Sunday, May 12, 2013

Little Ones Deserve the Good Stuff, too.

Charlotte Mason coined a fantastic word: “twaddle”.   Twaddle  is the “mentally inferior and useless stuff produced or written for children by adults.”  (For the Children’s Sake, p.15)  It is the stuff that talks down to children and tells them what to think.  It is the stuff that is meant simply to entertain without any kind of redeeming value.    It is the mental equivalent of “candy” – sugar-coated and visually appealing with no true nutritional value.
As part of our discussion of the principle that “children are born persons”, the question of twaddle came up:  how does twaddle disrespect our children’s minds?
Immediately, I thought of an experience we had at a library preschool storytime once.   The librarian held up a copy of Beatrix Potter’s  The Tale of Peter Rabbit and said that they “weren’t old enough yet” for this story, so she was going to read them the board book version instead.   On another occasion she read an “easy reader” version of The Little Engine that Could, despite the fact that the original of this book is a perennial preschooler favorite (at least at my house it is!).
I thought about my college roommate.  She wanted to go into children’s ministry, but decided to major in Biblical Studies rather than Christian Education so that she would have the foundation to be able to write Biblically accurate children’s Bible curriculum.   She was dismayed by the way many major Christian children’s publishers simplified their Sunday School curriculums in the name of making them “fun” and “accessible” to the point they were no longer doctrinally correct.
I thought of the piles and piles of completely inane children’s ‘literature’ out there…books based on movies and cartoons, books like “Captain Underpants”.  The same thing can be seen in music, art, videos, games, etc. targeted to children.
Twaddle disrespects a child’s mind because it assumes that they can’t appreciate or understand that which is truly good and beautiful.   It assumes that children’s minds can’t handle “big” ideas, at least not until they’re older.   So we feed them candy because they like it rather than nourishing them with good food.
This saddens me.   It saddens me because the fact is that even little ones CAN handle solid food.   I see it every day in my home.  My children argue every morning over who is going to choose a hymn to sing over breakfast, and belt various hymns out randomly as they go throughout their day.   It’s my 4 year old who reminds me that we listen to Mozart (our composer-of-the-term) at lunchtime, and asks me to go put it on if I forget.   My 6 year old was fascinated by the paintings in the great art museums in Paris, especially the impressionist paintings of Monet and Manet that she had seen before in books we had at home.    Books like the Beatrix Potter series and Winnie the Pooh read in the original have been loved by all of our preschoolers.  
Little ones do have the capacity to appreciate and understand far more than we give them credit for.  Perhaps they don’t understand everything, but at the very least their minds are being opened.  Their tastes and appetites are being developed so they will continue to seek goodness, truth, and beauty as they mature.   Their minds are stretched and over time they gain the ability to handle richer and more challenging material.  If we feed them a steady diet of “fluff” when they are young, their tastes aren’t magically going to change when they reach a certain age.  If we haven’t laid the groundwork from the beginning, they will miss out on so many wonderful and beautiful ideas because the literature (or art or music or whatever) that contains them will be dismissed as “too hard” or “not my thing”.
“Charlotte Mason enjoyed sharing the good things in life with the eager minds of children…She dealt with them on an eye-to-eye level.  She never felt they weren’t old enough to appreciate and think about things which she knew were good.  She delighted in introducing them to all aspects of reality, with a positive joy.”  (For the Children’s Sake, p. 16)
Little ones deserve the good stuff, too.   Let’s not shortchange them.
A little end note:
Last week, I read a book called  At the Foot of the Snows by David Watters, a missionary who brought the gospel to and translated the New Testament for a remote people group in Nepal.  This quote stood out to me:
"Too many literacy programs, especially those for tribal societies, fail to take these principles beyond superficial levels. Everyone knows that motivation is the biggest obstacle to a reading program, but few such programs hold out to their readers anything more than health pamphlets or better agricultural methods. These are good things, God knows, but how will such technical tracts inspire people to want to read? Any attempt, no matter how well-intentioned, to create a new-and-improved citizen through milk-and-water platitudes masks a vulgar condescension. It assumes that because people are new to literacy, they are new to the most important questions of life - that they are incapable of serious inquiry. To use a modern term, it 'dumbs down' where it should inspire. How much better a literacy effort that treats people in preliterate societies as full adults, and their language as capable of expressing the best philosophical and religious notions of the ages. If we want to preserve people's languages, and if we want them to be literate in those languages, how about giving them somehting worth reading - something ennobling, something that stirs the emotions and fires the passions?"
It's not just our little ones who deserve the good stuff: everyone does.  It is part of our inheritance as human beings.



  1. I so agree--I too find that my littles naturally gravitate toward mind-food. Twaddle just isn't necessary! And that's a relief for me as well: I'd much rather read aloud Beatrix Potter than Captain Underpants! :)

  2. Like, like, like! This is exactly what I keep telling people, and they don't believe me. Thank you for posting!

  3. You could not have said this better. So very, very true!! Thanks for this post....

  4. We have a large Christian bookshop which used to be a treat to go to but over the years their children's section has just deteriorated so much - makes me angry!!

  5. Amen! I'm so thankful there are resources online to point us toward nourishing things for the mind. It is hard to find them in a store, even a Christian store.

    My children are grown, but I have a nephew who is a toddler. His aunt does NOT feed him twaddle and his mama and papa already are teaching him about gardens, classical music, and dual languages.

  6. Great article on giving living books to children (and adults). I"m going to bookmark it for later.