As parents, caregivers, and teachers, we try to encourage kids to take creative risks and understand that mistakes are a good thing. We called mistakes “growth spurts” in my classroom because we grow from them. I announced to my students on the first day of school that I hope they make many, glorious mistakes.
We discuss the word, “fail,” too. Think of fail as what it really is:
F – First
A – Attempt
I – In
L – Learning
Of course, all of this is setting them up to learn about having a growth mindset. This means you believe that you can continue to learn and grow as you make mistakes. We are all on a continuum of learning and can improve with practice, time, and effort. (This is opposed to having a fixed mindset, which is the belief that we cannot improve our intelligence or abilities.)
There are many activities you can do to set kids on the path to developing a growth mindset:
- There are mentor texts that promote growth mindset thinking, such as Y is for Yet: A Growth Mindset Alphabet , Mindset Power, Yay! You Failed!, , Mistakes that Worked, The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle and This Could Be You.
- I show videos of people who have overcome obstacles or that learn from their mistakes. See here for my favorite clip.
- There are also some great songs you can share. I like to print the lyrics out for the song, Try Everything, by Shakira. After discussing all of the lines that promote a growth mindset, I play the song. This is the version by One Voice Children’s Choir.
Whether you’re a teacher or caregiver, kids will watch and learn from all you do. They watch the way you handle a break-through and the way you handle stressful situations. The good news is that kids need to see those cringe-worthy moments and how you handle them. They’ll have plenty of times that their best ideas won’t work or a plan for a project flops. They need to know that it’s ok and that trials are part of the process of learning and growing. Here are a few ideas for being a mistake-making mentor:
- Growth Mindset Flip Chart – Create a flip chart from an inverted three-ring binder. Fill it with 26 pages. The first page says, “Plan A,” the second page says, “Plan B,” and so on. When you make a mistake, calmly walk over and flip the chart to the next page and say something like, “Well, I guess that way didn’t work, let’s try Plan B.” This lets kids know that there is never an expectation to get something done perfectly the first time they try it. There are always more chances.
- Guest Experts – If you’re a teacher, have parents and community members come in once or twice a month as guest experts. They can tell you about their jobs and what they like about them. But, the more important part is having them talk about the challenges and how they work through them. Having kids see that mentors from their community all struggle at times helps them to normalize the fact that something worth learning and doing isn’t always without hiccups.
- Goal Setting – Teaching kids to set goals is empowering. Be sure to discuss some of your own goals too. Share your progress with kids as they share theirs with you. They will see that working toward goals is a pathway with ups and downs, but adjustments can be made when needed.
- Way to Grow! Journals – At the end of each day, give kids some time to reflect and write about one of their biggest successes that day as well as one of their biggest “failures.” (Often the failure leads to a success they eventually write about!) You could participate in this and share yours with kids too. Allow volunteers to share what they wrote and how a success or a failure helped them grow in some way.
When you role model mistakes as an important part of the process of learning, kids will see it that way too. When they recognize that learning happens through both the successes and trials, they understand that learning is always happening. And, that’s what we want!
Shannon Anderson taught for 25 years from first grade through college level. A career highlight was being named one of the 10 teachers who “awed and inspired” the Today Show in 2019. Shannon is also an award-winning children’s book author and LOVES to come to schools to talk to kids about the power of reading, writing, and growth mindset. You can learn more about her at: www.shannonisteaching.com.