I experienced something with my six-year-old son last weekend. The incident made me realize that it’s possible… just maybe…that I am nailing this parenting thing. Last weekend, we headed up to North Conway, New Hampshire with my parents, my sister and her family, my husband, and our four kids. In typical Novak fashion, we all purchased matching pajamas, rented a beautiful home called the Tin Mine Lodge lodge and spent hours eating popcorn, M&Ms, and having an epic Christmas movie marathon.

On Saturday night, we had tickets to go the Polar Express. On the train car, Christmas music blared through the speakers, red and green lights twinkled, and hot chocolate was served. The conductor got up in front of our train car and asked everyone to take a seat so that the engineer could yell, “All aboard!” and the train could begin chugging toward the North Pole.

Of course, if you’re a parent, you know that this is the exact time when all of your children have to go to the bathroom. So my sweet Brecan leaned over and told me he had to go. I don’t have to tell you how many times we asked the kids to use the bathroom before we left the house, in the train station, and when we actually got on the train, but for some reason, the thought of not having access to the bathroom is like a Pavlovian instinct to have to go. As the train chugged, I tried to deflect this issue to my husband. I leaned down to Brec and said, “Daddy can take you.” He shook his head vehemently and said no. “What about Bapa?” Surely, he would want his grandfather to take him down this bumpy train car to a splashing toilet. No go. My two-year-old was on my lap so I was not the best person to take this adventure. “Why won’t you just go with someone else?” I asked.

That is when he said something that made me realize that my belief in Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and the importance of embracing failure was sending an implicit message to my own kids about success. Brecan looked up at me with his sweet brown eyes and said, “You have to go because if they tell you no, you’ll find another way.” That really sums up to me what it means to be an expert learner. If they told me no, I would find another way (styrofoam cup??). When he looked at the other adults, he saw people who even though they’re amazingly successful individuals don’t talk about the power of the fight, of the fact that any of us can overcome anything if we really try. That’s what Universal Design for Learning is all about, and when parents and teachers know about what it takes to succeed, they can begin to share that message with our kids. And they are listening.

I put the baby on my hip and walked down that train car ready to embrace the adventure.

To learn more about universally designed teaching and parenting, pick up a copy of Let Them Thrive this holiday season.

A Universally Designed Ride on the Polar Express?

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