Narration is a game changer. It’s one of the things we got right in our homeschool. I can say this with confidence because I see in my adult children today that same love for learning that was cultivated through narration early in our homeschool—a love for learning that has carried them through their college studies and has remained with them as they’ve moved on to their adult lives.
The beauty of homeschooling is getting to choose learning methods that are best for our children. Ones that actually work and encourage a love of learning. Methods that bring learning to life. Charlotte Mason’s method of narration is one of these.
Modern education relies heavily on the use of worksheets and tests in the classroom. Yet narration is a far superior method for learning. With worksheets, children are not increasing their knowledge of the subject; they’re simply giving information about what they know for assessment purposes. This methodology teaches children to store the information in their short-term memory until the test is over, leaving their thinking skills underdeveloped. This hijacks the child’s learning potential and love for the subject. It’s no longer about learning; it’s about achievement. The motivation becomes performance rather than deep knowledge. As I’ve said before…
If the purpose of learning is to score well on a test, then we’ve lost the real purpose of learning.
As homeschoolers, we don’t need worksheets to assess our children’s learning and comprehension. We can dialogue with them to discover what they know and can engage in the true purpose of learning: to know, understand and be truly excited about knowledge. We want our kids to want to learn because it’s interesting!
Narration engages the whole mind in the learning process, shifting the information from short- term to long-term memory. Children are contemplating and mulling over the material, making it their own knowledge while developing their thinking skills. In higher learning, students are able to think critically and make connections to things they already know when the material is sealed in their long-term memory through narration.
Narration enables our children to develop the habit of attention when they are learning.
This methodology trains our children to pay attention to what we are saying and to what they are reading, watching or studying.
Charlotte Mason believed that one of the hardest things about being a homeschool mom is inattention: having a child who is always wandering to and fro, asking unrelated questions because the child’s attention is going off in different directions. She said that attention is simply the act by which the whole mental force is applied to the subject at hand. It’s bringing the whole mind to bear on the subject. This is a habit we can train our children to engage in when they’re learning. If they know they are going to be called on to narrate back what they’ve heard, they’ll pay attention to what we are reading.
So what exactly is narration? It’s simply the child telling back what he’s learned in his own words. Children naturally love to tell stories, and narration encourages our children to tell their stories.
When they are asked to tell back, our children have to think about the subject. They have to consider what they’ve just heard, what they learned, and what they know about the topic. And next comes the exciting part! They have to eloquently express this knowledge out loud! This requires assimilating the information in their minds as they tell it back.
And as they do, our children are developing the ability to teach others. When they teach what they’ve learned, they have ownership of the knowledge, moving it from their short-term to their long-term memory. They are learning the subject matter better all the while.
Narration enables our children to think critically about the material and tell it back in a way that makes sense to the listener.
So when and how do we begin narration? Start as early as possible but make it fun! Make it simple and enjoyable. Start with small segments of reading or listening. Begin with one paragraph and have your children tell back what they understand about what you read. Make sure you ask an open-ended question. For example, after reading the paragraph in my Astronomy book about the sun you could say, “Tell me about how the sun gets its power.” Or for the younger child, “Tell me what you learned about the sun.” If you are gathered and reading as a family, you can ask each child a question geared to their level of understanding.
It’s best not to prompt your children with what you learned or what you thought was interesting. Let it be about what they learned and thought was interesting even if it doesn’t give the whole story. Their narration doesn’t have to be perfect. If your children sense that what they said was wrong, they will learn to fear and resent narration time. We want to make narration interesting, fun and entertaining! If you feel a need to further their learning you can always add after their narration, “How interesting! I learned that…” This gives you an opportunity to state a more accurate description of the facts and information.
As your children get more comfortable with narration, move on to entire pages or a chapter of a book. Your children will acquire more skill as they get older and become more experienced with narration.
Charlotte Mason recommends when you are revisiting a subject you did previously in order to learn more, make sure to “talk a little and have your children talk a little” about what they learned in the last lesson. We call this pre-reading narration. You can simply ask, “What did we learn about this yesterday?” This helps them remember, recall and retell.
When it comes to final exams, we want our children to know, not just pass! Up to 5thgrade, the exams should be oral. It’s best to give the exam after a 12 week term. Ask a few open-ended questions from every subject they studied and every book they read. Some example questions are:
“Explain what you know about the Civil War.”
“Tell me what you learned about China.”
“What do you remember about bats?”
“Tell the story of The Hobbit.”
“Describe your favorite part of Where the Red Fern Grows.”
In these oral exams, you are asking your children to call upon their long-term memory and think about what they learned. They need to organize their thoughts in their mind and express them verbally in an orderly way. This gives the child confidence as he hears himself express his learning intelligently. Oral exams give the child—and you—confidence and put a period at the end of the term, assuring everyone of a successful homeschool year.
Keep in mind that though narration is a superior teaching method, it can take time. So be patient. Often the things that take the most time are those that help our children learn best. What’s the point of teaching if our children can’t remember what they learned? Spend time on narration!
Another reason our children need to acquire the skill of narration is because it translates to greater academic success in other areas, specifically writing.
Oral narration is the pre-curser to composition.
When your children are ready, you’ll want to move them from oral narration to written narration, and the best avenue for this is through notebooking.
Be aware that the struggling learner will take a long time to write so you’ll need to modify the written narrations for his notebook until he begins writing on his own. Have your child dictate his narration and write it down for him. I would type up my child’s and print it out so he could place it in the notebook beside his illustration.
Remember the end goal is for your children to express their narration in writing. As they mature in oral narration skills, they will be able to clearly organize their thoughts and write them down. This is the foundation for effective and clear written expression.
I truly believe great composition is the result of oral narration.
If you incorporate this superior Charlotte Mason methodology into your homeschool, you’ll experience the same confidence I do when you realize your adult children left home with the greatest gift you could every give them—a love for learning.