Saturday, June 18, 2011


Wikipedia defines narration as "he act or process of telling the particulars of a story".  I would further expand that definition to include the retelling of the particulars of any reading assignment, be it history, science, biography, etc.

I first heard of narration when I began to learn about the Charlotte Mason method of education. Charlotte Mason was a British school marm in the late 1800's to early 1900's. She never had children of her own, and she dedicated her life to her students. She developed her own philosophy of education that was very counter-cultural at the time, and to a large extent is still counter-cultural.

There is SO MUCH I could say about Charlotte Mason, or the various aspects of her methods, but since this post is supposed to be about narration I will stick to that for now. From the Simply Charlotte Mason website, when you ask a child to narrate you are "asking him to tell back in his own words what he just saw, heard, or read. The narration can be oral or written or drawn — whatever. Because the child must think through the information and determine how to present it, mixed with his own opinion and impressions, this method of evaluation requires a much higher thinking level than mere fill-in-the-blank or answer-the-posed-question-with-a-fact methods."

The above linked Charlotte Mason narration section has a further section on "more ideas for  narration" that I encourage you to puruse if you are interested in this topic.  It gives "narration" ideas for speaking, writing, drawing, and building!  They are very good.

One thing I come away with from Charlotte Mason that I would pass along to you so that you do not get discouraged. Reading Charlotte Mason's ideas is like reading Proverbs 31: it can be encouraging, or it can be discouraging and feel unattainable. When I read Psalm 31 I can see a goal to shoot for, or I can see a super-human woman who was able to accomplish more than I can ever hope to. When the latter is my mindset I try to remind myself of the verse that says, "She rose before light and gave food to her maidens."  In other words, she had servants. How much more could I accomplish if I had servants?

When reading Charlotte Mason's ideas, likewise I can read some really incredible ideas for helping my child to learn, to liven up my homeschool, and to make learning fun again. OR, when reading her idealistic ideas I can feel that there is no way possible I could ever accomplish what she suggests I should be doing with my child -- and I am only homeschooling ONE! I can imagine the overwhelmed feeling a mom of three, five eight, whatever, might feel when reading some of CM's writings.  So, if I am feeling overwhelmed I try to remind myself that Charlotte Mason never had children of her own.  She became well-off financially because some of her writings were published and became popular. She spent most of her life teaching other women how to teach children, not actually teaching them herself. She did not have the combined complication of teaching multi-grade levels simultaneously, and figuring out how to juggle that with keeping the home with a large family clean, shopping and cooking for that family, possibly sewing or shopping to keep them clothed, etc. From where I sit, it appears that she was almost clueless.

And then also, she didn't have media. Media can be a good addition, and it can be a bad addition. It ever vies for our time. We can use a great dvd or television show to teach our children about elephants in Africa while the temperature outside is -5 degrees, but we can spend our time also ever battling our children who would rather be watching a dvd or playing an electronic game than go outside when it is 74 degrees to look at ants or stink bugs or clover... It becomes necessary to turn off a good/bad thing and find a way to turn their attentions to the great outdoors.

There is also the battle that goes on in my psyche, when my son is outside creating an elaborate village in the dirt (where I would like there to be grass, but he keeps digging). It has cobblestone streets (great! Now I'll have to pick up individual stones before the grass will grow).  It has a moat or a canal that weaves through the town ("Turn off the water! You're turning the yard into a mud-pit!")  It has cool bridges that go over the canal, that have supports and cross beams... (more clean-up before we can seed...)

Plus, is this school work and learning? (Of course it is!) How can I document it? (Take a picture, dummy!) But we're on a schedule! He needs to come in and do his math! (He's going to finish three weeks early, already! He can skip a day.) The neighbors are going to see him and call Social Services and tell them that I'm not really home schooling him. (I have plenty to shoe them that proves that I am, but I'll just call HSLDA if they knock at my door.)

All that said, you can see that embracing a counter-cultural educational philosophy can cause you to do battles in your brain. Nevertheless, Narration is a tool that is not truly counter-cultural. Every time a public school student does a book report, it is a form of narration. The beauty of the CM method of narration is that they retain more, because they narrate small chunks, not entire books.  CM does not require that they narrate everything that they read, but they should be taught to be prepared so that they read at a deeper level, ready to narrate anything they are assigned.

And Notebooking, from a previous blog entry, is an excellent form of narration because it includes drawing and writing (or you can paste a clip-art on the page). The more senses you hit, the better they will remember, and having a hard-copy of work they have done gives them something they are apt to review, which further cements learning.

So narration is a home schooling practice that is a good tool for any home school, whether the general philosophy embraces the Charlotte Mason method or not.  If you have any further questions, feel free to post a comment. Have a great day!

1 comment :

  1. I love your way of thinking! It has taken me 2 years to get to this, LOL. I notice we are happier the more I remember this too. Thanks for friending me on FB. I am following you on GFC.