After almost a full year of formal lessons, we are well-versed in the art of narration. If you aren’t familiar with Charlotte Mason yet, you’ll find this blog post useful, as narration is one of the hallmarks of a Charlotte Mason education. Many times, we know we should have our children narrate after a lesson, but I have parents often ask, “how does that really look day-to-day?” So I am going to answer that question in this post. Here is how we use narration in our Charlotte Mason lessons.

How We Use Narration in Our Charlotte Mason Lessons

Before I dive into how we employ the use of narration in our home, it may be a good idea to explain what “narration” is. Most of this blog posts contains excerpts from a wonderful book I read about a year ago titled, Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass. I highly recommend you read this before beginning formal lessons with your children! I also recommend you read Home Education by Charlotte Mason, as she talks about narration extensively.

What is narration?

Narration is simply the retelling of something. 

That’s it! Narration is seeing or reading something happen, and retelling it. So, if you recount a car accident you came across on the freeway on the way home to your husband, you’re narrating! You’re retelling the story in your own words, and that is what Charlotte Mason asks her students to do. So this leads me to the next question I get often: “why is narration important?” or what can it do for you? Your child?

Why is narration important?

Narration leads to composition. According to Karen Glass “Oral narration grows into written narration, which develops into composition, which becomes formal writing.” So, by helping our children form the habit of narration (or retelling) while they are young, they will eventually write a really well-formed essay into their high school years.

I think back to when I was in second grade. My ability and stamina to write was not great. But I was a wonderful talker. I could tell stories all day long, and that’s what we allow our children to do in Form 1 (grades 1-3). There’s no added pressure to have to write out – with perfect grammar and punctuation – a complete essay of thoughts on a book. Instead, your child gets to experience the joy of retelling.

This practice of oral narration follows into written narration, still short and succinct in Form 2. With this comes age and the ability to build writing fluency. Eventually in Forms 3 and 4, students are able to develop skills in composition and fluency so that they can craft an exceptionally well-written and formulated essay. As a former english teacher, this idea simply blew my mind. I wished I could go back to those few years of teaching and help my students learn in this way.

“Education is the science of relations” -Charlotte Mason. Like I mentioned earlier, narration is retelling. The beauty of retelling is that the person that is doing the ‘telling’ will have a unique narration to their own experience with the story. A child will tell what they see as the most important parts of the story. If you have seven children, you may get seven different narrations because narration is really about the child’s own experience with the text. In her book, Know and Tell, Glass states, “the ability to tell, or narrate, is directly linked to knowledge (p. 8)” Furthermore, the more a child narrates, the more they know!

“An innate, relational understanding of the connections between different areas of knowledge is part of the power that educational narration unlocks. We begin with the simple request to “tell what you know.” However, years of building that intellectual habit lay the foundation for the kind of thinking that will eventually allow a teacher to give assignments such as “Compare the leadership of George Washington with that of napoleon Bonaparte,” or “Explain how the closing of one business can affect the economy of a whole town.” These types of assignments are not a matter of simply regurgitating facts. They require deeper understanding and thinking, and they will be well done only if that thinking is based upon knowledge and understanding of the principles at work in leadership or economics” (Karen Glass, Know and Tell, p 24).

How to teach your child to narrate.

So how do you get started using narration? The process is as follows: Read, listen, narrate…repeat! In her chapter on how to teach children to narrate, Glass suggests that we use the phrases, “Tell me about it” or “What can you tell me about this?” to help our child begin a narration. This allows your child to begin telling what they remember from the reading.

Start small. When I first started teaching my daughter how to narrate, I would read a paragraph and ask my daughter, “tell me about what we just read?” or “what do you remember from what Mommy read to you?” Then I would read a little more, and ask her again. There is no ‘right’ way to narrate. You can either ask your child after the whole chapter – meaning they may have more to retell at once – or you can start small by asking them to narrate after small chunks of reading. Once you begin narration, you’ll have a fairly good idea on what works best for your specific learner.

Daily practice. You can use queue words, like “what next?” if you feel like your child might have more to tell after their initial narration. The process of narrating requires your child to think through the plot of a story, or the beginning, middle, and end of the text. This higher level of thinking requires daily practice. However, don’t push your child to narrate if they aren’t feeling up for it, especially in those earlier years. Brush it off, and try again in the next reading.

Model narration for your kids. When I first started having my daughter narrate, I would ask her to tell me what she heard, but sometimes she’d be reluctant to retell. It just didn’t feel natural to her. So instead of feeling frustrated I would model for her what narration was by saying, “In the beginning there was a little girl named Red Riding Hood. She needed to take a meal to her grandmother, so she set off into the woods.” Then I would have my daughter tell some (hopefully she would recount what happened next in the story, chronologically) and then I would narrate a bit and then she would. I had to do this a few times before she caught on, but now she’s very used to narration. I do, however, exercise this technique when she isn’t in the mood to narrate.

How do we use narration in our home?

My children are still Form 1, and younger, so we don’t practice anything other than oral narration. I do have some techniques that have helped us change the way I present narration and offer variety since we do practice narrating multiple times a day.

Recall. I’ll often ask my daughter before beginning a new lesson for the week: “What do you remember from the last chapter we read?” This reading is still a week old, so the narration may not be as fresh, but recalling that material from the previous reading helps connect it to the reading for that current day!

Sneak-in Narration. I’m also known to be pretty sneaky in the way I ask my daughter to retell. Often at dinner, I’ll ask my seven-year-old to recount some of the day’s reading to her dad. It’s a very natural way to have her narrate and retell some of her readings. This is especially useful for children who are reluctant to retell. Telling a family member who hasn’t yet heard the material makes it meaningful!

Practice makes us better. Remember that practicing is key. Daily, if possible! Glass uses the analogy of ‘playing catch’ to become better at baseball. Exercising the muscle of narration each day helps our students tone and refine!

Forms of Narration We Use:

Oral narration. Having her tell me what she heard, and I listen.

Drawn narration. Having her draw what she heard. Often I’ll ask what she drew and record what she says in the same notebook.

Written narration. We don’t use written narration yet, but sometimes she will label the drawn narrations, so I count this as a tiny bit of written. I do NOT require her to do this yet, however, and stick with oral narration as a majority – I just think it’s cute to see her want to write on her drawings. :)

Dramatized narration. Using props to narrate is one of the tricks I love to use. Schleich figurines, puppets, peg dolls, or even paper storyboards are a very useful tool in helping a child retell.

Closing Thoughts

Narration is a natural way of retelling a story so that a child can connect to the knowledge they are building each day. It’s important to stay slow and consistent in building up those narration skills. Narration is such a useful tool that begins orally, but as your child develops their writing skills, and develop academically, it blossoms into beautiful compositions in their later years of schooling.

Watch the Video:

Narration Resources:

Know and Tell: The Art of Narration by Karen Glass

I hope this blog post on how we use narration in our Charlotte Mason lessons was helpful to you! Please let me know if you have any questions at all. Thank you so much for reading and watching!

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