Until this summer, I had absolutely no idea what “Twaddle” meant.
It was while reading Tsh Oxenreider’s book Notes from a Blue Bike that I was introduced to this term that Charlotte Mason coined about a century ago as she sought to distinguish between children’s books that were “dumbed down,” belittling a child’s mind, and what she called “living books” (basically the antithesis of dry, boring textbooks).
For a brief introduction to Twaddle, I found this post from SimplyCharlotteMason.com helpful, as well as Catherine Levison’s brief how-to manuals on the Charlotte Mason method. The Simply CM website lists these points as defining of “Twaddle” children’s books:
- Talking down to a child
- Undervaluing the intelligence of the child
- Second rate, stale, predictable
- Goody-goody story books or highly spiced adventures of poor quality, titillating
- Scrappy, weak, light reading
We have a lot of really wonderful children’s books and great works of literature in our home, so as I thought about the concept of “Twaddle”, I figured my children’s bookshelves were probably mostly free of the stuff.
Gee whiz was I in for a shocker. We had TONS of Twaddle in our house. I’m not even sure where half the stuff came from, but between thrift stores and garage sales and hand-me-downs and birthday gifts we had collected a mountain of Twaddle.
I started observing my children more closely during bedtime stories and our daily reading routines and realized that when my boys pulled a book off the shelf and brought it to a parent to read, they usually pulled a book that would qualify as “Twaddle” from the shelves.
…I guess that’s a roundabout way of saying that if it wasn’t a Thomas the Train book, they brought Bob the Builder or something with Lightning McQueen on the cover. Flashy. Easy entertainment. Just about every single time.
And so with my husband’s permission, I spent the summer clearing out Twaddle from our home. I’ve taken three loads of Twaddle to the local Salvation Army this summer, and I think we probably need another one or two trips to be rid of Twaddle completely (it’s an emotional process for me – some couples collect stuff, we fall in love with books, so it’s a hard thing for us to part with).
I’m sharing this with y’all because I have noticed a huge – HUGE – difference in my children since getting rid of Twaddle. Without the bright, flashy, dumb stuff to grab from the bookshelf, my boys are reading rich, stimulating, amazing children’s stories. We had the good stuff before this summer, but with the Twaddle within our grasp, we always seemed to get sidetracked by the worthless stuff.
Over the summer my boys have memorized almost all the Mother Goose rhymes, a handful of Robert Louis Stevenson poems, and read dozens of timeless stories, fables, and poems. And they’ve loved it.
Since getting rid of Twaddle, my 2-year-old has been known to march through Target shouting ‘Be he alive or be he dead I’ll grind his bones to make my bread!” And my 4-year-old makes comments such as “Mommy, Ogres aren’t scary, I really like Ogres.”
I think Charlotte Mason was really on to something with her scathing review of dumbed-down children’s books. A counting book featuring Lightning McQueen doesn’t hold a candle to counting ducks in McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings. The Disney version of Winnie the Pooh stories doesn’t begin to compare to the richness of A.A. Milne’s original children’s classics. But until the Twaddle was out of our house, we didn’t have eyes to see how damaging the dumb flashy stuff was to our sons’ imaginations.
It has been absolutely exhilarating for me, as their mother and primary educator, to watch their imaginations come alive with really good books that we already had in our house but weren’t reading as often because we were buried in Twaddle.
I can’t recommend the Twaddle-removal-surgery highly enough. For our family, it’s been such a gift.
“How colorfully and scientifically our generation talks down to the little child! What insipid, stupid, dull stories are trotted out! And we don’t stop there. We don’t respect the children’s thinking or let them come to any conclusions themselves! We ply them with endless questions, the ones we’ve thought up, instead of being silent and letting the child’s questions bubble up with interest. We remove interesting books and squander time on ‘reading skill testing,’ using idiotic isolated paragraphs which no one would dream of taking home to read.”
– Susan Schaeffer MacCaulay, For the Children’s Sake
Books that have helped me learn more about Twaddle, good books, and Charlotte Mason this summer:
- Notes from a Blue Bike, Tsh Oxenreider
- For the Children’s Sake, Susan Schaeffer MacCaulay
- Honey for a Child’s Heart, Gladys Hunt
- A Charlotte Mason Education, Catherine Levison
- More Charlotte Mason Education, Catherine Levison
- Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home, Elizabeth Foss
- A Landscape with Dragons, Michael O’Brien