Spills, Disagreements, and Messes … Oh My!

Kindergarten classrooms are often busy places.

  • Bins of toys are dumped. (Students can pick up the toys and sort them again.)
  • Garbage is left on the floor. (Students can sweep up the mess.)
  • Hands and fingers are used when paintbrushes were intended. (Students can wash their hands.)
  • Paint shirts were forgotten. (Clothes can go in the wash.)
  • Water splashes on to the floor. (Students can wipe the water up.)
  • There are arguments over toys and activities. (Students can work together to develop fair solutions.)
  • From paint to water to juice, there are LOTS of spills. (Students can always clean up a mess.)
  • Clean cloths become dirty with all of the extra use. (We have a washing machine, and we can learn how to use it together.)

As I focus this year on being a better listener, I find myself observing students more. Yes, problems happen. They even happen a lot. But maybe a few spills, disagreements, and messes are okay after all. If we allow children to work through these issues, and support them as they do, imagine how much they’ll learn. How do we give students a chance to make mistakes? How do we support them so that they can learn from these mistakes? If students become problem solvers at a young age, imagine the impact as they get older. I see the potential for something wonderfulWhat about you?



6 thoughts on “Spills, Disagreements, and Messes … Oh My!

  1. Aviva, as you know, I am a big fan of learning by doing, and trying, and failing, and reflecting, and doing again…. The trick is to figure out how to fit all of that valuable life-long learning around the contextual, curriculum based learning we are required to facilitate and evaluate. I think in recent years many of our curriculum documents in Ontario have recognized the value of these lessons for our students and have integrated it in. We as educators need to get better at placing importance on it, communicating that to parents and society, and reinforcing it with students.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kristi! I think that the Learning Skills areas also provide opportunities for working on these types of problems. Solving these problems also allow students to reflect and meet different metacognitive expectations connected with various curriculum documents (for 1-8). Maybe this is also a case where we really need to know our curriculum documents and expectations, so that we can make the links between them and this real-world learning. Connecting with parents and community members is also so important, as we need to develop this shared understanding of why this risk-taking and problem solving matters, and how it can be supported both inside and outside of the school.


  2. All children need to be respected enough to make mistakes. By standing at a distance and allowing the problem solving to happen we are better able to know when we should intervene and by how much. Children can and will make the best choice for themselves but not always for others as children are not always developmentally ready for understanding ‘Theory of Mind’. We must remember that the models they observe are the strategies they are bringing to the table. When we as educators model good problem solving it reflects deeply on the strategies our students use in the class.

    • Thanks for the comment, Gail! Excellent points. Modelling is so important, and the vocabulary and mannerisms that we use, will often be copied. We can also model within the midst of helping the students problem solve, so that the examples are real for them and the situation is meaningful.


  3. Aviva,

    I totally agree with your comment that it requires a solid knowledge of the curriculum in order to make the connections to real life learning. I also believe that “Learning Skills” are key to student success. I know there has been a huge push to focus on these skills but I wonder are we doing enough to teach students from an early age what they are, what they look like in school, as well as in life, and to help them reflect in a metacognitive way on their own progress. I am a big fan of situational learning and being able to take to time with students in the heat of the moment, and in some quiet ones follwoing, to help them learn from the “messes” that are created. I think education as a whole is starting to relax a little and we are developinig a greater comfort with taking that TIME. Making mistakes is part of learning – making sure we guide our students through the mistakes is great teaching!


    • Thanks for the comment, Sarah! These are such important points. Slowing down and helping students understand — in meaningful contexts — is so important. As I’ve blogged about before, I have some of your same wonders about the Learning Skills. I’d be curious to know how others are teaching these skills and giving students a chance to really understand (and reflect) on them.


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