How Mistakes Enhance Learning
No one wants to be wrong. No one wants to make mistakes. Despite our wishes, though, mistakes happen.
And as uncomfortable as it can be to call out the wrong answer in class or answer an entire section on an exam incorrectly, these moments in life are crucial to learning – especially for young children just starting school.
But how can this be? It seems counterintuitive: Getting good grades is important, and getting answers wrong hurts your child’s grades.
It’s time to pull back the curtain on mistakes – so here are a few ways your child’s mistakes are actually helping them learn.
Helping children experience failure
In life, it’s important to be able to handle adversity. Whether you’re a toddler, a teenager, or in the twilight of your life, you’ll constantly be met with challenges and obstacles – and failure.
Even if a child breezes through many years of school, they’ll eventually be met with an obstacle that will cause them to fail.
If they’ve never experienced failure before, this can be a major problem – meaning mistakes are critical to the learning process, particularly for young children.
For many students, school can feel like a process of learning different facts, and it’s only through mistakes that children can start to understand school as a means of learning how to learn.
Revealing weak points
For many students, and especially for younger children, it’s hard to know what to focus on when studying.
Sure, your child’s teacher has likely broken down the curriculum into chunks, so they might only be tested on a chapter or two at once.
But this is still a lot of information to take in, and your child risks wasting a lot of time if they can’t focus their studies properly.
This makes mistakes an incredibly valuable tool – because they reveal to you the things that your child is struggling with in school.
Sometimes, mistakes are made relatively randomly, indicating that your child just made a simple error, such as misreading a question.
More often, though, mistakes form a discernible pattern – and you can use that to help your child focus on their weaknesses and study more effectively.
Teaching them to take responsibility
It’s never too early to teach your children about taking responsibility – and mistakes provide a great opportunity for doing this.
Throughout our lives, we’ll frequently be tempted to blame our mistakes on outside forces and factors.
A common locus of blame is teachers – sometimes parents will take poor report cards and question how their child’s teacher could fail to educate them adequately.
But while it’s sometimes true that your child will have an ineffective teacher, in general their mistakes will be, at least partly, their own fault.
Maybe they didn’t spend enough time studying, causing them to do poorly on an exam. Or maybe they didn’t carefully read the instructions of their assignment, resulting in a poor grade.
This isn’t cause to point the finger and scold your child – but it is an opportunity to help them understand why they did poorly, and take steps to do better the next time.
When children aren’t taught how to do this at an early age, it can lead to problems down the road – so take your young children’s mistakes as opportunities to teach them responsibility.
Confronting fears early
Whether it’s maths, writing, history, or geography, sometimes children start to develop a fear of a particular topic – which is far from a mindset conducive to learning.
Through your child’s mistakes, though, you can get a window into the subjects they might struggle with down the road.
Mistakes help you identify potential problem subjects and ensure that your child has as many resources as possible for doing better in that area.
You can work with them through their mistakes and help them confront and overcome any fears they might be developing – creating a much better learning atmosphere around that subject in the process.
Facilitating deep processing
When a student is naturally good at a given topic, they might get lazy.
This can lead to problems down the road – maybe they’ll be good at maths all the way through algebra, but they’ll hit a roadblock when it comes to trigonometry and not know how to deal with it.
This is where mistakes come in. We’ve already mentioned that mistakes are good for identifying weak points and potential problem topics for your child as a student.
But they’re good for much more than simply noting what things your child is getting wrong – they represent an opportunity to help your child understand why they got something wrong, a pathway toward deeper learning.
See, it would be a very simple course of action to simply correct your child whenever they make a mistake – say “three plus three is six, not three” and call it quits.
But while this might lead to them getting that particular answer correct more often, it won’t help them with addition as a concept.
Working with your child to understand why they got the answer wrong, however, will help them improve not just in that area, but in terms of learning in general.
This becomes an increasingly valuable skill as they encounter harder and harder concepts in school that can’t be confronted simply with correction and memorisation – and this deeper learning can’t happen without mistakes.
We all know mistakes aren’t fun.
And yet, many people will look back on their lives and point out the “best mistakes” they ever made – whether it be poor relationship decisions or staying too long at a job they hated.
It’s no different for children as they begin to learn. Mistakes are unavoidable and unpleasant, both for your child and as a parent watching your child scrape their knees academically.
But years later, when your child has become a maths master and knows how to develop study plans for themselves – well, you’ll know which mistakes to thank for it.