May 092013

One little boy in the atrium today shuffled up to my desk looking sheepish.

I kept on with what I was doing and let him be for a few minutes. Finally I asked him if he needed something. “I think I poured too much water in the vase,” he said as he fidgeted with his shirt.

“Oh, well we have these rags for spills. Let’s go check it out,” I said. He had been arranging flowers, a classic Montessori practical life activity. Turned out the water hadn’t overflowed, but was full right up to the top of the vase, it’s curved surface quivering.

“Wow,” I burst out spontaneously, “Look at how neat this looks! Come and see how neat this water looks everyone!” The other kids left their work and came to see. Without thinking I heard myself say, “Sometimes a mistake turns into something really amazing…”

Somehow, by the grace of God, I have “Montessori mojo” when I’m in the atrium–which means I let the children be as independent as possible. I react or intervene as little as possible, and when I do, it’s often a much different response than the kids are expecting.

After a child drops something or makes a big ruckus, it is wonderful to see their surprise when I keep working at my desk as if nothing’s happened. In a world full of reactions, commentary, and correction, the spaciousness to solve one’s own problem in quiet, gracious, privacy is a gift.

Oh how I wish I could operate this way more often with my own kids! I need to be

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in the Montessori environment as much as the 3-6 year olds.

We are currently reading a book in our house called Mindset. I heard the author, research psychologist Carol Dweck, lecture a few weeks ago. She talks about how those with a fixed mindset are all about preserving their image of excellence, in whatever area.

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While those with a growth mindset are all about learning.

Thus, the fixed mindset folks are threatened by struggle and difficulty and mistakes, while the growth mindset people embrace these things. Dweck’s research shows across the board that children and adults with a growth mindset are ultimately much more successful in the long run (.

When we are at the point of greatest struggle, when the problem is not yet solved, when we have to push past innate gifts and employ perseverance, hard work, and creative strategies—this is the moment when we are literally getting smarter, as evidenced by imaging technology that shows new neural pathways and brain

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The upshot as we parent our kids (and re-parent ourselves) is that we need to stop praising intelligence or innate ability and praise the process instead—effort, strategies, concentration, struggle, persistence despite setbacks.

And when we or our kids make mistakes or encounter struggle, that’s the time to light up with anticipation. Because that is exactly the kind of moment when all the best learning happens.

“CONSIDER IT PURE JOY, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish it’s work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” –James 1:2-4

In the spirit of Dweck (who suggests we ask each other this question around the dinner table), “What terrific struggle did you have today?”



© 2012 Standing on Peace


  One Response to “Mistakes”

  1. […] (in school, sports, relationships, etc) and those who are focused on learning and growing.  In my last post I talked about the value of mistakes, and introduced Dweck’s idea of a fixed mindset versus a […]

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