“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”.
Charlotte Mason may be the single woman on earth who never had children of her own yet understood them just as well or better than most mothers. She saw the divine potential God sent them with and knew which keys unlocked them. For children under six, narration occurs whenever they are telling us something they saw or read. We should not require narration of younger children, however.
“…He should have no book which is not a child’s classic; and that, given the right book, it must not be diluted with talk or broken up with questions, but give to the boy in fit proportions as wholesome meat for his mind…”
In the Ambleside Online curriculum, narration should be done after every reading, except free-reading books. Readings are purposely spaced out so that typically only one or two chapters are read per week. The lesson begins by recalling what was previously read. Then the child is either read to or reads on their own and every few pages (older, experienced children can narrate an entire chapter) the child is asked to narrate. This involves retelling in their own words what the story is about trying to be as accurate as possible. Parent’s are cautioned not to over-correct narrations as they will improve over time.
Narrations should be original and should tell the story as the child sees it. Narration is not simply about regurgitating facts but about telling a story. My children love narration because the stories are exciting and they love to share with me what they are reading. For those coming from public school, narration can often seem tedious, but they will get the hang of it with a bit of practice. I think the most valuable thing about narration is that the story is seared into the child’s mind. They might not remember specific dates, but they remember the stories. I can’t tell you how many times we have been discussing historic events and our eight year old has told us things we never knew or had forgotten.
Narration is also an invaluable tool for preparing future writers. Younger children verbally narrate and as they get older they write their narration. Verbal narration is simply oral composition. Narration requires students to be attentive listeners and readers, pay attention to detail and comprehend what they are reading. You don’t need “informational texts” when you use the Charlotte Mason method because your children learn from age 8 to read works such as Pilgrim’s Progress. The ability to understand such complex language at a young age prepares them to receive increasingly complicated works. Narrating the classics is the key to language development and reading comprehension.
Here is a video clip from Simply Charlotte Mason on narration:
I usually read most selections with my Year 1 children and with my older children I pre-read their books. This not only helps me know if they are understanding their readings (if you know nothing about Vortigern or Justinian how do you know they are giving a correct narration?) but it also allows me to get the education I never received. Most of what my children are learning I either never learned or was only given a brief introduction to. This really doesn’t take much time, just a few minutes each day.
If you want a glimpse of a real child doing narration, I recorded our end of term “quiz” last year of my 8 year old narrating. He does quite detailed narrations, they don’t have to be this complex, but it should give you an idea of what it entails.