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Join hosts Pam Barnhill and Dawn Garrett as they revisit a classic episode of “Your Morning Basket” with Sonya Shafer, a homeschooling veteran, speaker, and writer specializing in the Charlotte Mason style of education. In this flashback episode, Sonya shares valuable insights into the power of narration and its role in developing children’s personalities and engagement with books. Listen for practical tips for implementing narration, the effectiveness of oral compositions, and the benefits of using living books to foster the imagination.

Pam Barnhill [00:00:04]:

Are you ready for homeschooling to feel joyful again? Do you wanna build closer relationships, remove some of the stress around planning, and enjoy learning with your children? Welcome to Your Morning Basket. I’m Pam Barnhill, a homeschool mom just like you, and I’m going to show you the magic and fulfillment that morning basket or morning time can bring to your homeschool. Grab your coffee or tea, and let’s get started. Okay. So I am joined today by Dawn Garrett, our community manager over at Your Morning Basket Plus. And we are doing something we have never done before.

Dawn Garrett [00:00:44]:

I’m really excited about it because I think that some of these old catalog episodes need more highlighting, so I’m so thrilled that you were doing this.

Pam Barnhill [00:00:55]:

Oh, yeah. And so first of all, I think it was your idea. I’m pretty sure it was your idea, but let’s just go ahead let’s just go ahead and tell everybody exactly what it is we’re doing, and that is we are bringing old episodes kind of out of the archives, dusting them off, and playing them again. And so Dawn’s right. I mean, we have over A 130 Your Morning Basket episodes, and there are some that I think have just they just don’t get the love that they deserve. And I think it’s because we’re just as as people were constantly moving forward and, you know, we’re just gonna help bring some of these back because we do think that there are some gems in there, and that doesn’t mean that the rest of them aren’t good. It just means that there are some that we just think they just need to be replayed and relistened to.

Dawn Garrett [00:01:42]:

Some of them some of them, they’re like you need to poke weeds from around the foundation a little bit and just see see what what’s going on and make sure that there’s not any cracks Sir? They’re just good reminders. So Good yeah.

Pam Barnhill [00:01:54]:

I like that. I like that. Good reminders. Really, kind of foundational. I love the word foundation. Foundational parts of morning time. And we’re gonna be starting with What Was Your Morning Basket, episode 10, and it was all about narration with Sonya Shafer, who I have to say is just one of the most gracious, lovely people out there In the homeschooling community, always such a joy to talk to and so knowledgeable about the topic. Yeah.

Pam Barnhill [00:02:22]:


Dawn Garrett [00:02:22]:

yeah. And With it being about narration, that’s just, it’s so important when we’re interacting with books and interacting with our Kids in with books, and she is very clear and knows her stuff so well that it just Like, it comes out of her pores, and it give you a lot of confidence that you can do it at home too.

Pam Barnhill [00:02:46]:

Yeah. Yeah. And I love it that she’s not Afraid to kind of throw out the warts of narration, which speaking of, we’re about to do our morning time musings, and I’m just gonna air all of my warts, But, which is a horrible visual. But she, like, she really Some of the great examples that she gave in this podcast, you know, about kids narrating the wrong things on purpose just made me feel like, Oh, it’s not just me. It’s not just my kids. Even the fabulous, wonderful Sonya Shafer has these same problems in her house. So, Yeah. It it’s very encouraging to listen to, which brings us, before we start, to our morning time musings.

Pam Barnhill [00:03:26]:

And what I wanted to ask you, Dawn, just briefly, Because I know you have an extensive experience with narration. What’s your experience with narration, and what’s one of your favorite ways to do it?

Dawn Garrett [00:03:37]:

In morning time, we keep narration really short, so it’s not, like, taking over our whole morning. And I think that’s important for keep moving through morning time. I think that’s really important. But I have 3 kids and they didn’t always want to narrate. So I got a great big wooden 6 sided die. Each of them got two numbers on the die when I’d roll it. And whoever’s number came up, You get to be the narrator for the morning, and that kept, like, arguing down. They would real quick say their piece, And then I’d say, does anybody have anything to add? And almost always, it was no, and then we’d move.

Dawn Garrett [00:04:16]:


Pam Barnhill [00:04:17]:

Okay. So I just wanna point out here with Dawn’s little practice, which I think is genius. You don’t roll the die until after the reading is done. Correct. Because then the narrator could be anyone, and everybody has to be prepared to narrate. If you roll it first, then you got 2 kids who are completely tuning out.

Dawn Garrett [00:04:37]:

So you’re you’re taking the the base layer out of that retention if you roll it first, if they know who has is going to have to narrate. No. We’ve we’ve read, then roll, and then narrate.

Pam Barnhill [00:04:47]:

So I would say that my experience has sometimes with narration has been frustrating, and I Finally realized that it came from I was just trying to do, like they tell you Sonya tells you that narration is just a simple act of telling back. Even though in this podcast, She breaks down 4 different kinds of narration and goes into the different levels, which I think is genius. So I would always say I would always read the thing and then I would say, okay. Tell me What we read. And you the kids’ immediate response to that is, well, you know what we read. You were sitting here. You read it. Right? And so there were always bad attitudes, and I found my best success with my kids in narration would come when I would change the question slightly.

Pam Barnhill [00:05:28]:

So I wasn’t throwing out a discussion question or a comprehension question or anything like that, but instead of Tell me what you read, you know, then we did get into the describing. Like, describe what, you know, describe what something looked like or Describe why somebody did what they did or so something like that. You know? But we had our best success with narration When they started reading on their own, and I could say, so what was it about?

Dawn Garrett [00:05:56]:

Yeah. I do think sometimes you some kids you can explain. I want you to tell me what you read because telling it back in your own words will help you to remember and understand it. But I also That’s gonna be contrary.

Pam Barnhill [00:06:11]:

Yeah. Yeah. They just wanna be contrary. And it’s as as we’ve actually had our better success with narration as my teens have started Reading things on their own and for some reason, they’re just really excited to share that with me. So, you know, a Suggestion would be with this situation in morning time where if if you’re getting that kind of pushback, maybe start having dad ask about it at night because he was not there And he did not know. And then mom’s still sitting there and she can listen and kinda like, oh, yeah. They did get that.

Dawn Garrett [00:06:40]:

So can also turn the tables to have your kids do the reading and mom narrate, And you can that helps you see how hard it is because it is not easy and helps them to kind of see why it works and how it works Once they’re with solid readers.

Pam Barnhill [00:06:55]:

Keep going. I will say that, you know, for the longest time, I did feel frustrated by narration, and that was of the reasons why we had Sonya on the podcast was so sneaky little thing Pam could learn about something, which is typically How I learned most of my homeschooling things was by inviting guests on and then doing stuff, you know, in interviewing them. It has been worth coming back to again and again as my kids have gotten older.

Sonya Shafer [00:07:18]:


Pam Barnhill [00:07:19]:

We’re not consistent narrators like Dawn and her kids, but it has been worth coming back to. And now I do get, much better Kind of responses from them. So if you have been frustrated by narration, number 1, listen to this podcast. There’s gonna be something in here for you. And then number 2, don’t give up on it. You don’t have to be perfect with narration to get some benefits from narration.

Dawn Garrett [00:07:41]:

Absolutely not. Correct. Yes.

Pam Barnhill [00:07:43]:

Yes. Alright. Enjoy the episode. Sonya Shafer is a mom of 4 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 Shafer [00:08:33]:

Thanks, Pam. It’s good to be with you.

Pam Barnhill [00:08:35]:

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 gonna have a great time.

Sonya Shafer [00:08:43]:

Thank you. I’m looking forward to it.

Pam Barnhill [00:08:45]:

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 kinda break it down for us and explain exactly what narration is?

Sonya Shafer [00:08:59]:

Yeah. Sure. It is probably its 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.

Sonya Shafer [00:09:42]:

So it’s a pretty high thinking level.

Pam Barnhill [00:09:46]:

Okay. 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 Shafer [00:09:53]:

Act 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? How would I form? You know, you’re going through that whole mental process, and so that’s what narration is. It is oral composition.

Pam Barnhill [00:10:31]:

Okay. So when we’re sitting there faced with a 6 year old and they’re giving us one line back, this is why we need to realize This is a process. It’s actually gonna 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 Shafer [00:10:48]:

Yes. Now, Charlotte said you don’t require narration from a child under 6 years old. So you’re right. 6 years old is when you would start asking for narration. 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 talk your ear off about it.

Sonya Shafer [00:11:19]:

That’s correct. You all the things about it. And so if we can read a book that is Citing to them or that captured their interest, it will 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 also requires some time and practice to get really good at it.

Pam Barnhill [00:11:41]:

Well, then you’ve touched upon something that 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, living book. So can we define for everybody what a living book is?

Sonya Shafer [00:11:54]:

Yeah. This is an important part of narration, choosing a book That can be narrated. A living book, the simplest definition. A living book is a book that makes the subject come alive to you. Usually, it is written by 1 author who has a passion for that subject. And The story it’s usually in story form or in conversational tone, and it will the big difference is you’ll be able to See the action in your mind’s eye or the description. It will fire the imagination that way, and usually it also will 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 mind’s eye.

Pam Barnhill [00:12:43]:


Sonya Shafer [00:12:44]:

That makes it very easy to narrate if 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 gotta use these living books That make the subject come alive.

Pam Barnhill [00:13:00]:

For finding living books, we can do that by going to the Simply Charlotte Mason book finder. Correct?

Sonya Shafer [00:13:06]:

That’s one place you can find them. Yeah. On our website, we have a Centimeters 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 book lists that have been published of other living books that are out there. This is the one I’m thinking of. The one by Michelle Miller, Truth Quest. There it is.

Pam Barnhill [00:13:47]:


Sonya Shafer [00:13:47]:

TruthQuest, it has just lots of living book lists that will help you find good living book. The All Through the Ages Book has just tons of living books in there listed in chronological order. So there’s just all kinds of resources available To help you find a living book.

Pam Barnhill [00:14:07]:

Yeah. Because I think that’s gonna be one of the questions as people get started with this process and they might come up against. Well okay. So let’s troubleshoot this. Let’s say I sat down and I read a passage to my child, and I’d 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 Shafer [00:14:29]:

Right. Correct.

Pam Barnhill [00:14:30]:

Because, you know, no child, whatever their age, is really going to be able to orally narrate an entire chapter the first time, unless they’re just super excited. Oh, we got lucky. 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 1 sentence answer. How do I begin troubleshooting This, is it the child? Is it the book? How do I know where to start?

Sonya Shafer [00:14:58]:

Yeah. 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 the her brother over there playing with Legos and it was distracting her attention, you know, 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. Mhmm. 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.

Sonya Shafer [00:16:04]:

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 4 or 5 steps you go through to have a good narration lesson. The first step obviously is choosing a good book, the good living book. But before she would read the passage, it wasn’t just a cold turkey. Okay.

Sonya Shafer [00:16:36]:

Sit down. I’m gonna jump into this. We would 1st, if we had read from that book previously, we would first review where are we in the book, what happened last time. Oh, yeah. That’s where we’re picking up the story. Okay. Now we’re ready. Now we’ve got our context set.

Sonya Shafer [00:16:53]:

And then step 3 was Let’s introduce today’s reading to the child. Let’s just very briefly give her here’s a technique you can use. Scan what you’re going to be reading today for yourself ahead of time. Pull out 2 or 3 key words. They might be proper nouns. They might be action words or they might whatever you think is a key here. Put those on a little whiteboard or a sheet of paper, and then when you’re introducing The passage that you’re gonna read today, bring up those keywords and say, okay. Now we’re gonna 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.

Sonya Shafer [00:17:38]:

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 just to wet their appetite, then you read the passage. See, we’re at step 4 now. Reading the passage isn’t step 1, it’s step 4. And then after you read the passage, keep that whiteboard up there with the words and say, okay. Now tell it back to me in your own words. Those steps, if you go through all 5 steps, I think that will make your narration lesson much more successful and go much more smoothly.

Pam Barnhill [00:18:17]:

Oh, yeah. I love that. But these steps, they only take, like, 2 or 3 minutes to complete.

Sonya Shafer [00:18:22]:

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. You’re you’re not doing 3 points and a poem Here. This isn’t time for a Thurman. It’s just a brief recap. Oh, yeah. This is where we are. Like, if we had been reading about, I don’t know.

Sonya Shafer [00:18:34]:

Haydn. I’ve been studying him lately, and his book is sitting here on my desk looking at me right now. 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, okay. Last time, oh, yeah. We we read about Papa Haydn and how he was pretending to play the violin. What do you remember about that? We’re not looking for a full blown, you know, big detailed narration at this point.

Sonya Shafer [00:19:05]:

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 Barnhill [00:19:26]:

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, as I feel like We’re having to read in such teeny tiny chunks.

Sonya Shafer [00:19:39]:


Pam Barnhill [00:19:40]:

And so it’s frustrating to me as somebody who would sit down and read, like, A whole chapter at one time or 2 chapters or something that we’re losing the story in these little chunks, so I’m liking this a lot.

Sonya Shafer [00:19:52]:

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, okay, last time papa hide and play the violin, what do you remember? It’ll take her about 1 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 the choir, and here are the keywords I want you to listen for carefully. We’re gonna find out what happens Hide in that. Now we read, then we’d have her narrate back. And then we look fuck because we don’t want our History or music history lesson here that we’re doing to take more than 15 or 20 minutes total for a child of 6.

Sonya Shafer [00:20:36]:

And 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, You know, she just narrated. She knows where we are. We’re on the same section of rope for our well here. We’re still going.

Sonya Shafer [00:20:57]:

It would just be if we Read another day that we would want to come back and review. Does that make sense too?

Pam Barnhill [00:21:04]:

Yeah. That does. That does make sense. Okay. Okay. So those are some really helpful Tips. And 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.

Pam Barnhill [00:21:29]:

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. You know? Were you here? Were you listening? Did you you know? You know, everything else is right. Maybe we’ve even narrated well on another day, and you read that 1 chapter and they’ve got, I don’t know, when you ask for a narration? I mean, 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, do you

Sonya Shafer [00:22:07]:

Well, if if you have those keywords up, that is going to help a lot because that will give her hooks to hang her narration on. If she Is this not paying attention that she was just dawdling or she was looking out the window or whatever? Then what I try to do is a natural consequence in that instant where I say, okay, we need to keep moving. We need to go on to something else. So we’re gonna set this aside. We’re gonna go do something else as entirely opposite to it as we can. Use a different part of the brain. Okay.

Pam Barnhill [00:22:41]:

Get 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 Shafer [00:22:49]:

Okay. 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.

Sonya Shafer [00:23:05]:

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 just 2 minutes of copy work and work on our fine motor skills. We could get up and do some exercises. Any of those things will use a different part of the brain than the listen, remember, and narrate.

Pam Barnhill [00:23:31]:

Okay. So as long as we’re not picking up another book and and just moving to a different book and having them do the same thing, we’re good then.

Sonya Shafer [00:23:37]:

Right. Right. You don’t wanna do that. And especially When you have several books that you wanna 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, the harder it that part of the brain is going to get fatigue. It will start to wear out, and the tireder the more tired it get, The harder it will be to pay full attention. You know how that is.

Sonya Shafer [00:24:08]:

If you’ve been sitting in a convention and you go to workshops all day long, Long about 66 work stop, it is really hard to pay full attention because that part of your brain that listen to the speaker and take note Part of the brain is over fatigued. It’s the same thing for a narration. So if you’ve got 3 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. Okay. So That’s one thing you can do if the child is just like, I don’t know what happened. You can say, 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.

Sonya Shafer [00:24:52]:

And as Charlotte said, with fresh and wit, You pick this up, and let’s try it again.

Pam Barnhill [00:24:58]:

So would you read the same passage again, or would you move on to the next passage?

Sonya Shafer [00:25:02]:

I would read the Same one again if it were short. And the other when I talked about a natural consequence, what I did there is If I know that they were paying attention, they’re just not trying, and this is more of an attitude issue Mhmm. Then I would say, okay. Setting that aside, we’re gonna go do our other school work. And later this afternoon, when you’re supposed to have free time, we’re gonna have to do this lesson over.

Pam Barnhill [00:25:31]:


Sonya Shafer [00:25:32]:

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 Barnhill [00:25:40]:

Right. But what I hear you saying is that we should probably assume that there are, like, 50 other things wrong before we assume an attitude problem. As this is such a this is a skill. You know?

Sonya Shafer [00:25:54]:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s true. I mean, the you know your child best. Now the other thing that we get sometimes is the little attitude while we’re on that subject is, well, why should I tell you? You just read it. Don’t you remember what you read?

Pam Barnhill [00:26:08]:

Okay. This is my question. Yes. So yeah. I hear that from people too that, You know, 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, you know, I have a a 5th grader or 6th grader, and I’ve just Discovered Charlotte Mason and I’ve kind of you know, I wanna do this and I wanna do it right, but we’ve never done this before and that’s how they feel. And, you know, with a child that age, I personally feel like you need to offer some kind of explanation.

Sonya Shafer [00:26:45]:

Oh, yes. It’d be very helpful.

Pam Barnhill [00:26:46]:

So how do you do that? How do you explain it?

Sonya Shafer [00:26:48]:

Okay. 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.

Sonya Shafer [00:27:28]:

So it’s a tool for you To cement it in your own mind and to help you remember it long term. That how I would explain it to the child. And I’m not gonna 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 groundwork for public speaking.

Dawn Garrett [00:28:04]:


Sonya Shafer [00:28:04]:

are so many benefits to that. It seems simple and yet it is a very deep tool that our students 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 sometime, Pam. In fact, Charlotte recommended read, like, a chapter of oh, let’s see. Who did she say?

Pam Barnhill [00:28:27]:

Probably Plutarch knowing Charlotte.

Sonya Shafer [00:28:30]:

Probably Plutarch. Well, it was 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 it’s it’s always ask yourself and what’s next? 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 Barnhill [00:28:56]:

Except I’m not sure I could do a whole chapter.

Sonya Shafer [00:28:59]:

Make a short chapter. You’ve been Doing a ASAP fable.

Pam Barnhill [00:29:02]:

There you go. Which is one of my favorite things to start with when it comes to

Sonya Shafer [00:29:06]:


Pam Barnhill [00:29:07]:

Narration, though, I think they’re great for that.

Sonya Shafer [00:29:10]:

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 2. So they’re a great place to start.

Pam Barnhill [00:29:19]:

Well and 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 Yeah. You’re teaching them a skill like any others like, you know, 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 Shafer [00:29:38]:

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 delayed, I would have her draw a picture of her favorite part of what we read. And then once she has drawn her picture, I asked her to tell me about your picture, and 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. If for the older kids, when the children were, oh, I think it was 11 to 13 or So Charlotte started asking them to write well, they started writing their narrations at 10 years old and up. And then around 11 to 13, she would throw more challenge at them and say, okay, good. This time write it in poetry form.

Sonya Shafer [00:30:30]:

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 Barnhill [00:30:39]:

Oh, wow. There’s a there’s a lot of higher level thinking. Yeah.

Sonya Shafer [00:30:45]:

Yeah. You can raise the bar quite high In narration, despite tweaking it a little bit as you go, with her high school kids, she would have them writing letters to the editor Dating their position on current issues and supporting that in a persuasive letter narration. So you can take it quite far.

Pam Barnhill [00:31:04]:

Okay. So a lot of times in morning time, you know, one of the main characteristics of this is the whole family is at the table together learning. And so, 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 3 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, like, dominating the entire scene and another one who’s going, well, I’m just gonna let her talk. I don’t have to say anything.

Sonya Shafer [00:31:41]:

Exactly. Yeah. 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 okay, next oldest, do you have anything to add to that? And the next oldest now I don’t Recommend using that one very often because the older kids catch on really fast. It’s like, no. Nothing to add.

Sonya Shafer [00:32:12]:

He did a great job, You know? Mhmm.

Pam Barnhill [00:32:14]:

I get that.

Sonya Shafer [00:32:16]:

So what you can do is you can say 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 Barnhill [00:32:32]:

No. I don’t.

Sonya Shafer [00:32:34]:

Well, if if you you know, when you get to that point, by the time you get up to the older kid, You know, 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 skill. So and so in this story reminds me of the character in this story because such and such. Are they 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 It’s the popcorn. I call it popcorn style, where the kids never know who’s going to start. So when you’re done reading, you say, okay. Johnny, you start.

Sonya Shafer [00:33:16]:

And he starts to tell it, and when he gets a little ways into it, you say, okay. Hold it there. Now who do you want to pick up the story from there? And he chooses 1 of his siblings. Okay. Susie, take it from there. And when she gets a little late, okay, hang on. Who goes next? Oh, okay. Joey, your turn.

Sonya Shafer [00:33:33]:

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 gonna draw a picture today And tell you about their picture or, you know, you can mix it up.

Pam Barnhill [00:34:04]:

Okay. I wanna hit a couple of points here that I think listeners might be thinking about right now. You said earlier that you would never require a narration for a child less than 6, that that was what Charlotte that was what she advocated. And so I know this morning when we were reading and I, you know, closed my chapter and asked them about Abraham Lincoln, I said, tell me what you remember about Abraham Lincoln. The 5 year old was the 1st one to pop up with something. So I just want to clarify for everybody. You don’t shush the 5 year old. You let them narrate if they want to.

Pam Barnhill [00:34:38]:


Sonya Shafer [00:34:38]:

Correct. If they volunteer a narration, we will take it, but we don’t require it from them.

Pam Barnhill [00:34:44]:


Sonya Shafer [00:34:45]:

If the 5 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 6.

Pam Barnhill [00:35:01]:

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 narration. So if I have a child who’s been doing it, they’re 6, 7, 8 years old now, and they know they’ve got the retelling, You know, kind of summarizing, giving lots of details, but they they still haven’t gone past that kind of I’m sure you’re familiar with Bloom’s That kind of comprehension stage into any deeper thought. Is there a you know, do you worry about that, or do you do something to try to get them to make Deeper connections.

Sonya Shafer [00:35:39]:

Yeah. What you can do let me back up for just a second and talk about in most composition program, Which Charlotte didn’t use a program, she used narration instead, but most programs emphasize covering 4 types of composition. The narrative, the descriptive, the expository, and the persuasive. And Charlotte was able to get the child To give her all 4 types of narrations and at simply in how she asked for those narration, And it was spread out over the years. Alright. 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.

Sonya Shafer [00:36:23]:

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 few would ask for that. It might be, Okay, Joey. Applying it to us today. Joey, you retell me the story. Tell me what happened. That’s right.

Sonya Shafer [00:36:52]:

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, Describe to me, 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, it’s still wide open narration questions. It’s not there’s only 1 short answer to it Or 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 with narrative.

Sonya Shafer [00:37:41]:

4th through 6th, we added in some descriptive narration. 7th through 9th, we can add in some expository narration. So it might be explain how such and such work. 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, he 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 site References and example from our readings that would prove your point.

Sonya Shafer [00:38:25]:

So she was framing the type of narration she wanted, But it was still a wide open question.

Pam Barnhill [00:38:32]:


Sonya Shafer [00:38:32]:

But she worked up to to answer your question, short form, she worked up to it in stages, Little by little as the child gained more experience with narrations.

Pam Barnhill [00:38:42]:

Okay. That’s awesome because I never knew there were All those different kinds of narration.

Sonya Shafer [00:38:47]:

So that’s pretty cool. Yeah. If you go through I think it’s the back of Volume 3 of her writing, School Education is volume 3. If you look in the back, you will see Her end of term exam question, a term with 12 weeks. Every 12 weeks, they would take 1 whole week to just do exam. And she would ask 3 or 4 questions over every book that they had been reading during that term, and those questions were always narration question. And so it kinda gave you a feel for her style of what kinds of narration questions she would ask from the kids.

Pam Barnhill [00:39:23]:

I think one of the places where I’ve been hung up before and, you know, I do have younger kids. I only have 1 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 you know, I’m not allowed to ask Any question other than tell me back what you heard.

Sonya Shafer [00:39:45]:

No. Now there is also when you get, After they have narrated to you, you have a discussion option available to you. You can play the discussion card if you want to. Okay.

Pam Barnhill [00:39:58]:

This was actually one of my questions. So

Sonya Shafer [00:40:01]:


Pam Barnhill [00:40:01]:

Yeah. This 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 Shafer [00:40:09]:

Narration is more retelling what you got from the story, retelling the story 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 We want to leave it open to that after they have already told us what they do remember. And if there is 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 guys 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 Barnhill [00:41:12]:

Okay. And 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 they’re you know, Charlotte didn’t advocate. Okay. Just Stew 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 Shafer [00:41:30]:

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 time, But you do want to be able to discuss it. Yeah. Absolutely. I made the mistake when I was first learning about Charlotte Mason. I thought a narration lesson looked like this.

Sonya Shafer [00:41:51]:

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. Yeah. And that’s all there was to it. And if they forgot something, well, too bad. That’s just the way it goes. Where there’s so much more to a good narration lesson.

Sonya Shafer [00:42:10]:

And there’s actually we have a free ebook on our website that you can download. It’s called Five steps to successful narration, and it’ll remind you of those 5 steps we talked about earlier. If you just look on our bookstore under free resources, it’ll be there.

Pam Barnhill [00:42:25]:

We’ll include a successful narration. Yeah. We’ll put a link to that in the show notes so they’ll be able to just click right over and pick that up.

Sonya Shafer [00:42:32]:

Could help some.

Pam Barnhill [00:42:33]:

Yeah. 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 Shafer [00:42:42]:

Mhmm. There are a couple of ways you can go at this. One is Charlotte said you should never interrupt a child who is 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 your What you’re saying, you lose your train of thought and you forget where you were going. And so if they just throw in 1 or 2 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.

Sonya Shafer [00:43:23]:

And when they’re done, you can then say, now is there anything you want to add to the other Children, is there anything you want to add or anything that you want to clarify? That’s a good word rather than correct. Clarify 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 then. That’s for incidental mistakes. And by the way, if it’s grammar mistakes Or something like that? Don’t even go there.

Pam Barnhill [00:43:50]:

Just let that go.

Sonya Shafer [00:43:52]:

Oh, yeah. There’s no better way to shut down a child and to start correcting her grammar when she’s trying to narrate. Goodness. You know how did you have that with writing too When you were given a composition assignment and then you handed it in and the teacher took out her red pen and fled all over the paper, Didn’t that just really encourage you to try again? Oh, no. I was like, oh, this is so fun. Yes. No. And And so we have to be careful.

Sonya Shafer [00:44:19]:

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, okay. 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 further them on to greater heights. So you don’t wanna just be looking at the book Checking for any possible mistakes so you can pounce on it.

Sonya Shafer [00:45:30]:

Mhmm. We don’t go there.

Pam Barnhill [00:45:32]:

If it’s a biggie, then you can pull them back and get them going in the right direction. But Yes. Save the other stuff for you. Yes.

Sonya Shafer [00:45:39]:

Gently with lots of gray and decide if that’s the hill you wanna die on. Yeah. Right.

Pam Barnhill [00:45:44]:

And then, you know, I have one who likes To add cupcakes and fairies and unicorns to anything we’re in. So it’s not so much a mistake as it is an embellishment sometimes.

Sonya Shafer [00:45:56]:

Uh-huh. Now Charlotte said that 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 he’s enjoying interacting with the book, And that she doesn’t really think that Hannibal took cupcakes with him over the Alps, you know, then I would let it go and I would laugh too. Okay? The looking her in the eye and encouraging her, it’d be like a little a little joke that we shared between us. I have 1 daughter who did that too, And it was just so much fun because she would get a little twinkle in her eye and she would throw some, you know, 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. And so I chalked that up to her personality and letting her interact with the material for herself.

Sonya Shafer [00:46:54]:

You know? You have to know your child.

Pam Barnhill [00:46:56]:

Yeah. And that’s awesome. That’s great to hear because sometimes I think especially and this is another thing I think moms need to realize too. 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 ourself. Because a lot of times, I sit around and think, well, if I can’t get this right, I’m just gonna quit. We’re just gonna stop. But Mhmm. We need to go through the process and just keep trying over and over again, and it may be slow process.

Pam Barnhill [00:47:23]:

You know, maybe slow what’s the word I’m looking for? 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 were not that bad?

Sonya Shafer [00:47:34]:

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 will be very I don’t wanna say surprised, maybe surprised, but you will be very pleased at what ends up At the other end of the process, what kind 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 as it sounds.

Pam Barnhill [00:48:15]:

So lots of practice. Mhmm. Well, Sonya, thank you so much for being here today and teaching us all about Narration, I do appreciate it.

Sonya Shafer [00:48:22]:

Oh, thank you for inviting me. There’s a whole lot more that we could talk about with narration. We we opened it up to questions from our readers And I thought, you know, we might get enough questions to do about 4 different blog posts to answer their questions on narration. And we ended up getting, like, 50 or 60 questions. And so we’ve answered all of those and that is on our blog as well, A q and a for narration that 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 Barnhill [00:49:05]:

Right. And that’s, narration, 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 is 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 Shafer [00:49:26]:

The book is available, but we also have just the blog post

Pam Barnhill [00:49:30]:

Oh, wow.

Sonya Shafer [00:49:31]:

Okay. In our archive. 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 post, And that will get you headed in the right direction.

Pam Barnhill [00:49:45]:

Well, we’ll find both of those. We’ll find the blog post so people could take a look, and then we’ll also link the book for People who want the ease of use to just download the whole thing and go with it. So

Sonya Shafer [00:49:54]:

Right. Yeah. They can download it all in one place, and that has a few extra chapters There’s been some extra things in it that are not in the blog archive.

Pam Barnhill [00:50:03]:

Alright. Well, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Sonya Shafer [00:50:05]:

Thank you.

Pam Barnhill [00:50:08]:

Thanks so much for listening to your morning basket. If you are ready to spend less time planning and more time engaged in learning with your children, Join your morning basket plus, a monthly membership with everything you need to start a morning time practice in your homeschool. To join, head on over to, and I’ll see you there.

Links and Resources From Today’s Show

Key Ideas About Narration

  • Learn how narration can engage children with books, develop their personalities, and enhance their oral composition, memory, and language skills. 
  • Understand the importance of grace for both parents and children as they navigate the learning process, emphasizing patience and trust. 
  • Explore the introduction of different types of narration, such as descriptive, expository, and persuasive, to students at various grade levels, and the stages of integrating these compositions into their education. 
  • Gain advice on encouraging children’s narration skills without over-analyzing, to foster higher-level thinking and a love for storytelling and expression. 

Find What You Want to Hear

  • [3:26] Morning Time Musings on Narration
  • [8:45] What is narration?
  • [11:41] What is a Living Book?
  • [13:00] Where to find living books
  • [14:07] Trouble-shooting questions to ask yourself
  • [16:04] Charlotte Mason’s narration techniques step-by-step
  • [21:04] What to do if your child didn’t pay attention
  • [26:08] How to explain the purpose behind narration to an older child
  • [29:19] Other ways to approach narration (drawing, acting out, etc.)
  • [34:04] Not requiring narration from kids under 6
  • [35:01] Moving past just retelling into other forms of higher-order thinking
  • [40:01] Narration vs. discussion
  • [43:23] What to do if a child makes a mistake

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