May 20, 2011

Narration...The Foundation Stone of Learning

“Narration is considered the sum total of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and practice of education. She had discovered narration as the foundation stone of learning." –Maryellen St. Cyr from  When Children Love to Learn pg 128

I love the simplicity and the amazing results I have read about it with the method of narration. Could it be that it is so simple? Could it be that there is really no need for the fast paced, high glossed images, kid friendly type hype materials that are on the market today? Could it be that narration really feeds the mind the ideas it needs? Could Charlotte be right again?

I believe so.

This coming fall I plan to add narrations to our lessons regularly and with purpose. I plan to make it more central, and use it steadily until the boys really are getting it. I have loved this aspect of Charlotte Mason’s method for education ever since I read about it 4 years ago, but then of course my twins were only a year old and my oldest was 3. One can’t really try it out just yet. As the boys grew I have dabbled with it, oft and on giving it a try here and there. My oldest who is 7 years old typifies the little boy who just can not see the reason to repeat again what we just read. Mommy don’t you know it? It hasn’t made sense to him yet. My twins, who are 5 this year, took to it right away. TJ can repeat whole phrases from the passage, and Zak dives right in with added embellishments from his own imagination, just for fun he says. However, Charlotte says to wait to make it regular in your education until age six. The twins will be six this summer, so next year we can begin full on.

Since I have very little experience with narration the following are just a few quotes and stories to inspire.

“Narration is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education. A creative fiat calls it forth. 'Let him narrate'; and the child narrates, fluently, copiously, in ordered sequence, with fit and graphic details, with a just choice of words, without verbosity or tautology, so sonn as he can speak with ease.” CM Home Education Vol. 1 pg. 231

“Children brought up narrating living books “see” what they have conceived in their minds, producing manifold benefits to them as narrators.” –Maryellen St. Cyr from, When Children love to learn pg 138

The benefits of narration are many. This list is from When Children love to Learn pg 138.

• Provides much more exercise for the mind than is possible under other circumstances.

• Crystallizes a number of impressions, psychological, completing a chain of experiences.

• Adds to a storehouse of information that can be referred to, built upon, and assimilated to equal the sum of a child’s knowledge on a topic.

• Gives an opportunity to secure attention, interest, and concentration on a great many subjects.

• Creates the habit of getting mental nourishment from books.

• Presents the child with a wide vocabulary, and her vocabulary increases as she narrates.

• Develops discrimination and love for books

• Forms a capacity, character, countenance, initiative, and sense of responsibility in students as good, thoughtful people.

• Grants generous enthusiasms, keen sympathies, wide outlooks, and sound judgment because students are treated as beings of discourse, responsible for knowing.

• Kindles the imagination.

• Develops the style and rhythm for writing in quantity and quality.

These two examples, from When Children Love to Learn by Elaine Cooper are from teachers who used of narration in their classrooms.

“I have seen the benefits of using narration in history. I would present the history lesson to the students as a story with many details and references on the maps. Throughout my telling of the story, I would have the students narrate back to me. It was remarkable how they remembered the tiny details and even pointed to the map as they were retelling events. Then at the end of the lesson they would narrate the whole story in their “Book of Centuries.” Because they had narrated the story in smaller sections, they were able then to write a complete and thorough summary of the story. They did so with great accuracy and attention to details. I believe if they had not narrated throughout the whole process of the lesson, they would not have been able to write such detailed, accurate summaries. This comprehension was not short termed. On tests weeks later they were able to answer essay questions covering all the King’s success, reason for war, and other broad questions. Again they would write with great attention to details and summarize points not typical for a fifth grader. Narration greatly improved their comprehension of history. -Mischa Gunn a fifth grade teacher.

“Narration is an excellent tool to assess a child’s understanding. Many times it is difficult to determine how much a child is absorbing strictly through observation, for often the child who is quiet and seems to be listening has not understood as much as a fidgety child has. Narration makes a child an active, responsible party in the learning process. At The kindergarten level, some students have not had to be accountable for listening for a prolonged period of time. The short, colorful picture books and fast paced TV programs that children are accustomed to, do not allow them to internalize what they have seen or heard. However, narration does this and should be used as soon as possible in developing the habit of attentiveness in children. _Carol James Kindergarten Teacher

I am inspired to get going, how about you?

How to get started...Advice from Maryellen St. Cyr from When Children Love to Learn. pg 129
  • Prepare the passage carefully beforehand, thus making sure that all the explanations and use of background material (vocabulary, dates, and geography) precede the reading and narration.
  • Write all difficult proper nouns on the blackboard prior to the lesson. One should never stop in the middle of the reading to explain the meaning of a word or particular map work.
  • Read the literature once. The child listens carefully with a view to narrate. It is impossible to fix attention on that which we have heard before and know we shall hear again.
  • Regulate the length of the passage to be read to the age of the children and the nature of the book. Narrate less before you narrate more. If you read a fairy story, you will find that the children will be able to narrate a page or two if a single incident is described. With a closely packed book, one to two paragraphs between narrations are sufficient. Older children will be able to tackle longer passages, but the same principle should be applied; the length varies with the nature of the book.
  • Never interrupt or prompt a person narrating even if a person mispronounces a word. Persons soon forget what they were going to say next when interrupted.
  • Correct any mistakes after the narration through your instruction or the prompting of other students. After a child is finished narrating, you may say, "Does anyone have something to add to the narration?"
  • Begin a lesson with a short narration of the previous lesson.
  • Use written narration after a child is fluent with oral narration.
For an extensive list of creative ways to do narration go to Simply Charlotte Mason.

"We must never forget that without narration the mind will starve; whatever disciplinary exercises we use, they should be in addtion to and never instead of narration." Charlotte Mason


  1. What a wonderful list of encouragement! My oldest(6) also thought it was funny to retell what we had just learned! :) My daughter(4) is ALSO better able to narrate than my son. Funny huh?! We are starting up year 1 of AO this fall, and we are pretty excited. It does make me anxious weather the CM method works all the way through, however I know it must. It just feels right! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I love the quotes from "When Children Love To Learn". I'll have to look into getting that book. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I think you will be so delighted when your kids are all narrating regularly. It makes me so happy to hear children "telling" what they know, and they are often to funny and endearing. :-)

  4. Thank you for sharing such great food for thought! My oldest is 10, and narration seems natural to her: "Hey, Mom! Guess what! Di you know....?" For my 7 year old, we are working on her focus during that one reading. This is where Waldorf education and CM philosophy part ways. Waldorf philosophy postures that the child needs to take it into her sleep, and then be able revisit the story. I see the merit in that, and agree to a degree, but I have found that DD7 needs that training in attention that a CM education gives. It's all a learning process, isn't it?
    Again, thank you for sharing!