At camp, we celebrate mistakes as marvelous because we want kids to embrace, not fear, failure and setbacks. If they’re making a mistake, we hope it’s because they’re in what psychologists call the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), experiencing just the right amount of challenge—not so much that the task at hand is impossible, but enough that they’re pushing past their comfort zone. And it’s there, smack dab in the ZPD, that the best learning can happen. It’s simply a question of how to guide that learning.
It can be tough to shift kids’ perceptions—and ours—of mistakes from secrets to be ashamed of to marvelous events worthy of celebration. Here’s how to start:
#1: Bring mistakes out into the open.
Create a Marvelous Mistake wall in your home (we love these at camp) and have every member of the family stick post-it notes to it detailing their latest failure. Celebrate family members for stretching themselves to try something new and talk about the challenges, risks and mistakes that come along with it.
#2: Stop thinking of all mistakes the same way.
Share the four types of mistakes with your kids so they can start diagnosing each mistake they make and figuring out what they can learn from it. Bring your own mistakes to the table and ask your kids for help in classifying them.
#3: Note (and celebrate!) progress.
As you and your kids learn through productive mistakes, track how the places you mess up shift. For example, maybe your kid used to make mistakes in the beginning of a difficult guitar solo and now can make it almost to the end without skipping a beat. Calling this out reinforces how operating outside of our comfort zones and learning from mistakes can help us all achieve our goals.
Mistakes are a regular part of life and an essential part of innovation—but they’re only marvelous if we can normalize them, celebrate them and figure out what they’re made of to get the most learning out of every one.