A reader wrote and asked me ~
“How can I help my son? He absolutely hates writing narrations! He sulks, delays, refuses and sometimes has a complete meltdown. I know that he knows the work, but he just hates putting pen to paper. What can I do?”
Firstly, ask yourself why he is reacting so strongly. Stress, immaturity and lack of readiness and writing skills can result in negative emotional reactions. Take the pressure off and back up and away from any writing. Go back to oral narrations. Remember that oral skills develop long before written skills.
Some young children even battle at this stage. They freeze when they have to formulate their own version of the story or theme they have listened to. My youngest couldn’t figure out how to start. Or there were chapters which she found difficult to order (sequence) correctly. My one child didn’t know how to keep to the point and rambled with long, draw-out sentences.
Narrations require powerful mental strength! While the child actively listens, he connects to the story, visualizing, comprehending, synthesizing and then remembering and articulating his thoughts. He must take all the new information and sort, arrange, select, reject, classify and relate all the intricate details of the selection he heard.
Here are some tips on how to break down oral narrations ~
- Prepare your child before you read. Tell them, “I want you to listen carefully to the read aloud and after I have finished reading, I want you to tell me back what I have read to you.”
- Paragraphs ~ Only narrate short stories or selections about one paragraph long. Read a simple story such as a nursery rhyme or an Aesop’s fable. By eight or nine years of age, a child should be able to narrate several paragraphs, and only at about 10 years should a child be able to narrate a chapter. This would apply to all subjects. Until your child manages to convey detailed, accurate oral narrations at this stage, he is not going to manage any written narration.
- Prompts ~ Instead of telling back the story, use questions to focus on a specific aspect of the story such as:
- What is the main event?
- What did the main character do/ say/ or discover?
- Why do you think the main character did ….?
- Can you think of your own ending to this chapter?
- Can you list at least 5 main points in this reading?
- Can you sequence (put into order) the events that happened?
- Give a very detailed description of the place/ season/ weather/ surroundings in this reading.
- What action or character’s reaction impressed you?
- Pictures ~ many young children find looking back at the illustrations in the story very helpful. As they mature, they will learn to form and remember their own metal image of the reading. Looking at a timeline, a natural science life cycle or illustration is absolutely fine. Gently encourage your child to develop this mental process and ask them to look and then tell without looking.
Don’t worry if your older child spends longer developing these oral narration skills. Keep working on his mental processes and articulating his thoughts clearly before moving towards capturing written narrations.
Some children may have the necessary verbal skills, but have writing issues. It may be the stress of physical mastery in actually writing print or cursive, or fear of spelling errors or fatigue when trying to capture everything on paper. Again, break down the problem and use alternatives.
Here are some creative variations ~
- Record the oral narrations – on a smart phone/ on the computer/on a tape recorder/ use a dictaphone/ use a video recorder. Play it back and let him edit or re-do it if he is not satisfied.
- Be his scribe and write out/ type his narrations for him word-for-word as he speaks.
- Dramatize the narration if it is possible. Some children lacking verbal skills may more effectively mime and dramatize their thoughts. Act out a scene from the story/ create the introduction or ending of the chapter.
I wrote “What Works ~ Teach Creative Writing Without Lessons” post after my eldest graduated from homeschool and I can absolutely guarantee that narrations, first oral, then dictated, and written, have given my children all the writing skills they have ever needed for high school. Not only that, but they are exceptional writers! (Pop over to this post to read examples of their essays and narrations!) They are eloquent, creative and highly skilled writers … without ever teaching them creative writing!
Narrations are the foundation for all learning!
Hope that these suggestions help you bring the relief and joy back to your narration sessions.