The Importance of Making Mistakes

and How Hands-on Learning Can Benefit Your Child

Boston, MA

A common response to failure is- “It is about the journey, rather than the destination.” While this phrase is on brink of being platitudinal, many do not give it adequate thought, despite its overuse. In fact, modern-day education lacks this concept, where many institutions implement learning styles that discourage failure, and thus, the journey is compromised in order to get to the destination: the right answer. A habitual method in education is memorization of facts or problems in repetition to increase retention. This practice not only conditions students that memorization is the key to intelligence, but more importantly, that mistakes equal failure.


Thus, students learn that failure is negative. On the contrary, treating mistakes as a way to learn, rather than a failure, conditions children to find the value in effort, encouraging resiliency when attempting to find solutions in both schooling and real world applications. This is the cornerstone of a growth mindset.


Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University, tested this concept in a study of hundreds of 5th graders in New York City school systems. One group of students was praised for their intelligence when learning new topics, while a second was commended on their effort, regardless of high scores or correct answers. When both groups of children were challenged to take a test designed for 8th grade, the results were surprising. The students who had been praised on the basis of effort had a 30% increase in their intelligence testing score, while the group of students that had been praised for their intelligence experienced a 20% drop in score. In addition, the students praised on effort worked extremely hard and had a more positive outlook about their mistakes, whereas the children praised for intelligence were more easily discouraged.


In the end, those taught that right answers are the only “right” way to learn, will shy away from challenges for fear of errors. On the other hand, teaching children to embrace their mistakes makes them more resilient, encouraging them to try new things in the face of obstacles, rather than feeling embarrassed or shying away. For this reason, speaking openly and implementing styles of learning that validate mistakes and instill a growth mindset, result in higher confidence, commitment, and openness to learning new things. Based on this concept, experimental learning and a growth mindset is proven to be a more beneficial method for children’s education, showing that focusing on the journey, rather than the destination, is more than just a cliché.

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Penguin Random House LLC, New York. 2006.

Photos by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

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