Narration

Narration links one idea to another, to another, to another, over time.

Narration links one idea to another, to another, to another, over time.

The following post was written two years ago on an email list. It was true when I wrote it, but the last few months have played havoc with more than one thing in our lives. I’m struggling to get our feet back on solid ground ‘for the childrens’ sake,’ and so these old posts are as much for me as for anybody else.

A question came up about narrations and I had said we narrate from every book read every day. Somebody else asked me how I could do this without our school day taking from dawn to dusk. I have italicized what I think are the most important points. Here is my replay (slightly edited, adapted, and corrected for a blog post):

Our school days are not as long as you might think, provided that we, um, get up on time and don’t putz around getting started, and that I haven’t been more disorganized than usual so we can find all our books. But narration isn’t what slows us down, it’s me. However, that’s another topic.=)

We didn’t always narrate every single reading as consistently as we do now, but it seems to me that when we don’t do narration, we don’t get nearly as much out of the books.

I’m learning that slow and steady wins the race, although my own inclination is to race through as many books as possible, trying to cram everything we can into a schoolyear, with periodic breaks from utter exhaustion.

I was telling somebody yesterday that I think when I do this (try to cram too much in order to do all the books I want to do), it’s like trying to give a thirsty child a drink from a fire hydrant. He gets water all over him, but it doesn’t actually quench his thirst, and that water evaporates quickly.

adler quote on good booksWhen I try to leave out things like narration to get done quicker,
it’s the same reaction- my kids get books all over them, but they don’t get so much inside which is where it counts.

My thinking is that it’s more important to read fewer books, but narrate them all, than to read more books and not narrate. Still, there are ways to do this more efficiently.

clockSome of my children have been prone to narrating longer than
the reading actually took- for them, sometimes I have set a timer and that’s all the time they have to narrate. I tell them they have a few seconds to gather their thoughts, and then start the timer and say, “GO!” They narrate as much as they can before the timer beeps.

When I say my children narrate from every book, I do not mean that every child necessarily narrates from the same book. For instance, if I read a book to four children only one of those four children narrates. At the end of her narration, I ask the others if they have anything to add or correct, give them a few minutes to do that if they want to, and then we move on to the next book. We do not repeat narrations- meaning they do not each give a narration, each having to listen to the others- this is not a successful or effective way to narrate- there’s a great article on this at the Parents’ Review page on AMbleside’s website.

However, we do not take turns with narrating either, by which I mean if A narrated last time, B will narrate the next book. No, this isn’t effective because part of the beauty of narration is the help it gives in paying attention. Unless every child must know that there is a good chance that she will be called upon to narrate after every single reading,it loses some of its effectiveness. If Child Two knows she won’t be called on to narrate because she did it last time, then she’s prone to listen just a little less carefully than otherwise. I don’t mean this is deliberate at all, I think it’s just a natural result- if we know we won’t be called on, our attention is just naturally a little less sharp than if we know we might be.

So every time we read a book all the children listening know they have an equal chance of being called on every single time. Sometimes I pick a number between one and ten to choose our narrator. Sometimes I have a different colored bead or button for each child in my pocket or in a basket, and I just draw the button, and that child narrates. Her button goes right back into my pocket, so she might be called on four times in a row- that’s
the way it works at our house. This also saves a few seconds or minutes each time, as there is no arguing about it not being somebody’s turn.=)

Sometimes a narration is not a generic ‘telling back,’ but a more focused telling of some smaller part of the reading. I might ask a child to tell me five things from the story, or tell me what the animal we just read about eats, or to tell me something (anything) this story reminds them of- another story, something that has happened to them. Sometimes I have them draw a picture from the story. Sometimes I have them act out a skit. Here again, the timer is your friend. Set your timer and give them five minutes (or less) to plan their skit- otherwise, mine could spend all day planning a major production. This is a good one to use when you have to switch out laundry or start lunch- they are getting ready to do their skit while you are doing something else anyway.

Then have them act out their skit. Sometimes I ask them to tell me just one thing, anything at all, but just one thing, from what we read. I tend to do this with stories like Parables from Nature, which are complex and perhaps not so easy to retell as a story. Takes the pressure off the children, and sometimes they give more thorough narrations with this question than when I ask for them to tell me as much as they can!

There are some books my younger children are reading where one of them narrates every single paragraph. We just read through these books much slower. They are reading Beowulf for Children, for instance (on the wonderful Baldwin Project’s website)- and this is one that gets a narration after each paragraph. This means that we sometimes only read two paragraphs at a sitting, sometimes three,
never more than four. That also means we’re taking a long time to finish this book, but that’s okay. They are retaining more this way. So we are only spending fifteen minutes on it, but we don’t even read so much as a page a day. Sometimes I have found this most helpful at the start of a book that might have more difficult language (Pilgrim’s Progress, for instance), but after a few weeks they are understanding it better and we no longer need narrate after each paragraph.
I wouldn’t do this with every book, but Beowulf for children is so totally narratable that it works very well for this.

If you’ve not had a chance to look over the Parents’ Review articles at the Ambleside webpage, I’d strongly encourage you to do so. There are some really helpful articles on narration there.

Some Thoughts on Narration
Some Notes on Narration

You may wish to look over some of our other posts on Charlotte Mason and language arts

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