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Making Mistakes

  • 1.  Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-27-2021 12:04 PM
    Hi all,

    How do you respond when children make mistakes? I'm interested in gathering examples of positive and constructive responses.

    What do you do...

    • When children answer questions incorrectly, like a child who answers a question about shapes by saying "The moon is a triangle"?
    • When they accidentally do something harmful, like spilling paint on another child's clothing?
    • When they say something biased or hurtful, like "Boys are smart and girls are dumb"?

    Thanks in advance!

    Ann Gadzikowski

    Ann Gadzikowski
    Director of Early Learning
    Encyclopedia Britannica
    Evanston IL

  • 2.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-28-2021 06:35 AM
    Not exactly a response to your question, but yesterday the SLP in my class called a child by the wrong name.  When one of the children corrected her, she said, without missing a beat, "Oh my goodness, I made a mistake!  Let me try again!  Good Morning,  Sally."  Then she moved on with her lesson.  I thought it was a great way to acknowledge, in a natural, matter of fact way,  that we all make mistakes and that we get another chance!  I plan to make some mistakes when I get to school next week:)
    Mary Ellen

    Mary Ellen Forty
    Westford MA

  • 3.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-28-2021 07:55 AM
    I would always acknowledge the child's effort. I would then provide cues to help the child get the correct answer,

    Schjuna Carson
    Eastampton NJ

  • 4.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-28-2021 08:07 AM
    When a child gives an incorrect answer I will ask them to try again. I will usually say " That's a good try or guess, but let's look at the moon, does it have corners?" Or trace the moon then give them another chance to answer the question. When they accidentally spill something we talk about the difference between an accident or a choice that is done on purpose. We still need to say I'm sorry and I will provide the script. " I'm sorry ,I didn't mean to spill the paint." As for saying something mean or hurtful, we talk about feelings and how words can hurt or correct the perception of boys are and girls are not...

    Lois Buck
    Preschool Director
    St. Aloysius Preschool
    Bratenahl OH

  • 5.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-28-2021 10:13 AM
    Hello Ann,
    I wonder if the child knows their shapes or is just being funny or creative. Sometimes it's hard for us to judge where they are, I think I would just run with it and let the child create their triangle moon. Preschool teaches shapes many times and many ways, I bet this little person will know their shapes before kindergarten.

    We all know the spiller is expecting to get scolded or worse so keeping their feelings and emotions in my thoughts, I would use lots of I messages; I spill sometimes too and I feel embarrassed and worried when I spill, I know the parents understand that spills happen at school, and/or I bet if we all work together we can get this cleaned up. Sometimes when encouraging a child to apologize just piles more embarrassment on what they are already feeling. Apologies don't usually mean much to little ones, so balancing out the feelings might be a way to think about the situation.

    This little one doesn't know what they said about stereotypes actually means, it may be a family belief and while we do not want to encourage this belief, we need to be respectful of what the child was told by someone they love and admire. With that said, once again I would use an I message, I think boys are smart and girls are smart. I wouldn't do a ton of reteaching, if it continues; don't argue with the child. Bring in the family and have a short discourse on the comment(s) you are hearing and ask what they say or do at home. Keep it positive as you can, we really do not know what goes on before a child comes to school.

    Terri Kelley
    Elizabeth CO

  • 6.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-28-2021 10:50 AM

    These are very different scenarios! An accident isn't parallel to a cognitive error - the response requires knowing how to apologize and attempting to fix the damage if that's possible.
    I'd use the first and third scenarios as springboards for practicing thinking skills and linking conclusions to evidence. Rather than responding with a statement, my first response would always be a question: (in an inquisitive, not accusatory tone) "What makes you say that?"
    Their answer will let you know whether it's a mistaken idea or a mistake in language (knowing what a triangle is but using the wrong word) or something else. From there I'd guide them through a reasoning process sticking with questions as much as possible so they can figure out the mistake for themselves. "What makes a triangle different from other shapes?" "Could you draw a triangle?" "How is it the same or different from these pictures of the moon?" As they notice the differences you can note that things that are very different often have different labels, "so we call this a triangle and this a circle..."
    You can use the same process to challenge the gender slight. Instead of treating the comment as a horrific insult, I'd just treat it as factually wrong. Asking how they know, or what evidence makes them say that will give information about whether this is a general idea they've heard someplace and are testing, or if they're responding to a particular incident that made them mad and they're being mean. The conversation and response continues from there. 

    Dr. Faith Rogow
    Ithaca NY

  • 7.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-28-2021 12:29 PM
    One of the benefits of most Early Childhood learning environments is the time we are able to devote to opportunistic, Socratic learning. Simple, incorrect statements tend to offer many possibilities for opportunistic learning. We ask children questions about their reasons for the statement and encourage them to look at the evidence that supports the statement .

    "Can you show me how that works?"

    Respect for the child's powers of observation and assessment during this process will support the child's developing confidence and competence as a critical thinker. Replacing an incorrect fact with a correct one is not the primary goal. The primary goal might be coaching the child through a process of reflection and scientific method.

    "Let's find some others and see if we think they are the same or different."

    We are at our best when we demonstrate respect for alternate viewpoints along the way.

    "Oh, I see what you mean. These triangles have two pointed ends here and another part that bulges out. This crescent moon shope does the same thing." 

    Cases of opinion which we cannot let stand are more complicated. This is especially true when the opinion may have come from an elder the child trusts or admires and the critical thinking needed to address the issue may exceed the child's developmental level. In these cases, I usually choose brief, respectful, reasoned dissent.

    "I have met some people who think of it that way. In my life, I haven't seen it that way at all. I see how Amy and Rex each built block structures that were interesting and complex. Rex supported his in three places so that he could build it very high. Amy created a spiral pathway so that the toy horses could enter. They each built something wonderful and I was glad for each one." [Pause and hope that the child wants to furnish additional examples. Check, just in case the child is open to a different example or extension. If the child is not open, which is likely, move on.]

    Jeanne deMarrais
    The Mulberry Tree
    Santa Monica CA

  • 8.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-28-2021 02:52 PM

    Hello All! This may be a long response!

    I believe when a child makes a mistake, we can approach them with a couple of options. Firstly, I always acknowledge the mistake and discuss the details of it.

    Referring to the example, "the moon is a triangle," I wouldn't be too critical at all. I would ask the child, why do they think it's a triangle? And agree to their response with, "I see why you would say that". Then, I would pull out both shapes, the crescent and the triangle, along with a picture of a moon and ask them, which one does the moon looks like?

    Ofcourse, there are time when an older child knows and they just want to be silly, that I will ignore, because I believe once they see you laugh, they will keep being silly, during circle time.

    Spilling paint: "Uh-Oh! Let's hurry and get that clean, so paint won't get everywhere." Let's apologize to (child's name) and ask if they're okay.

    Lastly, kids pick up on what's being taught. So I would reinforce positive discussions about how boys and girls are smart, get books with both gender leaders and occupations. 

    Thank you all for reading this far!

    Marie Grace
    Owner, The Learning Curve Studio
    Houston TX

  • 9.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-29-2021 07:45 AM
    I would tell the child that they were close and try looking at the shape again. I use positive words to help them and not bring them down.

    Kaitlyn Mace
    WVU at Parkersburg
    Spencer WV

  • 10.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-29-2021 08:58 AM
    I think these are great questions to bring to the table.  I'm excited to hear responses, I will defiantly use this as a resource.

    Chanell Hunter-Gordon
    Sr. Early Childhood Specialist
    Workforce Solutions North Central Texas
    Arlington TX

  • 11.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-29-2021 09:06 AM
    Depending on the situation, I might ask the child to tell me more. I would want to see if he has a different perspective or simple doesn't know shape names.   For a younger child, if I had  a picture of the moon and some paper shapes, I might ask him to show me the one that looks the most like the moon.I might also show several other similar shapes and name the shape, then ask the child if they look the similar to the moon.  Depending on the child, his skill level and what I was teaching, I might also offer a sphere as an option for one of the shapes. I am assuming that the teacher was looking for the word circle as the answer.

    If it was in a group and I didn't have time to explore more with that child, I might simply thank him or her for sharing her ideas and follow up later. If would also depend on the child's level of confidence and if the child would be upset about giving a wrong answer.   Some kids wouldn't others would.  If another child points out the first child is wrong, I would probably quickly address that we are all learning, all ideas all welcomed,  and  sometimes there is more than one right answer since the moon appears to change shape.

    Kay Witmer
    Chambersburg PA

  • 12.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-29-2021 09:12 AM
    A response to a child that makes a mistake (spilling paint), I like to use a Conscious Discipline  phrase "Oops you made a mistake, you are still beautiful to me".

    Chanell Hunter-Gordon
    Sr. Early Childhood Specialist
    Workforce Solutions North Central Texas
    Arlington TX

  • 13.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-29-2021 12:23 PM
    Hello, Ann

    I think the most important thing to remember when responding to a child's "mistake", is that we are here to teach.  When we come at it from, "they simply have not learned this skill yet" approach, we automatically respond with more patience and grace.

    From a speech perspective; say a child says, "Him took my block!"  I would suggest responding with, "Oh, he took your block?"  So instead of calling attention to this child's mistake, I would simply say it back correctly, giving them the opportunity to hear it.

    Your example of the child saying the wrong shape, I would respond with, "You are right, a triangle IS a shape, let's look closely at what shape the moon might be."  By responding this way, we are encouraging that child with what they had "correct" and building on it.  Some refer to this as a Growth Mindset.

    Your example with the paint, I don't know that I would call it harmful, but the main lesson we want the child to learn from this is to be aware of others, or maybe they need to slow their body down, or maybe they need to ask for help.  Whatever skill they seem to be missing, that is where our focus should be.  This scenario can easily be turned into a shaming one, which is what should be avoided at all costs.  I would respond with, "Oh, I see an accident happened, how can you help me make it better?"  When we are solution focused, we are teaching that they have the power to help, make it better, feel empowered.  When given this opportunity, most children enjoy participating in this and end up initiating it on their own later on down the road.  This is what we want to teach in the long run :)

    Your last example; obviously children repeat what they hear so I would look at it the same way, 'they are lacking a skill, information, so I need to teach.'  In a calm, slow voice, I would respond, "Hmm, that sounds very hurtful to girls."  "Do you remember when you were building yesterday in the block area with Sara and the bridge kept collapsing?  I could tell you were both very frustrated, but you kept trying.  Sara kept trying too.  Both of you kept trying until you finally got it to balance!  That tells me that boys AND girls can do hard things, especially when we work together."  I would focus on a growth mindset over a fixed mindset (smart vs. dumb).

    I hope this was helpful, I appreciate your inquiry! :)

    Kari Pralle
    Kenaitze Indian Tribe Head Start/Early Head Start
    Kenai AK

  • 14.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-29-2021 06:48 PM
    Hi everyone,
    Just want to say thank you for all the terrific responses and suggestions. This has been so helpful!
    Ann Gadzikowski

    Ann Gadzikowski
    Director of Early Learning
    Encyclopedia Britannica
    Evanston IL

  • 15.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-30-2021 11:34 AM
    I like the idea of being solution-focused when children make mistakes. The two mistakes described are not the same type and should be handled differently. Knowledge of child development will offer guidance on how to engage with the child and how you react to each mistake.

    Young children learn using their bodies. Their awareness of where their bodies are in space is limited.

    When I was the director of a coop nursery school, I bent down to talk to a 4-year-old child who had a paintbrush in their hands. The child was not aware of where the paintbrush was in relation to my head. As she turned around, the paintbrush with red paint brushed across the top of my hair. This, to me, was a developmental issue. I pointed out that my hair had been painted but because I realized that the child had not done this purposely, I laughed. I pointed out to her what happened because of where I was and where she held the paintbrush. Eventually, this child will be more aware of where her body is in space.

    The spilling of the paint may have been unintentional but that does not change how I would react to it. I might caution the child that they have to be careful when they are carrying paint, be aware of the people around them. But, then I would ask the child, as the previous writer wrote, how we can fix this situation and make sure the child engages in the clean-up.

    As for pointing to a triangle as the shape of the moon. There are so many ways to approach this with the child using their body to understand the different shapes: using their finger to trace around the moon and then trace the perimeter of a triangle to see if they are the same; superimposing a triangle on a moon or the other way around; affirming that a triangle is a shape and asking her to engage more using her body to determine which shape resembles the moon.

    As someone else remarked, the child may not know the names of the shapes accurately and just said triangle because that is the one whose name she knows. It is important to delve into the child's thinking by asking thoughtful questions in order to know how to solve that child's problem or promote the child's understanding of shapes and their names.

    Nora Krieger, PhD
    Associate Professor Emerita/Past Chair NJEEPRE
    Bloomfield College/NJ Educators Exploring the Practices of Reggio Emilia
    Highland Park, NJ

  • 16.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-30-2021 11:29 AM

    So far the kids who respond, have to give a credit while as a teacher should bring some project to help them realize if the answer wasn't the same, it is necessary to give the answer right or wrong from the kid perspective will be more developed kid experience of learning skills. 

    Children who are trying to overcome by using gender should help them realize how to do activity the same project with differences gender. By doing a lot opportunities to realize that's every individual has capable of doing it and at the same times a teacher have to be close to them to help them understanding. 

    Aryati Mowll
    Home daycare (postpone)
    New Brighton MN

  • 17.  RE: Making Mistakes

    Posted 03-30-2021 01:51 PM

    I just want to say, that these were all great scenarios, I'm sure we all come by on a daily basis.  For me, reading all of your supportive answers, is definitely going to help me with my pre schoolers.

    Kimberly Farrell
    Teacher Assistant
    Head Start
    Mount Holly NJ