Recommended Reading (3) – The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes

HK Economic Journal July 21, 2016 Posted in JEMS Founder's Columns

"Over the summer, I will share some of my favourite children’s books that can be read by children independently or with adults. They all bring out different life lessons and character values that are valuable for children at any age. Holiday reading has been shown to help with keeping students level of engagement and literacy so that there isn’t a ‘holiday dip’ between school years. And reading is fun and meaningful at any time of the year!

 

One thing I have come across in my years of teaching is children who are afraid of making mistakes. I’ve seen it across ages, for both genders and for children from different schools. Some children stare at a blank sheet of paper for ages, afraid to start writing or drawing, because they are afraid of ‘doing it wrongly’. Some children erase their pencil writing so hard that the paper itself rips. Some children ask for a new sheet of paper as soon as they make one mistake on their work. Some children use so much correction tape over their work that I see more correction tape than paper on their work. Some children get so upset at their mistakes that they scrunch their paper up into a ball and throw it into the bin. I’ve witnessed all these behaviours and the root of them all is the fear of making mistakes.

 

I think many children, and adults perhaps, see that making mistakes is a bad thing. It’s associated with ‘red marks’ at school, with being laughed at by others and being seen as a failure. I personally grew up like this and I am a self-professed perfectionist. Growing up, I loved doing arts and crafts and I remember times when I used to start all over again when I felt like I made a ‘mistake’ and that it wasn’t ‘perfect’. I later learnt that I could creatively think of ways to cover up my mistakes and sometimes I would end up with a better product! Over the years, I’ve learnt to see mistakes differently – to see them as learning opportunities, to see them as a way to show me how to improve, an opportunity to use my creativity to ‘fix’ my mistakes and to also take myself more lightly.

 

In wanting to share this important life lesson with my students, I came across a book that covers this topic. It’s called ‘The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes’ by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein. In the book, there is a perfect girl who never makes mistakes and she is known by others as the one who never makes mistakes. One day, she is about to perform a juggling act in front of the school for a talent competition and she messes up in a big way. Her performance ends up in a shambles and it’s the first time she has made a mistake!

 

What she ends up learning is that it’s okay to make mistakes and she laughs along with the others. That night, she manages to sleep soundly like she hadn’t ever before and for discerning readers, they will notice that it is because she no longer carries the stress and burden of being perfect all the time. This book is a good conversation starter with children who find it difficult to accept their mistakes. Some practical things that I think help these children include the following:

 

 

1) Praise effort over outcome
As adults around the child, it’s important that we praise and acknowledge effort over outcome. So to say things like “I’m so proud of you for putting so much effort into this piece of work” instead of “I’m so proud of you for getting such a high mark”. When effort is valued over outcome, it will encourage the child to continue putting effort into the activity and thus continue to show improvement.

 

2) Let them learn from mistakes
If we show children that we are not okay when things aren’t perfect, they will follow us and do the same. This isn’t to say that we don’t pursue excellence and try our best but if we aren’t okay with our children making mistakes and learning from them, they won’t accept them either. So let your child do work on his/her own and get a red mark at school over ‘fixing’ the mistakes. It will be learning opportunity for your child.

 

3) Accept mistakes
For my students who are scared of making mistakes, I make it a point to not give them new sheets of paper when they ask for them after making a mistake and I don’t let them use correction tape. If they make a mistake, they have to cross it out or think of a way to amend their work to accommodate the mistake.

 

4) Develop a growth mindset
Most of all, children need to develop a growth mindset which is that they need to learn that mistakes are an opportunity to learn, to develop and to do better next time. With such a mindset, children will positively and optimistically face challenges and obstacles.

 

Mistakes are part of the learning curve so let’s not shy away from making them, rather learn how we should approach and grow from them. "

 

Christine Ma-Lau
Founder & Principal
JEMS Learning House

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