Category Archives: Narration

Nuggets from the Armitt #5

This particular nugget will be especially valuable to parents of older children. If you have been using Charlotte Mason’s methods for a good while, you have probably found that, at approximately age 12 or so, children can become rather bored of simply “telling back” all their reading by way of straightforward narration. This is still the “best means to adopt” up to that point, as these notes suggest, but—“with older children, other means of recapturing may be adopted.” Now that is very interesting! Here is the whole summary of the topic:

At a Criticism Lesson given this term, Miss Mason called attention to the importance of ascertaining by means of a summary whether the lesson has been assimilated by the children. With younger children narration of a whole or part of the lesson is the best means to adopt, because it is not only a training in accurate and coherent thought, and an exercise in correctness of expression, but also the very fact of narrating causes the children to make a vivid mental picture of what they describe. It is important not to interrupt the narration by questions; but if one child hesitate, to allow another to take up the thread of the story. With older children other means of recapturing may be adopted, and it is well to vary them as much as possible. One good way is to allow the children to write down two or three questions such as would contain the most important points of the lesson ; answers in this case are unnecessary. There are of course many other methods of summarizing, e.g., writing a short report on questions set previously by the teacher, and carefully chosen, so that the answers may not be vague or rambling. Another good way is to use a map if the subject permit, or to sum up by a few oral questions on a part or the whole of the lesson. If the children know a part, they will probably have grasped the whole equally well.

Now here are some interesting thoughts about narration for older children, and I suspect there are a few reasons for these alternative ideas. First, of course, is boredom with plain narration, as I mentioned earlier. But also, these older students were reading quite a bit more material, and time for all of them to narrate all of the material wasn’t available in the schedule. One key, I think, is permission to narrate only part of the material. But the idea of writing a short report as a written narration in response to a question, rather than writing out a narration of the whole, is a very interesting idea. To keep the question from provoking a “vague or rambling” response, it would have to be quite definite. For example:

What are some ways that seeds are dispersed? Use specific plants as examples.

What hardships did young Jane Eyre face at Lowood School? What helped her to deal with them?

What changes did the Industrial Revolution make in the cloth-making industry? Who benefited from the changes, and who was harmed?

“Many other methods” invites a teacher to be creative, and I think what I call “creative narration” belongs here as well. Children can write from the first-person perspective of a character or historical figure, or an animal! They can write in the form of poetry, a newspaper article, a screenplay, or even a graphic novel. They can summarize with a list of questions, in an imaginary letter, or in the “voice” of Shakespearean English.

I think it’s very helpful to know that Charlotte Mason’s primary method of narration can be expanded to include a wide variety of activities, and even that “it is well to vary them as much as possible.” If your narrators are getting a little tired of merely “telling back,” put some interest back into the process by trying something different.

Narration—it’s what’s for breakfast.

Imagine the most wonderful breakfast you’ve ever had, or dreamed of having. Of course there will be multiple parts to it. Eggs, bacon, toast, biscuits, delicious jelly, perhaps pancakes or waffles with cream and berries. Naturally, it will be accompanied by the very best coffee or tea (or both), along with creamy milk and fresh-squeezed orange juice. This is a very good breakfast, and you would be happy to have it.

But imagine having to prepare that every day. We need breakfast, and it’s important. But what if all we have time for today is a piece of toast with peanut butter? What if our energy levels are low? A bowl of cornflakes will keep us going for a bit. Maybe we need to grab an apple or a granola bar and hurry out the door for a busy day.

The ideal breakfast is out there, and without a doubt, there will be the day when that breakfast is served. And we will be delighted. We will enjoy every bite and tuck it away in memory as that time when we got to savor the best of all possible breakfasts. But life doesn’t generally allow us that every day, and we can be content with toast, oatmeal, cornflakes, or a tub of yogurt most of the time, because those more modest breakfasts meet our needs and keep us going until lunch.

What does this have to do with narration?

If you practice narration in your home school and hang out with other moms who practice narration, you are going to hear about other kids’ narrations. Moms like to share. You’ll read about the great narration someone else’s six year old, or ten year old, or teenager did, and you might look side-wise at your own kids and worry that their narrations aren’t quite at that level.

But neither is every breakfast.

You’d take a picture of that fancy breakfast and post it on Instagram, but maybe not the peanut butter toast, and definitely not the pre-packaged yogurt or granola bar. It’s the same with the narrations we tend to share. We share the best of the best—the really good ones that we appreciated and savored because they were special.

But the daily round of breakfast—and narrations—isn’t always photo-worthy.

And that is one hundred percent okay.

Read that sentence again and make sure you really, really get it. It is okay—absolutely, positively fine—that breakfast and narrations are a little ordinary.

Because the raison d’être of breakfast is just to fuel you up until lunch, and the raison d’être of narration is simply to exercise the mind so that it digests what it has taken in. It isn’t a graded performance.

If your child’s narration lacks the bells and whistles of a fancy breakfast, just think about the basic substance. Did they understand the material enough to be able to narrate it at all? That’s enough—you can move on to the next thing. The need has been met, and there will be many opportunities in the future for the really lively, engaged narration with flourishes and connections to other things. That’s the one you’ll want to savor and share (like those other moms). But it doesn’t mean the more humdrum daily narrations don’t matter, or haven’t done their work in the marathon task that is a child’s education.

Just as we don’t have the time and money resources to make every breakfast a picture-perfect feast, our children don’t have the mental resources to make every narration a stand-out masterpiece you’ll want to share on the internet. But if they’ve shown up and made the effort to narrate at all, that’s what needed to happen, and like oatmeal for breakfast,  everyone will be satisfied enough to keep going. For today, that’s what counts.