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What are the benefits of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of narration?

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Dear Carrie

What are the benefits of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of narration?

My hubby asked me to define the benefits of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of narration. When I tried to answer him, I found myself trailing off rather lamely. I realized I don’t really know the answer myself. I do know it helps children think about the information and how to present it. Children also learn to pay more careful attention, since they know they are required to retell back. However, I haven’t read much of Charlotte Mason’s books. I don’t feel like I’m fully educated on the concept. When I read that great thread a while back with examples of your sons’ and Julie’s sons’ narrations, I know it was obvious the boys were very articulate and intelligent. But I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is or how to define it. Could you please share an “in a nutshell” explanation of the rationale behind narration? Thanks!

“Ms. Please Share the Benefits of the Charlotte Mason Philosophy of Narration”

Dear “Ms. Please Share the Benefits of the Charlotte Mason Philosophy of Narration,”

This is such an important question! I know the benefits of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of narration have been discussed at length on the Heart of Dakota message board. However, I’ll try to summarize it in one place. I hope seeing these benefits in one place will be a help to others too!

The Benefits of Narration, As Described in the Appendix of Bigger Hearts

In the Appendix of the guides from Bigger Hearts on up, we include a Teacher’s List and a Student’s List for Oral Narration Tips. These are basically steps describing how to do an oral narration. At the beginning of our oral narration tips list, it describes the following benefits:

When children narrate, they tell back in their own words what they have just read or heard. It allows them to share their own version of the passage with accuracy, individual personality, spirit, and originality.

Narrating is an essential skill in life. To be able to give an opinion of a book, relay a telephone message, summarize a letter, give driving directions, write an article, or share a doctor’s instructions – are all examples of practical applications of narration skills. Narrating is an important skill to learn. You can begin to teach your children to narrate by following the steps listed below. Just be patient, and have fun with it! Narration is a way of life.

Step-by-step Guidance to Help Learn This Skill

Then, the Appendices of our guides from Bigger Hearts on up give step-by-step guidance for both parent and child on how to go about learning this important skill. Many keys to narration are shared throughout the teacher’s list. So, please be sure to read those! They should be a great help!

Charlotte Mason Quotes That More Fully Explain the Philosophy of Narration

Things that we read only become knowledge as we assimilate it, as our mind acts upon it. We must read with the specific intention to know the matter being read. We can read without that effort but it does us no good. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 12-13)

To secure a conversation or an incident, we ‘go over it in our minds;’ that is the mind puts itself through the process of self-questioning… This is what happens in the narrating of a passage read: each new consecutive incident or statement arrives because the mind asks itself, – ‘What next?’ For this reason it is important that only one reading be allowed; efforts to memorize weaken the power of attention, the proper activity of the mind; if it is desirable to ask questions in order to emphasize certain points, these should be asked after, and not before, or during, the act of narration. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 17)

Charlotte Mason Quotes That More Fully Explain the Benefits of Narration

As we have already urged, there is but one right way, that is, children must do the work for themselves. They must read the given pages and tell what they have read, they must perform, that is, what we may call the ‘act of knowing’. We are all aware, alas, what a monstrous quantity of printed matter has gone into the dustbin of our memories, because we have failed to perform that quite natural and spontaneous ‘act of knowing,’ as easy to a child as breathing and, if we would believe it, comparatively easy to ourselves. The reward is two-fold: no intellectual habit is so valuable as that of attention; it is a mere habit but it is also the hallmark of an educated person. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 99)

Education which demands a ‘conscious mental effort’, from the scholar, the mental effort of telling again that which has been read or heard. That is how we all learn, we tell again, to ourselves if need be, the matter we wish to retain, the sermon, the lecture, the conversation. The method is as old as the mind of man, the distressful fact is that it has been made so little use of in general education. (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 159-160)

The Benefits of ‘Mind Memory’ Instead of ‘Word Memory’

Whatever a child or grown-up person can tell, that we may be sure he knows, and that which he cannot tell, he does not know… Now a passage to be memorized requires much conning, much repetition, and meanwhile the learners are ‘thinking’ about other matters, that is the mind is not at work in the act of memorizing. To read a passage with full attention and to tell it afterwards has a curiously different effect…

…the happy distinction between word memory and mind memory, which, once the force of it is realized, should bring about sweeping changes in our methods of education. Trusting to mind memory, we visualize the scene, are convinced by arguments, take pleasure in the turn of sentences and frame our own upon them: in fact that particular passage or chapter has been received into us and become a part of us just as literally as was yesterday’s dinner… (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6, p. 172)

The Benefits of Written Narration (taken from RTR’s Appendix)

When children narrate, they tell back in their own words what they have just read or heard. Narration allows them to share their own version of the passage with accuracy, individual personality, spirit, and originality. Oral narration is considered the earliest form of composition, and the words “narration” and “composition” may be used interchangeably. Children under age 9 take care of their composition instruction by orally narrating, and by intertwining these narrations with history, science, reading, and the like.

The Benefit of Trusting the Child and the Author to Be “Left Alone Together” Without Interruptions (taken from RTR’s Appendix)

By age 10, children’s oral composition skills should be developed enough to begin written compositions. 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, the benefit is 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, without a 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.

Reading living books and narrating from them helps children develop their own literary 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.

Narration encourages self-expression and invites a child’s personality to become part of the learning process.

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, and it is also why teachers should not expect their children to give the same narration they would have given.

Another benefit of narration is it requires higher level thinking.

Narrating requires a higher level of thinking, which is yet another benefit. 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 most of this page, turn it over and get a sheet of paper to write all that you can remember, or would you find it easier if you were given multiple-choice questions instead?

With narration, you’ve found the key to truly knowing what your children know.

Narration provides far more information about children’s comprehension because they must answer without the support clues provided by questions. The quiz, test, chapter review, and book report have all been replaced by something far more effective. What children take time to put in 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 still 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!

Last, here are a few gems from Charlotte Mason on the benefits 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, the 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)

This is just a glimpse into the wonderful benefits of oral and written narration.   There is much more I could share on the subject, but this whets the appetite for more knowledge on the method, and if you’re anything like me, convicts the reader of the beauty, simplicity, and life-long effects of developing the habit and skill of narration.


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Bethany

    This was very helpful! I struggle to get my almost 9 year old who is in unit 28 of Bigger to give a narration that is longer than a couple sentences. I need to go back and go over the narration helps in the appendix! I can’t always tell weather he’s just not paying attention, or if he thinks it’s silly to tell me what I just read. But later I will hear him telling his Daddy or brothers all about it! I started letting him do his science independently recently and he is enjoying that. He seems to remember more that way. But I would still like to see him narrate better when I read. My 7 year old in Beyond gives quite lengthy and detailed narrations! I am careful not to compare them to each other, but it is interesting to see how different each child is!

  2. We are so glad you found this post to be helpful, Bethany! Thank you for sharing about your son here. It is amazing to me how God’s ordering of our blog posts often coincides with questions our readers have! Be sure to check out our “Dear Carrie” post next Tuesday. That post is all about helping an 8 yo in Bigger Hearts learn to focus better while his mom is reading aloud Bigger’s history and science books, so he can improve his oral narrations. I think it will be of much benefit to you going forward, as Carrie has some excellent tips! It should post on the morning of Tues., November 26. We hope you enjoy it!

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