Help! My Child Wants to Read Twaddle!

What do you do when your child really wants to read twaddle? Let’s talk about that. In a Charlotte Mason approach, we want to give our children the best books, worthy books, and we hold those in such high esteem. We value those. But what do you do if your child says, “No, I like the twaddle instead?” Joining me to discuss that dilemma is Laura Pitney.

Sonya: Laura, thanks for joining me for this interesting discussion. I think it might be more common than people admit.

Laura: Yeah, I think it is. Thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here to talk about it. So what is twaddle?

Sonya: I agree we should start there because some moms might say, “My child is reading twaddle,” when it might not be twaddle. I would define twaddle as dumbed-down writing, usually with short choppy sentences. 

But there are two aspects we need to discuss here. One is the reading level, which might be the style: the short, choppy sentences, the one-syllable words, things like that. That’s the reading level. But the more important thing is the ideas that are included in the book.

There are two aspects we need to discuss. One is the reading level, which might be the style: the short, choppy sentences, the one-syllable words, things like that. But the more important thing is the ideas that are included in the book.

Laura: Yes, because you can still have a lower reading level but still feed the good ideas in the content. They are two separate things, but you can still make good choices for the lower reading levels with good ideas.

Sonya: That is especially true if the child is reading for himself, which is what this question is all about, a child who wants to read the twaddle. In Charlotte’s approach, in first through third grade, you are reading the school books to the child because he can’t read those higher level books for himself. So yeah, he might be reading some short, choppy sentences as he’s finding their feet in the reading process, but we can still make sure it has good ideas and it’s not just fluff.

Laura: That’s where our struggle is—finding the good books for reading practice and fluency. Sometimes you feel like twaddle is your only option. But there are good choices out there.

Sonya: Let’s also address one other thing before we dive into some practical tips. And that is respecting the child. Even though you might not appreciate his choice, there’s still an element of not despising the child or making him feel less than because, “Oh, you’re reading that?” Instead, come at it from, “You are capable of much more, and you are worth good ideas being in your head.”

Laura: I have a good example of this. I usually have books that fit our family values and ones that I want my children to read. Basically they’re free choice options for any of their leisure reading. A few years ago, when my son was still a reluctant reader, he had approached me and asked about reading a book series that some of his friends were reading. It was not my first choice. I probably would never have purchased it for my home. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t my preference.

Sonya: But it met your standards for values. But the writing style was not up to par. Okay, I got it.

Laura: I had a choice to make. I felt like I could have just said a hard, “No, I don’t even want to go there,” because I felt like that’s going to open the door up for other book series that go down that path.

Sonya: Slide down the hill, yeah.

Laura: Right, so I had a choice to make and I allowed him to read it. I said, “We’ll get the first one from the library and you can read the first of the series.” And he read it, and he said he wasn’t interested anymore. He made a good judgment call to the quality of the content. The books that were on our shelf that he’s allowed to read whenever had more substance to them. They were more interesting to him. I felt like it was a victory for me that he made that decision on his own—that there are better choices to make. But I also understand that he was interested in it because he thought it would be an easy read for him, just because he wasn’t a confident reader yet. It answered both those things. He was able to read it, which gave him confidence, but then he also learned that there were better choices.

Sonya: That’s wonderful. It’s important to realize that it’s a gradual process of cultivating that child’s taste. If the child has not had the background of you reading good books to him or being exposed to these great books, then yeah, he’s going to probably gravitate toward the twaddle. So it’s going to be a gradual process of cultivating taste or a gradual transition, generally.

It’s important to realize that it’s a gradual process of cultivating a child’s taste.

Laura: So what do we do when there are, say, outside influences that bring the books in? Maybe it’s a birthday present from a friend, or hand-me-downs from a relative? The kids are so excited about these books they’re being given but then you’re just like, “Oh, those aren’t my favorite.”

Sonya: Yeah, inside you cringe

Laura: So what do we do with that? What does that look like?

Sonya: Okay, some practical ideas. One possibility is to choose the worthy books for schoolwork, absolutely. And especially if you’re reading those aloud. And by the way, a little extra little challenge maybe is we can all work on our reading aloud skills, because the way a book is read can affect whether a child enjoys it or not.

So, set that aside. We can stick with the worthy books for schoolwork but have leisure reads in a basket or in a stack. These are the ones that you’re allowed to read outside of school time. And just as we talk about cultivating the tastes, we remember that we wouldn’t give our children all sweets and desserts and sugar and candy.

Laura: Even though that’s what they want.

Sonya: Even though that’s what they want. So in your leisure read basket, it doesn’t have to be all twaddle, but if there’s a book or two that you’ve been given or that the child finds at the library or a friend recommends, you could throw in a couple of those, but have the rest of them be good leisure read books as well. Does that make sense?

Laura: It does. That’s a great idea to make sure you’re putting books in that basket that you not only approve of, but are interesting to the child. That will help them want to read them if it’s the right genre of interest.

Make sure you’re putting out books that you not only approve of, but are interesting to the child. That will help them want to read the books if it’s the right genre of interest.

Sonya: Well, and it’s the same for us. I mean, I get book recommendations all the time that are on an adult level and some of them look really interesting to me. So I put those on my wishlist. And other ones it’s like, “Oh thanks, I appreciate the recommendation.” It just doesn’t interest me. The topic is not one I would really go for. If I was forced to read that, it might dampen my enthusiasm. It’s the same for our kids.

Laura: Yep, agreed, yes, I think so too.

Sonya: So another possibility we can do, especially for younger kids, in order to cultivate those tastes, if they’re not able to read the writing level of a good book, we can get them an audio book of it and let them follow along. Or for some kids, you can get the dramatized version of a good book.

Laura: Yeah, that’s so important. And I’ve seen that in my own kids’ lives where they weren’t quite interested in a book series, but an older sibling had read it and really wanted him to read it. So they felt kind of guilted into reading it. But having the Audible Book, or like you said the dramatization, it really helped them get over that hurdle of enjoying it, not just out of obligation, but because they’re enjoying the story. I’ve seen that in my own kids’ lives for sure.

Sonya: For some kids, especially if they’re very auditory, hearing the dramatization starts to prime the pump, as it were, so that when they are reading on their own, they can tap into that and still hear a dramatized version of their own. I have one child who’s very auditory and she would use different voices as she would read things just to keep her interest up. 

One other thing that’s been very interesting to me is that this is what’s happening to me lately. I will sit down to read a book and I’ll read for the first paragraph or 12 lines, and then suddenly I find that I have skipped five or six lines and I’m reading down here and then I skip again. And it’s like, “What is happening to me? Is this old age or what’s going on?” But then I heard someone talk about how when we spend a lot of time on the internet, especially, and I’m not saying a lot of time as in exorbitant amounts, but if that has become a habit that we are checking regularly, we don’t usually read every single word on a screen. If I’m ordering something from Amazon, which I do regularly, I don’t read every single word on that screen, I skim. I glance around and that’s rewiring my brain so that when I come to a sheet of book, a page of a book, my brain starts to read and it’s like, “Oh no, we’re supposed to skip around. We’re supposed to skip around.” And that’s what was happening. So I have to make a concerted effort now to note, “Don’t skip, we’re going back. We’re going to read every word and rebuild that skill.” So if a child is used to spending a lot of time on a screen, he might have that aspect that he’s fighting against as well.

Laura: Yeah, and a good way to combat that is to have the child read out loud to you every once in a while to re-create that habit of making sure he’s looking at every word.

Sonya: That’s a great idea.

Laura: You can check in. Maybe you’re not sure if that’s what’s happening, but if he’s struggling reading out loud there might be other reasons, but that might be a good gauge to know what’s happening in his brain.

Sonya: Yeah and you can watch and see if you see him skipping, that might be a clue.That was an eye opener to me. It was like, “Whoa, this is really happening. I’m rewiring my brain, ah!”

Laura: Yeah, you should stop.

Sonya: Yes, let’s go back to the other habit. And wire it the other way again. But, if we’re going to remove some electronic time, I think it’s really important to replace it because sometimes kids, and I do this too, are drawn to twaddle, whether it’s books or movies, just because you don’t have anything else to do at that time so you take the easy way out. So we can introduce other occupations and hobby ideas. 

Laura: It doesn’t have to be reading, it may be like you’re saying, different activities. That brings up a good point, that whether we want to accept it or not, our kids are watching us. What we do in our downtime, or our off-the-clock time, is still an example to them. So whether we’re reading twaddle books or magazines, or what we would say light reading or shows, or whatever it is, we need to consider that because it is an example to our children. If we’re choosing good and worthy things to do with our time, hopefully that’s what they’ll choose to do too. 

For children, we need to make sure they have the options. Years ago, whenever the kids finished with their school and their chores, I didn’t just give them free play the rest of the day because who knows what they would get into. For example, Monday, they’d have three or four options. Tuesdays, they’d have three or four options. I still gave them purposeful things to do with their time so they didn’t, I don’t know, rearrange the house and move the dishes to the bathroom, or whatever it is that they would do.

Sonya: They’re creative. (laughs)

Laura: Right, so they still had that leisurely downtime, but it was still, “Why don’t you do this, or choose from these three or four things?” The options were still purposeful, so that first of all, they didn’t get into trouble, but also it was still giving them the freedom to choose. But there were still parameters there for the good and worthy things.

Sonya: Yeah, that’s a great idea as well. Sometimes, we put such an emphasis on, “I want my child to be a reader,” that we tend to slide clear over to, “I want him to read in all his spare time or if he’s reading all the time, that’s a good thing.” But Charlotte was so direct about keeping a good balance and not overloading in one area or the other. I love those ideas. So, keep the good books during school time, and recommend good books on subjects they’re interested in for leisure reads. But you can also throw in a couple of those twaddles if they really, really want it. Treat it like dessert, candy, not the main course. And then, watch the electronics, and give them other things that they can do in their spare time. Make sure we’re doing worthy things in our spare time and reading good books. That doesn’t mean we have to read a treatise every day. War and Peace, you know? But we just need to know that they’re watching us, as well. Thanks.