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Help with Narration

What is Narration and Why do it?

When I first started to homeschool with the Charlotte Mason method, I was a bit confused about one thing: narration. While aspects of my own education involved narration, it wasn’t primary, and I would not have known I was narrating because it wasn’t used in our classroom language. I would say that comprehension questions in worksheets, quizzes, and tests were the primary method for me to practice the lessons I was learning. Those things were certainly how the teacher determined whether or not I understood the content of what we were learning. And so that’s what I thought homeschooling would be like when I started out. However, those methods were wearing us down, even in the early years. I needed something that would bring life, conversation, and togetherness into our home education and so I turned to the Charlotte Mason method. But then, like I said, narration was puzzling and hard. My son didn’t understand what I was asking him to do and would have a poor attitude when I asked him to tell me what I had read. I was a bit devastated because I was kind of placing all of my chips on this one.

If you are not familiar with the term, narration is simply retelling the story or information that you have heard or read in your own words. We do this all the time! When we are trying to share a book or story with someone, telling them what it is about, or giving a friend our own commentary about the game we watched last weekend. It’s something that is quite natural and it shows that we know what we are talking about.

What makes narration hard at first? Maybe we are so stuck in the way we used to do it, like I mentioned above. Maybe there is some nervousness or stubbornness, or our children aren’t actively listening to what we are reading, or maybe it’s just a lack of practice. I would say that all of these things were true when I started having my son narrate his subjects back to me at the beginning of this school year.

If you want some great tips for getting comfortable with Narration, I would really recommend a podcast that Julie Ross recorded on Narration: Find it here

Here are some of my favorite take-aways and notes that I took from the podcast:

  1. Discussing something with others helps knowledge move from our short term memory to our long term memory. This is a big deal when you think about how much we “learned” when we were younger that we forgot when we didn’t need it or use it.
  2. Narrating helps develop our synthetic thinking and our ability to make connections across complex ideas. It starts with reading living books, and it deepens with narration. I love when my children relate something that we already learned about or read to something we are reading together in that moment. It is so exhilarating!
  3. It builds relationships with the material they are learning by processing it and putting it into their own words, making it a part of themselves. AND it builds the relationship that our children have with us, especially before our children are able to write everything down themselves and are practicing oral narration. This is a big win for me as I really need to work at this and spend time cultivating the relationships that I have with each of my children. It’s the small things in the beginning that become the way that we relate to each other, sharing what we love, and develop into our family culture.
  4. It develops public speaking skills. Which is great because when I was younger, my Speech class was the first time I spoke in public! I had a hard time speaking to adults or my peers.
  5. It helps us to pay better attention because we know that we will need to talk about what we are hearing or reading. Once it’s the expectation, the poor attitude and difficulty often melts away, because we all know what’s going on. For us, this took about 12 weeks through the first term, of daily practice.
  6. And there are even more things that Julie shares! So listen to it!

Julie does a great job of explaining the “why’s” of narration- why it is important and then giving great tips for the “how”.

Things that helped us:

My son was very hesitant to do this at first. I felt like my efforts weren’t making any difference. So two things really helped us to make a start in narration this year:

1. Blank Books for Narration

I purchased some blank books after I saw that Julie Ross recommended them for Form 1 narration. While I was reading, or after, my son would draw something from the book, and then he would orally narrate what he wanted me to write in his book. The pictures below are from his History Narration Book:

He really loves to draw and color so this was perfect for him to get his feet wet in narration. On the left, I wrote what he orally narrated to me. Great! On the right, he wrote something from what we read that day. Great! All of it is building the skill and throughout the year, he was more comfortable with writing things himself. These are an example of the blank books we use:

We have one for History and one for Geography this year.

2. Making a Recording

So, while the blank books helped with narrating some of his subjects, we were still struggling when it came to narrating his independent reading books. I would ask him what the book was about and he would get upset with me and say he didn’t want to tell me. He was nervous and I could understand that. So instead of continuing to push him, I decided to try another approach. I asked him if he would make a short video about the story. And guess what, he wanted to! He wanted to share with his Ouma and his friends what he had read.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Fast forward to the end of the year and he loves telling me about the books that he reads and we don’t even need to do the video part of it. It is cute to watch these again though and see that he was missing his two front teeth!

So, those are some things we learned this year and a helpful resource for narration. If you are interested, check out our curriculum: A Gentle Feast.

Until next time, <3 Kate

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