’t feel the need to repeat what they’ve told our friends.  Stop tattling and whining

We decided to spend some quality time talking about tattling versus telling and trying to classify what things would be important for the teacher to know and what kinds of things the animals should know.  We haven’t had any problems with kids getting mixed up about this.  Instead all teachers from Kindergarten to Grade 2 report less whining and tattling.  A win! classroom no tattlingClick to download the freebie of Whiny Kitty and Tattle Dog, as well as, a few pages that we’ve added to help the kids know when to talk to teachers and when to use the class animals.   

Stop Tattling and Whining in class

This idea came from Mona Veatch, who retired with early-onset Alzheimers.  She was a fantastic teacher and this freebie is both made in her honor and as an effort to pass on her fun and caring teaching legacy. Little Vikings


Blowing at Trees – Anger Management


Screenshot 2015-07-12 at 4.32.16 PM
When kiddos get mad, they have trouble taking a few seconds to calm down before they hit, yell or say that thing they really shouldn’t say.   …. Or are my kids the only ones?

We started this at home and I then tried it in the classroom.  It has worked like magic in both places.  Basically, you need to give kids something to do for just long enough to calm down a wee bit.  We played off the idea that trees can turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, as well as, Shel Silverstein’s tried and true, The Giving Tree.    

I invented a story with their names in the place of  ‘the child’.  Feel free to change the story to fit your kiddos.

A long time ago in Denmark, there were certain magic trees that had very large hearts. Not every tree mind you but,  the magic ones that you could find if you looked hard enough.  These trees could take anger and bad feelings and change them into happier feelings.  All because their hearts were so big and so powerful.  These trees used to be easily found but people began to cut them down to build houses and to make fires.  So the magic trees hid themselves deep in the forest.  

This meant that there were fewer trees to help change bad feelings into good feelings. People began to become easily angered at each other and would sometimes even shout and hit.  A small child decided that it was time to find the King of  Trees and to ask if hte trees could come back to Denmark.   After a long journey through hills, brambles, and bogs the child finally found the King of the Trees.  The child bravely asked the King  if there was a way to have some of these big-hearted trees closer to where humans lived.  

The King thought about this idea and decided that humans can not always be trusted to take good care of trees.  The child was distraut.  Seeing this, the King decided to use his magic and create a small paper forest of big-hearted trees.  He gave the paper to the child and told them to hang it somplace that they could find when they were angry, hurt, or simply feeling bad.  The trees’ magic would start to work to to help the feelings go away and eventually change them completely.  We can still find these trees today and their magic still works thanks to the King of Trees.  

I then pulled out the the tree design I had made and attached it to a string.  We let my class place the tree in a spot determined by the students.

And … they … used … it.   It did help cut down on the little hits and mean words that can occur.  I will admit it was unnerving at first to see them run across the room and blow at a tree, but it worked at home and in the classroom.  Click the link below to get a copy of the tree we used, as well as, a shortened story.

Blowing at Trees

The King of trees