At what age should I start narration?
Well, if you are a parent of any talking child, you will already know that children love to retell events and stories right from an early age. You will notice them acting out favourite stories in their play or telling you, in detail, exactly what happened the day they threw up on the rocking horse. (This is a real life example from our house, a story our now three year old loves to relate time and time again!) These narrations, like the wobbly baby steps that will eventually lead to proficient walking, are the beginning of exactly what we are trying to encourage. Before age six, Charlotte suggests just listening to narrations as the child chooses to relate them. Formal narrations, meaning ones you ask for, begin at age six. At this point, you would choose a book you are reading to your child, stop at appropriate points and ask the child to tell you the story.
How long a passage should I read before asking for a narration?
Of course, this depends. Last fall, our Charlotte Mason study group held a session on narration (for the moms) and we were all panic-stricken to learn that a narration would be expected of us! It was a relatively short passage, not too difficult, but the problem was that although many of us were experienced homeschool moms (and some of us leaders of the group!), we were inexperienced at narration. And, we all had a deep appreciation for the concentration and skill needed to narrate. When I related this to my oldest daughter (who attends the meetings to serve by helping to manage the library alongside the lovely daughter of another leader), she said we should have asked her and her friend to narrate for all the moms. They would not have felt the least bit intimidated because they are both very experienced and capable narrators!
So, the length of the passage depends on the child’s age and his experience at narration. This is really a matter of using your own instincts, along with trial and error. If you are beginning with a child of six, I recommend starting very small, possibly just a few sentences, unless the story is very simple. There is a delicate balance between short enough to be encouraging and long enough to discourage the child’s memorizing and reciting the passage word-for-word. Just keep trying until you find a good length for your child.
For older children, a paragraph or so might be appropriate, but again, it is up to you to determine. We are aiming for detailed narrations, but we also need to be mindful that this is a skill that is meant to be learned one step at a time and built upon.
What if my child balks at narration?
Then, you can congratulate yourself for raising a child and not a robot! 🙂 Seriously, particularly in the beginning every child will balk, but they will all get used to it with perseverence and consistency. Narration is very important, so be patient and don’t give up. Consider whether or not the selection is too long or too difficult. Also, you might consider offering a very simple leading question or request. For example, “Tell me about the Christmas dinner at Ma and Pa’s,” or “What do you remember about ladybugs?”
All else failing, when a child is struggling for internal motivation you might offer some natural form of external motivation. I will often say something like, “As soon as you are finished doing your very best to tell me the story, we’ll be all set for drawing.”
What if my child makes a mistake in narrating?
Well, Charlotte Mason recommends not correcting the child at all. She did allow other children present to correct narrations if they heard something amiss. When faced with a mistake one of my children makes while narrating, I use my common sense. If it is a whopper (something integral to the plot, for example) I will correct it or, alternatively, ask the child to re-check their information. If the mistake is minor, I will simply let it go to avoid interrupting the flow of their thoughts. Think about when you are trying to relate a story to a friend and one of your children, annoyingly, corrects some minor detail: “No mom, it wasn’t last week, it was the week before that.” With a few of these corrections, it gets to be difficult to get your thoughts together enough to finish. It is the same for your child.
Those are probably the top few questions I am asked, but if you have others, please feel free to ask away in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer. Next Friday, Charlotte Mason Basics continues with ‘Copywork’.
Have a great weekend!