Narration and Charlotte Mason

Narration - tell me what you know.

So What Is Narration?

Narration is the way Charlotte Mason used living books and made them part of her school room lessons. Instead of using textbooks, or memorisation of facts, she coupled narration and living books. This gave her a teaching tool that far surpassed a workbook or textbook.

When you use narration and Charlotte Mason’s method for your homeschool you’ll find that it is a little scary. This is because you feel like you’re not covering all of the subjects that they might cover in a textbook. You also haven’t got all the activities that can be associated with covering a set syllabus. However, if you can just put those fears aside you will actually find narration is a powerful method that demonstrates real learning and requires your child to think about what they are hearing and reading.

Narration is a skill that you develop over time. When we use it with our little six years old it might not seem like much, but as the skill develops you can really see that children learn a great deal from their readings when they add in narration.

Narration is the simple telling back of what has been read. Narrations can be oral or written. Narration helps the child think through the passage they are narrating and then they record what they got from it. It is a memory, comprehension and concentration skill.

Tell Me What You Already Know – Oral Narration

The principle of oral narrations is that a child will tell back what they have read (or you have read to them). They will put in the facts that they thought were important.

Why Can’t I Just Give Them A Worksheet?

A six year old can tell you a whole lot more during an oral narration than they can if they had to write it and ask you to spell every word.

How To Do Narrations?

“The teacher does not talk much and is careful never to interrupt a child who is called upon to ‘tell.’ The first efforts may be stumbling but presently the children get into their ‘stride’ and ‘tell’ a passage at length with surprising fluency. The teacher probably allows other children to correct any faults in the telling when it is over. The teacher’s own really difficult part is to keep up sympathetic interest by look and occasional word, by remarks upon a passage that has been narrated, by occasionally showing pictures, and so on. But she will bear in mind that the child of six has begun the serious business of his education, that it does not matter much whether he understands this word or that, but that it matters a great deal that he should learn to deal directly with books.” Narration and Charlotte Mason’s Advice:

Recent research continues to support the value of narration. According to the Dr Michal Ichet from Ariel University in Israel said children will retain up to 15% more of the content that they have read to them if it is repeated.

My Tips For Oral Narrations

I must confess I don’t do narration as strictly as Charlotte Mason required. I added in some Michelle Morrow modifications that brought success in narrations.

  • You do not need to do narrations for all of your reading, choose the books that you will use.
  • Read aloud a small passage (a paragraph) and have your child tell back what you just read in your own words. Do this immediately after the reading. As your child develops this skill you can increase the amount of material that is read. Comprehension of the text is was what I looked for.
  • Getting a descent narration was sometimes like getting blood from a stone, but with a little prompting I got my child talking about what they remembered. If they didn’t remember anything (which did happen to me more than I’d like to admit) you need to take them back through what they have read. This is a bit boring for them (and you) but hopefully they will have concentrated more on the second round. Sometimes my kids were so good at remembering details it took longer to hear the narration than it did for me to read the passage.
  • I let my kids play Lego, or do hair, or draw pictures whilst reading aloud but I expected them to concentrate. If they didn’t listen then they couldn’t fiddle.
  • Sometimes we just had conversations about what they were reading and I didn’t make it a “narration lesson”.
  • I would get them to draw pictures to illustrate what we had read about.

Use oral narration with your children until they are about 10 years old. Of course you can continue with this after 10 but now you can also introduce written narrations.

Oral narration gives children something to write about and it is great preparation for written narrations.

Something Interesting To Write About – Written Narrations

Written narrations and Charlotte Mason’s method begin when a child is around 10. It is the same as oral narrations except they write what they remember.

Narration is an English writing lesson with good subject content. The child has something to write about  – an excellent kill two birds with one stone tool. Charlotte Mason believed that living books used for narration exposed children to excellent writing models and authors which they could learn from. Children are not stressed about trying to be creative because they already have the subject to write about so they can focus on the mechanics of writing well.

A pure Charlotte Mason form would be for a child to write their narration from memory and one reading. Again not being a purist I allow my child to use their reading books to write their narration. Many of my children’s narrations would be classed as a summary of what they had read.

Tips For Written Narrations

  • I usually only have one or two books that I require narrations from. I choose books that narrate well and I can easily set portions for them to read. For example I might require a narration from a chapter or page from a book. I use narration for history, science, geography and I also count narrations as an English lesson.
  • I do coach my kids if they are having difficulty. I sometimes make a few suggestions for how to make it more interesting. I correct most mistakes when I see them.  I also have used extra writing resources that give ideas for writing techniques
  • I set the length of the narration required. I might say I want at least five sentences for the narration . This helps with the child who is prone to, “The king died. The end!” narration but I found it also helped the child who was overwhelmed because they remembered everything that was written and got lost regurgitating the whole story – a narration became as long as the portion of text I read. Whilst it was very impressive that they could remember all that was written, it also put them off the next narration because they thought they always needed to do very long narrations. I believe it’s better to start small and expect more as they go.
  • I let them do some of their narrations in points if they want. 10 facts was often an easy way for them to record things they learnt.
  • I use notebooking and notebooking pages as prompts for their narration.
  • After my child has written their narration I get them to read it to me aloud. They often pick up mistakes that need correcting and do some self editing. This also gives me an opportunity to give some input into their writing.

Choosing Books For Narrations

You want to choose book that have a good narrative style – a story that they can follow. Fact books and ones that have lots of little segments that are related but not necessarily part of the story are not good for narrations.

That is why real book or living books are perfect for this. I use: the bible, fiction, history biographies and science readers for most of our narrations.
I think new homeschoolers are often astounded at how much history I put into my children’s home school curriculum. Mistakenly they assume I must be skimping on other important subjects in order to teach history because the primary school only 6-10% of your time needs to be spent on history. This equates to 1 to 2.5 hours per week. However since I use a literature based homeschooling history curriculum I can also use much of this suggested curriculum for teaching English as well.

“Why teach history like this? Isn’t history only a minor part of the curriculum?” they wonder.

Although what they don’t realise is that I’m really using historical content for teaching much of my English curriculum, some geography and occasionally science. Over the years I have found this has many benefits.

At least half of the content of my homeschool curriculum is history based.