Beginning with Younger Children (Narration Q & A, part 12)

In our Narration Q & A series so far, we have covered the foundation. The tips and techniques that we have discussed apply to most age ranges and give the broad view of narration.

During the rest of this series, we will focus on how this powerful tool can be tweaked and adapted to be most effective at specific stages of a student’s educational journey. This week, let’s start at the beginning.

My third daughter graduated this year. As I was reading her final high school narration, my mind wandered back to when she was just beginning formal lessons at home. Her big eyes would peer at me out of her sweet little face as she listened carefully to the book I was reading aloud; and her blond hair would bounce as she bobbed her head in time to her words when she was narrating.

It’s a special time when a little one is first introduced to Charlotte Mason’s wonderful method of narration. Here are some questions and answers about getting started with younger children.

Narration Question #38: In the DVD series you mention that narration should not be required of a child younger than six, if I remember correctly, including an example of not trying to do so ‘secretly’ when daddy comes home. What is the difference between narration and asking questions about what the child did during a day or about what he saw/did when he went places? Would Charlotte Mason ask younger children any questions at all?

You’re right, we should not require a child younger than six to narrate. Charlotte said, “Until he is six, let Bobbie narrate only when and what he has a mind to. He must not be called upon to tell anything” (Vol. 1, p. 231). Of course, most children will freely and readily tell you about something that has interested them, and when that happens we can happily accept their informal narrations. But we need to be careful that we don’t inadvertently convey a “performance” mind-set when asking them to tell.

It comes down to a matter of our motives, I think. We need to examine why we are asking him to narrate. If we simply want to share in the child’s experience, we can enter into a free discussion of what happened and what he thought about it. But if our underlying motive is somehow performance based—if we are asking him to tell something so he can show off for relatives or company or so he can validate the good job we’re doing as a teacher or possibly so he can practice narrating—we are erring on the side of manipulating. We are not respecting the child as a person and we may be influencing him to view narration as a trick to be performed for an audience rather than as a valuable tool to be used for self-education.

Now, all of that seems a bit heavy, doesn’t it? After all, we just asked, “Bobbie, tell Daddy what we did today.” But we all know that it is the little things that can add up to become a major influence in their young hearts and minds. So let’s encourage the little ones to share their thoughts when they want to, but be careful of making that retelling a matter of performance during the early years.

Narration Question #39: How do we begin narration with younger kids when they are first starting?

Two bits of advice. First, keep the passage short. This is especially important for young beginners. They can comprehend long stories by this age, but don’t ask them to narrate a long passage yet.

Second, follow the steps to successful narration:

  1. Make sure you choose a good living book or passage, one that the student will be able to see in his mind’s eye as you read (the short passage!) aloud.
  2. If the passage is a continuation of what you read last time, do a brief review.
  3. Give a short introduction to the reading. Display two or three key words for the student to listen for.
  4. Read the (short!) passage once and ask the student to tell you the story himself, in his own words. Close the book and listen with an encouraging look on your face as he narrates. Keep the key words on display so he can use them as a mental hook on which to hang his narration.
  5. Give a simple wrap-up comment or discussion point if desired.

Narration Question #40: With littles just learning to write, how do you handle it when they do not want to dictate any longer, but say, “Mom, help me to write ‘X’ “. When that “X” is about 8 sentences long, far beyond their ability to write themselves without frustration?

It can be a helpful practice to write a child’s narration as he dictates his thoughts to you. Especially during the younger grades, while the child is still getting his handwriting stabilized and fluid, it is best to stick with oral narrations.

Sometimes children, however, want to jump to writing their narrations earlier than would be best for them. I’m glad you recognize that they probably would not be able to write eight sentences with full attention and in their best handwriting without fatigue. Most littles are not at that stage. If you feel the narration should be written down, here are a couple of ideas. You could write the eight sentences for the student and allow him to select one of the eight to copy. Another idea might be to leave a space for one missing word in each sentence as you write it. Then write the eight missing words on index cards or scratch paper, and allow the child to find the word that belongs in each sentence and copy it in its correct place.

But also keep in mind that we do not need to write down every oral narration a child gives. Indeed, waiting on us to write or type what he says could impede a child’s train of thought. If you are certain that you need some kind of record or “paper trail” for reporting purposes, you might continue to encourage oral narration by letting the child speak into an audio recorder or a video recorder at times and keep those files for your records.

Next time we’ll discuss how to go about beginning narration when you have older children.

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