If you use Facebook “First Day of School” posts as a gauge, I’d say the majority of kids are now back in school. And while the relaxed, lazy days or summer are fun, there is something nice about getting back to the structured, scheduled days the school year brings. Along with structure, the school year brings more social interaction with peers and of course, homework, tests and studying. We’ve been fortunate enough to have great teachers who have engaged our kids in the classroom and have made learning fun. School has been something our kids have always looked forward to and for that I’m grateful. But even though they are excited and eager to learn, the pressures to do well have not escaped them.
The modern public-school system is set up to build on what they’ve learned in previous years. From their earliest days in Kinder, kids see success in the tasks and worksheets they submit. This builds their confidence to do more, learn more and take the next step. But at some point, the child is going to reach a point where the work is a little more difficult than they are used to. Mistake are inevitable, but how they handle these mistakes will impact their future more than anything else.
In last week’s blog, I introduced you to Julie Lythcott-Haims and her book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success”. In one of the later chapters, she references a 2006 TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. He says, “We’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. [But] if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.” The phrase “frightened of being wrong” is heart breaking because we’ve known (know) at least one person(s) who can totally relate to and identify with that comment.
On this week’s Atomic Moms podcast, host Ellie Knaus interviewed author Sarah Ockwell-Smith about her new book Gentle Discipline. At the end of the podcast, Sarah closed with this thought “I’m learning as much as they’re learning and when you learn, you mess up. You don’t get things right, but that’s alright. It’s alright to make mistakes. It’s alright to slip up. It’s alright to have bad days. It’s alright to yell. It’s alright to do something wrong. It’s alright to mess up, as long as you realize you’re learning and you keep trying.”
After listening to this the first time, it really stuck with me, especially the part where she says, “when you learn, you mess up.” How many of us fully embrace that belief? I think most parents would agree that it rationally makes sense, but do our actions support it? It makes sense that when we are learning we should be trying new things, seeing if they work and trying again. Learning should be messy. But is it? Are we so worried about grades, test scores and how they will impact our child’s future, we forget mistakes are part of the process? Are we so worried that our child is falling behind or not performing as well as their peers, that we forget that everyone learns and processes things at their own pace? Even though you may not express these thoughts out loud, your children will instinctively pick up on these feelings.
While school is still a place to learn, it is also a place to achieve. Grades, school rankings and standardized tests are often more of a focus than learning and exploring new things and ideas. In the quest for the test, learning is no longer about learning from our mistakes, but learning to do it right the first time. It’s easy to say, “we learn the most from our mistakes” but are we showing our kids what that looks like in our daily actions? How will things change if you embrace the idea that learning is messy and mistakes are just part of the process?
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.