Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered…
Charlotte Mason, Original Homeschooling Series Volume 1
Along with short lessons, living books, habit training, narration will be included in any list of Charlotte Mason method basics. Before I started homeschooling, when I was researching curriculum, methods, ideas, and styles, I was drawn by the description of homeschools that followed Charlotte Mason’s principles. The more I read of her methods, the more convinced I became that this style would be the best fit for our home.
As school began, however, I discovered that I did not really know how to get the kids started doing narrations. I hadn’t done this as a kid. How could I get them to do more than shrug and mumble, “I don’t know,” when I asked them to tell me what they read? So I went back to Miss Mason’s Volume 1 and looked for some instruction, scoured the internet for insight and then just tried some things.
So here are a few tips on getting started with narration for younger elementary aged kids.
1. Narration is something children do naturally. They are absolutely bursting to tell you all about what they are interested in. Notice and appreciate the raw material you already have to work with. So start when they are young at the dinner table or at bedtime. Ask them to tell you about their day. A few questions can help: “What was your favorite thing we did today?” “Where did we go today?” “Who did we see today?”
2. Don’t require narration until the children are 6. Let them narrate what they are excited about and don’t push them if they are not interested. This was extremely helpful for me when my kids were in Kindergarten. We read plenty of great books, and sometimes they were totally excited to tell me what they read. Other times they were not interested and at that age, I didn’t worry about it. I let narration just be a choice and thus, a joy.
3. Begin by modeling it. During that Kindergarten year, if they were not interested in narrating to me, I would narrate the story back to them. This gives them an idea of what narration should be. I would give a brief summary of the story with a few choice details that particularly interested me.
4. Start small. When I started reading chapter books to the kids, they were lost when I asked them to narrate back the entire chapter. So I realized I needed to pause more often in the chapter to let them narrate. Miss Mason herself, when describing how to begin in narration says, “read two or three pages, enough to include an episode; after that… call upon the children to narrate.” So for a few months, I paused several times in the chapter to elicit a brief narration. This helped the children’s memory, comprehension, and narration skills. Now that we have been doing this for awhile, they can listen for longer periods and still give quality narrations.
5. Introduce the Lesson. When I was in college as an Education Major, I took several classes that taught me how to prepare a lesson. Always at the beginning of the lesson was to be an introduction, where you give the students an idea of what the goal of the lesson is (what will be learned), why it is important, how it relates to what they have learned before, and a hook that will capture their interest.
Charlotte Mason agrees with this idea of the lesson introduction. She says, “Before the reading for the day begins, the teacher should talk a little (and get the children to talk) about the last lesson, with a few words about what is to be read, in order that the children may be animated by expectation…”
So whether it is Bible, history, science, or literature, I ask my children what they remember from the previous reading (and then add in any information that was left out that would be relevant), and give a little hook about what is to come. Often in Bible and sometimes in history, I will give them something specific to look out for: “Listen for a man who is given a second chance,” or “Pay attention to why this king was such a terrible king.” In science, I often read the section title and thus give the kids a little taste of what’s to come: “We are going to read about how birds find their way home today!” or “We are going to learn about how seeds scatter and spread so they can grow.” Often in literature, after we talk about what has gone on before, I will read the next chapter title and ask them to predict what will happen next. Students are often very interested in paying close attention to see if their predictions were right.
6. Try Notebooking. One of the best tools I found in encouraging good narrations from my children was notebooking. I found NotebookingPages.com, used the free pages for awhile, liked it so much that I became a lifetime member. Basically, these notebooking pages are pages with cool (and often thematic) borders and illustrations filled with lines and empty boxes for the students to draw their own illustrations from their lessons and write down what they have learned.
The notebooking pages have been a huge asset in our homeschool and for narration. They draw as I read the lesson to them. These drawings help them retain what they are hearing. Then they narrate orally to me, often using their illustration as a starting point, and I write what they say on the lines. This gives us a record of what we’ve read, and they thoroughly enjoy selecting a scene from the reading to illustrate. It also helps keep my active young elementary students engaged in the lesson- it gives their hands something to do.
It was very important to the success of narration in our homeschool that I did not require my children to write their own words on the blank lines. If I had done that, I would have had very short narrations indeed. Their ability to narrate a story far exceeded their ability to form letters and words on paper. I am very glad I encouraged oral composition without requiring written composition, for now I have kids who are incredibly eager to tell and write stories. And I have students who are pretty good at telling back what they’ve heard using some of the same words and language of the author.
7. Be Creative. Other ideas for narration in the younger elementary years include acting the story out, or using flannelgraph, puppets, or action figures to retell the story. Currently, we are reading Tales of the Odyssey by Mary Pope Osborne. I have given them a few sheets of heavy paper divided into 6 boxes. In each box, they illustrate one scene from the chapter I am reading. Then they give me a relatively brief summary of what they illustrated or heard and in the end, we will have a comic book of their own creation. X-man and Princess K are very excited about their comic books and have me read all that they have written so far each day. This works well as an introductory review and they are so very motivated. There are tons of other ideas for creative narrations: making movies, creating art, recording a radio show, use clay, blocks or legos, draw a diagram, make a map.