We just returned from a homeschool convention in Texas that required four days on the road and three days at the convention hall. You do the math.
During those days away from home, we ate in many different restaurants, and I noticed a trend among the informal ones. As we came in the door, an employee would call out, “Hello, welcome to (insert name of restaurant)!”
But I never felt welcomed. You see, the employee never established eye contact, never smiled at us, never even identified herself. In fact, I often had to look around in confusion to see who might have hollered at us.
It’s true that the employee was performing the required action—greet everyone who comes in the door and say such-and-such—but the purpose seemed to be lost. She knew what to do, but the Why behind it was missing; so her efforts ended up being an exercise in futility. Rather than feeling welcomed, I felt confused and a bit uneasy.
As we begin this Q & A series on narration, I think we need to start with the Why behind the How. You see, we can spend weeks discussing various techniques and how-to’s until you feel confident in what to do, but if you don’t fully grasp the reason Charlotte Mason used narration, your efforts may end up being an exercise in futility.
Many children wonder why we ask them to retell what was just read.
Narration Question #1: I always get the question from them, “Why do I have to tell it to you when you just read it?” I read everything to them right now.
It’s a legitimate question. If the narration were for your benefit, as the teacher, telling you what you just read wouldn’t make much sense.
But the truth is that narration is for the student’s benefit.
The mental work of narration—remembering, comprehending, organizing, sequencing, and forming into your own words—is a powerful tool! Information can enter your child’s mind, but until that child works with it, processes it, and makes it his own, he doesn’t really know it.
Narration helps the student make it his own; it helps him cement that information in his mind. It helps the student know.
That’s why Charlotte called this process “the act of knowing.”
“They must read the given pages and tell what they have read, they must perform, that is, what we may call the act of knowing” (Vol. 6, p. 99).
To truly begin to understand the power of narration, you might want to try it for yourself. Take what you have read in this post about the reason we ask students to narrate, and (without looking back) put it into your own words so you can explain to your children the Why behind the How.
“Whatever a child or grown-up person can tell, that we may be sure he knows, and what he cannot tell, he does not know” (Vol. 6, pp. 172, 173).