Bettelheim was wrong by mattsteinglass
February 21, 2009, 11:33 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

My son told me the story of Hans and Gretel in Dutch this evening. This was extremely gratifying because, while Sasha’s Dutch has developed in tandem with her English ever since spending 3 months in Amsterdam with us at age 2, Sol has never had that kind of long-term immersion experience, and his Dutch has lagged. He understands it quite well, but he finds it difficult to use his vocabulary actively. He’s 4 now, which means he’s in the 3-hour-per-week Dutch school program the Dutch government subsidizes for its expats, but it’s taken quite some time for the school to click for him.

Anyway, this week they apparently studied a bunch of vocabulary centered around Hans and Gretel and the concept of opposites — fat and thin, etc. — and this evening while doing the homework (coloring in a picture of the witch’s house) he launched into the story, with glowing eyes, ecstatically employing the vocabulary (the witch, fat, eat him up, the stick, thin, the oven, dead). The main thing was the grammar: he said wenn hij dik was, zij wilde hem opeten, which correctly puts the verb at the end.

Anyway, it was clear that the gruesome and terrifying story had completely riveted him, and that was what made all this vocabulary and these grammatical phrases stick in his head so vividly. Which leads me to conclude that Bettelheim was wrong: fairy tales don’t work because they let kids deal with their chthonic emotions; they work because they’re incredible vocabulary aids.


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