The craze of bottle flipping is sweeping the nation. Much to the chagrin and aggravation of parents everywhere, kids are flipping half-filled plastic water bottles to get them to land standing up – or down – on everything from the kitchen table to more adventurous locations like the roof of the school. The sound and obsession is maddening and the craze has become so popular, that while banned in many schools, teachers are getting in on the game, tagging on lessons in physics, math and science.
But, watch kids flip a bottle, flip it again and flip over and over until they succeed and you may see lessons in things even more important: failure, identity and how kids learn.
We’re hearing it everywhere from authors such as Carol Dweck in her book Mindset, from Angela Duckworth and her book Grit and Jessica Lahey in The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. Failure is a means of learning, not an event in itself. And, it doesn’t have to define us. While most of know this inherently, it is often difficult to believe or remember at the time. Fortunately, bottle flipping is an organically grown game where ‘failure’ is expected, understood and even celebrated as kids egg each other along to greater flipping feats.
As I’ve observed, flipping a plastic water bottle and ‘failing’ to get it to land how and where desired seems only to produce a smile and enough frustration to want to try it again. Never once have I seen signs of performance pressure, nerves or the angst we sometimes see in sports, school, or other youth endeavors today. I’ve never seen a child just give up, identifying themselves as “bad at bottle flipping.” They just keep flipping until they get it right.
How Kids Learn
And while I also banned it as an indoor game in our house, I asked my kids how they got better at bottle flipping. They gave me two answers: keep trying, and watch and learn from other kids. So simple. Then I asked them why they like it so much: “It’s fun to see if you can get better!” And finally, “it’s addicting because it’s hard.” Amen!
Of course there are factors to consider that make the comparison of bottle flipping to sports or school performance not so simple; higher stakes, coach and parental expectations, organized programs and competition, but amidst the noise, the simple act may just be the small illustration both parents and kids need to help them not only tolerate failure, but embrace it. To perhaps see what can happen when we just let it flip.