Narration in a Charlotte Mason Education

I’ve had lots of homeschool moms ask me what curriculum I use.  When I answer with, “I use the Charlotte Mason method. It’s all about living books and narration,” I usually get this blank stare that says, “What in the world are you talking about?”  I understand the stare because I used to be there! Not very many people are familiar with Charlotte Mason and how she approached education. Most of the information I’ve gathered about the Charlotte Mason method, I’ve gleaned from the books that Charlotte Mason wrote, and also from the Charlotte Mason podcast A Delectable Education.  Today, I’m going share with you one of the most important parts of a Charlotte Mason education. It’s called narration.

Narration Charlotte Mason

Narration is the framework or foundation upon which a child’s education is built. Simply put, narration is the child saying out loud what he knows. It’s a re-telling of the reading from a living book.

As a child narrates, he starts at the beginning of what was read and goes in sequence to the end. The child tells not only what he knows, but also what he feels about the reading. Charlotte Mason believed that when a person is able to explain an idea to someone else, it proves that they know it.  When your child is narrating to you, they are telling you what they know.

Let’s look at what part narration plays in a lesson. The first step is to review the previous lesson. This is called scaffolding in the Charlotte Mason method of Education.  Don’t let that fancy word scare you, though. Scaffolding is simply reviewing the last lesson and connecting it to the new lesson. Reviewing the previous lesson should last about a minute.

The second step is to preview what is to be read. But be careful not to over-explain the next reading.  Also, this would be a good time to define words that your child may not know.

The third step is to read two or three pages. Charlotte Mason encouraged the teacher to read an episode from a living book. Read it only once. Reading the episode twice is a stumbling block to the student. It teaches him that he doesn’t have to listen the first time.  Find a natural ending where you can stop the reading.

Finally, the fourth step is to allow the child to narrate the reading. It’s important to refrain from correcting the child in the middle of their narration so that it doesn’t distract them from what they’re saying. Also be careful not to coax answers from your child- let the narration be fully his own. Sometimes, after the child is finished narrating, it’s good to ask open-ended questions about the reading. By open-ended, I mean that there is no right or wrong answer.
Here are some examples of open-ended questions:
What was your favorite part of the reading?
Who is your favorite character and why?
What would you have done differently if you were in this character’s shoes?
Why do you think the author wrote this?
What would it have been like to live at this time in history?
Tell me something you’d never heard before.

For one student, the lesson from the beginning of the reading to the end of the narration should last about 15.  For larger families, the time would be longer to allow all the students to narrate.

Narration is important because it gives the child an opportunity to express his thoughts, to decide his opinions on the reading and as he does this, his knowledge grows. Personality shines through each narration and reveals what the child enjoys, and what the child dislikes. Narrations tell us what is important to the child.

Since narration shows us what is important to the child, it’s especially critical that as teachers we respect them during their narrating.  Pay attention to your child as they narrate. Respect them. Mothers especially are known for being amazing multi-taskers, but when your child is narrating is not that time. Look at them as they talk to you. Show them that what they are saying matters. A child never ought to walk away from narrating discouraged. Correct your children with kindness. Do it subtly, and be careful not to talk down to them. We as parents often teach our children to respect others. But sometimes, we forget that they deserve respect as well. They are real people, after all. Remember kindness. If you as their teacher give your best effort to listen to them, it will encourage them as a student to give their best effort in narrating to you.

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