Why mistakes are so important to our children

“Trial and error” – try, make mistakes, do better. This is how it always works when we humans want to learn something proper: with feeling and reason. But we adults often stand in the way of children. We talked to education researcher Gerd Gigerenzer about the right culture of mistakes and why mistakes can motivate children rather than slow them down.

7 insights into a positive error culture

Children learn from mistakes. One must be allowed to make mistakes and understand them. We adults need to be careful not to reveal too much of our “this is how it works” and “this is how you do it” views. This is also what Prof. Gerd Gigerenzer, Emeritus Director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and since 2020 Director of the Harding Center for Risk Competence at the University of Potsdam, says. He reveals what insights we adults need to be aware of in order to support our children.

# 1 Mistakes are often a good thing

There is always something negative about the word “error”. There are also “good” mistakes that are important for lasting learning. We should be more aware of that, says Prof. Gerd Gigerenzer. An example: The child learns the language, but it rubs against the irregular action words. For example, it says ‘I thought’ instead of ‘I thought’. That’s a good mistake. It shows that it can apply the rule – just like ‘I did’. By making mistakes with the much smaller number of irregular verbs, he also becomes aware of the exceptions to the rule. ”

# 2 Mistakes are an opportunity for advancement

It is absolutely crucial to handle a mistake correctly. We should begin to see mistakes, not as stupidity, but as an opportunity for advancement and learning. Because that way, it often becomes clear to us how something just isn’t working and how we might be able to do it better or differently. This is exactly how children develop their skills. However, we prevent this if we convey to them that one must not make mistakes. Errors should therefore never remain unused, according to Gerd Gigerenzer: “We researchers structure our research in such a way that we can learn from errors. We try new things to make good mistakes. “

“A bad mistake is one you do not learn from.”

Professor Gerd Gigerenzer

# 3 There is not always just ONE solution to a problem

A typical scene in school: a teacher asks the children how to solve a problem. Some ideas come up, but none are “the right solution”. Therefore, they are ignored until a child says the expected response. The problem with this is that if the student is bypassed with the wrong or not quite right answer, he or she will not learn anything. Scenes like this often take place at home. Opportunities for judgment and discovery are thus lost.

Gerd Gigerenzer also warns about this: “We still teach too much according to the schedule of telling the children, it’s right, it’s wrong, there is exactly one solution. But that is usually not the case. We give them more to take on. , when we say: Look, here’s a problem you can now come up with solutions.Also in school we should create more a forum to produce ideas, defend them and also be able to give up arguments if they are wrong. ”

# 4 Children need time to solve problems on their own

We adults tend to quickly become “know-it-alls” because of our great lead in lived experiences. This often begins when our children make their first attempt at playing. “Look, the ball must be in the round hole, the dice in the square!” It continues later. The child does not succeed in anything on the first try, it is frustrated. As parents, we sometimes intervene prematurely so that the child can move on.

But in truth, we deny him an important experience. That it sometimes takes several attempts before something succeeds, and that it is easily possible to find a solution to a problem yourself, even though it can take a long time. It is therefore important that we take a step back and give the child the opportunity to have their own experiences, including mistakes and frustration. Once they have found out for themselves how something works, the joy is all the greater and the learning effect is even greater.

# 5 Mistakes promote your own sense of discovery

By letting our children have their own experiences, they acquire important skills. Finding your own way through mistakes and finding solutions are skills that will always be useful later in life. In addition, learning with the self-emerging effect strengthens the personality.

This feeling of being able to dare something without constantly being thrown off its own path with small and meticulous corrections is very valuable to children. This is probably also a reason why they love the stories of adventurers and explorers so much – because they dare to follow their instinctive curiosity, even if it can go wrong. And often your own mistakes are a help. Without him, they often would not have made any progress at all. So in the end, your own sense of discovery wins, the foundation of lifelong learning.

# 6 We should give children more responsibility

Not only do children mature, mothers and fathers also need to develop further: in terms of how much they trust their children to do. From an early age, we should start letting go more and more in some ways. “If we protect our children too much from any risk, the children will pay a price,” warns Prof. Gerd Gigerenzer. A typical example is the increase in allergies due to the fear of even small amounts of dirt. Overall, we do not trust children and young people enough. We should give them more responsibility as they get older. They will make mistakes and can learn from them. ”

Especially adolescence is a time when young people quickly make decisions that may not be very well thought out. But it’s a part of life, after all, we were all at this particular age. The typical carelessness of this time often causes parents not to trust their children with such a great sense of responsibility. But: “But it is also a mistake to deny young people who are already willing to take responsibility. They have the right to this opportunity to mature, ”says Gerd Gigerenzer.

“Overall, we do not trust children and young people enough. We should give them more responsibility as they get older. ”

Professor Gerd Gigerenzer

# 7 Parents and teachers should be aware of mistakes

We must learn to put the knowledge advantage we have as adults with more life experience behind in relation to children who just learn and discover and accept that they make “good” and “bad” mistakes and thus gain experience. Of course, we do not want anyone to rave about a child who insists that 2 + 2 = 5, but at this point they may be asked to prove their mathematical discovery, such as making 5 apples out of 2 and 2 apples .

There are many teachers who already make their lessons “error-friendly” and let their students try things for themselves. You absorb mistakes and ask yourself if there is an idea of ​​your own in it. We parents can do the same by being aware of the mistake. It takes courage, because even a “wrong” climbing technique on the playground or awkward trying on the bike is part of it – the whole person always learns. But it is worth it. Because the future needs brave thinkers outside the box, and our children need real joy in learning.

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Image Credit: Unsplash / Xavier Mouton Photography

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