Twaddle vs. Classics

    By J. Marvin

The box was dusty and heavy with mysterious contents. I realized it was one that had been packed years ago and gone through three moves without ever being unpacked; now, in my new apartment-my new start- I was ready to unfold the flaps and discover its treasure.

Box o' BooksIt was full of musty-smelling books, and as soon as I lifted one out and blew off the little dust-bunnies along the spine, I recognized one entire shelf of my mother’s library, packed up and brought from Florida after her sudden death 15 years ago. These were books she had bought when I was little, books that had lined her shelves in the house where we lived from the time I was 6 until I was 17. These were books whose titles I had scanned in childhood looking for likely reading material; the few remaining from a fire decades later in West Palm Beach.

For the most part, these are not famous books. Not the sort that highschoolers are required to read, and certainly not classics. A few are well-known enough to have inspired movies – The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, You Shall Know Them – but even those have not been discussed in any literature classes I’ve ever taken, and even in my print-voracious childhood I didn’t read most of these. Those I did read went clear over my head, like Topper, which I read when I was about ten. I thought it was hilarious, but I had no schema, no background knowledge, in which to fit all the double-entendres and drunken shenanigans it depicted.

This got me to wondering about what kinds of books other people read when they’re ten years old. Reading is, after all, the cornerstone of Charlotte Mason’s approach to education; literature is the door to every other discipline for her, and “twaddle” her scathing condemnation of “reading-made-easy” — ” the white ashes out of which the last spark of the fire of original thought has long since died… second-rate story books, with stale phrases, stale situations, shreds of other people’s thoughts, stalest of stale sentiments.”

treasureislandcover[1]Hence, I conducted an anecdotal, entirely unscientific survey among friends and family, and discovered that a fair number of people actually chose classics to read at that age. Ten years old seems to be about the age at which most of the people with whom I spoke began to read for pleasure and choose their own books. Some sought books from school and public libraries, but nearly everybody read what was on their parent’s and sibling’s shelves at home. There are exceptions, of course; several people, including one young mother who was homeschooled decades ago, remembers nothing they ever chose to read. Others recall obscure books in full sensory detail. One girl now in her twenties recalled that her mother would only allow her to check out six books at a time from the public library, so she would pick six long ones. Her favorites were the entire Dragonriders of Pern series. Men in their 40’s and 50’s remember reading Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, The Jungle Book, and Sherlock Holmes. Many books from classical homeschooling book lists, but these are not homeschooled guys.

drew9[1]Then there are the twaddle readers…although, on Simply Charlotte Mason’s discussion forum ( one parent observes that “there is good twaddle and bad twaddle.” A lot depends on the definition for the word, of course; and what might be “reading made easy” for a highschooler can be an acceptable choice for a nine or ten-year-old. Thus, many readers of Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames mysteries (plucked from an older sibling’s shelves), Judy Blume, Hardy Boys, The Boxcar Children, The Babysitters Club. Some of these same readers chose Madeleine L’Engle and Little House on the Prairie at the same time that they were reading Judy Blume in the classroom. It’s a 7-year-old girl, surprisingly (since teachers-in-training are cautioned that “boys prefer nonfiction”) who chooses books about nature –“frogs, horses, mountains, bugs” — and I had a passion for The Earth for Sam, published in 1930 – “the story of mountains, rivers, dinosaurs, and men.”

What are your homeschooled learners choosing to read? Where do they find them? Is your home library a source of meaty classics, truth, and beauty?


    With a degree in Modern Languages and Bilingual Education, Jennifer has taught Spanish, Russian, Latin, and Bible, coordinated weekly chapel, and tutored Hebrew at The Garden School. She homeschooled her son before sending him to Sarasota Christian School, and is an avid advocate of home cooking, home remedies, home birth, and home death as well.


Books, Glorious Books!

    By Monica Cappelli

books[1]There’s just something about books. The weight, the texture, the smell. The feeling that they’ve been thumbed through before. The stimulation derived from communicating with great minds across the ages.

I am an avid Bookie. My children have inherited that passion, so some areas of our home are rather overrun with tomes from days gone by. All kinds of fiction, nonfiction, and those curious creations, Historical Fiction (how does one classify these?!)

A few years ago I was given a Kindle eReader (love it!) But still, my predilection for paper often gets the best of me. I’ve visited amazing libraries and bookstores over the years in many parts of the world. I’ve also visited countries where bookstores and libraries are extremely difficult to find, and literacy takes a backseat to more pressing concerns of life. That, to me, is terribly sad. Of all places on earth, those are where people have the greatest need for great ideas.

Still, while many tourists visit museums and famous sights, I hunt for the local bookstore or library. There, I meet real people: the locals, who are so often curiously similar to the characters dwelling within the bound pages.

If I were to write a book of my life, most of it would be about reading!

As a youngster I read copious amounts of literature, encyclopedias, as well as the dictionary to escape to worlds of wonder populated by both real and fictional heroes, villains, and my own imagination. During middle school and high school I discovered books were the gateway to broader horizons with subjects I would never learn about in school, but could plumb to my heart’s delight at the library.

Even now, my heart thumps with the same enthusiasm as my little girl when we call “Library Day!” Nowadays we declare Library Day rather liberally; some homeschool days start at the library and end when our eyes are crossed with fatigue. You see, I really am addicted-three hours of labor during my last pregnancy were spent at Borders! I didn’t leave until I really had to (when other patrons began displaying sympathetic labor pains.)

Some of my favorites?

From my elementary years:

Who Will Comfort Toffle?
The King’s Stilts
Hilty: The First Hundred Years

In junior high:

All Tolkien – everything he ever wrote.
Til We Have Faces
Gone With The Wind

In high school:
Sister Carrie
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
Ethan Frome
Atlas Shrugged
East of Eden
The Count of Monte Cristo


The Kite Runner
Unaccustomed Earth

All of Francine Rivers’ novels.

What are some of your favorite books or authors?


    Monica Blog PicMonica Cappelli is a wife and the mother of four wonderful children. Over the years her family has been blessed to experience home, public, private, and parochial schooling. This has given Monica an appreciation for the strengths and challenges of the educational choices available to families. A successful experience is possible in any of these situations with the support of community and prayerful, encouraging parents. Monica strongly believes that parental academic expectations and “leadership by example” in the areas of competence, autonomy, and service set the stage for a young person’s entrance into a successful, joyful, and productive adulthood.

A Sign of Love

    By Elizabeth Veldboom

(This article originally appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters. With Mother’s Day coming up next weekend, I wanted to dedicate it not only to my own mom, but to all you mammas here at The Garden School Journal, both near and online. You are some of the greatest moms I know, and we at GSJ would like to take this moment to honor you. To help wish you a Happy Mother’s Day, we will also be giving away one free copy of The Magic of Mothers and Daughters! Please check back this Tuesday for more details.)

“The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book.”

    -Author Unknown

I saw this sign in a classroom: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” It was a simple statement, yet it evoked such gratitude, such happy memories from childhood, I couldn’t help but smile.

My mom was my teacher growing up. Since I was homeschooled from kindergarten until fifth grade, it was she who taught me how to read. The sign brought back memories of her holding up Hooked on Phonics cards and rejoicing with me when I got the right answer. It made me remember trying to copy her perfectly formed letters as she patiently waited by my side. Her helpful presence was always there as I graduated from the short Bob Books to longer books at the library.

It was she who first introduced me to Nancy Drew, and because of her I still have a bookshelf full of all fifty-six of them. Snuggled against her on our couch as she read, I listened as she transported me to mysterious times and places. It was magical to be so enveloped in a world not my own. Her steady voice guided me through books I didn’t have the ability to read yet, and I marveled at the treasure she held between her hands-this treasure she’d chosen to share with me. Sometimes while reading she’d even don a Scottish accent, just for me.

Each day she’d decide upon a certain number of chapters we’d be reading. But as she finished that last sentence on the predetermined page, I’d prepare my plea: “Please, Mom! Just one more. I have to know what happens!”

She’d protest at first, but always acquiesced in the end. With one more chapter stirring my imagination, I always left content, dreaming of what would happen next and looking forward to the next episode.

Throughout the years, I never lost my love for reading. The magic and excitement never changed for me. What did change was my need to have my mom read to me. I could begin and finish a book when I wanted and I didn’t need her to sit down with me to help me through it. Soon our precious reading time evaporated all together. Instead, I locked myself away in my room to read.

I became an independent teenager who still loved to read, but who had forgotten where she first acquired that love. I grew to love writing, too, and found it was almost impossible to express myself in any other way. What had once enthralled me as a listener, I could now create! It was a whole new kind of magic, but with a forgotten source.

Until the day I saw the sign. Suddenly, it all rushed back to me. The memories of looking over her shoulder as she read, catching words I hadn’t known before like gold flecks in a stream. Flying on as wonderful a magic carpet as Aladdin’s, watching people and scenery flow below. The sound of her sipping from the cup of coffee she always brought, and her playful voice telling me to make a “duck butt” for a capital G. I smiled, realizing I had someone to thank.

I couldn’t wait to rush home and tell her. As soon as I got back, I updated her about all the happenings from the day as she glided about the kitchen preparing dinner. Then I remembered.

“Oh! Mom. Thank you for teaching me how to read.”

For the first time she stopped, casserole in her mitted hands. With a quizzical brow she asked, “What? Where did that come from?”

“Thank you for teaching me how to read. I read a sign in Mr. Jabbour’s classroom today that said, ‘If you can read this, thank a teacher.’ Well, you’re the one who taught me. So thank you.”

A look of touched surprise came into her eyes. “Oh. Well, you’re welcome, honey.”

We shared a fond smile, each of us remembering a certain green couch where it all began. The memories only we could share. It was only a part of my childhood, but how special it was. But even more special was my mom, my teacher.

Because of her, I have found a passion and a career. Because of her, I have been encouraged, guided, and taught. Because of her, I am inspired to pass on to my own children one day the gift she gave to me.

Mom and I hugging on Graduation day.

Mom and I hugging on Graduation day.

What are some of your favorite memories from childhood?


    Elizabeth V. PicElizabeth Veldboom is a 2009 graduate from The Garden School, and a student in Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She has previously been published in places like Susie Magazine and She has a huge heart for homeschooling families and would love connecting with you, so visit her blog anytime at

On Excellence and Good Spelling

    By Renee Miller

Scrabble-words[1]Spelling does matter. It is a discipline our children should be expected to learn from a young age. Charlotte Mason says that if a young child spells a word incorrectly, cover it up. Learning something correctly the first time saves the student from the extra effort of breaking a bad habit later. This flies in the face of the current prevailing wisdom, “It doesn’t matter how or what they write, as long as they write.”

Much has been said about how overzealous correcting can ruin a child’s desire to write. While there is some truth to this, I have seen far more damage done by teaching filled with false praise and low expectations. Lack of fluency in writing is often owing to the lack of confidence in one’s ability to write or spell well. Actually knowing how to spell and write with assurance frees up a student from worrying about mechanics, and allows them to focus on his or her thoughts and convey them effectively.

Good spelling is not a sign of intelligence, but poor spelling does give the impression of a lack of education or attention to detail. While good spellers are typically detail-oriented people, those of us who don’t fit into that category can still learn and at the very least keep a dictionary on hand if we need to.

Although easiest when learned early and correctly, it is never too late to become a proficient speller. The factory system of government schools has given us the impression that learning happens in yearly increments, and if you miss the time when a particular skill is taught, you will always be behind or need years of remediation to catch up. This thinking is never helpful. A great number of things can be learned in a short time with attention, diligence, and a belief in the worthiness of the endeavor.

The old-fashioned spelling bee was beneficial with this in that it reinforced the sequential nature of spelling. Time in the car driving can be put to good use reviewing the Ayres 500 Most Frequently Used Words List, and the one-on-one nature of homeschooling allows for quick correction in context and individualization for each student. As the student progresses to learning inflected languages like Latin, spelling is imperative.

We need to expect excellence from our children and ourselves in every area of education, including spelling. As we raise up this next generation of leaders (our children), let’s equip them with the skills and tools they’ll need to communicate with clarity and power.

What has been helpful for you in teaching your children to become good spellers?

(As one final tip, check out the “Freebies” tab at the top of this page to find out the unique way Garden School/homeschooled student Elizabeth Veldboom learned to spell!)

Some outstanding resources:
The Institute for Excellence in Writing, Andrew Pudewa
The Writing Road to Reading, Romalda Spaulding


    Renee is the founder and director of The Garden School and Cornerstone Classical School (as well as “The Miller Family School”). Though trained in the public school model–she has taught everything from first grade to junior high science–Renee’s first foray away from this system resulted in The Garden School. Renee holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning from Point Loma Nazarene College. She is a strong advocate for classical Christian education and an accomplished public speaker. The Millers currently live in a busy multi-generational household immersed in classical and Christian ideals and a whole lot of love.