A Case for Occasional Silliness


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.

We could research scientific strategies for children prone to cognitive rigidity, but we already have one remedy readily available to us: silliness. Silliness ameliorates the overly literal mind, as absurdity promotes wonder. Consider the ridiculously tall tree grown from a single small seed. 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….”[1]

Nonsensical rhymes and silly songs, when crafted in the loveliness of “rich, moral soil,” can suspend a child’s over-reliance on the logical, so that he may explore the implausible and unfathomable. Over time, this may assist his 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.”[2] 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. Sharing the ultimate mystery—the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us allows our children to be eternally embraced by the truly Wonderful (Isaiah 9:6).

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.
When I awake, I am still with thee.
— Psalm 139:17-18
[1] Chesterton, G. K. “A Defence of Nonsense.”
[2] Ibid.


Originally published in The Classical Teacher Winter 2015-16 edition.

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