Preparing and Racing Derby Cars Teaches Children Valuable Life Lessons
Are your children involved in derby car races in the spring? Do they build cars from a square wooden block into something awesome and then race them with other friends at Boy Scouts or with a school or church group?
We started building derby cars several years ago when my son was about 6 in Cub Scouts. When we started I had no idea how involved or competitive building derby cars could be. In the beginning, I thought the kids would sand the wood into a shape, paint it and put on the wheels with some parental supervision. I had no idea of the strategy involved in building these cars such as adding weights (and how the weights must be placed), getting the weight of the car exactly right, and so much more.
As you look at the process to build a derby car and the race event, what life lessons do children learn from these derby car races? Is there a lesson beyond just racing the cars?
6 Life Lessons from Derby Car Racing
- Creativity. My children develop the design for their own car. My oldest child has drawn sketches of the design and layout of his cars in the past. My youngest (who is just 5) just looks at pictures in the derby car model book or on the internet to pick her design. Each one creatively picks the design for their car.
- Planning. If you are not building your car at the last minute, the parents are probably involved in the planning to help determine how much work needs to be done and how much time will be needed to complete the work. I have found to complete a derby car correctly all the steps take several days such as cutting the wood and sanding the design, adding weights which usually need super glue or wood putty to dry, painting the cars (usually 2 or 3 coats), placing the wheels, check-in and testing. Even if the children are not writing all these steps on their calendar because they will work on the project over days, they will start to recognize the process and understand some tasks must be planned ahead and scheduled to be successfully completed on time.
- Be thankful for help from others. Building derby cars is not something children can do alone. They need help from their parents or other adults. For my children, their grandpa and uncle are skilled working with wood and tools. Help from their grandpa and uncle allows them to shape the cars into the designs each one selected and so much more. It’s important for children to recognize the help they receive and show appreciation (even if parents give them reminders).
- Pride in a job well done. Each year, the children have been proud of the work they did on their race car. I remember the first car, which was very basic (we didn’t even add weights, I don’t know if we knew we were supposed to) we just put on the wheels and painted it, but my son was proud of this car and the work he did on it. Looking back, this first car was pitifully sad looking, but he still has the car and he enjoys the memory of the first car and the first race. This project is also a chance to teach our children to always do their best and show pride in their work. When we started to paint the cars this year, my oldest daughter (middle child) was being sloppy with the paint and making a mess. She was told until she was doing her best, she could not paint the car.
- The joy of winning and the agony of defeat is an important lesson. We live in a society that wants everyone to feel equal. There are no winners and losers, no one is exceptional or does better than anyone else. Competition teaches children (even the youngest) that we don’t always win, but that’s okay. We get up and try again. We figure why did not win the race and try to improve next time. We expected my youngest daughter’s car to be one of the faster cars in the race. It had good design, good weight, everything seemed like it should work, but it was slow. She did not win any races. She was disappointed. She said, “Why is my car so slow?” She understood the feelings of disappointment and was learning how to correctly process those feelings.
- Be gracious when you win and when you don’t. This lesson is the hardest lesson of all. We’ve heard many times, “Be a good sport.” It’s so easy for parents to say, so hard for children (and grown-ups) to show happiness for others in our own loss and disappointments. Even though none of the children placed in the race for the speed competition, the oldest placed first in his division for design and youngest placed third for design. The middle child did not receive a trophy and she was disappointed (in tears disappointed). As a parent, I understand it is hard for a child to have each sibling win a trophy, but you get left out. This is part of the process and learning to be happy in others success. To be fair, the winners must be gracious in winning too.
These lessons could also apply to sports and other competitions your children enjoy or are involved in. Fun activities can teach valuable life lessons. With children, it’s important not to miss any teachable moments. What have your children learned from derby car races or other competitions?