Teaching to Learn From Mistakes
When I teach a workshop, I leave time for questions. It’s often silent for a several seconds before someone is brave enough to speak up. Sometimes no question is asked. After the session, several people may come to me with good questions. Sometimes I want to say, “You should have asked that in the session. I bet others want to know the same information.”
Why? Even as adults, we are afraid our questions will appear stupid. Even as adults, we are afraid to ask for help. If we are afraid of being thought of as stupid or helpless, imagine what our children might feel.
Do we homeschool parents convey the message to our children they should know everything? Do we make them think they can’t make mistakes? Do we expect our precious kiddos to be perfect?
Successful people are those who admit they don’t know things and seek advice. Their success comes by pushing through mistakes and learning from them. Someone who has had success also had failures.
James Dyson, inventor of the Dyson vacuum products, made more than five thousand prototypes before he had successful one. That’s more than five thousand mistakes.
How can we teach our children it’s OK to mess up once in awhile?
- Admit your own failings. Our example of confession is the best teacher for our children. The mistake may be putting too much flour in the cookie recipe or may be yelling when we shouldn’t. For the first, we laugh. The other we say “I’m sorry” and ask forgiveness. When our children see how we react to our blunders, they learn how to respond to their slipups.
- Don’t expect perfect schoolwork. Out of two million students who take the SAT test annually, about five hundred get perfect scores. While a student may re-take this test, it isn’t required. Some home-educating parents want their children to re-do assignments until every exercise is correct.
While reworking a math problem after a concept is understood can be beneficial and the success can bring delight to the learner, requiring every assignment to be completed perfectly can be discouraging.
I’m not sure why homeschoolers have the perfection expectation. It may come from the early days of the modern homeschool movement when we felt compelled to prove ourselves by the academic success of our children.
- Show how to learn from mistakes. When our children consistently make the same mistake, we need to help them find out why and help them correct it. Often a classroom teacher will have children write a misspelled word ten or even twenty times. I’m not sure this method has long-term benefits. If the child doesn’t understand the basic concept, the busy work of writing words isn’t going to help in the future.
When our kiddos are little, they asked us “Why?” at least 4,382 times a day. Now it’s our turn. Ask “Why do you have a hard time remembering ‘i before e except after c or when it says a as in neighbor’?” After talking through the problem, kids often come up with their own solution.
- Forget the past. Paul says, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13, ESV). I believe this can apply to many areas of our lives. Don’t constantly remind our kids of past errors. I know this can be hard. Once forgiveness has been given or a schoolwork correction made, we need to move on.
Success comes from pushing through mistakes and growing. It comes from managing and learning from failure. It comes from getting over the fear others will think you’re not amazing if you don’t know everything. The same is true for our children. They, too, can learn to move forward in spite of any set-back.
It’s scary to be wrong, especially in front of others. It stinks to make mistakes, especially in front of others. You might mess up from time to time. I sure do. It’s what you do next that matters. We can show our children how to admit mistakes and how to make corrections without fear by being a living example.
Susan K. Stewart, Nonfiction Managing Editor with Elk Lake Publishing, teaches, writes, and edits non-fiction. Susan’s passion is to inspire readers with practical, real-world solutions. Her books include Science in the Kitchen, Preschool: At What Cost?, Harried Homeschoolers Handbook, and the award-winning Formatting e-Books for Writers. Her latest book, Donkey Devos: Listening to you donkey when God speaks, is scheduled to be released spring 2021. You can learn more at her website www.practicalinspirations.com.