Welcome back to a brand new season of Your Morning Basket. We’re starting this season off with a real treat: a conversation with Sonya Shafer all about narration.
Sonya is a veteran homeschooling mom and the co-founder of Simply Charlotte Mason, where she makes the principles and practical how-tos of a Charlotte Mason education accessible to today’s homeschooling families.
In this interview, Sonya demystifies the practice of narration, or reading living books and then having children “tell back” in their own words what they remember.
She shows how narration is not so much a method of quizzing our children, but rather a powerful tool for promoting attention, comprehension, and retention as the children make the books their own.
This conversation is full of step-by-step instructions for how to get started, ideas for moving beyond the basics with older kids, and plenty of trouble-shooting advice.
Listening answered so many of my own long-standing questions about narration, plus some questions I didn’t even know I had. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Links and resources from today’s show:
- Simply Charlotte Mason
- Simply Charlotte Mason Bookfinder
- Truth Quest
- All Through the Ages
- 5 Steps to Successful Narration
- Your questions Answered: Narration by Sonya Shafer
- Narration Q&A blog post series • Part 1
A Christmas Carol | The Original Classic Story by Charles Dickens
Abby: I do feel for my kids in the sense that I say it’s off, time off, but I’m counting so much of what we’re doing toward their portfolio. You know, there’s, we do so much. For example, we’re doing Christmas around the world kind of stuff. They’re getting possibly more geography in December than throughout the rest of the year just because there’s so much to dive into in the holiday season and they’re more interested in reading and they’re so excited about the cooking and it’s so funny because to them it’s time off. But to me it’s just a shift in what we’re doing.
Pam: This is Your Morning Basket where we help you bring Truth, Goodness and Beauty to your homeschool day. Hi everyone, and welcome to episode 10 of the Your Morning Basket podcast. I’m Pam Barnhill, your host, and I’m so happy you’re joining me today. We are back from our winter hiatus. It’s been almost a couple of months and I’m glad you’re joining me again. We’re ready to gear up for another big season, season 2 of the Your Morning Basket podcast where we are going to be chatting about any number of great things. Today I’m so excited. We have Sonya Shafer from Simply Charlotte Mason on, and we’re going to be talking about narration. In the upcoming weeks, we’re going to talk more about nature study, Plutarch, teaching from rest, Shakespeare, and a number of other great topics that have to do with the subject of Morning Time. We’re happy you’re joining us and we’re going to just dive right in to the great conversation today. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Sonya Shafer is a mom of four, and a veteran homeschooler as well as a speaker and a writer. She has spent years learning about and practicing Charlotte Mason style education. And now she passes on what she has learned to others through the many resources at her website Simply Charlotte Mason. She helps parents understand what a traditional Charlotte Mason education could look like in the 21st century, and she provides families with the tools they need in order to implement Charlotte’s worthy and time-tested principles in their homeschools. Sonya is a voice of encouragement to today’s generation of homeschool moms, and when I wanted to find someone who could explain the concept of narration and how the practice can fit into a Morning Time, I knew Sonya would be just the person to ask. Sonya, welcome to the program.
SONYA: Thanks Pam, it’s good to be with you.
PAM: Well, I am so glad you’re here. You are just one of my favorite people to talk to and learn from, so I think we’re going to have a great time.
SONYA: Thank you, I’m looking forward to it.
PAM: Well, let’s talk about narration. If there’s somebody out there who has not heard of the practice, or maybe they have heard the word, but they’re not quite sure what it is, can you kind of break it down for us and explain exactly what narration is?
SONYA: Its probably lowest level, its simplest level, it is simply telling back in your own words what you just heard or what you just read. I would read something to the child, and it would need to be a living book, and then I would ask the child to tell me back everything they can remember from that reading. It has to be in their own words; it’s not just parroting or reciting what they have heard. They have to take it all in and think it through, remember it all, put it in the right sequence, put it in their own words, mix it with any other opinions they have in their head, form it into coherent sentences and then spit it back out to you. So it’s a pretty high thinking level.
PAM: So this is not just them parroting the words back, they’re actually doing a lot of thought processes in their head to be able to do this?
SONYA: Yes, they are. Charlotte called it oral composition, because they’re really doing all of the mental work, all of the steps of writing a composition, just without the writing. You know, if I asked you to write on your favorite kitchen appliance, well, you wouldn’t start writing right away, you would start thinking ‘what are my appliances, which one is my favorite, what are the points I want to say about it, why is it my favorite, how would I start this composition?’ You’re going through that whole mental process, that’s what narration is. It’s oral composition.
PAM: So when we’re sitting there faced with a six year old and they’re giving this one line back, this is why we need to realize this is a process, it’s actually going to take some time for a child to be able to do all of those things in their head and tell back to us in this way.
SONYA: Yes, now Charlotte said you don’t require narration from a child under six years old. So, you’re right. Six years old is when you would start asking for narrations. And it is an art form, she said. So it does take some practice, and some skill to become fluent at it. But if you think about it, Pam, it’s also a very natural process for children. If they are excited about something, they will come and talk your ear off about it.
PAM: That’s true.
SONYA: So if we can read a book that’s exciting to them or that captures their interest, it would be pretty natural for them to want to tell you about it, what they got out of it, what they remember. So it’s kind of both. It is natural but it is also requires some time and practice to get really good at it.
PAM: Well then, you’ve touched on something I think we need to talk about here, because you were saying you need to read a book that’s interesting to them. And you mentioned earlier a living book. So can we define for everybody what a living book is?
SONYA: This is an important part of narration: choosing a book that can be narrated. A living book, the simplest definition is a living book is a book that makes the subject come alive to you. Usually it is written by one author who has a passion for that subject and it’s usually in story form or in conversational tone and the big difference is that you will be able to see the action in your mind’s eye, or the descriptions. It will inspire the imagination that way. And usually it will also touch the emotions so that the child will grab a hold of it and make it their own, and then it will be much easier to - I call it ‘replay the movie in their minds eye’ that makes it very easy to narrate. They can see the action in their mind’s eye. It’s very hard to narrate a textbook, it’s almost impossible to narrate a textbook. You’ve got to use these living books that make the subject come alive.
PAM: For finding living books we can do that by going to the Simply Charlotte Mason book finder, correct?
SONYA: That’s one place you can find them. On our website we have a CM Book Finder that is a database of thousands of living books. My friend, Karen, and I who run Simply Charlotte Mason, we put in the information about the thousands of books on our own bookshelves and then lately we’ve opened it up so other people who do Charlotte Mason could enter their favorite books in that database as well. That’s one place you can find it. You can also look at different booklists that have been published, of other living books that are out there. What’s the one I’m thinking of? The one by Michelle Miller.
SONYA: There it is! TruthQuest, she has just lots of living book lists that will help you find good living books that all through the ages just has tons of living books in there, listed in chronological order. So there are just all kinds of resources available to help you find a living book.
PAM: Because I think that’s going to be one of the questions as people get started with this process and they might come up against… well, let’s troubleshoot this. Let’s say I sat down and I read a passage to my child, and I know that I’m supposed to keep these passages short in the beginning, no matter what the age of the child as they’re learning to narrate.
SONYA: Right. Correct.
PAM: Because no child, whatever their ages, is really going to be able to orally narrate an entire chapter through the first time, unless they’re just super excited. If I sit down with my child, and I read, let’s say, a paragraph to them and they come back at me with a one sentence answer, how do I begin troubleshooting this? Is it the child? Is it the book? How do I know where to start?
SONYA: That’s a good question. I would start by asking myself, is this a true living book? Make sure I’ve got a good living book. And, can I visualize what’s happening in my mind’s eye as I’m reading it? If so, then let’s keep trying with it. Now, another thing that I would ask myself is, is the portion too long? If it’s only a paragraph, then probably the answer is going to be no. I would also ask myself, was the child paying attention, or was she distracted by something? Was the baby crying in the other room or in this room? Was the phone ringing? Was her brother over there playing with legos and it was distracting her attention? Anything like that because if you’re going to read a passage one time and require a narration immediately after that one reading, that child has to be paying full attention. So I would ask myself, was she being distracted by anything? And then if the answer to all of those is coming up no, I think it’s fine, I think the book is fine, the length was fine, she was not distracted, then I would need to remind myself of a technique that Charlotte used often with the kids, and I would probably use this next time we read from the book. There are actually about four or five steps you go through to have a good narration lesson. The first step obviously is choosing a good book, a good living book. But before she would read the passage, it wasn’t just a cold-turkey, ‘OK so I’m just going to jump into this.’ If we had read from that book previously, we would first review where we are in the book? What happened last time? “Oh yeah, that’s where we’re picking up the story.” OK, now we’re ready, now we’ve got our context set, and then step 3 was let’s introduce today’s reading to the child. Here’s a technique you can use: scan what you’re going to be reading today for yourself ahead of time, pull out two or three key words. They might be proper nouns, they might be action words, or whatever you think is the key here. Put those on a little white board or a sheet of paper and then when you’re introducing the passage that you’re going to read today, bring up those key words and say, “OK, now we’re going to hear about so-and-so and this location, and I want you to listen very closely, especially for these things and I want you to include them in your narration” and then you leave that up there on the board while you’re reading. That just gives them little mental hooks to hang their narration on. So then you’ll do that brief introduction to whet their appetite, then you read the passage. See, we’re at step four now. Reading the passage isn’t step one, it’s step four. And then after you read the passage, keep that white board up there with the words, and say “OK, now, tell it back to me in your own words.” Those steps, if you go through all five steps, I think that will make your narration lesson much more successful and go much more smoothly.
PAM: I love that. But these steps, they only take two or three minutes to complete.
SONYA: Absolutely. You’re not doing three points and a poem here. This isn’t time for a sermon. It’s just a brief recap. “Oh yeah this is where we are.” If we had been reading about Haydn (I’ve been studying him lately, his book is sitting here on my desk looking at me right now), if we were studying about Papa Haydn and last time we read about how he pretended to play a violin when he was a little boy, that’s how much he just loved music. So we would say, “Last time, oh yeah, we read about Papa Haydn, and how he was pretending to play the violin. What do you remember about that?” And we’re not looking for a full blown, big detailed narration at this point, just enough to make a connection. Charlotte likened this step to pulling the rope out of the well, so you can tie the next section of rope onto it. So that when we’re done the whole story of Haydn will be connected, not just individual little snippets. Does that make sense?
PAM: Yeah, because this is one of the things that comes up as I’m reading through something with my children, and we’re trying to practice this narration technique, is I feel like we’re having to read in such teeny tiny chunks, and so it’s frustrating to me as somebody who would sit down and read a whole chapter at one time, or two chapters or something, that we’re losing the story in these little chunks, so I’m liking this a lot.
SONYA: Well, good. And again, like you said, this is not taking up the entire time. It would only take a couple of minutes to say, “OK, last time Papa Haydn played the violin, what do you remember?” It would take her about one minute or less to tell you what she remembers about that. “Alright, this time we’re going to read about what happens next to Haydn and how he goes into this choir. And here are the key words I want you to listen for carefully. We’re going to find out what happens to Haydn next.” Now we read. Then we have her narrate back. Again, we look at the clock, because we don’t want a history or music history lesson that we’re doing, to take more than 15 or 20 minutes total for a child of six. So when we get to that point where she has given us the narration, we look at the clock, ‘Do we have time to keep going?’ Yes we do. So then we read the next paragraph. And we don’t have to go through those previous steps again, because she just narrated. She knows where we are. We’re on the same section of rope for our well here, we’re still going. It would just be if we read another day that we would want to come back and review. Does that make sense too?
PAM: That does make sense.
OK, so those are some really helpful tips. You talked a little bit in there about the attention thing, where your child has to be paying attention. And so I know that Charlotte Mason advocated reading a passage only one time in order to build that habit of attention. So what do I do when I’m faced with a child who either tells me “I don’t know” or they give me this really subpar narration? Let’s say I get through that first Haydn paragraph with them and the narration is just like ‘Oh my goodness, were you here? Were you listening?’ You know everything else is right. Maybe we’ve even narrated well on another day and you read that one chapter and they’ve got, “I don’t know” when you ask for a narration. There’s part of me, I know that Charlotte Mason said don’t read it again, what do you do when you feel like you just failed at this?
SONYA: If you have those keys words up, that is going to help a lot, because that will give her hooks to hang her narration on. If she is just not paying attention, that she was just dawdling, where she was just looking out the window or whatever, then what I try to do is apply a natural consequence in that instance, where I say, “We need to keep moving, we need to go onto something else, so we’re going to set this aside.” We’re going to go and do something else that’s entirely opposite to it as we can. Use a different part of the brain.
PAM: OK, stop for just a second and tell me if I need to go do something opposite of narration, what should I go do at this point?
SONYA: We’ve been using the listen to mom read and narrate, we’ve been working with words, we’ve been sitting in a chair. We’ve been dealing with sentences and literature, so now let’s go do something else. We could go do math for a little bit, use number part of the brain. We could go outside and do nature study. We could look at a picture and talk about a picture, do picture study. We could go listen to some music and do music study. We could do two minutes of copy work, and work on our fine motor skills. We could get up and do some exercises. Any of those things we use a different part of the brain than the listen, remember, and narrate.
PAM: So as long as we’re not picking up another book and just moving to a different book and having them do the same thing, we’re good then?
SONYA: Right. You don’t want to do that. And especially when you have several books you want to get through in a day, don’t do them back to back to back. You’re shooting yourself in the foot. The more you make the child use the listen and narrate part of the brain that part of the brain is going to get fatigued. It will start to wear out. And the more tired it gets, the harder it will be to pay full attention. You know how that is. If you’ve been sitting in a convention and you go to workshops all day long, by about the 6th workshop, it’s really hard to pay full attention because that part of your brain that listens to the speaker and take notes part of the brain is over-fatigued. It’s the same thing for a narration. So, if you’ve got three books that you’re going to be narrating from during the day. Spread them out and put other activities in-between them that will use different parts of the brain and body.
SONYA: That’s one thing you can do. If the child was just like, “I don’t know what happened.” You can set it aside, let’s go do something else. But they’re not getting off scot-free. You go do something else, then you come back. And as Charlotte said with freshened wit you pick this up and let’s try it again.
PAM: So, would you read the same passage again? Or would you move on to the next passage?
SONYA: I would read the same one again if it were short, and when I talked about a natural consequence, what I did there is, if I know they were paying attention, they’re just not trying, and this is more of an attitude issue, then I would say, “OK setting this aside we’re going to do our other school work. And later this afternoon when you’re supposed to have free time, we’re going to have to do this lesson over.”
SONYA: “Because you stole the time from me, so I’m going to have to take time from you this afternoon.” That might be another way to handle it.
PAM: Right. But what I hear you saying is that we should probably assume that they’re like, 50 other things wrong, before we assume an attitude problem. As if this is a skill, you know.
SONYA: Yeah, it’s true. You know you’re child best. Now the other thing that we get sometimes, is the little attitude, while we’re on that subject, is “why should I tell you, you just read it, don’t you remember what you just read?”
PAM: OK, this is my question! I hear that from people too that kids will feel like they’re being quizzed or put on the spot. So, how do you explain, kind of, the concept of what you’re trying to do, especially with an older child. Let’s say I have a fifth grader or sixth grader and I’ve just discovered Charlotte Mason and I want to do this and I want to do it right, but we’ve never done this before, and that’s how they feel. And with a child that age I personally feel like you need to offer some kind of explanation.
SONYA: Oh yes, that would be very helpful.
PAM: So how do you do that? How do you explain it?
SONYA: So the main thing is to make sure the child knows narration is not for the teacher’s benefit. You are not retelling it for my benefit. It is for your own benefit. This is a powerful tool that you can use to educate yourself for the rest of your life. This is the tool that I am trying to learn how to use better myself so that I can continue to learn and this is a tool that you can use, if you can read something once with full attention and put it in your own words, and tell it back to me, you know it. Charlotte called that the act of knowing. So it’s a tool for you to cement it in your own mind and to help you remember it long-term. That’s how I would explain it to the child. And I’m not going to sit here and ask you questions so that you remember only the little bits that you think I’m going to ask. That’s not true education for yourself. This is ‘I want you to remember as much of it as you possibly can, and I want you to practice using language well, to communicate what you have learned to other people.’ Narration is also laying the ground work for public speaking. There are so many benefits to this. It seems simple and yet it is a very deep tool that our students can use, and that we can use. Good grief, people of all ages can use this! I try to do it too. I challenge you to do it some time, Pam. In fact, Charlotte recommended read like a chapter of … let’s see, who did she say? …
PAM: Probably Plutarch, knowing Charlotte.
SONYA: Probably! Well, I would read a chapter to yourself right before bed, lay the book aside, and that’s the key too, no looking back. Lay the book aside, and go over it in your mind, and always ask yourself, ‘What’s next? What happened next?’ Tell it to yourself and then go to sleep. And the next morning see how much of it you remember. You’ll be amazed.
PAM: Except I’m not sure I could do a whole chapter.
SONYA: Choose a short chapter. Do an Aesop’s Fables.
PAM: There you go, which is one of my favorite things to start with when it comes to narration. I think they’re great for that.
SONYA: They are, because they’re so short, yet you can see them in your mind’s eye and it is an entire story in just a paragraph or two. So they’re a great place to start.
PAM: Well, I think it’s important for the child that they see that you’re not some kind of adversary in this process, that you are teaching them a skill, like you would teach them long division, and then ask them to practice long division problems. The same thing with narration, you’re teaching them a skill.
SONYA: And just telling back in your own words is just one way of doing narration. If you have a child, as I do, who has language delays, I would have her draw a picture of her favorite parts of what we read, and then once she has drawn her picture, I ask her to tell me about your picture. So then that kind of helps her to communicate better. So you can have them draw pictures, you can have them act out the story for themselves. For the older kids, when the children were 11-13 or so, Charlotte started asking them to write. They started writing their narrations at 10 years old and up, and then around 11-13, she would throw more challenge at them, and say, “Good, this time write it in poetry form” and if she really wanted to raise the bar, she would say, “Write it in poetry form after the style of this particular poet whom we have been reading.”
PAM: Oh wow. There’s a lot of powerful thinking.
SONYA: Yeah, you can raise the bar quite high in narration, just by tweaking it a little bit as you go. With her high school kids she would have them writing letters to the editor, stating their position on current issues, and supporting that in a persuasive letter narration. So you can take it quite far.
PAM: OK, so a lot of times in Morning Time, one of the main characteristics of this is the whole family is at the table together, learning. So, for example, this morning we read a very delightful chapter from Stories of the Americas 2, the one on Abraham Lincoln. So we’re all there together, and my family is learning history, and I’ve got the three kids there. So give me some tips about doing narration with a group of children altogether, so that I don’t have one who’s dominating the entire scene and another one who’s going, ‘I’m just going to let her talk, I don’t need to say anything.’
SONYA: Exactly. Well, there are several ways you can go about it. And I always encourage moms to mix it up so the kids have variety in this. One thing you can do is go in age order, start with the youngest and say, “Tell me everything you remember” and when they’re done, say, “OK, next oldest, do you have anything to add to that?” and then the next oldest. Now, I don’t recommend using that one very often because the older kids catch on really fast. “No, nothing to add. He did a great job!”
PAM: I get that!
SONYA: So, what you can do is start with the youngest and when he is done, go to the next one and they are required to add something that has not already been said. Now if you’ve got 15 kids in front of you … you don’t have 15, do you Pam?
PAM: No, I don’t.
SONYA: When you get to that point, by the time you get up to the older kids, at some point the whole story will have been told, and that’s good, because the older kids are now going to have to use critical thinking skills. “So-and-so in this story reminds me of so-and-so in this story because of such-and-such.” Or they’re going to have to offer opinions on what happened and support those opinions. So they can take it that direction as well. Another approach you can do is I call it the popcorn style, where the kids never know who’s going to start. So when you’re done reading, you say, “Johnny, you start.” And he starts to tell it and when he gets a little ways into it, you say, “OK, hold it there. Now who do you want to pick up the story from there?” And he chooses one of his siblings. “OK, Susie take it from there.” And when she gets a little ways, “OK, hang on. Who goes next? OK, Joey, you’re turn.” And you can just do it popcorn style, going through the kids that way. That’s some of the ways you can do it. If you have an older child, who’s older than 10, and has already had the foundation of oral narration laid and is comfortable with it, then you could dismiss that child to go in another room and write his narration while you deal with just the younger ones here, and maybe they’re going to draw a picture today, and tell you about their pictures. You can mix it up some.
PAM: I want to hit a couple of points here that l think listeners might be thinking about right now. You said earlier that you would never require a narration for a child less than six. That that was what Charlotte advocated. And so I know this morning when we were reading, and I closed my chapter and asked them about Abraham Lincoln, I said, “Tell me what you remember about Abraham Lincoln.” The five year old was the first one to pop up with something. So I just want to clarify for everybody, you don’t shush the five year old. You let them narrate if they want to, right?
SONYA: Correct. If they volunteer in narration, we will take it. But we don’t require it from them.
SONYA: If the five year old is the one who keeps talking over and so the older siblings don’t get a chance, then we need to start taking turns. But yeah, we don’t require it younger than six.
PAM: And then what do you do with a child who’s been doing narration for a number of years, and you’re talking about all of this wonderful higher level thinking stuff going on in narrations. So if I have a child who’s been doing it, they’re six, seven, eight years old, and they know, they’ve got the retelling, kind of summarizing, giving lots of details, but they still haven’t gone past that kind of, I’m sure you’re familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy, that comprehension stage into any deeper thought, do you worry about that or do you do something to try to get them to make deeper connections?
SONYA: Yeah, what you can do… let me back up for just a second and talk about in most composition programs, which Charlotte didn’t use a program, she used narration instead, but most programs emphasize covering four types of composition: the narrative, the descriptive, the expository, and the persuasive. And Charlotte was able to get the child to give her all four types of narrations in simply in how she asked for those narrations. And it was spread out over the years. So your 1st through 3rd grade focused mainly on the narrative form: tell me the story. Retell the story. And that’s where you start. That’s the simplest form. But then once you got to 4th through 6th grade, Charlotte would keep the narrative plate spinning but she would also bring in another possibility and that would be the descriptive. So if the passage lent itself well to a descriptive type of narration, then she would ask for that. It might be, “OK, Joey” (applying it to us today) “Joey, you retell me the story. Tell me what happened? That’s right.” Now Susie is in 4th through 6th grade, “Susie, describe to me what such-and-such looked like in that passage that we read.” So we’re helping her learn to find her feet in this descriptive style. Or if you’re reading a geography book Charlotte would do things like, “If you were entering Rome through such-and-such a gate, what would it look like? What would you see?” so those types of questions. They’re still wide open narration questions. It’s not there’s only one short answer to it, where there’s a yes or no answer, that’s what we want to shun. We want to leave it open for them but she is guiding them into what type of narration she wants from them. So, 1st through 3rd was narrative, 4th through 6th we added in some descriptive narration, 7th through 9th we can add in some expository narrations, so it might be, “Explain how such-and-such worked. We’ve been reading about a beehive. Explain to me how a beehive works.” And let them practice using expository narration. And then in 10th through 12th grade she added in some of these persuasive ones: so-and-so in this book, compare him to so-and-so in this other book. Which one’s character is more in line with Scripture and prove that. Give me sight references and examples from our readings that would prove your point. So she was framing the type of narration she wanted but it was still the wide open question.
SONYA: To answer your question short-form, she worked up to it in stages, little by little, as the child gained more experience with narration.
PAM: That’s awesome. I never knew there were all those different kinds of narrations. So, that’s great.
SONYA: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. If you go through, I think it’s the back of Volume Three of her writings. School Education is Volume Three if you look in the back you will see her End of Term exam questions. A term was 12 weeks, every 12 weeks they would take one whole week to just do exams. And she would ask three or four questions over every book they had been reading during that term and those questions were always narration questions, and so it kind of gave you a feel for her style of what kinds of narration questions she would ask from the kids.
PAM: I think one of the places I’ve been hung up before, and I do have younger kids, I only have child who is basically out of that retelling part of narration, so this could be one of the reasons why. But I always kind of get hung up on I’m not allowed to ask any question other than ‘Tell me back what you heard.”
SONYA: No. There is also after they have narrated to you, you have a discussion option available to you. You can play the discussion card if you want to.
PAM: This was actually one of my questions. I’m glad you brought this up because I really want you to talk about the differences between the two and how narration might lead to discussion.
SONYA: Narration is more retelling what you got from the story, retelling the story itself. Discussion would be what we think about that, what that reminds us of, do we agree with what they did, where do we think this might lead next? Just different things like that. We don’t want to analyze and pull a story apart until all the joy is gone out of it, but simple discussion questions that arise, of course, those are very welcome and we want to leave it open for that, after they have already told us what they do remember. And if there’s a certain point that they left out their narration, something that you think is quite important, you can bring it up in the discussion time. You can say, “Now, I remember there was a part about such-and-such. Do you remember that one? What can you tell me about that?” So you can bring that up then in order to tie up any loose ends, or to emphasize something that you really wanted to bring out of that passage.
PAM: I think that’s a lot of things. People don’t think about that, or don’t really know about that part of it, that Charlotte didn’t advocate just do your narration and stop, put the book away, and you’re not allowed to talk about it or ask about it or anything like that, but you can follow it up with that discussion period.
SONYA: Yes, absolutely. And again, it needs to be brief. You don’t want to intrude on the child and tell them exactly what they should be thinking at all times. But you do want to be able to discuss it. Absolutely. I made the mistake when I was first learning about Charlotte Mason, I thought a narration lesson looked like this: open the book, well first, tell the child to sit down, open the book, read the passage, tell the child to tell you what they remembered, and then move on. And that’s all there was to it. And if they forgot something then too bad, that’s just the way it goes. There’s so much more to a good narration lesson. And there’s actually, we have a free e-book on our website you can download. It’s called Five Steps to Successful Narration, and it will remind you of those five steps we talked about earlier, if you just look on our bookstore and under Free Resources.
PAM: We’ll put a link to that in our Show Notes, so they’ll be able to click right over and pick it up.
SONYA: That should help some.
PAM: I think another question that might be on people’s minds is what happens if the child is in the middle of narrating and they’re just flat out wrong about something?
SONYA: There are a couple of ways you can go at this. One is Charlotte said you should never interrupt a child who’s narrating, because it throws them completely off track. You know how it is if you’re trying to tell a story to someone and they keep interrupting you to correct you, correct what you’re saying? You lose your train of thought. And you forget where you were going. And so, if they just throw in one or two mistakes, like they said “So-and-so talked to George” when so-and-so was actually talking to Herbert, you might just go ahead and let them keep going because they’re on the right track, they just got a little detail off. And when they’re done, you can then say to the other children “Now, is there anything you want to add or anything you want to clarify” (that’s a good word, rather than correct) and see if any of them caught it and want to correct it, or you can go ahead and say it when she’s done. That’s for incidental mistakes and by the way, if it’s grammar mistakes or something like that, don’t even go there.
PAM: Yeah, just let that go.
SONYA: Oh yeah, there’s no better way to shut down a child than to start correcting her grammar when she’s trying to narrate, goodness. Did you have that with writing too, when you were given a composition assignment and then handed it in and the teacher took out her red pen and bled all over the paper? Didn’t that just really encourage you to try again?
PAM: Oh yeah!
SONYA: Oh, this is so fun. No! So we have to be careful we’re not bleeding all over their papers if they are writing their narrations. But we also sometimes can do the same approach verbally, if we’re not careful. So, let the incidental mistakes go if they’re not important, but if she’s just completely on the wrong foot, she got started on the wrong trajectory and she’s just going off in left field, then you might need to reel her back in gently, and say, “Oh, hang on, that’s not what I heard” or “that’s not what I thought it was” and discuss it as a group. You might need to, at that point, go back (to clarify) to the text but you want to stay away from looking at the book during narration as much as possible. That’s another thing Charlotte said. Don’t bury your nose in the book while the child is narrating to you. Look at the child. Let your face convey encouragement to the child, an interest in what they are saying, so that you can spur them on to greater heights. So, you don’t want to just be looking at the book, checking for any possible mistakes so you can pounce on it. We don’t go there.
PAM: If it’s a biggie, then you can pull them back and get them going in the right direction, but save the other stuff.
SONYA: Yes, gently with lots of grace. And decide if that’s a hill you want to die on.
PAM: And then I have one who likes to add cupcakes, and fairies, and unicorns to anything. So it’s not so much a mistake as it is an embellishment sometimes.
SONYA: Now, Charlotte said each child’s narration it will be a reflection of their personality. They add little delightful touches in there. And so if you know that it’s just something fun that the child wants to do because she’s enjoying interacting with the book, and that she doesn’t really think that Hannibal took cupcakes with him over the Alps, then I would let it go and I would laugh too.
SONYA: Looking her in the eye and encouraging her, like a little joke that we shared between us. I had one daughter that did that too, and it was just so much fun, because she’d get a little twinkle in her eye and she would throw some Star Wars character into her narration just for fun. And I knew that she knew it was just for fun, that it wasn’t really part of the story. So I just chalked that up to her personality in letting her interact with the material, for herself. You have to know your child.
PAM: Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s great to hear. This is another thing moms need to hear too because we need to give grace to our children as they’re learning how to do this very powerful thing, but we also need to give grace to ourselves, because a lot of times I sit around and think, ‘If I can’t get this right I’m just going to quit, we’re just going to stop.’ But we need to go through the process and just keep trying over and over again, and it may be a slow process, it may be slow-going, but if we keep at it, we will eventually get there and one day we’ll look up and say, “Hey, you know, these narrations weren’t that bad.”
SONYA: Yes, we have to trust the process. And sometimes that is hard to do, but eventually the children, if they internalize this tool and start making it their own, you’ll be very … I don’t want to say surprised, maybe surprised … but you will be very pleased at what ends up at the other end of the process, what kinds of narrations you’re going to get once they have had a lot of years to practice this. And I tell you, if you think this is an easy tool, an easy task, an easy skill, try it for yourself. It is not as easy as it sounds.
PAM: So lots of practice. Well, Sonya, thank you so much for being here today and teaching us all about narration. I do appreciate it.
SONYA: Thank you for inviting me, there’s a whole lot more that we could talk about with narration. We opened it up to questions from our readers and I thought, ‘You know, we might get enough questions to do about four different blog posts to answer their questions on narration.’ And we ended up getting 50 or 60 questions and so we’ve answered all of those questions and that is on our blog as well, a Q&A for Narration, but it might be helpful to some people; how to get started all the way up to how do you handle this in high school and how do you raise the bar on it? So hopefully that will encourage a lot of moms to use this powerful tool for themselves as well as for their children.
PAM: Right, and that’s Narrations, Your Questions Answered, and that’s a book they can get in your store. I have it. I actually own it, and we have a mom at our co-op who’s doing narration with a group of children each week and she owns a copy of it and that’s what she’s using as her guide. So it’s an awesome guide and we’ll link to it in the Show Notes as well.
SONYA: The book is available but we also have just the blog post in our archives. Now the book has a little bit of extra information besides what is on the blog post. But if you aren’t able to grab the whole book right now then at least read the blog posts and that will get you headed in the right direction.
PAM: Well, we’ll find both of those. We’ll find the blog posts so people can take a look and then we’ll also link to the book for people who want the ease of use to just download the whole thing and go with it.
SONYA: Right, they can download it all in one place and that has a few extra chapters and some extra things in it that are not in the blog archive.
PAM: Well, thanks so much. I appreciate it.
SONYA: Thank you.
PAM: OK, for your Basket Bonus today, in addition to some of the wonderful resources that are available over at SimplyCharlotteMason.com to help you get started with narration, we’ve also got for you a little downloadable bookmark of narration ideas so you can print this out, put it in your book, and as you’re reading along at the end of the chapter or at the end of the paragraph each day, you can kind of look to this narration bookmark for some ideas to get you started with your narration. And we’ve put this together in conjunction with [**inaudible** 44:12] Miss Jenny Langley, who is a good friend of ours and who has used the Charlotte Mason method for a number of years, so be sure to head on over to the Show Notes for this episode, that would be EDSnapshots.com/YMB10 to download your Basket Bonus and check out all the great links that Sonya talked about in the show today. And that’s it for episode 10. We will be most happy for you to head on over to iTunes if you liked this episode and be sure to leave us a rating or review over there. And I just want to say thank you to everybody who has already taken the time to do so. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with our next episode, and until then continue seeking Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in your homeschool day.
Key Ideas about Narration
- Narration is the practice of reading living books and having children “tell back” what they remember.
- Narrations requires the habit of attention, from both parent and child.
- Narration is a powerful tool for both comprehension and memory.
- Narration is a strenuous task, but a fruitful one as children make stories and ideas their own by telling them in their own words.
- Narration requires that we begin with a living book
Find what you want to hear:
- [2:26] what is narration
- [4:21] narration as a natural, but strenuous, process for children
- [5:21] what is a living book
- [6:32] where to find living books
- [7:48] trouble-shooting questions to ask yourself
- [9:51] Charlotte Mason’s narration techniques step-by-step
- [14:50] what to do if your child didn’t pay attention
- [19:51] how to explain the purpose behind narration to an older child
- [23:09] other ways to approach narration (drawing, acting out, etc.)
- [23:40] written narration
- [24:36] group narration
- [27:40] not requiring narration from kids under 6
- [28:33] moving past just retelling into other forms of higher-order thinking
- [33:18] narration vs. discussion
- [36:07] what to do if a child makes a mistake
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