Friday, April 9, 2010

"Mommy can I get this one?" "Um, no, it's twaddle." "What's twaddle Mommy?" After a few seconds of hurried thought Mom quickly says, "It's junk food for your here, try this one. This one looks good!" "Well, okay Mommy but I kinda liked the other one."

That conversation has happened to me more times than I can remember while standing in the middle of our public library. Since I began studying the Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling a year and a half ago I have read about "twaddle" type books quite a bit. Although I finally caught the gist of what Ms. Mason meant I had yet to find an article that could make the term "twaddle" crystal clear. I would, in my own feeble way, try to explain to my children what I thought twaddle to be but have never really felt like I truly understood it myself. My children have always responded graciously and accepted my "less twaddly" suggestions but deep down inside I always felt guilty for trying to push on them a term that I had not really grasped myself.

I believe part of why they gave in is because the Lord has always known that I truly desire to expose them to the absolute best that I can find. Whether it be literature or music, activities or food, He knows that I am trying my best to do the best for them-not the most EXPENSIVE just the BEST! There is a big difference between the two but I'll save that for another post! The other reason they have always given in to my suggestion, I believe, is just because they are truly good kids...and again the glory is the Lord's! But anyway, I believe that my days of uncertainty are over because...

...I just came across an article written by Deborah Taylor-Hough at this website that I believe really drives home the definition of twaddle. So if you have been looking into Ms. Mason's approach and have been wondering what books qualify as twaddle, read on!

Since we're currently in the midst of the December holidays, I chatted at length with Catherine Levison (author of "A Charlotte Mason Education" and "More Charlotte Mason Education") and came up with ways to apply the concept of avoiding "twaddle" (or what we might call "dumbed down" literature or activities) in our holiday celebrations, family times and Christmas reading materials.

Defining Twaddle in Literature

First, let's look at the synonyms of twaddle which include: babble, drivel and silly. Ordinarily twaddle refers to literature written down to children. Books written specifically to children are not avoided. A good example would be any of Beatrix Potter's works -- she wrote to children but not down to them. Or the original A.A. Milne "Winnie-the-Pooh" books are another good example of twaddle-free just-for-fun reading material.

Regarding children's literature, look for interesting content and well constructed sentences clothed in literary language. The imagination should be warmed and the book should hold the interest of the child. Life's too short to spend time with books that bore us.

If our children have only been exposed to junk food, they may resist trying nutritious food. If they've been raised on twaddle, they may need to be weaned slowly off of this mental junk food. Ideally, if they were not exposed to twaddly books in the first place, all involved would be way ahead of the game.

It's our opinion that dumbed-down literature is easy to spot. When you're standing in the library and pick up modern-day, elementary-level books, you're apt to see short sentences with very little effort applied to artistically constructing them to please the mind. Almost anyone can write -- but not everyone is gifted in this field. Gifted authors bring images alive with their choice of words. Gifted authors often write classic literature, and classics are an excellent way to spend one's reading time.

Twaddle is easy to come by; the planet is filled with it. People coped with it in previous centuries, and we must cope with it in ours. If anything, literature has deteriorated even further. The best way to handle this excessive quantity of bad books is to stand firm and only spend our money on the best -- even at holiday time.

But what about friends and relatives who unknowingly supply our children with twaddle at gift-giving times?

Try talking to those who are apt to buy gifts for your children and tell them about the direction you're heading with reading material. Some people pick up on things easier than others, therefore, for some folks a simple explanation of the type of literature you want purchased as gifts is all they'll need. If you've started to collect any particular set of children's classics currently in bookstores or catalogues, you could provide Grandma with a list of titles you'd like. Be specific, and offer to help her with the ordering or perhaps even drive her to your favorite bookstore.

Twaddle-Free Holidays

How else can we apply the concept of twaddle to the holiday season as a whole?

Well, I firmly believe that twaddle is in the eye of the beholder. That means that some of the following ideas may appeal to you while others may not meet your expectations. Catherine and I put our heads together and came up with the following ideas -- some of which were shared with us over the years by other people. As always, take what you like and ignore what you don't.

During the holidays, I frequently discover a large number of low-cost entertainment options by reading the "What's Happening" section of our local newspaper. For example, this week I found a listing for a singing group performing traditional Celtic holiday carols at a local church for just a small donation. Many churches and community groups put on low-cost (or free) live performances during the holidays.

Rather than taking the family to a newly released holiday movie, consider spending a few extra dollars and attend a ballet or classical concert instead. Many times attending a concert by a local symphony performing familiar Christmas songs is a very child-friendly introduction to symphonic music for children who haven't previously experienced that type of music. Also, many churches offer sing-a-longs of Handel's Messiah that are open to the general public.

As we all know, holiday music is drastically varied. Perhaps some attention to playing classical music around the house -- while avoiding animated cartoon characters screeching their holiday favorites -- would be more soothing.

Many families, including both Catherine's and mine, buy one new Christmas book a year and have their collection on display. Catherine's favorite is called The Christmas Story featuring the paintings of Gennady Spirin. It's breathtakingly beautiful and priced accordingly -- however Catherine insists it's worth every penny. This is one way to include masterpiece artwork into this season of the year.

It's also time to buy next year's calendar. If you haven't thought of it before, hold out until you find one featuring fine art rather than kittens, horses or cars. Along with being a practical item, the calendars often provide excellent prints to use for art appreciation throughout the year.

While grown children and other relatives visit, provide some old-fashioned fun that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Charades, sing-a-longs, board games and caroling are easy, affordable and fun. Catherine's family collects Christmas jigsaw puzzles -- which may appear to be a bit twaddly at first glance -- but they truly enjoy spending time together which makes it more than an aimless pursuit. You could also choose puzzles depicting masterpieces or popular works of art.

Many families are constructing their own advent calendars from wood and incorporating photographs and other touches. If everyone participated in a project of this sort, then they can all look forward to getting it out each December.

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Well, if the snow doesn't come to you then go to the snow. Some folks make an annual trek to the mountains during December in order to be assured of some contact with winter weather.

Obviously, there are countless good ideas that help families enjoy each other. Catherine and I send our absolute best to you this holiday season and may each of you be truly happy.

Deborah Taylor-Hough (free-lance writer and mother of three) is the author of several popular books including an official "Dummies" book on frugal living, and Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month. To subscribe to her free email newsletter, Simple Times, send an email to: Visit Debi online and read more articles dealing with simple living, frugality, parenting and much more:

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Although I am fully aware that I still have some cleaning out of the bookshelves to do all I have to say is "Bring on the questions kids, bring on the questions!!"

Lovin' Learnin'

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