Teaching Kids Innovation Includes Teaching Failure

Jun 02

Nobody gets more frustrated than me when something doesn’t turn out the way it’s supposed to. And, believe me, I’ve had my share of such experiences (something called… parenthood). But the ability to overcome those feelings of failure is an essential part of anyone’s journey to success. As those who follow my blog know, I’ve started an Innovation Project that involves weekly (okay, I’m lazy – almost weekly) experiments and inventions to stir the imagination and brain cell configuration of my three boys. In other words, I don’t want them to turn into a Picketing Montrealer bitching about lack of jobs and a small tuition hike (they’ll be too busy forging their own paths to success).

When I’d started this innovation project (a lengthy few weeks ago…) I assumed every experiment would run smoothly. Duh. Our latest project completely, utterly sucked. We followed the rules to a tee. Read and re-read the directions. Tried various options. Still, the experiment had one outcome. FAILURE. Now, there’s no way I could post this crapola project on my blog. Who CARES about an experiment that fails?

Surely, nobody is going to be interested in the experiment, itself, but every parent and child might be interested in learning that they’re not the only ones who experience dismal failures against the backdrop of high hopes. And, although our vacuum missile device sucked (figuratively and literally), my boys did learn something: that not everything turns out the way you plan. So, here is the low down on my failed innovation experiment with the caveat: DO NOT DO THIS AT HOME.

This experiment is called Suck It To ‘Em. (Yeah, suck it to me. A waste of one hour of my life.)

I was drawn in by its relatively simple set up. All you need is duct tape, two long cardboard tubes from wrapping paper, old socks, vacuum cleaner, small square of cardboard, and scissors.

Step 1: Create a missile by squishing a sock or two together and wrap them snuggly with duct tape so that you create an oval shaped ball that fits inside one of the tubes, but isn’t so big that it gets stuck inside of it. (Good luck with that, by  the way!)

vacuum experiment for kids

Got one sock in there.

Step 2: Cut one cardboard tube to about 30 cm long and cut curves at one end to fit it neatly against the second tube. With the other tube, cut a hole about 10 cm from the end. The first tube will attach to that one, so make sure the hole is no bigger than the end of your first tube. Then attach them so they are perpendicular to one another using a load of duct tape. (I know this is utterly confusing, but here’s the thing: I don’t expect you to follow these instructions because the darn thing doesn’t work!) Check out the photo below for clarity should you wish to try it anyways.

Vacuum experiment for kids

Attach the two wrapping paper tubes.

Step 3: Insert the second tube into nozzle of the vacuum cleaner (you need a vacuum that has a tube attached to it). Seal it with more duct tape.


Innovation lessons for kids

Attaching the tube to the vacuum hose

Teaching innovation to kids

Ready to fire! Not.

Step 4: Turn on the vacuum and cover the back opening of your “launcher” with a square piece of cardboard. Then look out! At this point, it did not work.

Innovative projects for kids

Let it fly! Not.

This experiment is better called: Failure to Launch. After re-jigging the size of the missile, the timing of the vacuum, and various other possibilities, we gave up. Some plans just don’t work out. However, the boys still had fun putting it together (what kid doesn’t love using too much tape). This project, however, is not recommended.

teach kids innovation

Discarded launcher

The experiment was taken from the book: Science Rocks! by Ian Graham


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