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Kitchen Pantry Scientist: We must teach our kids to make mistakes

“Surprise, bafflement, fascination, excitement, hilarity, delight: all these and more are part of the optimistic understanding of error.  This model is harder to recognize around us, since it is forever being crowded out by the noisier notion that error is dangerous, demoralizing, and shameful.” Kathryn Schulz- Being Wrong Adventures in the Margins of Error

We can’t be truly creative if we’re afraid to make mistakes. Kathryn Schulz’s book reminds me of the importance of allowing our kids to make plenty of mistakes, and to approach problems expecting to be wrong several times before they find the expected (or maybe unexpected) answer.

When my own kids do math, they don’t want to show their work or, God forbid, have their mistakes on paper for all to see.  A friend who teaches writing told me that kids today have a hard time being creative because they don’t know what they’re “supposed” to write.  The amazing journey of learning, full of missteps and wandering off the path, seems to be disappearing in light of constant testing and competition in schools. It’s not the teachers who are to blame, but the system, lack of funding, and maybe even the parents who hunger for good test scores and admission to prestigious colleges.

Doing science, art, writing and music at home is a great way to teach your kids how much fun mistakes can be.  Tell them that many great scientific discoveries have been made because of goof-ups in the laboratory. Remind them that paintings and stories often end up better when they take a different direction than the intended one.  Perfect is boring.

Have them sit down at the piano and make up a song, rather than just playing their lesson.  If they’re crying about a drawing they don’t like, encourage them to turn the scribbled spot into a tornado.  Let them do a science experiment- and stay out of it.  As long as they’re not doing anything dangerous, let them improvise.

As parents, we should admit our own mistakes, laugh at them, and point out the ones that turn out not to be so bad after all.  Teaching our kids to have a sense of humor about themselves is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

Mistakes can lead to great things.  There has never been anyone truly amazing who was afraid to make a few along the way.

Don’t be a “Tiger Mom”  be a Tigger Mom!

This post was written by Liz Heinecke and originally published on Kitchen Pantry Scientist.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Erik Hare on 02/21/2011 - 11:40 am.

    I’ve always encouraged my kids to try things out and see for themselves. I think my role is to make sure that they have a safe environment to make a few simple mistakes and learn from them.

    Good judgment comes from experience,
    Experience comes from bad judgment. 🙂

    Excellent piece, I hope everyone takes notice of this.

  2. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 02/21/2011 - 12:38 pm.

    Thank you for this piece. Grandparents are an excellent resource for this kind of learning. We’re generally more patient, not so tied up in the “gotta get in the right school” thing and we sometimes have a talent for helping kids go astray.

    But please note that for some kids being able to show their work for a math problem is virtually impossible as it’s all done in their heads pretty much automatically.

    The UMTYMP (University of Minnesota Talented Youth Mathematics Program)and programs like it are an excellent place for this type of kid to learn math as showing your work is generally not required. Nor is doing 100 of the same kind of problem to make sure you learned it.

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