Narration As the Basis of Composition
"Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered..."
Charlotte Mason, Home Education
Today we will dive (albeit, somewhat shallowly) into one of the cornerstone practices of a CM education: narration. Narration is essentially retelling. The act of narration is quite natural; even as adults, we often retell things we’ve seen, heard or experienced to others; and you’ve likely noticed that children generally have a knack for wanting to tell about all the things they’ve experienced as well.
Narration is the foundation for composition in the later years. In the younger years (generally ages 6-10) children will be narrating orally. As children get older (around age 10), we introduce written narrations. This allows young children to gain fluency in organizing and communicating their ideas. Delaying written narrations ensures that the physical act of writing does not hinder the creative outpouring of children’s thoughts. Faithfully implementing narration removes the need for a formal writing curriculum. Karen Glass writes in her book, Know and Tell:
“The consistent use of narration builds mental habits of thinking that operate beyond the classroom and lesson time. Paying attention, ordering knowledge, and then articulating it - these are high-level thinking skills, and students who use narration regularly will be able to apply those skills wherever they are needed.”¹
There are a couple important things to note in order to implement narration properly. First, the child should only be allowed a single reading of the material that is to be narrated. This helps foster the habit of attention. Second, narration is only as good as the quality of what has been read. In other words, the books we use to educate our children should be of high literary quality; Charlotte Mason refers to these as living books. Text books, for example, would not be a good candidate for narration. In addition, the main purpose of written narrations is not to teach language mechanics There are other aspects of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy that focus on this area (such as dictation and copy work).
This excerpt from Know and Tell beautifully sums up the progression of narration:
“Because oral narration is already comfortable, there is no great difficulty about ‘composition’ or ‘what should I write about?’ The child is used to composing his thoughts and narrations orally, and the only part of the process that he has to work on is putting those same thoughts on paper. That is enough to keep him busy for a few years. Consistent written narration will build his ability and fluency naturally, just as he learned to speak when he was younger.”²
Narration is the heartbeat of a Charlotte Mason education. If you haven’t already read Karen's book, Know and Tell, this is the most comprehensive resource I've found. I’ll also link to a couple podcast episodes in the comments that discuss all the facets of narration.
What questions do you have regarding narration? How does this practice differ from how you were taught growing up?
¹ Karen Glass, Know and Tell: The Art of Narration, p. 14.
² Karen Glass, Know and Tell: The Art of Narration, p. 76.