Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and blogger at Steady Mom
When we begin our homeschooling journey, we so desperately want to do things “right.” We want to use the right materials, books, curricula, and get the “right” results from our little ones.
It was with these thoughts and intentions in mind that I first came across the word “twaddle” — a word I’d never heard before my venture into home education began.
What is twaddle anyway?
According to dictionary.com, twaddle is “a term used to describe trivial or foolish speech or writing; nonsense.”
When it comes to books twaddle usually refers to dumbed-down literature for children. Examples include most books based on kids’ television shows, abridged versions of classic books that simplify the language and meaning, and books that don’t leave scope for a child’s imagination.
History of twaddle
Educational pioneer Charlotte Mason originally coined the term “twaddle.” Mason was a British educator who devoted her life to improving the quality of education in the 19th century.
From Mason’s book Home Education:
“Even for their earliest reading lessons, it is unnecessary to put twaddle into the hands of children. That children like feeble and tedious…story books, does not at all prove that these are wholesome food; they like lollipops but cannot live upon them.”
From her book School Education:
“The question resolves itself into–What manner of book will find its way with upheaving effect into the mind of an intelligent boy or girl? We need not ask what the girl or boy likes. She very often likes the twaddle of goody-goody story books, he likes condiments, highly-spiced tales of adventure.
We are all capable of liking mental food of a poor quality and a titillating nature; and possibly such food is good for us when our minds are in need of an elbow-chair; but our spiritual life is sustained on other stuff, whether we be boys or girls, men or women.”
Definition of a classic
If we don’t want excessive twaddle in our homes, then what’s the alternative?
Classics. Unfortunately, though, many of us mistakenly believe that classics are either boring or old. Nothing could be further from the truth!
In our home we pull much of our educational philosophy from the ideals of Thomas Jefferson Education. I love the TJEd definition of a classic, a work “that inspires greatness.”
This means that classics exist in every possible field of study, from sewing to surfing, and that we can easily tell if a work is a classic by the reaction it births within us. Does it inspire? Does it make our children want to learn more? Do we want to reread it because we discover something new each time? These are the titles we want to saturate our homes with.
And we don’t have to have too many to bring about positive results. I think of the books that line our walls as those we want to carry on a relationship with–those that are old friends. Others may come in and out–from the library or other sources–but those that stick with us are the ones we return to again and again.
The 80/20 principle
If we attempt to avoid twaddle, should we never let our kids look at a comic strip? I remember stressing over this point when I first found out about Charlotte Mason’s ideas.
I so badly wanted to get it “right,” but my attempts made me feel hypervigilant and unrelaxed. It sounded like exposure to twaddle would be the end of my kids and ruin their educations. (Can you tell I have an all or nothing personality? ;))
But what I’ve found is that if we surround our kids with the exceptional 80 or 90 percent of the time, we can flex with the other 10 to 20. A couple of years ago I even purchased a Go Diego Go early reader for my little people. They were really into the show at that stage and I hoped the tie-in might encourage them to want to read it.
Guess what? No permanent damage done!
I have high goals for my kids’ learning–a lengthening attention span, a love of language and the intricacies of words, and a developing vocabulary. Keeping twaddle out of our home helps us head in the direction of these goals.
But I don’t have to fret and worry about the occasional Dora the Explorer picture book either. A lollipop every once in a while won’t ruin a whole foods diet. Relax, go forth, and read!
Further reading on Charlotte Mason and twaddle:
- Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson
- A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola
- For the Children’s Sake by Susan S. MacAulay
- Choosing good books for your children
- 7 characteristics of a Charlotte Mason education
- Twaddle-free books for preschoolers
How do you deal with twaddle in your home?