Lessons for Your Child: Being Wrong can be Good

About a month back, I wrote a blog post about Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on TED about schools destroying our children’s creativity and I posed the question: “What’s to be done about it?” One answer was to homeschool. Another answer was to focus on right brain education. Recently, I have been pondering on something else that we should be doing – encouraging our children to make mistakes. Okay, maybe that didn’t come out right, but I think Kathryn Schulz does quite a good job of explaining it in her talk on TED about being wrong:


Sir Ken Robinson talked about it, too. One of the major reasons why school kills creativity is because it teaches children that getting the answer wrong is very bad. Children spend some twenty years learning that being wrong means you’re stupid and/or lazy. Then they spend the rest of their lives trying never to make a mistake. How the heck is anyone ever going to be creative if you’re too afraid to try something new for fear of making a mistake?

So imagine my chagrin when, at four years old, Gavin tells me that it’s bad to make mistakes. I asked him why he thought that and he replied that this is what his teacher told him at school. So I told him the story about 3M Post-It notes. In case you don’t know the story, it is a classic example of how being wrong can be good. While on a mission to create a new type of glue, 3M created something that wasn’t sticky enough. Just when they were about to label it a failure, someone else came up with the idea of using this not-so-sticky glue to make Post-It notes.

Well, it probably wasn’t the best example for a 4 year old, but it was the first one that came to mind when I was trying to correct his notion that mistakes were bad. Perhaps I should have told him the story of Thomas Edison and the light bulb and how many mistakes Edison made before he finally figured out how to make a light bulb?

Anyway, I went on to explain that making mistakes was how we learned and that sometimes, mistakes can even be good – like in the case of Post-Its. So if you don’t know the answer, take a guess. Eliminate all the possibilities that you know can’t be true and you might just find the right answer. Then I gave him the example of Guess with Jess where they made guesses to find the answers and learned a lot of things along the way. Gavin seemed to relate really well to the Guess with Jess example, so hopefully I got the message across. Now I just have to make sure the message sticks for the next 20 or so years of school he’s got left, or is there something else I can do?

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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