If you pick up a crochet hook or a pair of knitting needles for the first time, and try to maneuver a fiddly bit of string with those unfamiliar tools, it will seem difficult. Your concentration on one step makes you forget something else, and your hands feel clumsy as they try to perform the required gyrations. The early results might look like a tangled mess. However, if you keep practicing, the process becomes almost effortless. The hook or needles becomes an extension of your own hand, your motions are rhythmic and confident, and the string is transformed from mere string into a cozy scarf or a warm hat. You have become a fluent knitter (or crocheter).
In Know and Tell, I use the word fluent in connection with narration quite often. Fluency at each stage of narration is the goal. Charlotte Mason said that children who were taught using her methods—excellent books which were always narrated—learned to “express themselves in forcible and fluent English and use a copious vocabulary.” (Philosophy of Education, p. 28)
She was aware that fluency was not automatic and instant.
The first efforts may be stumbling but presently the children get into their ‘stride’ and ‘tell’ a passage at length with surprising fluency. (Philosophy of Education, p. 172.)
Just as the first attempts at handling a pair of knitting needles might result in a hopeless tangle, first efforts in narration might not be very impressive. It is a temptation to assume the method doesn’t work, or that it is not the right method for a particular child. It is easy to get discouraged and give up on narration. However, if we will be patient, and continue using narration (or knitting needles) consistently, the effort will result in…fluency.
Fluency is also built in incremental steps. It doesn’t happen all at once, or overnight. A young child practices until he fluently narrates a paragraph, while an older child may be able to narrate a whole chapter.
They require a little time to employ their power of fixed attention and that other power which they possess of fluent narration. So probably young children should be allowed to narrate paragraph by paragraph, while children of seven or eight will ‘tell’ chapter by chapter. (Philosophy of Education, p. 191)
It takes several years for children to build oral fluency when they begin at age six, but if you start narration with a ten- or eleven-year-old, oral fluency may be achieved within six or twelve months. We should focus on oral fluency before introducing written narration.
Fluency in written narration also takes time—years!—to develop fully, and fluent written narration should not be confused with formal composition. In Know and Tell, I’ll sort this out more thoroughly, and give you a plan that will allow your child to take the time they need to build fluency. Just knowing that the early stumbling steps or tangled threads will resolve into fluent narration if you persevere is encouraging. Very few people are proficient with a crochet hook the first time they pick one up, but if you look at the lovely things a skilled crocheter can make, you know that they did not quit when their first efforts resulted in a mess.
Do the same with narration—keep working on it until fluency is achieved—and your children will delight you with the results.