Learning is Messy Business: Valuing Effort Over Perfection


Beautiful calendars are nice, clean weather charts are easier to read, and I could have set up our new September calendar by myself on August 31st, but I’d rather Maxwell learn how to draw numbers, shapes, and patterns; color in his own graph; and take ownership over creating our new month. Messy= Maxwell actively learning.

I won’t get on my soap box very often on this blog, but I want to encourage everyone with little ones to actively demonstrate an appreciation for effort over outcome. It’s still important to value accuracy, but when a child feels like trying and failing is okay they’re more likely to take risks and recover more readily from failures. By contrast, when they feel like things need to be perfect and they fear their capabilities may fall short they may not try at all.

I’ve seen this in all ages as a teacher. Students in my preschool classroom would cry the first time they tried to use scissors and say the phrase that I eventually banned “I can’t do it.” I gointo this a little more in my post While Little Brother Was Napping… the Scissors Came Out

The stakes were much higher than whether or not a heart could be cut out of folded paper in my middle school classroom. Repeating 8th grade was a very real risk for one of my students who could discuss complex historical events in private , but was too afraid of seeming stupid or not cool to complete challenging assignments or participate in class.

It’s not just kids who benefit from having a growth mindset. I think we all probably know someone who is worried “they won’t do it right” or “don’t know where to start” when it comes to teaching their child. As a result they don’t start, and they and their child miss out on the fleeting opportunity to learn and create together.

Don’t get me wrong, I can get hung up on getting things “just right”. I want my boys to abide by the old adage “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right”, but more importantly I want them to see that getting things right doesn’t happen on the first try and hardwork and persistence are inextricably linked to all real success.

So, get messy, make mistakes, and laugh as you learn with your little ones. Our time with them is too precious to worry about perfect.

Here are some useful resources if you’d like to learn more about the growth mindset, malleable intelligence, and persistence in learning:

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

HINT: Don’t tell your kids that they are. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on “process”—not on intelligence or ability—is key to success in school and in life
By Carol S. Dweck | Jan 1, 2015

The Growth Mindset


True Grit: The Best Measure of Success and How to Teach It

11 tips on how to teach persistence/grit