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Learning from Failure with Marshmallows at Home and at School

As an expat family heading “home”, I am often asked what am I looking forward to this summer.  I wish I could come up with wise and wonderful words but often I just say what comes first to my mind.  Yesterday, I said, “I am looking forward to buying marshmallows.”   Yes, I will be excited to be back in the USA where I can buy marshmallows that have not already been melted by sitting on a dock somewhere waiting to be unloaded. I am excited that I can buy several different types and sizes of marshmellows.

From “Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child”

smores cupcake

Family rituals create closeness

My family has a series of rituals that we love. Some are tied to holidays, birthdays, and special events but some are just around because of their longevity and fun. When your children are expatriates, often parents look for things that might connect their child to their “home”. Also many rituals can be based around food. We make S’mores. They are a favorite campsite treat for young and old. They are sticky and gooey, and loaded with sugar and carbohydrates.


We always spend our summers in Lake Tahoe so during this prime campfire time we enjoy our S’mores ritual. But, we don’t limit our consumption of S’mores to the campfire. We have them in fireplaces, the dashboards of hot cars, gas kitchen stoves, and microwaves.

Jackie is five-years-old. She tries to replicate our ritual all by herself. As the burning marshmallow smell fills our home, we are baffled. No one is cooking in the kitchen. We head out across the house looking for an explanation. I see Jackie sitting on the edge of her bed and notice a black lump of ash on her fingers.

“Jackie, what is that? Why is that here?”

“I wanted a marshmallow.”

“Did you ask anyone to help you cook it?”


“It is a huge mess now. Did you get burnt?”

“No, can I still eat it?”

“Well no, it is just ash. You are lucky that you didn’t burn yourself or catch something on fire. How did you cook it?”

“Oh, um.”

“You are not going to get in trouble, but can you tell me what happened.”

“Um . . . I put the marshmallow on my bed lamp,” she looks up at me with her eyes brimming with tears. “For a long, long time.”

Kevin enters the room to hear the following discussion.

“Can you tell me why?” I ask.

“I wanted today to be special,” she looks around the room not making eye contact with us.

“Special?” I ask.

“I put two marshmallows on the light bulb because I also made one for Grant.”



“What was special?”

“Today,” Jackie states.

We don’t want to laugh because it is a safety concern. But it is funny. After a long pause, Kevin and I glance at each other over her head. We want to acknowledge the safety issue and secretly we are proud of her “scientific approach” to cooking. We wipe off the burnt mess that is all over her bedside lamp. We are not successful; we will just have to throw the light bulb away. Perhaps we can salvage the lampshade?

Because we value family time we always make a big deal out of rituals.

We find that a five-year-old cooking marshmallows unsupervised on a light bulb is not the best option but it does remind us that family rituals mean so much to children.

Learning at School

If you are not familiar with the use of marshmallows and education you should be. Many educators in an early years program have succesfully created more cooking, counting, and art work with marshmallows then you will ever want to know. If you are only interested in higher education, please read this connection: Learning from Failure with Marshmallows

Wujec – statistics about the marshmallow challenge: Kindergarten students, on average, achieve significantly better results than do business school students and lawyers. Children don’t want to spend all their time getting it perfectly right- they want to see what happens and learn by doing.

A fun blog to read is : The marshmallow challenge blog

Photos from creativecommons.org

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