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 we put our heads together to come up with ways to apply the concept of avoiding “twaddle” (or what modern parents 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.
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 a calendar 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.
(Excerpted and adapted with permission from A Twaddle-Free Education: An Introduction to Charlotte Mason’s Timeless Educational Ideas.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough is a long-time homeschooling mother of three (now adult) children as well as a freelance writer and the author of the bestselling Frozen Assets cookbook series and A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity. Visit Debi on Facebook.
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