The Power of Making Mistakes

By Jessica Young and Kristen Reed

Recent neurological research on the brain shows what happens when we make mistakes. Surprisingly, the research tells us that making a mistake is actually a good thing! Mistakes are not only opportunities for learning, as students consider their mistakes, but also a time when our brains grow. The goal is to normalize mistakes and help children understand that it’s okay to make mistakes, especially when we are learning something new. “I’m not going to be good at this right away, I’m going to make mistakes, and that’s okay.”

It turns out, the way teachers and families react to a child’s mistake can make all the difference in whether the child continues to put in effort, or if they give up. So encourage your child to exercise their brain by trying challenging activities, and encourage them even if they make a mistake. Read “Grow Your Brain” in English and Spanish to your class or child.

Tip for younger preschoolers: When talking about mistakes with younger preschoolers, it might help to explain that mistakes happen by accident, so if they do something wrong on purpose it is not a mistake, it is mischief-making.  


Pay attention to your own reactions to children’s mistakes. Did you notice yourself reacting differently to mistakes in the classroom?


Beautiful Oops The mantra in this book is: “When you think you have made a mistake (and what kid or grown-up hasn’t) think of it as an opportunity to make something beautiful.” This beautifully illustrated book shows how a torn piece of paper, a spill, a drip, a smudge, and a hole can be looked at as a new way to be creative rather than a problem. Read Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg to your class and have a discussion about the value of making mistakes. Model how to have this discussion by describing a mistake you made, and what you learned from that mistake, and/or whether you adopted a new strategy to solve that problem as a result of the mistake.
Keep Trying Researchers have found that when people believe that they can develop their abilities or intelligence through effort and persistence they have a “growth mindset,” and tend to achieve more than people who think they can’t do much to change their abilities. New brain science also tells us that when we try to do new or challenging things our brains grow! In the mini-book Keep Trying, Lily’s learning how to swing on the monkey bars as well as her big sister. Each time she tries she gets a little bit further. At the end of the book, children draw a picture of a time they tried hard to do something.

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