Embracing Mistake Making to Develop Growth Mindset

creativity fixed mindset growth mindset homeschool Sep 27, 2023

Growth mindset has been a buzzword, in both professional and school settings, for years now. Carol Dweck originated the phrase in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, and the basic meaning of it is someone who believes that hard work can change and grow one’s skills and talents. This coincides with believing that people are not simply born “smart” or “good” at something, and that they have the capability to rewire their brain in order to improve their abilities.Having a growth mindset, in the truest sense of the phrase, is challenging for both adults and children. Reverting to a fixed mindset, or believing that it is not possible to improve a certain skill set, is easy to do. One reason for this is because the path to rewiring our brain and to becoming more skilled at something new or at something that is not innate to us requires making mistakes, usually for a long period of time. Mistake making, and feeling imperfect at something, can be difficult to endure, but are essential for gaining new skills and, by proxy, honing a growth mindset.

In a homeschool context, how do we encourage children to embrace mistake making and to develop their growth mindset? The answer to this is unique to each family and to each child, but there are certain strategies and habits to practice that can help foster this journey.

Teach With and Through Example
Spend some time reflecting on challenges that have arisen in your life. How did you deal with them? How did you grow through and from them? You will likely be able to think of examples from your life where you had a fixed mindset and where you had a growth mindset when learning something new or dealing with a challenge. Share these with your student or child; it is important for them to understand that even with developing a growth mindset, making mistakes is part of the process!

And know that, as with most learned things, actions speak louder than words. Be mindful of how you react to and speak about difficult tasks or circumstances that arise in your day to day life. Take the simple example of hanging a painting or picture on a wall in your home. Although this may seem like a simple task, it actually requires a good deal of skill and forethought to accomplish correctly. Talk through the steps that you must take to execute it, such as measuring the wall space to find where to hang it, perhaps using a stud finder to find a wall stud for best stability, placing the nail and hanger on the correct spot, hammering it in without damaging the wall, and finally hanging the picture. Maybe you will make a mistake along the way; to encourage a growth mindset, acknowledge it, and show what it looks like to try a different strategy (such as re-measuring the wall for an optimal aesthetic).

Make Time to Teach Growth Mindset and Display Reminders
While sharing examples and modeling growth mindset are imperative, it is equally as important to explicitly teach what growth mindset is to children. Origins homeschool curriculum includes lots of helpful resources on teaching and building growth mindset for children in grades K-5. Additionally, displaying growth mindset visuals in your learning space can help remind children about the importance of mistake making. Try printing or making visuals with sayings such as:

  • Mistakes make my brain grow.
  • I can’t do that yet.
  • Everything is difficult before it is easy.
  • Practice makes progress.
  • How can I keep improving?

Help Find a Frustration Outlet
While the goal is for children to embrace making mistakes as part of the learning process, we all know that in reality, mistakes are often frustrating. Most have the perception that mistakes slow us down from reaching our goal. While we can teach children that mistakes are a valuable, inherent part of the learning process, we still must make space for the natural emotions of frustration that arise with mistake making. A great way to do this is to support children in finding a healthy outlet for dealing with frustration. This might be physical activity, practicing meditation or mindful breathing, drawing or coloring, reading a book for pleasure, spending time with a pet or friend, etc. There are many ways to calm ourselves and bring us back to a place of groundedness in order to continue trying whatever task is at hand.

Focus on Language
When teaching and working with children, it’s important to comment on the effort they put forth rather than only the finished product. Acknowledging the hard work they put into something, and the steps that led up to the goal – whether it is a piece of writing, reading a challenging book, riding a bike, learning a new dance move, etc. – shows them that it was their effort, and all the mistakes that came along the way, that got them to their end result. You might try saying:

  • I saw you working so hard to ride without training wheels! All of your falls led you to learn how to balance your body to pedal smoothly.
  • This drawing took so much time for you to complete, and I noticed how much care you put into the details. You must have learned so much from the drawings you made before this one!

Over time, this kind of language teaches that persistence and commitment are the necessary stepping stones to success. Hopefully, this will begin to plant the seeds that goals are only met because of mistake making, in all its messiness, rather than in spite of it.