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  • Writer's pictureMelinda Cropsey

Better by Mistake!

What do tea bags, potato chips, silly putty, velcro and chocolate chip cookies have in common? They were ALL invented by mistake!

Mistakes are an integral part of the learning process. Maria Montessori observed that:

“it is well to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose, which it truly has.” 1

Sadly however, according to Alina Tugend, author of The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong, we “are raising a generation of children - primarily in affluent, high achieving districts - who are terrified of blundering. Of failing. Of even sitting with the discomfort of not knowing something for a few moments.” 2

By adopting and modeling a playful, light-hearted, approach to mistakes we help children to:

  • Develop self-compassion. By teaching children to counsel themselves as they would their own best friend, they learn to relax when taking on a new challenge and view mistakes as a natural part of the learning process;

  • Develop perseverance. Mastery of many skills takes practice and persistence. Take time to highlight skills they currently enjoy that took a lot of “mistakes” to master (eg. walking, riding a bike, putting on a coat, etc.)

  • Foster imagination and creativity. By highlighting all of the wonderful things that have been invented by mistake, we teach children to view mistakes through the lens of “possibility”. This perspective naturally invites their imagination and creativity to soar;

  • Build a sense of brotherhood and community. Maria Montessori encouraged adults and teachers to highlight their own mistakes, noting that:

“Errors made by adults have a certain interest (for children)... From awareness of mistakes, there springs up a kind of brotherhood… the fact that we can all make mistakes stirs a deep feeling of affection in their hearts.”3

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1. Montessori, Maria (1995). The Absorbent Mind, Henry Holt and Company, New York, NY p.249.

2. Tugend, Alina (2011). Better By Mistake, Riverhead Books, New York, NY, pp. 41-72.

3. Montessori, Maria (1995). The Absorbent Mind, Henry Holt and Company, New York, NY p.248-250.


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