Magic Numbers (Narration Q & A, part 10)

  • Eat three square meals a day.
  • Brush your teeth twice a day.
  • Change the oil every 3,000 miles.
  • Take the trash to the curb once a week.

Many of us love guidelines with numbers, because it’s easier to wrap our heads around the information that way. It helps us get a mental picture of what we should expect.

But even guidelines with numbers are open to debate. Maybe your health is such that you can’t eat a lot of food at one sitting. Maybe you prefer to brush your teeth after every meal. Maybe you are using a different kind of oil that works longer. Maybe you take your own trash to the dump.

It is the principles behind the numbers that are most important. The numbers may change, but the principles remain constant.

  • Eat healthful food at regular intervals throughout the day to keep a steady supply of energy.
  • Clean your teeth often to remove food particles that can cause pain and decay.
  • Change the oil in your vehicle frequently to help keep your engine clean and running smoothly.
  • Remove trash from your house to avoid a stockpile of smelly garbage.

The principles behind the numbers are important to keep in mind when we talk about narration too. Today as we continue our Narration Q & A series, we are addressing some questions about the frequency of narrating. I may give some number suggestions, but make sure you keep your focus on the principles behind those numbers and use the tool of narration as it best fits your child and your family situation.

The Frequency of Narrations

Narration Question #29: Do we require narrations of all books/subjects after age six? I seem to remember reading somewhere that certain subjects are just for enjoyment and they do not narrate them, but I cannot remember where I read that, or if it is true.

You are correct that narrations should not be required of a child younger than six. You probably read that here: “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).

As to which subjects, keep in mind that Charlotte Mason did not use the read-a-living-book-and-narrate-it method for all school subjects. That method was used primarily for history, geography, Bible, science, and literature. So those five subjects will be your main focus.

Narration Question #30: Should I make my kids narrate everything they (and I) read?

This is where it is vital to keep in mind the purpose of narration: we ask the student to narrate in order to cement the material in his mind. So a guideline that can help with this question is to ask yourself How important is this material? Do I want my student to put forth the effort to purposely remember it? If the answer is Yes, require a narration.

But you might answer No sometimes. One possible scenario for answering No might be historical fiction books. I like to use that genre to give my students a good “feel” for the time period, but it is not important that they cement in their minds the invented story. So I might not ask for a narration on that particular book.

You decide how to use the tool of narration based on what you want to accomplish.

Narration Question #31: Should I vary the subjects daily in which narration is expected (for example: Monday-History, Tuesday-Literature, etc.) OR should I consistently have my children narrate from the same subject(s) each day, as in a written history narration is required after every history reading, etc.?

The answer to this question also depends on what you want to accomplish. If you have determined that you want the material from the history book to be cemented in your student’s mind, then ask for a narration every time it is read.

Variety, however, is a good thing. Narrating every day is not an issue; narrating from the same book every day will quickly grow stale. Charlotte was careful to arrange her weekly schedule to do different subjects (with different books) on different days.

Depending on the age of the child, you could add variety by sometimes requiring an oral narration, sometimes requiring a written narration, or using some of the alternate narration ideas.

Narration Question #32: How many narrations should I require daily? Oral? Written? Both?

It’s interesting to look at Charlotte’s schedules and see how many read-a-living-book-and-narrate-it subjects she covered during a given day. In grades 1–3, it was often only one, sometimes two subjects per day; grades 4–6, it was two, sometimes three per day; for the upper grades, it was usually three. So, based on her schedule, we can assume that’s how often she required narrations daily.

Whether those narrations are oral or written depends on the level of the child. Charlotte asked for oral narrations in all the grades; around grade 4 she began to ask for some of the narrations to be written.

Here are some suggestions for what that might look like. If your 4th grader is reading and narrating two, sometimes three, books per day, you would probably want most of those to remain oral narrations; you might ask for one written narration per week in order to gradually phase them in. As your student gets more comfortable putting his thoughts on paper, you could gradually increase the number of written narrations required until, in high school, he would probably be writing at least one or two narrations every day.

But that’s just one suggestion of what it could look like. As always, teach the child and keep the principles behind the numbers in mind.


  1. Thanks so much for all these narration posts Sonya! It has been so helpful to many! What a treasure of information.

  2. Thank you so much for this series, today’s questions and answer finally clicked as what I was looking for and trying to accomplish in narration. I’m so relieved, as this is the beginning of my 4th yr homeschooling, but 1st year Charlotte Mason style…and boy did I jump in the deep end with both feet. I love the principles, I love the method , the more I learn, the more peaceful learning and teaching is becoming. My daughter told my husband after school today ” Dad! I LOVE my new books and learning! I know,” ( dramatic pause) “I bet your wondering what happened to your girl.”

    Thank you Sonya , to you and the team at SCM, for your love and passion for furthering charlottes’ ( divinely given, in my mind) method. God bless you all, sincerely , Amber Libbert

Comments are closed.