Letting Children Learn From Mistakes

letting children learn from mistakes

Warm summer days remind me of my first cooking experiences.

The summer I was six I longed to make cookies. The neighbor girl had an Easybake oven, and we made unsatisfying miniscule cakes from baby boxes. I yearned to cook real food from a recipe.

Dreaming of a fabulous from-scratch concoction I raided my mother’s kitchen. In our playhouse kitchen, peanut butter, honey and raw oats alchemized into unbaked clumps. My playmates and younger sisters dutifully ate the uncooked cookies, trusting their older, but not wiser, chef. Even today, my sisters are wary of any cookies I bring to the table. ”You made these?” they ask.

My mother took mercy on us all–on my sisters for being guileless guinea pigs; and on me for reading and sighing over the Betty Crocker cookbook.

Snickerdoodles. I wanted to make snickerdoodles. All by myself. I envisioned the smiling faces of my friends and family as we shared a warm cinnamon creation. Made by me. What a joyful moment is was when my mother finally said, ”Go. Go make snickerdoodles.”

Pulling the step stool to the counter I reached for the red-and-white-checked Betty Crocker cookbook, turning to the recipe’s memorized page number. I read. I measured. I stirred. I rolled balls of dough in cinnamon sugar and placed them on the cookie sheets, which my mother placed in the oven for me.

The air filled with the aroma of success. I called my friends to come have a cookie. We sat on our patio and savored a mid-morning snack.

After lunch I served the last of the batch of cookies. What had been warm and chewy were now cold, hard and more like a deer lick than a cookie.

“How much salt did you put in the cookies?” Mom asked.

I reached into the drawer and pulled out the 1/4 measuring cup.

All Mom said was, “I think you might want to read the recipe again.”

1/4 teaspoon is different than 1/4 cup? Oops.

My error taught me more about cooking than being told about my mistake or watching from the sidelines.

My mother gave me the freedom to do something I really wanted to do. She didn’t try to control the process or the outcome. She let me experience my missteps as well as enjoy my success.

My mother understood that it is more important for children to do activities that that they are interested in, than to do things perfectly.

So what if you don’t know a measuring cup from a measuring spoon? You’ll learn.


1 cup shortening

1 and 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 and 3/4 cups flour

2-teaspoons cream of tartar

1-teaspoon baking soda

1/4-teaspoon salt

Cinnamon sugar: 3 teaspoons sugar and 3 teaspoons cinnamon, mixed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cream shortening and sugar. Blend in eggs. Stir in rest of ingredients (except cinnamon sugar) until well mixed. Roll into small balls, about the size of a walnut. Roll in cinnamon sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Be careful not to overcook. Makes 4 to 5 dozen cookies.

Note: Changes the recipe by using butter instead of shortening and only 3/4 cup sugar with delicious results.

Building Cathedrals Not Walls

5 Responses to “Letting Children Learn From Mistakes”

  1. Serena

    I agree that letting kids make mistakes (and also allowing ourselves and other adults to do the same) is very important. I think adults often see the applicability of this in practical life skills and do not realize the importance of also allowing mistakes in more “typical” school subjects like reading, math and science. Some of the great knowledge we have today is because of the mistakes of others. Mistakes in any subject help children grow.

  2. Great example.

    I always advise my teachers and also parents about letting children make mistakes. Give them the opportunity to explore and learn from mistakes.

    Our practical life area didn’t have any item that broke for the longest time. Children are more careful in handling the breakable items. Thank you for all the guidance you give all of us.

    • Dayani,

      Self-correction is a powerful learning tool.

      It amazes me that the breakable items in our Montessori classrooms rarely get broken, I think because the whole class self-corrects when something does break.

      Thanks for sharing your experience about that,too.


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