Using Narration in your Charlotte Mason Homeschool

This week’s focus is on narration, Charlotte Mason’s art of narration to be more specific. When I first heard of the word narration before I started using Charlotte Mason’s methods in my homeschooling, I would have an image in my head of a child standing by a desk at the teacher’s request, reciting answers to questions of a homework assignment while the teacher looked on with a stern manner.

Today, I picture my children and I lounging on our sofas in our livingroom reviewing what we last read, reading our next chapter in our “living book” selection, and then my children relating to me with their own personal versions of what we just finished reading. I much prefer this second picture. Narration has now become my favorite part of our school day, aside from just reading together.

There are two forms of narration we will focus on – oral and written. First we will discuss the oral form of narration.

From the time our children can start forming words (and then even when they just “babble”), they are born narrators. Children love telling stories and relating to you what they have seen or experienced. How many of you have read a book over and over again to your child at his request, and then later heard that same child retell that story to himself, a toy, or to another person later on. Or, if you miss a word or page, they immediately let you know what you left out. My older son loved the story of “The Little Train that Could.” After having heard it routinely, by 3, he was narrating it with all of the different train voices to his stuffed animals – even using the words “as he puffed off indignantly.” (Which is quite funny hearing it from a 3 year old in the voice you might hear coming from a proper crotchety old gentleman.)

Anyway, to get back to narration – it is the art of being able to retell what you have just read or heard. This is a wonderful art to give to your children. It helps them organize their thoughts, use words and sentence structure they heard in the read aloud, express themselves in words and expression, recall information and details, and gives them confidence in their speech. When we first began narration, I was surprised that my usually verbal older son found it more difficult to narrate a read aloud than my normally quiet younger son. But, it was a habit that had to be formed. And we did. Bit by bit, until it  became a natural and normal action for each of them.

If you are just beginning with narration, before you begin reading aloud, let your children know they need to pay close attention to what you are saying because they will be expected to remember and tell you what they heard when you are done.  Start with reading aloud a short chapter that’s not very complex in its content. When you are done, ask who would like to tell you what they remember hearing in the read aloud. Let your children, one by one, tell you what they remember. Do not concern yourself with the proper order of events or specific details; just get them used to speaking to you about the reading. If they find it difficult to get started, ask a specific question about something that happened and ask them to tell you what happened next. This should get the ball rolling and for the next couple of weeks, continue your narration in this way as they get more comfortable and can narrate more details to you.

As your children grow more comfortable with the art of narration, you can ask them to try to retell what they have just heard in the order of what they heard and then move on to more specific details – by asking a question to draw their attention to that detail. You will be surprised how quickly and naturally your children will follow this habit. We narrate our history or science readings at least three times per week, now that we do longer readings and narrations. At the beginning, they were shorter and four to five times per week. You can adjust this to your family’s needs and the ages of your children.

The second form of narration is the written form. I also love this in our homeschooling! This is where you can really have some fun and develop notebooks on what you are studying.

After your children have become comfortable with their oral narrations, they should be ready to try written narrations after some of their oral narrations. You don’t have to have a written narration after every reading and oral narration. We usually write down the most interesting topics to us or what I may feel are the major or most important ideas, events, or people in our study.

When your children are very young, younger than 8, 9, or 10, (Charlotte Mason and other Charlotte Mason homeschoolers begin written narration around 10.) you can do the written narration for your child. Do you remember from your school days, those big pieces of flimsy tan paper with big lines and dashes in the center, with a big empty space on top for a picture? And, you would practice writing your words and sentences with those fat pencils and then when you were done, you got to draw or paint a picture of your story? Well, with written narration for your youngest child, you can have him orally narrate his read aloud to you, while you write his words down for him. When he is done, he can draw a picture or pictures to go along with his story. You, then, read his story to him as point to each word you are reading. This will connect what you are saying to each word as you say it. Read this story to him routinely and then have him read it to you. It’s okay for him to memorize it and “practice read” it to you.

My younger son wanted to be like his older brother and “write his own book” too, so he started writing his sentences down after his oral narration also. For both my sons, this was another case of forming a habit. It was slow going for both of them. But, as they stared at the ominous blank piece of paper, I would ask them to repeat to me what they had narrated to me from our read aloud only moments ago. Then I would say, “See, you have the words you want to use; now just write down the sentence you just told me.” It took them awhile to get over the intimidation of that blank piece of paper even though they had just repeated to me their oral narrations. First, your children might only be able to write down one or two sentences the first few times they have to write down their narrations. But, just as we did, your children will grow accustomed to the idea that after narration to you, they will write down their narration on paper. You will soon see them writing five sentences, then whole pages and eventually ask for another piece of paper if it is a topic they are particularly excited about. Depending upon the topic we are reading or my sons’ interests, I may choose a notebooking page with a large space for a picture, because I know they will really want to spend time drawing their narration. Other times, if it is more dry and not as creative, I may give them a notebooking page with a simple picture already on the page or a small square where they draw a little picture of their own.

There are quite a few pages throughout the internet with blank notebooking pages, pages with specific formats or pictures depending on the topic you are studying, and pictures of completed notebooking pages you can look at to get ideas for your homeschool. You can keep these pages in some kind of notebook binder or slip the pages into sheet protectors and then put these into a notebook. Either way you have something of a keepsake and study guide of your year together. Your child has something he can look back at and be proud of, and you have something you can use in a portfolio assessment at the end of the school year if you are required to do that in your state.

For middle and high schoolers and narration, their oral and written narration can go beyond just retelling and summarizing what they have read. This is where their writing can really come naturally from their oral narration and their writing gets interesting. You can have them write different forms of essays in response to their reading, just as they would need to on any exam they take for college admission or in college. Great preparation! They can write descriptive narrations of what they have read, personal narrations – even taking on the role of a character in history, science or a literary piece they have just read. What about a compare/contrast paper between two books or other literary selections they have completed? Or a process paper after reading a book or two on a topic of interest to them. ( My son is constantly reading books and magazines about fishing – his summer is going to be spent putting a book together with everything he has learned as a 4-H project.) What about a definition paper? Start out by defining a word as it means to him or the dictionary and explore in detail what that word or concept really means through detail and examples if you have read a book about democracy for example, or courage, or faith. Are you getting the idea. I find, though, the key for my guys, including my oldest, is to let them tell me about it first. Let them organize their thoughts out loud and bounce ideas off you – even if you don’t speak and they can hear their ideas out loud. Their ideas flow much better in this informal situation before sitting down in front of that ominous blank piece of paper.

You will soon notice, as I do, that your children will be unconsciously narrating to themselves as they read to themselves or after you have read something to them. My guys will have conversations between themselves, without me or my prompting, about what we have been reading. Or, like my younger son did today, while he was reading his science book (Exploring Creation with Astronomy) to himself, he was actually narrating what he was reading back to himself – but in a song he made up- while he was reading it. These are moments that will definitely make you smile and you know that you are doing something right!

Here are some sites with more information about narration:

Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series

Narration Ideas beyond Retelling and Summary

Narration Ideas including Narration in Lapbooking

Here are some sites with assorted notebooking pages:

Notebookingpages.com

Homeschoolhelperonline

Hold that thought notebooking pages

notebooking nook

jeannie fullbright – exploring creation science series

Cindy Rushton – the notebooking queen

Hope you find these ideas helpful and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask or share any great tips you might have in our comments section! Thanks! Please share our post with anyone you might think may be interested in narration or notebooking.

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8 Responses

  1. Hi, I’ve started narration with my two children using Aesop fables. English is not my mother tongue but I speak English with my children at home. when doing narration, shall I correct them if they make mistakes? what if they totally misunderstood the whole story?

    thank you,

    • Charlotte Mason advocates not interrupting the child or correcting during narrations. However, I let my kids finish then I ask a question about what they had said that was wrong. It’s not a question that points out what was wrong. It is usually a question about what happened at that point in the story and about some detail. I usually ask questions to steer them to the right answer so they have discovered the right answer on their own. If we need to look back at what was read, I let them look at or listen to it again and come up with the right answer on their own.
      Also, I usually remind them to listen carefully because after we finish reading they will have to tell me what was read. This usually puts them on their toes enough where they do pretty well with all of the details from the reading.

  2. This is fantastic! I was going to research and write something like this and here it is. =) ~Cori

  3. Thank you for the advice on how to get them to start doing written narrations. The first time I asked one of my boys to do this, he was perplexed. I work full-time, so he had not done an oral narration with me yet, but we were chatting on IM. I told him to think about what he would say if I were at home and he were narrating aloud to me and to write that down. It took a couple more times for me to explain it in a couple of different ways, over IM, but the results were really great! When I got home and read his narration, I was very pleased and let him know about it!

    • That’s great! Just like anything, I found that once my guys got used to how we were going to do this, it got easier each time and the better they were able to do it!

  4. hi! Thank you for your replies. It had been years since I last read this page. My children are teenagers now and I started sending them to school for secondary education. Now they are the top in class for writing. I believe very much that narration is the key to good writings!
    Thank you,

    • Terrific! Glad to hear that your homeschooling and work with narration have paid off! Good luck with the rest of high school!

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