What is Narration?


A child is on an afternoon walk with her mother to a nearby lake. She sees a bird hovering over the water . In the next instant, the bird dives down and creates a huge splash. The bird emerges and flaps his wings to dry them, before flying away to a nearby tree. As the bird is retreating, the child notices it has caught a fish with its beak. The little girl and her mother finish their walk and return home. At the dinner table, the father said, “Tell me all you saw at the lake today.” The child excitedly began telling about her observations. “There was a bird with brown wings and a white head flying over the water.” “The bird dived into the water and created a huge splash. When the bird came out of the water it moved it’s wings back and forth really fast. I saw a fish as long as a pencil in the bird’s mouth.”

Have you ever imagined your child sharing their experiences in this way? This was an exercise in narration that holds the exactness and carefulness of a lesson.

So, what is a narration?

“Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education. A creative fiat calls it forth. ‘Let him narrate’; and the child narrates, fluently, copiously, in ordered sequence, with fit and graphic details, with a just choice of words, without verbosity or tautology, so soon as he can speak with ease.” (Vol 1, p. 231)

Narration is at the center of an education using Charlotte Mason’s methods. From the moment your child can talk, they will be telling you about everything that interests them.    One day I took my children to a building workshop at a local hardware store. The moment we got in the car my son started telling me how he created his new treasure. He was narrating his experience and telling me everything he remembered about it. By the time a child becomes of school age, narration is already an established natural way for them to express their knowledge.

“What we have perhaps failed to discover hitherto is the immense hunger for knowledge (curiosity) existing in everyone and the immeasurable power of attention with which everyone is endowed; that everyone likes knowledge best in a literary form; that the knowledge should be exceedingly various concerning many things on which the mind of man reflects; but that knowledge is acquired only by what we may call “the act of knowing,” which is both encouraged and tested by narration, and which further requires the later test and record afforded by examinations.” (Vol 6, p. 290-291)

I once heard about a child describe what it was like to homeschool using Charlotte Mason’s methods. She simply stated “we read, we tell and then we know.”

So, how can you do a narration? 

Narration can be used in all school subjects and a variety of experiences. This method is one of the simplest and yet most foundational ways a child can learn. I have included Charlotte’s word below on the method of a lesson.

“In every case the reading should be consecutive from a well-chosen book. 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; but she should beware of explanation and, especially, of forestalling the narrative.” (Vol 1, p. 232-233)

“A corollary of the principle that education is the science of relations, is, that no education seems to be worth the name which has not made children at home in the world of books, and so related them, mind to mind, with thinkers who have dealt with knowledge. We reject epitomes, compilations, and their like, and put into children’s hands books which, long or short, are living.” (Vol 3, p.226)

1.Use a Living Book appropriate for the lesson at hand. Charlotte Mason never rushed through the reading of a book, but instead spread the readings out over terms. Ask your child to tell you what we learned about in the last lesson.

“Then, she may read two or three pages, enough to include an episode; after that, let her call upon the children to narrate,––in turns, if there be several of them. (Vol 1, p. 233)

2. Read a selection from a Living Book and ask the child to tell you what they read or was read aloud to them. If you have several children participating in the lesson, be sure to have each of them narrate. The first child may start the narration and the other may add-on more details. Be sure to take turns choosing which child you would like to narrate first.

“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.” (Vol 6, Preface)

3. Be sure to read the selection only once to reinforce the habit of attention.

“A narration should be original as it comes from the child––that is, his own mind should have acted upon the matter it has received. Narrations which are mere feats of memory are quite valueless.” (Vol 1, p. 289)

4. Encourage your child to narrate in their own words. This is a great opportunity for your child to include any connections he has made with the reading.

“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.” (Vol 6, p.172)

5. Try not to interrupt your child, during their narration.

When should you start formal narrations with your child?

Narrations can take many different forms through a child’s developmental ages and a Charlotte Mason Education.

“begins with the toddling persons of two and three who talk a great deal to each other and are surely engaged in ‘telling’ though no grown-up, not even a mother, can understand.” (Vol 6, p.190)

“Until he is six, let Bobbie narrate only when and what he has a mind to. He must not be called upon to tell anything.” (Vol 1, p.231)

1.Before the age of six, children will readily tell you about something that has interested them. We call this an informal narration. During these ages, Charlotte tells us never to ask a child to do a formal narration.

“So probably young children should be allowed to narrate paragraph by paragraph.” (Vol 6, p.191)

2.At the age of six, most children need to have their selections read aloud to them. Start with one paragraph and ask your child to give an oral narration, after reading the paragraph. When your child is comfortable with the art of narration, it is time to increase the reading section to several paragraphs and then gradually work up to several pages.

“As soon as children are able to read with ease and fluency, they read their own lesson, either aloud or silently,” (Vol 1, p. 233)

“children of seven or eight will ‘tell’ chapter by chapter” (Vol 6, p.191)

3.A child of seven or eight has begun to strengthen their independent reading abilities and can be asked to read some of the selections on their own. Their narrations should be more detailed and be about longer passages or chapters.

“On the whole, it is more useful to be able to speak than to write, and the man or woman who is able to do the former can generally do the latter.” (Vol 3, p.88)

4.Around the age of nine, children will begin transitioning to written narrations. Start by asking your child to give you an oral narration and then you transcribing their narration on paper. It will show them the relationship between their ideas and putting them on paper.

5. When the child is ten, their oral narrations and handwriting fluency should allow them to transition to the next step. Start having them do a written narration once a week. Gradually increase the amount of frequency and subjects for written narrations. In a Charlotte Mason Education, written narrations never take the place of oral narrations.

“Oral composition is the habit of the school from the age of six to eighteen.” (Vol 6, p.269-270)

“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.” (Vol 6, Preface)

Be patient. Just like any new skill, it will take time for your child to feel confident in their narration ability.

Are you ready to equip your child with the art of narration?

Click here to download a free Guide for Parents: Narration. This is a great guide to share with family members or friends interested in learning more about the art of narration.

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