Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg and Helping Kids Work Through Mistakes

beautiful oopsI first picked up Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg while shopping for a baby shower gift last year. Because I’d gone to an actual bookstore, I found myself thumbing through books I probably wouldn’t have noticed online. Beautiful Oops is a collection of mistakes turned into illustrations. A torn piece of paper, for example, becomes the toothy grin of a friendly alligator. Every time I see my children get angry about a mistake (especially in art), this book comes to mind. After a particularly frustrating discussion during an art project last week, I put together an impromptu activity around Beautiful Oops.

We started by reading the book itself. Then we sat down to draw pictures of a cactus. (It could have been anything, but I do love a good cactus.) While the kids picked out their colors, I scribbled all over their papers. Poor kids! After that, we figured out how to make our mistakes beautiful. We ended up with a scribble turned mountain, scribble turned pig (my personal favorite), and scribble turned bird. The activity itself went well, but the best part is the new vocabulary we have to talk about mistakes. It’s not uncommon to hear someone talk about a beautiful mistake. Even when they decide to set it aside or start over, there’s a lot less frustration.

While our activity was pretty simple, this is a picture book that could easily become a springboard for a discussion with older children or teens. Here are some of my other favorite resources for encouraging patience with mistakes:

Don’t Freak Out: 6 Ways to Correct Art & Calligraphy Errors from The Postman’s Knock. Surprisingly, some of the suggestions aren’t too far from my kindergartener’s handwriting practice. Who know you could make so many letters out of a C?

Art Made Easy podcast: Working Through Mistakes. Deep Space Sparkle is my favorite website for art projects and ideas, so I was thrilled to discover that Patty has a whole podcast episode devoted to the subject (including a reference to Beautiful Oops). 

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires is another great picture book all about working through the creative process. My favorite part of the book is a note from the author all about making mistakes (especially as a perfectionist) and how they can be beautiful.

All in all, it was a lesson I needed to hear too. Do you have any other favorite books or activities for helping budding artists be more patient with their mistakes? I’m sure it’s a topic we will need to discuss again.




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