Nov 22, 2009

"Understood MeiWei"

There is a book we're reading right now that should be on every helicoptering parent's reading list. I'm sure glad it's on ours, and I didn't think I was that much of a pilot.

It's called Understood Betsy.

It was written by my new educational heroine, Dorothy Canfield Fisher (I've even gotten her name memorized) back in 1916. For the many ways Mrs. Fisher contributed to our country, she was named one of America's most influential women by Eleanor Roosevelt, which included the introduction of the Montessori method of teaching to the US. There are many facets of a Montessori education, not the least of which is the child's self-pacing, but that is not what matters here so much. What matters is this book, and what it says to both children and parents.

And this is what it says.

To children, "You'll figure it out. You have what it takes. Have confidence. Try. Fail if necessary."

To parents, it says, "Let THEM figure it out. They DO have what it takes. Have confidence--in them. It's okay to fail."

I have been convicted by this book in my handling of MeiWei. I thought that because I derided over-protective parents who would fight all their children's battles and protect them even from the "dangers" of walking home from the busstop unchaperoned that I was not a 'chopper parent. But because she is rather clumsy and careless, I have gotten into a bad habit of hovering to avoid disasters. This has led to doing things for her. That in turn has created a child that lacks self-confidence, initiative, and risk-taking. It has fed her already innate desire to remain a baby.

The book is extremely funny and at the same time tragic when we realize how much of Betsy's life--nine years--has been wasted by her well-meaning guardian, Aunt Frances. Frances parodies today's helicopter parents: walking Betsy to school every day because she is "so shy", creating in her a fear of dogs, dirt, food, other children, and heaven knows what else. The child even fantasizes her own death since she believes that she is so "frail." Only when fate forces her to be taken in by the "horrid" Putney cousins, quintessential unflappable, unimpressible, mind-your-own-business Yankees, does the chopper land and does Betsy soar.

Understood Betsy is an AmblesideOnline Year 2 reading requirement for children around Betsy's age. What it should be is a reading requirement for every parent who wants to truly understand what a child needs.

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