What happens when a young child runs in and tells you about something exciting they have seen, heard or done?
Charlotte Mason found that telling back is a fundamental skill in expressing what a child knows.
Here are the 2 skills – knows and tells. It is so simple. But I’m no expert and we are still refining these skills. For new homeschool moms and those with young children, may I share more?
How should we teach so they know?
Miss Mason suggests that we use living books, read to our children with clear, expressive voice, and tell our children that after we have read to them once only, they will tell us what they have heard.
How can this go wrong?
The first thing most moms do is tell the child to listen, prompt them, discipline them, even nag them to focus and listen. Then they add sympathy and repeat what their children missed while they chased the cat under the table. And worse still, they correct them, add their thoughts and words and prompt them while they narrate. … I have been guilty of all these … any of you?
Let’s start at the beginning:
Charlotte Mason said, “Our concern is to afford matter of sufficiently literary character, together with the certainty that no second or third opportunity for knowing a given lesson will be allowed.” (Vol. 6 pg. 171-172)
Use really engaging living books with rich vocabulary, great characters and wonderful thoughts and dialogue. Young children need stories with pictures! If the book or content is not suitable, I suggest you find another book. In my early homeschooling days, I followed the curriculum and squeezed my children to fit it. Now I prayerfully turn to other resources and lay aside the book that dragged us down.
Allow you children to listen without distraction, yet keep busy hands. Colouring in pictures on the topic, or cutting and folding a minibook for the notebook page all are helpful activities that reinforce the content. Play dough and felt-board pieces, knitting or embroidery are quiet too. I found that, although my children love to play Lego while I read aloud, moving the pieces make a dreadful racket!
Charlotte Mason said that, “complete and entire attention is a natural function which requires no effort and causes no fatigue … the concentration at which most teacher aim is an innate provision for education and is not the result of training or effort.” (Vol. 6 pg. 171-172)
Children often live up to our expectations. Tell them what you expect. Simply state that you will only read the chapter once and after that they will narrate to you. Then calmly read. They must give all their effort at attention. Charlotte Mason tells parents not to get in the way. We do not need to explain anything unless the child asks, “What does … mean?” It takes courage to allow the child to miss what he does not know for the present and express only what he does understand. (Note to self – do not explain!)
When you are finished, let your child start his narration. Often my youngest starts so that “she doesn’t forget her thoughts” while she waits as the others tell back. If the content is complicated, I ask the older children to tell back first so that in hearing their narrations, the younger child gets a quick “recap”.
A young child can draw their narration. I write out their oral narration under their picture. For longer narrations I type their oral narration on the computer, print it out and they can illustrate the page.
In training a young child to write their own narrations, I start by writing their dictated narration in pencil and then they copy over my writing. Then, as they become less frustrated with the physical act of writing (which is really a chore), I write their dictated narration on a white board and they copy this written narration on their notebook page.
Eventually, by about 10 years, the child writes their own narrations. At first, I encourage them just to get their thoughts on the page. I ask them to read back their narration to me so that I can hear their words and don’t misinterpret any ‘strange’ spelling. My youngest child is at this stage now. If I pick out spelling and grammar mistakes, I will quench her joy of writing!
Gradually I encourage basic grammar like starting sentences with capital letters and ending with a full stop. I remind my children to keep their sentences short. If they fall into the habit of starting with “Then …. And then …” I may remind them to read through their own narrations and cross out the unnecessary words. Often I ask them what they think they need to change if they are unhappy with their narration.
I offer specific encouragement by telling them,”You gave lots of wonderful details,” or “What a good opening sentence/ conclusion,” or I really liked these descriptive words,” or “Boy, you really summed that up well!”
My middle schooler has entered into independent narration writing and puts her head down and writes till she has captured all her thoughts. She quickly fills a notebook page. She has gradually added more vivid vocabulary and details as she gained confidence. She loves notebook pages. If the history chapter I read aloud has several sub-sections, she requests time to write her narration before I continue to the next section.
And my high school daughter writes all her own notes from the texts she reads on her own. She organizes all her own material, researches and creates rich and detailed assignments. Her computer skills and typing are vital to the content and presentation of her assignments.
Narrations allow a child of any age to take hold and make their own whatever knowledge they engage with. Keep at it and raise the standard as your children grow up. Narrations really work!