Mistakes help us gain skills

Nadya Mitskevitch, artist and book designer, Moscow, Russia
Illustration from a book about a kitten, The Winter Fairy Tale

Today I'm thinking about something a child said when I introduced scissor work activities. This is what happened.

I set up the activity and begin by introducing how to hold and give and receive a pair of scissors.

“Ask me for the scissors. Say, ‘May I please have the scissors?’”

Ansel asks, “May I please have the scissors?” I hold the scissors so the handle part faces him. He takes them. I ask, “May I please have the scissors?” He passes them back to me, handles first. 

I put my fingers in the handle loops and slowly, very slowly begin to cut on a thick line drawn on a strip of paper. Silence grows. I cut a second strip and accidentally miss the line. “Oops. I made a mistake.”

Elijah says, “I never make mistakes.”

I look at that child and mirror back what I hear with a tone of curiosity, “You never make mistakes.” I put my scissors down, pause, and say, “Children, maybe I forgot to tell you this. Really, really open your ears.” I smile and say, “I want to tell you one of the most important lessons of all.” I notice he is listening.

“I make many mistakes. We all make mistakes. Mistakes help us learn. You have the freedom to make and learn from your mistakes.” I raise both arms in the air and exclaim, “Yes! Mistakes are okay. They help us take chances and try new things.”

“I make mistakes,” says Maggie. “Me too,” says Brennyn.

“Is anyone afraid of making a mistake?” I ask.

“I don’t want to make a mistake,” says Elijah.  I nod my head, “I understand that. Sometimes I’m afraid to try something because of messing up and feeling hurt. Here’s a story (told by Alfred Adler) that helps me."

“Think about swimming. What do you do when you learn to swim? You make mistakes, don’t you? You try to keep your head above the water and sometimes you get a mouthful. And what happens? You make other mistakes, and when you’ve made all the mistakes you possibly can without drowning, and some of those mistakes many times, what do you learn? That you can swim! Well, life is just the same as learning to swim. Do not be afraid of making mistakes, for there is no other way of learning how to live!”

"Like riding a bike," says Elijah.

"Yes, like swimming or riding a bike."

Cutting work stays on the shelf throughout the year. Paper color and line shapes swap out and children immediately check for these changes each week. I make my own cutting strips to start and then download strips from Montessori MaterialsLiving Montessori Now lists resources and ideas for cutting activities such as a shape Maggie cut and decorates. They help children gain cutting skills. And they help them get familiar with messing up and continuing to practice.

Fiskar scissors is a brand many teachers prefer. These modern scissors are for both left and right-handers.

Ansel cuts then places his cut strips in an envelope. Samples are sent home with other work. 

When it snows, we’ll study snowflake shapescatch them on our tongues while outdoors, and use our cutting skills to make snowflakes to decorate the windows.