Heart of Dakota Blog

Composition in the Form of Written Narration Begins by Age 10

Red and blue balls of yarn sitting atop a book on a tabletop. A white paper heart is pinned to one of the balls. To the left, inside a white circle, text reads: "More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment."
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More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

According to Charlotte Mason, composition in the form of written narration should begin by age 10.

When children narrate, they tell back in their own words what they have just read or heard. Charlotte Mason considered oral narration as the earliest form of composition. She used the words “narration” and “composition” interchangeably. Charlotte Mason had children under age 9 take care of their composition instruction by orally narrating. She had them intertwine these narrations with history, science, reading, and the like. By age 10, children were ready to begin composition in the form of written narration. At Heart of Dakota, we agree!

According to Charlotte Mason, in written narrations, the child and the author should be trusted to be left alone together.

According to Charlotte Mason, composition in the form of written narration is “as natural as running and jumping to children who have been allowed to read lots of books.” If they orally narrate first of all, they will compose sooner or later, but they should not be taught “composition” as a separate body of information to be learned. Instead, it is important that the child and the author be trusted to be left alone together. There should be no middle-man such as a teacher telling the child what the book said, or about what to think. According to Charlotte Mason, our business as teachers is to “provide children the material for their lessons, while leaving the handling of that material to themselves.” In short, we are not to hamper them by too many instructions. At Heart of Dakota, we agree!

According to Charlotte Mason, reading living books and narrating from them helps children develop their own individual style.

Children who have gotten into the habit of reading good literature absorb what they will from it themselves, in their own way, whether it’s a lot or a little. Reading living books and narrating from them helps children to begin to form their own literary style. Because they have been in the company of great minds, their style will not be an exact copy of any one in particular, but will instead be shaped as an individual style from the wealth of materials they possess to create a natural style of their own. At Heart of Dakota, we agree!

According to Charlotte Mason, written narration done properly develops self-expression and individual literary style.

Narration done properly develops the power of self-expression and invites a child’s personality to become part of the learning process. A child should choose vocabulary he finds appealing, make it his own, and then give it forth again with that own unique touch that comes from his own mind. This is why no two narrations should be exactly alike. It is also why teachers should not expect their children to give the same narration they would have given. At Heart of Dakota, we agree!

Written narration requires higher level thinking than fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice questions.

Narrating requires a higher level of thinking. Consider the skill it takes to fill in blanks or choose from multiple-choice answers. Now, consider the skills it takes to retell a story you have just heard or read! Clearly the latter proves to require higher-level thinking. In order to demonstrate the complex skill of narrating, try your hand at it yourself. Now that you’ve read much of this blog post, try this! Walk away and get a sheet of paper to write down all that you can remember. Or, would you find it easier if you were now given multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, or true/false questions instead?

Oral and written narrations improve children’s composing abilities and public speaking skills.

Narration provides far more information about children’s comprehension because they must answer without the support clues provided by questions. Charlotte Mason replaced the quiz, test, chapter review, and book report by something far more effective. Why? She found what children take time to put into their own words is retained because it has become their own. With narration, you’ve just found the key to really knowing what your children know! This is why, even after children have become skilled at writing narrations, oral narrations are continued. Maintaining oral narrations keeps improving both a child’s composing ability and his public speaking skills. There is simply not a better way to “test” a child’s comprehension and retention than oral and written narration!

Heart of Dakota’s guides include step-by-step tips on how to teach, practice, and edit written narrations.

Once written narrations are assigned, each Heart of Dakota guide includes clear, step-by-step tips on how to teach and practice the skill of written narration. We provide both teacher and student tips for written narrations before, during, and after the narration process. Furthermore, we provide a Written Narration Skills List to guide students through the process of incrementally working toward editing their written narrations, which is different than revising, mastering one small step at a time.

We begin formal written narration instruction in Preparing Hearts for His Glory once weekly. We continue composition in the form of written narration through 12th grade, incrementally progressing this Charlotte Mason inspired skill in length, complexity, and depth. Our final U.S. History II high school guide includes eight types of written narration: detailed, recorded, summary, key word, highlighted, topic, opinion, and persuasive. We based these types of written narrations upon the composition assignments Charlotte Mason assigned herself, according to her own detailed descriptions.

In Closing…

In closing, here are a few inspiring quotes from Charlotte Mason in regard to composition in the form of written narrations…

Children in this Form (Ages 9-12) have a wider range of reading, a more fertile field of thought, and more delightful subjects for composition. They write their little essays themselves (referring to written narration), and for the accuracy of their knowledge and justice of their expression, why ‘still the wonder grows’. They’ll describe their favorite scene from “The Tempest” or “Woodstock”. They write to ‘tell’ stories from work set in Plutarch or Shakespeare or tell of the events of the day. They narrate from English, French, and General History, from the Old and New Testament, from “Stories from the History of Rome”, from Bullfinch’s “Age of Fable”, from, for example, Goldsmith’s or Wordsworth’s poems, from “The Heroe’s of Asgard”: in fact, Composition is not an adjunct but an integral part of their education in every subject. (Vol. 6, p. 192)

Having been brought up so far upon stylists the pupils are almost certain to have formed a good style: because they have been thrown into the society of many great minds, they will not make a servile copy of any one but will shape an individual style out of the wealth of material they possess; and because they have matter in abundance and of the best they will not write mere verbiage. (Vol 6, p. 194)

At Heart of Dakota, we agree!

In Christ,


This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. erickajen

    my son would not and still wont write if he doesnt have to. we’ve done a lot of oral work like the english and whatnot.. but this narration stuff he hates. so i havent been making him do it with the reading. he tests 8th grade in reading/comprehension/spelling anyway… is this going to end up being a bad thing? i just would rather not fight him about it hes already ending up a year behind because he literally refused to do school for a year (and i had a baby or two in the meantime so we’ve been distracted quite a bit and hes had quite a bit of anxiety…)

    1. I’m so glad you asked this! Most standardized tests don’t assess students’ writing ability, but children still need to be able to express themselves well both in oral and in written form. When children are younger, oral narration is used as a beginning form of composition. However, as children mature, oral narration is continued and written narration is added. Heart of Dakota’s guides help students transition into this slowly, beginning with 1-3 sentence written narrations that are guided in PHFHG. Between PHFHG and MTMM, the length of the written narration increases gradually to 12-16 sentences. Editing also is taught incrementally, with step-by-step guidelines in the Appendix of the guides.

      In high school, much of the work assigned is done in written form. Skipping written narrations and the editing process alongside them earlier makes the transition to high school difficult. We find students who did work primarily orally and who didn’t do the written work are often not ready for high school level work. High school, in turn, prepares students for college level work, which has even more written work and less oral work assigned. For these reasons, it truly is important to do the written work that is assigned in the guides.

      Many boys are not huge fans of writing. However, that doesn’t mean they can opt out of it. Just by doing what is assigned in the HOD guides consistently on a daily basis, I have found our sons don’t expect to skip things or have them modified. The guide is my help! They know if something is assigned to be written, it must be written. If 8-12 sentences are assigned, than 8 sentences are the minimum amount that will be accepted. By staying strong on this, our sons have all become better writers gradually – even though some of them were not fans of it at first.

      They have also taken on editing more and more themselves. By high school, I can enjoy listening to them read aloud their written narrations and just offer a few editing helps along the way. By offering encouragement, by following the before/during/after written narration tips in the Appendix, and by just enjoying what they are sharing, our sons have all learned to enjoy written narrations more and more. Our son who is now in college received perfect scores on all of his essays thus far, and I know that is due to HOD’s gradual increase in length, difficulty, and editing of written narrations and formal writing curricula. I just want to encourage you that by sticking to what is assigned in the guides for guidelines, you will begin to see gradual growth in writing, and this will in turn prepare your son well for high school. More importantly, it will give your son the ability to express his thoughts and opinions well in written form, which is of benefit to him and to others for the rest of his life! Hope this helps!

      In Christ,

      1. Ericka

        well poo.
        hes just been so defiant and it was one less thing to argue about 🙁
        but yeah i thought he needed to also… it was just causing problems… hmm.
        ive got a lot on my plate, theres 3 others besides him, 5, 3 and 2 months. so its a rough time.
        i know ive got to pay more attention and be more involved, but i havent even been able to do work with my 5 year old.. and half the time i find the worksheets not done and hes having to do them all at once after the fact… at least he eventually does them… reviews things twice that way i guess. ;P

        1. I know it can be so busy with little ones! What HOD guides are you using, and how old is your oldest now, when does he turn his next age, and (about) what grade are you considering him right now? It could be that placement is off, or that half-speed may be a good idea for awhile. I’d be happy to visit with you about this on the phone if you just call HOD!

          In Christ,

          1. Ericka

            we are in creation to christ.. its our 2nd year in it because of some defiance issues and babies and just everything.
            hes 12 – birthday in november. he has aspergers and oppositional defiant “disorder”.. (i put it in quotes because i dont consider it a disorder as in something wrong… just something that we need to tame and train.. but yeah its definitely difficult…)
            i consider him grade 6 i suppose but thats only because of his age.
            he always tests 2 grades or more ahead so i guess we do get kinda lax because he tests so high anyway.
            we definitely are doing half speed…
            i hate the phone, id rather have it in print. 😉
            thank you. <3

  2. Hi Ericka! Thanks for getting back to me! From what you’ve shared, I think continuing with half-speed CTC may be best for now. By going half-speed, your son will be able to take breaks as needed and will have more time to complete the work that is assigned. Once our kiddos reach 12-13 years old, I include them in setting up the routine of the day more. A few things that help me with our 3 sons/guides we are using… Sticking to a routine that includes planned breaks based on each child’s needs for breaks. Giving them a copy of the routine. Rotating the tough stuff (i.e. if writing is harder, spreading the writing out, so it’s not all in a row). Getting up and moving between things (a big help for boys). Snack – another motivator! Having teacher-directed blocks of time and independent blocks of time (i.e. I’ll meet with this child at 10 AM, next child at 11 AM, etc. and have margin time for me in there for whatever surprises the day brings). Just a few ideas that help me still to this day!

    I’m not sure which other guides you are using, but I’m thinking maybe Little Hearts with the 5 yo?
    If so, you can always do that guide half-speed too, but probably full-speed phonics. Planning what the littles can do throughout the day really helps too! I’ve been there before, busy, tired, and with little ones! However, your son will take on more and more independence, and you can probably keep the two youngest together as a pair, so you’d have 3 guides just like I had.

    Based on the little I know so far, those are just a few things that come to mind! While we have always truly enjoyed answering placement emails/posts personally as time allows, as the years have passed we have realized that questions about placement in our programs are best answered either on our message board or via the telephone. This is because it is so important for us to be able to have a dialogue with you as we work to find the best placement for your family. I’d be happy to email you a summary of our conversation, so you have it in print as well!

    Answering placement questions through email/posts is a slow process with days in between your questions and our answers, often requiring much back and forth as we work to discover the information needed to help us advise you better. In between the back and forth emailing process, we often answer many other emails in between, making it difficult to keep fresh in our minds the specifics of each family.

    In contrast, with the message board, all responses and dialogue are grouped under a single thread for each person, making it easy to refer to what has been shared and get a fuller picture of your family’s needs. The same is true for a telephone conversation, as we dialogue with you in a single conversation to gain needed information about your student(s).

    With this in mind, in order to get the very best and most timely placement help, we request that you do one of the following three things:

    1. Post your specifics on the message board. In order to do so, you will need to register here: http://heartofdakota.com/board3/ucp.php?mode=register&sid=1d69eed0275aa1608ec38a0b84fd96d0. Your registration will be approved within a day. After approval, go to the Main Board and post your question. All new posts begin on our Main Board. The Main Board is linked here: http://heartofdakota.com/board3/viewforum.php?f=6. The ladies on our board are very helpful with placement questions, and Carrie has over 10,500 personal responses herself on the board that can be searched by topic. Our Heart of Dakota Message Board can be found at the following link: http://heartofdakota.com/board3/.

    2. If you prefer not to post on the Message Board, you may find that simply reading and searching the board helps tremendously in answering your questions. While enjoying the Heart of Dakota Board in a “read only” capacity, you will find much helpful information and wisdom shared daily on the board that makes it worth the visit. All current discussions take place on our Main Board linked here: http://heartofdakota.com/board3/viewforum.php?f=6. If you are new to posting on a Message Board and would like us to help you take the first steps to posting on our board, you can request that we initially post for you on the board. A great thread to read titled “A Series of Posts on Common Questions” can be found at this link – http://heartofdakota.com/board3/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=9344.

    3. If you would rather speak directly to one of us, you can call our company at 605-428-4068. While we truly enjoy talking to our customers, since we are a homeschool family, it is likely you will need to leave a message for us first. You will receive a call back that same day. If we do not get a chance to talk to you when we return your call, we will leave a message if at all possible.

    As you ponder correct placement, our placement charts provide necessary guidance in placing your child or children within the correct Heart of Dakota program(s). The “Program Selection Chart” is a good place to begin, as it gives an overview of the target age ranges for each guide. This chart is linked here: http://heartofdakota.com/program-selection-chart.php.

    The “Program Placement Chart” is the chart to consult next. It is our most important chart, since it lists the specific skills needed to complete each program. When placing your child or children, pay the most attention to the first page of the chart. This is because the skills found within that part of the chart are required to complete all areas of that particular guide. If you have more than one child, place each child individually on the chart first. This will make it easier to consider which children could possibly be combined and within which program(s). The “Program Placement Chart” is linked here: http://heartofdakota.com/placing-your-child.php.

    Once you have determined a possible placement for your child or your children, visit the “Sample Pages” part of our website to see inside our guides. To learn more about how each subject area is handled within the guide, read the provided “Introduction” for the guide as well. The “Sample Pages” part of our website is linked here: http://heartofdakota.com/sample-pages.php.

    Last, you may wish to explore our “Scope and Sequence Chart” to see our overall sequence for history and science and to see our plans for upcoming guides. The “Scope and Sequence Chart” is linked here: http://heartofdakota.com/scope.php.

    If you would like a glimpse into what Heart of Dakota looks like in the day-to-day, you may wish to visit our Weekly Check-in found here: http://heartofdakota.com/board3/viewforum.php?f=14.
    Or, you may enjoy looking through our Heart of Dakota photobooks to see specific photos from each guide. If so, these books are linked at the bottom of the main page of our website at http://www.heartofdakota.com.

    If you haven’t already ordered a catalog, we encourage you to do so at the following link: http://heartofdakota.com/catalog.php. Our full-color print catalog is very helpful in answering questions and in explaining our philosophy. It has a separate detailed section devoted to each guide that truly captures the heart of each program.

    Thanks again for your interest in Heart of Dakota! We are excited for you to explore what we have to offer, and we look forward to visiting with you on our message board or by telephone.

    In Christ,

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