The art of narration

The art of narration

Another element of a Charlotte Mason style education, narration involves your child telling back in his own words what he has just read or heard. This sounds simple enough, but the things that are going on in your child’s brain while he narrates to you are complex. Requiring your child to retell what they have heard will motivate them to concentrate a little harder; it necessitates the child to organise his thoughts, synthesise and eventually evaluate them; and places expectations on him that others will need to make sense of what he is saying.

At first, this may be somewhat haphazard, but there is no need for concern at this point; simply allow your child to pour forth everything they can remember. Begin with reading a paragraph, page or chapter, depending on the age and ability of your child, always with the aim of building up. 

The end goal of narration is to teach a child to listen carefully, evaluate what they hear/read and have him express it well orally and in writing. Having this goal set in your mind from the outset will keep you on track. Your goal as parent/teacher is to see behind the child’s words and evaluate his mental process in order to externalise his thoughts. The polishing of the actual words should be secondary.

Prepare your child

Before you read to your child explain that they need to listen carefully as you will want them to tell you about it afterwards. Do the reading only once as this teaches the child to pay close attention the first time. Also tell them what kinds of details are important, such as who, what happens and when, why things happen the way they do, and where, and also any feelings they experienced in response to the reading (this last aspect can be delayed until your child becomes comfortable with narration). Once they narrate to you, you may want to give some prompts to encourage the giving out of important details – this only need be done in the early stages of teaching narration and will come naturally as the child learns to listen and understand what is required of him.

During narration, it is perfectly acceptable, and indeed should be encouraged, for the child to insert his opinion. This shows you that he has processed the information and come to a conclusion about it. This will become a major part of narration (oral and written) during the teen years as they must consider themes in literature, and conflicts, issues and events in history and science, that they will need to write about. A child who has been taught to narrate will not struggle with writing nearly so much as one who has not been trained.

If your child is having difficulty going beyond the facts, try asking questions such as: what they thought of a character’s actions, how they felt during a particular scene, or whether (and what) it reminds them of something else. These kinds of questions will help him make decisions about and develop his own thoughts on the subject.

Build on your narration

Once a child is well on the way to giving satisfactory narrations, you might like to make it more interesting by asking a question about the reading which requires comparing or contrasting with another aspect, e.g. if you are reading about King David you might want to compare him with King Saul. Discuss and then write a paper comparing or contrasting the two kings. You can also do this with customs and differing economies throughout history, worldviews, moral issues, and so on. This will extend the child’s thinking beyond the reading.

Narration can be a springboard into other activities that help reinforce what they have learned.

Written narration and dictation

Written narration can begin at around age 10. Before then you can write out your child’s narration and have him copy it. You may wish to give this written narration to him ‘raw’ and work with him to punctuate it correctly, at the same time making suggestions for improved expression and order of content (though you may not want to do all three at once lest he becomes discouraged or overwhelmed). Seeing what has been spoken in written form has a wonderful eye-opening effect. It’s a bit like listening to your own voice. He can then rewrite it in an improved form, so he has a record of the kind of thing you are after.

Choosing literature

Once you implement narration in your schedule, you will come to realise why reading older literature is so valuable. The content of older books demands more concentrated attention for modern readers, though children brought up on good literature will develop stamina and strength of understanding, which will allow them to comprehend the content more easily. The content of older literature is often expressed in more complex grammar and vocabulary, exercising the child’s mind and increasing his attention span. However, most important of all, old books allow the reader to see the world through the eyes of writers not under the influence of contemporary culture and thus will sharpen their awareness of the world and trends around them. Keep this point in mind when you choose books and deciding what you require from your children when asking for narration. The kind of literature will, to an extent, dictate the kind of narration results you get. It may be easier to use easy books at first, and there is nothing wrong with that as a means of training, but shallow content reaps shallow results. Move on to the meat of fine literature and benefit from its depth of thought.

Narration is a valuable learning tool training children in speaking and writing which can be easily implemented in the home educating environment. It is efficient, useful over all subject areas, can be used with whatever homeschooling method you use, can be done at home or in the car, and does not require a heap of preparation from the parent.

©Joelle Grubb 2015

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