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3 Easy Ways to Teach Your Class How to Lose on a Primary School Trip

3 Easy Ways to Teach Your Class How to Lose on a Primary School Trip

What do you want the children in your class to achieve? More than good test results, you want resilience. But often we see children who have never been allowed to lose. It’s the end of the world to them. And when it happens, which it inevitably must, they don’t know how to cope.

Because children struggle with winning and losing, schools feel forced in opposite directions. They either remove all competition or rig them to let every child have a turn at winning. This risks damaging the growth mindset we’re trying to develop.

Here at Wildchild, we’ve been leading primary school trips for over nine years. We’ve learnt that losing is a necessary part of building resilience. Our three simple steps can help your class learn the value of losing.

  1. Create the right kind of competition
  2. Teach children the value of winning
  3. Help them learn how to be a ‘good loser’

School trips are the perfect opportunity to focus on resilience skills away from the pressures of school. Let’s find out how you can use them with your students.

Learning to Lose: Ages and Stages

wildchild-boy-on-climbing-wallParents often ask how they can help their child become better at losing. They wonder if they should cheat to let their child win, especially when losing causes a tantrum. It seems easier to avoid competition to have a happy home.

Teachers wonder the same thing when planning activities for the classroom. Should you make something a competition, or will winning become more important than the learning? Will struggling students give up before they’ve even started?

Children learn about coping with competition over time. Adding too much can upset and frustrate them. Too little and they don’t learn how to fail.

Here’s what losing looks like for different age groups:

Young Children

Losing is hard! It’s common to see children crying, shouting or throwing an activity away if they don’t win. Young children will cheat or change the rules when losing. They might abandon a game when they won’t be the winner.

When they do win, there’s no subtlety! They shout, laugh and cheer, ignoring or pointing out that another child has lost. Winning seems like a matter of life or death.

Classroom tips:

  • Introduce limited amounts of competition and carefully structure it
  • Discuss failure before it happens and practice what to do when you lose
  • Script a polite response for children to use when they win
  • Praise effort without putting too much emphasis on winning
  • Use games of luck rather than skill to give everyone a chance of winning without rigging the competition

Older Children

Older children can still struggle to hide natural feelings of disappointment and frustration when they lose. Some children may show negative behaviour or refuse to play if they think they won’t win.

With practice, they become more adept and can put loss into perspective. They find ways to improve and new strategies to try. It’s the start of learning that they must work hard to be good at something.

3 Ways to Build Resilience

School trips are the perfect time to develop resilience by teaching children to win and lose. Resilience comes when children can make mistakes, feel failure and try again. Because outdoor learning is more memorable, a school trip is a great opportunity to practise these essential life skills.

1: Get the Competition Right

Children are always competing against each other. They have strong ideas about their ranking in your class. With the pressures of SATs, no wonder parents are divided about the role of competition in school.

Trips are an opportunity to remove the academics and focus on resilience-building skills. Children can enjoy the fun of a challenge and learn what to do when things go wrong.

Self-Competition

Often children feel pitted against each other, in competitions they can’t win. They quickly give up, become bored and disengage. For children with additional needs, it can be even more difficult.

On school trips, the focus shifts away from traditional classroom success. Instead of competing against their friends, children compete with themselves. The goal becomes learning a new skill rather than being top of the class.

We see self-competition all the time when children play computer games. They play repeatedly until they complete a level. Applying this approach to school trips removes screen time and allows them to learn resilience in a healthy, active way.

Team Competition

wildchild-team-jumping-silhouetteIt’s easier to cope with success and failure if you’re a part of a group. Team competition allows all the highs and lows of winning and losing, but it feels safe.

Ideas for creating team competition on a school trip:

  • Organise children into fairly matched groups
  • Give every team member a responsibility
  • Set rules to foster teamwork and respect
  • Offer advice as late as possible- let them work things out themselves
  • Ask teams to praise other members of their group and the opposition

Team games still allow the feelings of winning and losing but remove the personal responsibility. Children can flourish in the supportive environment.

2: Teach the Value of Winning

Children are quick to realise false competition. Have you seen this in your class with weekly certificates such as ‘Star of the Week’? They soon notice that everyone gets a chance to ‘earn’ the certificate, and once they do, there’s no chance of getting it again. Letting everyone be a winner can undermine your efforts.

Instead, focus on how to measure personal wins. On a school trip, this could be a child who overcomes a fear or improves their skills at a task. From rock climbing to team games, there are loads of opportunities for every child to achieve success.

Experiencing the thrill of real winning helps you motivate children to achieve new and bigger goals. They learn the value of commitment, how to respect opposition and the importance of playing by the rules. These skills lead to greater success in the classroom and life.

3: Let Them Learn About Being a ‘Good Loser’

Losing is hard. It’s easy to shelter your class from the negative feelings they encounter when they don’t win. But healthy and happy children benefit when they see that failure is a friend.

School trips allow children to explore losing safely and supports their self-esteem. Away from the classroom they encounter losing without the ties to academic success. With practice, children learn how to accept disappointment and realise their own limitations.

Getting the Balance Right on School Trips

No one will be happy if they keep losing or are up against insurmountable odds. Getting the right level of challenge means carefully pitching so they can see what success looks like and problems they might encounter.

When setting a competition on a school trip, look at the level of frustration for individual students. They shouldn’t get to the stage of giving up. Offer coaching and tips to help them when they are losing hope. Make sure losing doesn’t become part of their self-identity.

Introducing healthy competition is a great way to get your class taking risks, making mistakes and learning how to improve. The benefits back in the classroom are priceless. Healthy, happy children who can cope with failure and enjoy their success.

Try a Wildchild Adventure

Are your class struggling with winning and losing? Our varied outdoor adventure programmes are about much more than simply who climbed highest and who reached furthest.  We recognise and celebrate teamwork, resilience, the willingness to try new things and perseverance in overcoming personal challenges. Found out more about our affordable school trips.



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