Homeschooling: Mistakes Are Welcome Here

“Is it OK if I make a mistake?” My nine-year-old daughter asked me this morning. We had been working on adding and subtracting carrying numbers and she was struggling. There were tears, there was frustration and there were numerous requests for breaks, water, and snacks. “Yes,” I said, “it’s totally OK for you to make a mistake.” She went back to working on her math; this time much calmer and focused. Part of our homeschool philosophy is simple in theory, but complex in action. Making mistakes is not only acceptable, but it’s an essential part of life. Without making mistakes, we don’t learn and we don’t personally grow. How we handle making mistakes and the steps we take after making them is as important in education as it is in developing character and life skills. When my kids were still in public school (all but the youngest, who has never been to public school) one thing that stood out to me was how my kids were learning to deal with “making mistakes.” Making mistakes, to them, was negative. They believed, and especially my middle daughter, that if they made mistakes or didn’t understand concepts right away that they weren’t smart enough; and worse, they would never be smart enough to “get it.” There were a lot of comparisons to students who seemed to understand everything right away and students who struggled were passed over by the instructors and spotlighted by their peers as “dumb.” What started out as a decision to home educate became about so much more than academics. It became a quest to teach my kids that character was just as important, if not more so than academics. And… learning is a process. Everything you learn- whether it’s learning division, writing effective communications or discovering your own personal strengths- is part of a process that not only means you will make mistakes it actually requires you to make mistakes. Teaching kids that making mistakes is not only acceptable but is expected and something to be embraced goes beyond academics. There are several studies that show that making mistakes is critical to the development of kids’ overall character; traits such as confidence, problem-solving and responsibility are a few of the many benefits. While there are numerous studies supporting this, the benefits are summed up best in the article “4 Benefits From Allowing Your Child To Make Mistakes.” The author of the article gives the four reasons as:
  • Self-Confidence
  • Building Coping Skills
  • Responsibility
  • Developing Wisdom
While many mainstream articles focus on the benefits of self-confidence and responsibility, the author also cites coping skills and developing wisdom. Making mistakes help children develop the ability to cope better with unsatisfactory situations; they learn how to recognize and manage feelings of frustration, anger, unfairness, and disappointment in positive and constructive ways rather than turning to negative behaviors. I think what I appreciated most on the list was “development of wisdom” as a benefit of making mistakes. I read it over several times and thought about why is “developing wisdom” so different than “learning a lesson?” When someone makes a mistake, especially kids, we tend to diminish the value of the situation as “well, they’ll learn now” or “guess you learned your lesson” rather than recognizing the significance of what the child had the opportunity to learn. Developing wisdom, as opposed to “learning a lesson,” is to build a base of experience and emotional knowledge for kids to draw on with other situations. Since the beginning of our homeschooling experience, I have had to not only teach my girls that it is OK to make mistakes, I have had to teach myself as well. I have had to teach them that not only are they smart; they are capable of. Capable of creating and following their own processes. Capable of creating and managing their own mistakes. I am still teaching (and unteaching) their perceptions about making mistakes; but then, that is the process. Please. Please feel free to “make a mistake.”