Let children make mistakes and grow up

by Mary Ann on May 18, 2011

messy baby pictures

Learning can be a messy business

“Children are apt to live up to what you believe of them.” Lady Bird Johnson

In April I helped Jack and Maggie make a chicken basket for Easter. It was two, half paper plates glued together. Because the Chicken was facing sideways it had one eye and a wing drawn on the side.

paper plate chick picture

The sideways chicken basket

When it came to gluing on the eyes Jack began to have a fit about it needing two eyes. I was explaining to him that it was standing sideways (I demonstrated “sideways”) He kept saying that it needed two eyes, “See it has a mouth”. He was pointing out the wing. No amount of explaining could change his mind. A chicken with a mouth needs two eyes!! I let him have two eyes.

When Jodie was four years old her Dad was fired from his job. Don and I talked about it a lot over the next few days as we contemplated what to do. After a few days I noticed Jodie drawing a picture. She had drawn a stick man and had scribbles all over him. I asked her to tell me about the picture. She said, “Its daddy. He is fired”. As we talked I realized that she was worried that he was going to burst into flame any minute.

A few weeks ago I made the statement that before we could get our butter churned we would all go grey. When the butter was finally done Jack seemed really disappointed. He said to his mom, “I thought we were going to turn grey”. He was talking about our bodies not our hair.

Last week I took some very long bubble wands over so that we could blow some

kid play in grass picture

Children experiment with what is in their environment

ginourmous bubbles. Jack was standing by the front door waiting for us to go outside. He was holding a bubble wand. When I looked at him next he was staring at me and holding the bubble wand sideways as all the soap spilled out. I thought he had done it on purpose to see it spill out.

I said, “Jack what are you doing”. My voice wasn’t mad or loud but it was startled. His mom looked over and said “I’ll get a cloth.” She is really a calm woman by practice and decision, not by personality. I stepped on the cloth, sopped up as much soap as I could and then we left the mess till later and went out to blow bubbles.

Outside I watched Jack tip his wand sideways and begin to unscrew the lid. It hit me what had happened in the living room. Jack was screwing off the lid in what would feel like the most normal way. So I said, “Ah, Jack, I see what happened in the living room. You weren’t spilling the soap on purpose. Let me show you how to keep it from spilling”. Then I showed him how to hold the wand upright and take off the lid. He never spilled any more soap.

When Jodie was five years old she took a potato peeler and peeled the slats on the baby crib until they were about ½” thick. She did this on four or five slats. When I asked her why she did it she responded that she wanted to see how the peeler worked. I assume it was so fun to watch the wood peel off that she just couldn’t stop. : ) It wasn’t funny at the time.

messy boy picture

Children do the darndest things!

All of these examples are funny now. Kids do say and do the darndest things. That is because they think differently than adults. They take things quite literally. They do not understand the multiple meanings of words. They aren’t familiar with idioms. There are many things that they have to figure out how to do and they aren’t always aware of the best way to get a thing done. Sometimes our seemingly simple instructions are Greek to them. And like Jack and the bubbles, they don’t always see ahead to what the consequences of a certain action might be.

When a child says or does something that seems naughty or foolish or silly it is valuable to stop and think it through. Often if we take the time we will find that their intent was good just uninformed. Yelling or becoming angry or silent in the face of a child’s mistakes sends messages that we don’t really want to send. You are stupid. You are naughty. You are clumsy. You aren’t good enough.

If we see children as learning beings and not as naughty people we will be better able to figure out what they had in mind when they did whatever it was they did. When we do this we give children the freedom to make mistakes which is what it takes to grow up well. Mistakes are a part of life. Let children make mistakes and learn from their mistakes.

“Mistakes are a natural part of growing up. They’re to be expected and made light of. But children bloom like spring flowers under praise.” Earl Nightingale

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy May 21, 2011 at 3:26 am

I came across your blog a couple months ago and REALLY appreciate it. I feel like your ideas are answers I have been seeking. We have been homeschooling for two years and fight to stay off the conveyor belt but frequently find ourselves there again! I purchased an armoire ( for our closet) and am refinishing it while I read and ponder on how to approach it. I can’t thank you enough for allowing me to learn from your experiences. I feel motivated and excited about homeschholing again! The next step will be to take the course soon. Thanks for all you do.


Mary Ann May 21, 2011 at 4:31 am

Thank you Tracy. I am so glad that you are finding it useful. I think life is about working on what we already know. Its a bit like flying a plane, constant course corrections. : )


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