When we think of narration, we often envision a parent and a child sitting comfortably on the couch. The mother is smiling and nodding—the book closed and resting in her lap—as the child earnestly tells the story in his own words.
But what does it look like with two children? or four? or fifteen?
As we continue our series answering your narration questions, let’s address narration with multiple children.
First off, let’s settle one thing in our minds: Charlotte Mason used narration with multiple children. She trained her teachers to use the method of narration in a classroom full of students. So, fear not; narration can and does work with multiple children.
Here are some practical ideas and suggestions for using narration with multiple children in your home school. There are several ways you can approach it, and I would suggest that you use all of them at various times to keep things fresh.
Narration Question #33: How do you do narration with multiple children? Does the youngest go first?
That’s one way to approach it, yes. You can start with the youngest and have him narrate everything he can remember. Then you can go down the row of children in age order and ask each one, “Do you have anything to add?”
I don’t recommend that you use this approach exclusively, or even often, for the older ones catch on very quickly. Soon you may hear a chorus of, “No, nothing to add; he did a great job!” Keep this technique as just one of many narration possibilities.
Narration Question #34: I have a 6th, 4th, and 3rd grader and sometimes it’s a little tricky to make sure the first child doesn’t narrate everything. I know it’s been recommended to start with the youngest, then work your way up, but by the time the two younger students narrate, my oldest has been sitting there for 10 minutes before she has anything to add (if there is anything left).
Another way to approach narration with multiple children is to start with the youngest and then require each child after that to add something that has not already been mentioned. If you run out of content before the final student’s turn, don’t panic; that is a prime opportunity for older children (approximately 10 and older) to do more with the material than simply retell. They might explain how a particular object in the story worked. They might give a comparison and contrast of what was read with something else in a different book, or they might offer an opinion on one of the character’s personal traits. They might explain how and why a character in this story reminds them of a certain character in another story. This is their opportunity to branch out into critical thinking skills.
But also keep in mind that you don’t have to start with the youngest every time. You can simply select any child to give a full narration, then open it up for corrections or additions from any of the others. Since the children don’t know who will be called on to go first, they will all benefit from that heightened sense of attention that comes along with knowing you must be prepared to narrate.
Narration Question #35: If I do a read-aloud, should all of my children narrate (one after the other)?
I would probably not have each child give a full narration of the entire passage, one after another. Such repetition would be tedious. But you can involve all of them by doing a more guided, collaborative-style narration. Here’s how.
Select a child to start telling. At some point in the narration, stop that child and have him choose who should pick up the story from there. The newly selected child should continue the narration until you stop him and he chooses who is next, and so on. You can even use a visual object with this technique if you would like to. Use a ball or a beanbag or a flower or a microphone (if you dare) and simply pass it to the person whose turn it is to narrate. No one is allowed to speak except the one holding the object.
Narration Question #36: How do you handle narration with multiple children at once? Or is it something you work on with children individually?
We do want to encourage the children to use the method of narration as a means toward self-education. It is a wonderful method that can help anyone learn, even in the adult years. (Try it yourself sometime.) As the children get older, they will make the transition to more written narrations. So you might read the book aloud to everyone, then dismiss the older students to go write their narrations in another room while you listen to oral narrations from the younger ones.
Narration Question #37: With many children to homeschool from 17 to 6, how do I incorporate narration? Daily with each? Different types? Some are working by themselves and others as a group with me. I just get overwhelmed with the idea and feel like it’ll take a lot of time, so I don’t do it much although I really want to.
We mentioned last time that the frequency of narrations can change as the students grow. As they get older, they should do more of their narrations in writing. So your teens who are working by themselves can simply be assigned a written narration on what they read independently. If you want to require an oral narration instead, give them an audio recorder of some kind (You may already have one around on a smartphone, iPod, or other device.) and have them record their narrations when they are ready. That way they won’t have to wait for you to be available. You can read their written narrations or listen to their recorded narrations later (when you are finished with the youngers) and give them feedback or bring up any discussion points.
That leaves only the younger ones to deal with as a group, using the ideas outlined above. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how little time narration actually takes and how large of a dividend it pays!
Narration in the Learning & Living DVD Set
Our new Learning and Living: Homeschooling the Charlotte Mason Way DVD set includes lots of instruction and practice in narration.
- Disc 1, Meet Charlotte Mason and Her Methods, demonstrates narrating with a group.
- Disc 2, Living Books and Narration, delves more deeply into narration. You have opportunity to practice narrating one-on-one, plus Sonya answers questions about other narration situations.
- Disc 4, Learning with Language, presents more on transitioning from oral narrations to written narrations and how we can use narration to help our older children accomplish the various types of composition.
- Discs 7 and 8, A CM-Style Morning of Studies, offer the opportunity to do a written narration.
- Disc 9, Reflections on a Charlotte Mason Education, discusses some of the philosophy behind why Charlotte used this method.
- Disc 12, Navigating the High School Years, explores ways to encourage your students to expand their narration skills and include more difficult critical thinking in their writing.
You might enjoy viewing, discussing, and practicing the sessions with friends! Our Group Video Showing page will tell you how. The tips in our free Leader’s Guide and the extra notebooks make it easy to host a Learning and Living DVD event!
Whether you prefer solitude to ponder or a group to discuss, Learning and Living: Homeschooling the Charlotte Mason Way will give you the knowledge and confidence you need with narration and more!