By Cheryl Swope, M.Ed

Far and few, far and few
Are the lands where the Jumblies live.
— Edward Lear

Amidst all the academic rigor, children need a little nonsense. Not only do we love to hear our children giggle, nonsense stretches a child’s mind. A little silliness can take them to unexpected, liberating places.

Moving the Ordinary into the Extraordinary
We can research scientific strategies to help children prone to cognitive rigidity, but we already have one remedy readily available to us: Silliness! Silliness ameliorates the overly literal mind. Absurdity promotes wonder.

Consider the ridiculously tall tree grown from a single small seed. To a child, this is almost absurdly marvelous. G. K. Chesterton writes, “So long as we regard a tree as an obvious thing, naturally and seasonably created for a giraffe to eat, we cannot properly wonder at it. It is when we consider it as a prodigious wave of the living soil sprawling up to the skies for no reason in particular that we take off our hats….”

Using Song and Rhyme to Stretch Thinking
Perhaps even more directly than the wonders of nature, nonsensical rhymes and silly songs can help suspend a rigid child’s over-reliance on the logical. Consider this:

Hey Diddle Diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed,
To see such fun,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

The lilting joy of language, the simplicity of rhyme, and the delight of predictable repetition inherent in silly songs and poems appeal to children’s ears:

Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly, lavender’s green,
When I am king, dilly dilly, you shall be queen:
Who told you so, dilly dilly, who told you so?
‘Twas mine own heart, dilly dilly, that told me so.
Call up your men, dilly dilly, set them to work,
Some with a rake, dilly dilly, some with a fork;
Some to make hay, dilly dilly, some to thresh corn,
Whilst you and I, dilly dilly, keep ourselves warm.

When sown as occasionally bright wildflowers into the cultivated soil of a full garden, the child may explore the lively, the implausible, and the unexpected. 

Opening Doors for Spiritual Truth
Over time, this may serve to assist the child’s apprehension of spiritual truths. Chesterton explains, “Nonsense and faith (strange as the conjunction may seem) are the two supreme symbolic assertions of the truth that to draw out the soul of things with a syllogism is as impossible as to draw out Leviathan with a hook.” We read stories from Holy Scripture so that children may become captivated by One greater than our own understanding.

Wonder welcomes us.

We hear the invitation, “Come unto me,” from the very God who became Man. The mystery of the Trinity, the miracle of the incarnation, the depth of the crucifixion, and the transcendent marvel of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for us — all of this is beyond our reason, yet within our grasp by the working of the Holy Spirit.

Developing Hearts and Minds for Wonder
Perhaps we never realized our role in cultivating wonder in our children! As we teach silliness, we accomplish much. This is why we include silly stories, poems, and nursery rhymes in our Simply Classical Curriculum. Not only do we allow our children to improve phonological awareness, but we also let him laugh! More than this, we begin to invite our child to be embraced by that which is greater than his own mind.

Wonder broadens the mind. Specifically, when we teach the marvelousness of God’s Holy Word, we lead our children to be embraced eternally by the One who is truly Wonderful (Isaiah 9:6). “Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.” (Psalm 40:5)

How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand.
— Psalm 139:17-18

Originally published in The Classical Teacher Winter 2015-16 edition. Edited and reprinted with author’s permission.

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