Teaching Perseverance

Have you ever had your child bring home instructions for a school project? Have you ever wondered the learning purpose of the project? Have you ever wondered how it will all get done on time? Have you ever wanted to take over your child’s project to just. get. the.darn.thing.finished.? (That last part is not me, but I know many parents who struggle with their own OCDs and perfectionism when it comes to school projects. No Judgement. Try to work on that. It’s liberating.)

When my preschooler came home with instructions to make a Day 100 T-shirt, putting 100 items of her choice onto a t-shirt, I immediately rolled my eyes and thought to myself, ‘Great, Pinterest  has got the teachers again. Cute has taken over purpose.’ My educator brain immediately goes through my knowledge of the developmental concepts and mathematical standards for each age/grade. But my mama brain told my educator brain to “SHUSH”.

Luckily, my old perfectionism does not surface when it comes to my child’s learning. I whole-heartedly believe children should do their own school projects. As a teacher, I am bothered when children show up with a project that is clearly the parents’ work, and not the child’s. Have more faith people! Let the kids do the work!

I never questioned if my child could do it. I just kept wanting to “teach” her something mathematical while we were doing it. My teacher brain wanted to use different sized containers for the groups she counted, helping her to visualize and estimate how many will fit in each container. I’ll admit my spatial sense is still developing, so maybe I don’t want her to struggle with spatial reasoning like I do!  These pictures were an attempt.


My mama brain said, “I’m NOT doing this project for her!”

Here’s how it began:

Me: “E let’s make your Day 100 shirt.”

E: “Maybe tomorrow Mom.”

Me: “Let’s not wait until the last minute, because I know this project is going to take some time.”(which I know you have no concept of.)

E: “Ok, I want to make it 100 sparkles with a unicorn.”

Can you already see how this is going?  I think she wants a unicorn, so I print out a unicorn to trace on her shirt. After all, her teacher wants her to count 100 objects, right? That’s the point of the project. Or so I think. So I proceed to trace a unicorn on her new white t-shirt. Then I ask her to count the “sparkles”.

Me: “How do you want to count them?”  (Children should have choice in these things, and it tells me a lot about what she understands about counting: Does she pick a big number because it’s cool? Does she pick numbers I know she can say the count sequence for?)

E: “Let’s count 30!”

Me: “Okay, you push them into this container as you count them.”

By letting her choose how she wanted to count the objects she was invested in her counting. It’s okay that she counted all kinds of groups. This told me she was comfortable with smaller and larger amounts.


We proceed and I ask her to count some more. I get a sigh, “I’m tired, I want to make fireworks in this cup.” (Put the sparkles in a cup of water.) Cool, go for it kiddo!!!!  Notice the sticky notes on the containers… I asked her, “How will we know how many are in each container? It was her idea to get the sticky notes! **Confession, I use sticky notes a lot and she sees that!

For 5 nights, we sat down together to work on her shirt. Did I use a calculator to show her when she had 100? You bet I did! Between the hours of 5:30-7:00pm are NOT the time to ask a 4 year old to recount 100 objects!

While my child is not there YET with counting 100 objects with one-to-one correspondence, I will tell you that this project taught her perseverance! Our kitchen table was covered with sparkles and glue and the t-shirt for 5 nights and every time I looked at it, I just wanted the table cleared, (that’s my OCD) but then this voice inside of me said, “This too shall pass.” The night before she was supposed to wear her shirt to school, she had about 50 sparkles left to glue on. So there we sat, me with the glue bottle, and she used her fine motor skills to pick up those sparkles and place them on the shirt wherever she wanted. I gave her encouragement, “Look, there are less on the table and more on your shirt!” “Keep going, you’re almost there.”

Even our dog was tired of all the counting!



The payoff is HUGE!  SHE IS SO PROUD OF HER HARD WORK AND FEELS GOOD ABOUT IT! I’m glad my mama brain told my teacher brain to “Chill”. This lesson of persevering at hard work is what she needs more in life right now. Her spatial skills and counting WILL come. I’m not worried.

My final note to parents, if your child brings home a big project, I urge you to let them do it with your support and guidance, not with your skill level. It doesn’t have to look like Pinterest! What your child can do on his/her own is way more important than what the final product looks like. If all you care about is the “perfect” looking project, then you’re robbing your child of these greater lessons: Persevere, Work Hard, Be Messy, Make Mistakes, Be Unique!





Author: Kristen Hahn

Creative and passionate realist. Daughter, Sister, Wife, and Mom. I believe in the power of our mindsets, education, and being the change we wish to see in the world. We do better and find more joy when we embrace our imperfections and speak up about what we want to change.

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