Struggle Bus: The benefits of hard work & maximum effort for school-aged kids

Struggle Bus: The benefits of hard work & maximum effort for school-aged kids

Maria Montessori talked about the concept of maximum effort. She was focused on the toddler, using maximum physical effort in their daily activities. “The greater the effort, the greater the child’s pleasure.” We see maximum effort from kids every day around here. Kids are 100% concentrated on executing whatever task they put their minds to. We give them the space and time to figure it out. In that process, kids develop concentration, perseverance, and fine motor skills. Young people are drawn to maximum effort, but as caregivers, we often inadvertently teach them at a very young age that it’s too much trouble to let them figure it out; we’ll do it for them. We inadvertently deprive kids of self-awareness, self-advocacy, and the opportunity to develop grit and determination.


The idea that hard work and struggle can be a source of joy and affirmation is something we can easily forget as caregivers. We want them to be happy, to live a life of ease. Ease in life is necessary and beautiful, but what about hard work is a source of happiness? What if the struggle, the failure, the dusting off one’s self and figuring it out is the thing they need?


Life is a balancing act of giving ourselves the opportunity for grace and slowness and being able to push, strive, and put in the maximum effort (both physically and mentally). There is that feeling of euphoria after you do a tricky thing. Also, don’t discount getting comfortable with the anxiety, nervousness, and unease of figuring it all out. Discomfort isn’t always a bad thing. That discomfort is telling you to move on or move through. The more kids can work with those feelings in low-stakes, high-reward spaces through activities like making things and play, the more they learn to trust those signals. Rather than panicking and feeling stressed, avoidant, and inadequate, kids who consistently do hard things (again, low-sakes here) who are allowed to test the limits of their strength and perseverance learn to read those inner cues and find an internal process for tough stuff both physically and mentally.


10 Maximum Effort Tasks for Elementary School Kids

  • Build a fort

  • Dig a hole, I know, but weirdly satisfying for kids

  • Saw a branch or piece of wood in half

  • Carry in the groceries

  • Do a load of laundry from start to finish

  • Go for a hike

  • Build an obstacle course

  • Rake leaves

  • Design and build an object using limited materials

  • Hammer a nail


Learning new stuff is hard, and just like I said last week, failure and being terrible is part of the process. Let’s help our kids trust the process and trust themselves.

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