Just Have A Go: A Motto for a 21st-Century Education

I am sitting cross-legged on the living room floor surrounded by my sons, some tools, and the GroClock innards.

If you’ve never heard of the GroClock, it’s a special clock designed for young children that lights up and displays a yellow sun once it reaches a pre-set wake-up time. In theory, small children would stay quietly in bed until the sun appears. In practice, my youngest quickly figured out how to press enough buttons to make the sun appear at 4am before bursting into my room and brightly announcing, “The sun is on my clock!”

No, I did not disassemble the GroClock in a sleep-deprived fit of rage. Instead, I purposely took it apart with my sons after watching Gever Tulley’s Ted Talk, 5 Dangerous Thing You Should Let Your Kids Do. Tulley challenges parents to allow children to take apart the first household appliance that stops working.

Why would I accept such a challenge since tinkering with appliances is so far out of my comfort zone?

Because I recently embraced the motto, “Just have a go!

Just Have A Go

I have come to love this British expression as an American living in the U.K. It means to simply give something a try regardless of the outcome.

Don’t worry about failures, worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try. -Jack Canfield

Our children are growing up in a rapidly changing world. Artificial intelligence and automation are replacing manual jobs.

Change is inevitable. You can’t ignore it. There’s a huge shift taking place right now and it’s disrupting entire industries, businesses and jobs around the world — and it’s called Digital Transformation.

Our children will need to adapt to these changes. Since the rate of change is so rapid, we cannot even begin to predict what their future will look like. What jobs will exist when they are adults? The only thing we can do is prepare them to embrace this change and see it as an opportunity to grow.

Many discussions around the nature of a 21st-century education focus on encouraging creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication. The 4 C’s will be critical in the future, but fostering a “have a go” attitude must underpin all of these other soft skills so our children won’t freeze up in the face of change.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler

How do we as parents and educators foster a “have a go” attitude at home and in school?

10 Ways to Foster a Have a Go Attitude at Home:

  1. Make Mistakes– Don’t be afraid to admit you’ve made a mistake in front of your children. Model learning through these mistakes and trying again and again.
  2. Tinker– Enjoy taking things apart, manipulating objects, and putting them back together in new and different ways. If something breaks, take it apart with your children, see how it is made and even have a go fixing it. If you can’t fix it, don’t worry — just enjoy the process. Get a classic set of Lego and hide the instructions. Try to create your own original models. You will find that your children are far better at it than you are.
  3. Go Along With Your Child’s Interests– Give children the freedom to follow their interests whatever they may be. My youngest was obsessed with Halloween. When I finally stopped trying to get him interested in something more educational like dinosaurs and I just went along with his Halloween obsession, he really grew.
  4. Create Things– Create products and learn through the process. Encourage kids to create books, e-books, voice recordings, songs, plays, slow-motion, stop animation, and high speed videos, models out of recycled goods, art, dioramas, etc. Stop worrying about perfection and just let them do it however messy, ugly, or unusual it may be.
  5. Hold an Art and Design Reception At Home or in School – Invite grandparents, friends and neighbors over to eat some snacks and view some art, sculptures, and models made by your children. Hey, modern art isn’t always pretty!
  6. Play with Tech– Allow children supervised play with technology. When my youngest got a child’s version of a Go Pro video camera for Christmas I groaned and wondered how I would find the time to read the online manual and figure it all out. One day I just handed it over to him. Within minutes he had figured out how to do slow motion, stop animation, and fast motion videos simply by pushing buttons and playing around with it.
  7. Cook– Cook together. Try out recipes using the metric system. Look at the numbers for half of a liter, a quarter of a liter, etc. Your child’s math and science teachers will thank you. Let children create their own recipes as well. Maybe they will be the next celebrity chef or invent the food of the future.
  8. Try Out a New Learning Platform Together– My eldest and I are both trying out Khan Academy. He is doing the really amazing “Pixar in a Box” unit and I signed myself up for a refresher course in Algebra. Not only am I brushing up on my numeracy skills, but I am also learning how the program works so that I can help my son with it.
  9. Have a Creative Show and Tell– Designate a moment in the week where each family member can showcase something they have created. This includes the parents. Each evening, a different family member shares something he/she has created. The possibilities are endless. Parents might even share a problem they solved at work.
  10. Take the Pressure Off– This is the most important guideline for encouraging creativity and fostering a willingness to have a go. There is only so much time in the day. Do not beat yourself up if you are not doing all of these great things with your children. Work on adding one idea to your daily routine. It may just be creating a space with accessible art supplies or Lego blocks so that your children can have a go. If they know they will have the opportunity to share their creations with the family they will be far more motivated to create. Who knows — you may even find a new talent or interest in the process as well!