It’s hard to answer the question what makes up a Charlotte Mason homeschool experience? It’s like explaining what makes the perfect pot of bone broth soup. How do you explain that the bits and pieces of vegetable scraps that most people just toss are valuable? Or how hunting down those celery leaves that most grocery stores chop off before they are put on display add such depth to the pot of soup and are worth the hunt for them. And how do you explain that simmering the pot of bones and veggies for days on end results in the richest broth. It is a lot of seemingly meaningless elements that are hard to articulate the value of them on their own in the moment that come together to result in a pot of deliciousness.
Ok, so maybe you don’t make your own broth and that made no sense to you. But this is what a Charlotte Mason education is to me – believing in the bigger picture that will come as you daily work through the discipline of applying the principles. And sometimes this is hard because there is no standardized testing to compare yourself to and ensure that you are understanding the Charlotte Mason homeschool principles and that you are guiding your student correctly. It’s hard. I get it. But it is beautiful, too. It is freeing to not have to compare our students – our children – to others. We need to hold them to high standards of excellence in their work, but the high standard is based on how they are uniquely created as people.
I have found it to be a lot more work but also a lot more joyful to learn my children and their strengths and weaknesses and hold them to a standard of excellence for themselves as opposed to a standard that might apply for children of all ages. This means I am strengthening their strengths and strengthening their weaknesses. They were created as persons and getting to know how they were uniquely created and to have a part in their development is a great responsibility and a great joy.
I say all of that to lay the very clear groundwork that in sharing how we implement the Charlotte Mason homeschool principles and how my children perform in narration as explained below, it is neither the standard to aim for in your home nor the vessel by which to feel my child is woefully behind. It is neither of these things; it is simply how we do narration work in our home.
Before I share more about how we do narration (I have video and pictures to share!) I want to talk a bit more about narration itself. You can find a depth of knowledge and experience on Ambleside Online if you want to read deeper and from more experienced mother’s on this subject.
What Charlotte Mason has to say about narration
As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read.
A single reading is insisted on, because children have naturally great power of attention; but this force is dissipated by the re-reading of passages, and also, by questioning, summarising. and the like.
Acting upon these and some other points in the behaviour of mind, we find that the educability of children is enormously greater than has hitherto been supposed, and is but little dependent on such circumstances as heredity and environment.
Nor is the accuracy of this statement limited to clever children or to children of the educated classes: thousands of children in Elementary Schools respond freely to this method, which is based on the behaviour of mind.
What Narration Is
This “tell back after a single reading” is simply narration, the retelling of a story in the child’s own words in order to deeply cement the story in their mind and make it their own. Narration can become a very natural part of a child’s routine, but the question of “how do I start narration?” or “how can I prompt my child to narrate?” is a common one, and one I want to tackle here.
How We Implement Narration
This has been our practice – with every school reading (but not their free reads) the boys come and tell me what they read about in their daily reading. This equals multiple narrations a day.
We have been doing this for many years and from time to time, when the narrations are a bit tedious, full of “umm…” and many generalizations, I will ask them to take a moment to gather their thoughts into something cohesive and will remind them to think through “What, where, when, why and/or how” and that they are not to assume I know anything on the subject.
When Narration Isn’t Called Narration
While my boys (9 and 10) have grown up with this exercise of narrating their readings, they haven’t always known the term “narration” – in fact, while they know the word now, it is very rarely used. Certainly, it is personal preference, but a request from me to; “please narrate that reading to me” sounds much more rigid than a simple; “please tell me what that reading was about”!
So I find myself guiding them through the art of narration while not formally calling it narration.
Starting Narration for the First Time
While growing the habit of narration shorter passages should be used – whether it be for a younger child or an older one first learning this skill. The goal would be to increase the length of the reading being narrated, but there is no race to get there quickly.
If looking at those who narrate lengthier passages discourages you or your child then start out by reading one paragraph at a time and stopping for the child to tell back the occurring events.
Children may struggle through the organization of information as well as answering the “who, what, where, when or why” questions. Narration is a tool to help teach this – be patient as the skill grows!
When Mom Narrates, Too
A helpful trick for those starting out would be for you as the mom to read a passage and narrate it yourself. Struggling through this new way of thinking and processing information will help anchor yourself on your child’s side and support them through their struggles, rather than feeling frustrated that they can’t do it well. While it may come naturally to some, it is hard work to narrate a passage, and we as mother’s should understand the effort that must be exerted in this exercise in order to encourage our children through it.
Narration Starter and Prompts
Sometimes asking the child to retell what they just heard or read themselves will still result in blank stares, and a request to remember the “who, what, where, when and/or why” won’t help at all. Here are some narration starters and prompts to use as a springboard to inspire your own child to recollect in their own words what they read;
- What was your favorite part?
- How did this passage make you feel? What happened to make you feel that?
- Explain how (fill in with something from the passage that can be explained)
- What did we learn about (fill in a character from the passage)
- Tell me something new you learned from our reading.
- Where did the character get the idea to do (some event that occurred in the reading)?
- Why did the character choose to do (some event that occurred in the reading)?
Other Approaches to Narration
While oral and written narration are important as they are the means within which a child tells back, knowledge can be assimilated and reproduced in other manners, too.
We do not want to encourage pointless busy work in our children, but sometimes approaching the narration process from a different angle is exactly what a child needs to gain the confidence to realize that they are understanding the passage. So with the goal of getting the child to stand on their own two feet and start reproducing and telling back the passages themselves some other approaches might be considered for narration.
- Make a video – iphones and ipods make this SUPER easy to do. You will see below one that my son did using Lego. There is very little communicated through word (…and he spelled things incorrectly EVEN WITH THE iphone giving the glaring red line under the wrong spelling! haha!) but when we sat down to watch it together he just bubbled up explaining the scenes to me.
- Draw a picture – again, this should result in the child explaining their drawing. But it is ok if they don’t at first. New ideas take time to warm up to.
- Design a movie poster or book cover for the book – this would be to direct the child who wants to draw but feels a bit stuck.
- Create an illustrated timeline for an historical book.
- Make something from modeling clay (or playdough) to tell the story that occurred.
- Use wooden peg people to design the characters and act out the story.
What Our Narration Looks Like
With the hope that this is helpful I decided to share some of my year 5 sons narration work. We have added a couple additional books to his reading schedule, so the video narration using Lego isn’t actually a book on Ambleside’s schedule.
I started written narrations in year 5. (So my younger son, in year 4, is not writing any of his down.) I have established the written narration requirements this way; term 1 he is to write one narration a week – he gets to choose which passage to narrate. Term 2 he is required to write two narrations per week. Term 3 he will be required to write three narrations per week.
This still leaves a lot of oral narrations, but it has been a great way to transition him into the practice of doing written narrations.
For fun I have given him the assignment of creating two video “narrations” per term. You will see examples of oral narration, his Lego video narration, and his written narration below.
Written Narration Examples
Oral Narration Example
Video Narration Using Lego
I know this was super long but I hope it was useful as you consider a Charlotte Mason homeschool experience and narration, just one of the multiple elements that goes into the pot to result in a beautifully simmered education, full of truth, beauty and goodness for the glory of God.
Related Posts:Our hearts glow with delight at the blue of a gentian, the glory of a star, the grace of some goodness that we get news of: we lift up our hearts unto the Lord, though without a word; and the throb is one of sympathy, for we know that His delight, also, is in beauty and goodness.-Charlotte Mason