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?
Johanna @ My Home Tableau
I absolutely love this approach and it is something I have learned along the way. I definitely tend toward an all-or-nothing approach. I have since adopted a more relaxed approach. I pick out probably 90% of their books, but when we have a library run every few weeks the kids get to pick out some books…and it isn’t usually high quality! I don’t stress about that.
I also just recently got some Thomas early readers because, you know, my boy loves Thomas. 🙂
Johanna @ My Home Tableau’s latest post: 5 Tips to Maximize Your Mornings
I love the “no stress” rule – there have been lots of things in our lives over the past several years (like a commitment to eating only whole foods!) that have caused me stress, and I think your 80/20 rule is what I’m evolving into. It’s taken me 3 kids to reach this point, but I’m finally starting to see the trade-off between “what I know is best” and “what’s realistic.” You couldn’t have told me, in my 20s, that there would be a day when I couldn’t do it all…but it’s here. 🙂
Jeni’s latest post: Photoshop Elements for Bloggers: a Video Workshop
Before I had an independent reader, I chose The Good Stuff not only because of the better vocabulary, but because they were more enjoyable to read aloud, and since I was doing the reading, I chose what I wanted. More twaddle has been introduced along the way, but it tends to be the ones that the child reads to himself. There are exceptions, but I draw the line at reading comic books aloud – drives me crazy. You can be sure when we visit the inlaws, though, my son is hunkered down somewhere with Beetle Bailey! It’s stretched his vocabulary in unusual ways!
LOVE this! Thanks for sharing!
Gini’s latest post: Funnies: Thumb-sized (and Listener)
I find that I “indulge”, or even promote using twaddle in some cases or with some media types , while I don’t tolerate it in other forms .
For example, when it comes to books, we do learn and read the classics, but for my child with working memory issues, it is very helpful to read an “Illustrated Classics” version, which condenses the story, and simplifies the vocabulary. This helps to build a basic understanding for the story. If he likes the story, he may move on to listening to an unabridged audio book of the story. Then, he might tackle the unabridged classic in book form, if he is that interested, or if I feel that he should.
When it comes to music, we listen to many types. For example, I don’t think classical music is the only “good” type of music, but we explore all forms. There are some forms I want to limit exposure to, such as music with explicit lyrics, or unhealthy attitudes. (I think of these as “harmful audio-twaddle”) Yet, we enjoy pop music in general, and find it as good for the soul as any form.
Since my kids are largely visual learners, we use many videos and tv programs for learning. I am extremely selective here, and we watch mainly educational programming on PBS, some BBC, for example, and other videos and film that have educational/spirit-lifting value. (including some films that are based on books) We stay away from the multitude of what I see as “video twaddle” out there- Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, etc- that worship certain attitudes and advertisement, and deliver them to viewers as an avalanche.
I feel the same way about movies that are produced for the screen. (with some exceptions over the ages) There is much twaddle out there, I think. We see very few movies in the theater, unless we know in advance that it doesn’t contain too much twaddle. We occasionally indulge in a twaddle movie, but it isn’t often.
I like your explanation of good material as it’s ability to inspire and encourage a child reach out for more. I think this is a helpful definition of a particular material being enriching or twaddle, for any given child.
I try to balance promoting better books with promoting them making their own choices (which sometimes, not always, means twaddle). But sometimes, after reading the same junk over and over, I tell them I just can’t read it again. There’s only so much I can take of My Little Ponies.
Heather Caliri’s latest post: One Woman’s Yes: Lori Pickert
Great article. I grit my teeth and read those Clifford the Big Red Dog and Go Diego Go books when my kids bring them to me, but when they’re napping I hide them. I just have too–they are SO boring to read, and there’s no real value. So I hide them and we’re safe until they find them buried deep in a drawer… But you’re right. No real damage done. To the kids anway. The parents might lose a few brain cells…
CharityHawkins@TheHomeschoolExperiment.com‘s latest post: Ridiculously Simple Autumn Leaf Art
“to” not “too” . Sorry.
CharityHawkins@TheHomeschoolExperiment.com‘s latest post: Ridiculously Simple Autumn Leaf Art
Hi jamie! I appreciate your definition, that’s helpful. Enjoyed this. I think where I differ is that i feel that some twaddle may play a helpful role in assisting and encouraging play. Star Wars, for example. Would one call a star wars comic book twaddle? Probably most would, but we say read and enjoy! We read plenty of quality read alouds. And I have some assigned reading. But we find that some of these comic books (remember Uncle Scrooge?) really tease out and encourage imagination and play. Our kids enter into the story, legos and all. So, for us, we are okay with a percentage a little more like 60/40. I’m wondering if it goes in seasons, too, as a child ages. Anyways…again, appreciate your thoughts.
This is not just a homeschool thing! I only wish this post would get wider readership!what you write is so very true!!
Charlotte Mason was the first person I ever read about home education. I loved reading her approach! And yeah, that word didn’t make a bit of sense to me, but it encompasses such a huge amount of stuff that’s pretty common in our day. It makes me wonder what it meant back then?! haha
Anyway, thanks for the post; it is such a great encouragement to invite our kids to enjoy the best of what’s out there. 🙂
Lana Wilkens’s latest post: getting acquainted
In our home we’ve been fortunate to receive boxes and boxes of used books from friends and family. I’ll admit it…I secretly unpack these books in the dead of night so that I can wade through the twaddle and choose just the very loveliest and entertaining books. I know that if my kids see the twaddle they would react as though it was candy! Such a good analogy!
I do let them choose an occasional “tv character” book from the library, but even then, they only know PBS shows so they can’t be all that bad! As opposed to, say, the kids shows on the rest of tv!
Bleh! They make me want to pull my hair out! I’m dreading the day my kids find out about the “other” tv channels!
Megan’s latest post: Five In A Row: The Glorious Flight
Great post!!! I have long struggled with the amount of ‘twaddle’ that exist in childrens books. Our library is over-flowing with these books. Unfortunately I very rarely visit the library with my children in tow. I go alone so I can spend time sifting through the childrens books and selecting ones with ‘substance’, this is a tedious task!! Glad I am not the only one and thanks for the links at the end of your post!
Sharni’s latest post: Once in a Blue Moon
I agree on this Jamie. Simplification of the language may seem comforting initially but it eliminates the scope of learning. I have always encouraged my children to read the original version of the books, as even though they seem difficult initially but gradually they enhance and enrich vocabulary to a great extent.
I like a good variety. I like some books that are just light sometimes that don’t take a huge amount of brain power to read and digest, and sometimes I want something that challenges my brain. There is a time and place for both.
A steady diet of only light reading does not feel right, but always reading books that only tax your brain is not healthy as well, I have seen what that can do to me as well.
Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: Week 6 of school
Love this post! The 80/20 rule applies to so many areas of life, including our children’s reading! I’m also an all or nothing sort of gal. When we progressed to a more real/whole food approach to eating, I stressed over every piece of processed food my little ones would take in. Although I do my best to feed healthy, real food, the 80/2o principle has helped me relax a little when grandma brings a treat or attend a bbq, or we make a fun junk-food exception.
As a beginning homeschooler who wants to do things right, applying this same principle to our literature just makes sense. One of my biggest goals for my children is to develop in them a love of reading, knowing that if they do, there is no end to what they can learn or do. We do our best to surround them with high-quality literature, but don’t stress if they pull a little “twaddle” off the library shelf once in awhile. Thanks for the encouragement!
One adult’s “twaddle” is another kid’s gateway to learning to love fiction. I have a homeschooler who has always hated fiction (even when he was in public school), thinks it’s a waste of his time when he could “actually learn real stuff” (his words) in nonfiction books. Then came Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I can’t stand those books. But he reads them voluntarily, enjoys them, and I’m not going to argue with him over it (or his love of comic books) because there are a thousand other more serious ways to screw a kid up. This isn’t one of them. I don’t insist he read 8 other books I personally deem worthy for every one DoaWK book or comic he reads. I personally think that’s too autocratic. If I just must “get it right” (I’m not sure how that’s even defined…tests well on reading exams, a love of reading, a love of the pursuit of knowledge?) and absolutely insist my boys have to read such and such classic, then I better be willing to sit down and read it aloud to them.
Please give me your suggestions that’s not twaddle for each age group. Does anyone have a list of books that are really meaningful?
I find this harder as my kids get older. ..my 10 year old reads a lot if twaddle on her own…I always read the good stuff aloud but there is a lot of junky junior novels out there and she reads alot. How do you deal with this ad your kids get to be independent readers? I am also fine with some junk but definitely not as much as she reads!
Emily, I’d recommend getting a guide like Honey for a Child’s Heart or Read for the Heart and letting that be your daughter’s “catalog.” She can browse and request books that you get for her from the library. Then when/if you go together, you might have a limit of the number of those kind of books she brings home. Like one of each series, but maybe search for a higher quality version of the types of series she enjoys as well and bring those to her as an option.
While we do draw the line at absolute garbage (inappropriate language, unnecessary violence), we allow our children to read what many deem “twaddle” as well as “good” literature. We find nothing wrong with promoting imagination (gasp!) as well as a good vocabulary. Our children have initiated many conversations relating to real life after reading Justin Case, Ramona, Henry Huggins, etc. We even read Harry Potter – AND we’re Catholic! Double gasp! Our kids have awesome imaginations, know right from wrong, have amazing vocabulary that would put many adults’ vocab to shame, and it’s okay. Twaddle or not.
Thank you, Jamie! I’ve been reading aloud with my own children for 25 years and have, at times, struggled to explain this idea. Somewhere after young motherhood I relaxed a bit, and we fell into something like the 90/10 rule. How do we handle twaddle? Well, my tolerance is pretty low, and my time is valuable, so I won’t read those repetitively to my younger children. Maybe once, and then I’ll ask them to pick out a better book. We are choosy about which books we will spend money on and take up residence in our home, so they always have a variety of good books here. The children will develop an appetite for well-written books over time, especially when Mom or Dad delights in them, or older siblings. My children know which books will make me cry, which books we can’t wait to read aloud to them when they are “just a bit older,” or which preschool books are so well done, Mom can read them with fresh delight every time they carry it to me. So, when the twaddle comes along, it isn’t really a problem. Also, we get a lot of books from the library, especially for the younger children. As we sift through them, some are taken off the shelf more frequently by the children, and some less. It’s a chance for the child to learn discernment (what do I like in a book, what do I not like) and broaden their world at the same time. I LOVE your book, Give Your Child the World.
I really appreciate the balanced approach in this article. Since I am dealing with a reluctant reader, my philosophy is that (almost) any reading is good reading. 🙂