“What do you remember from what I just read?” I ask the gathering of children around me.
Looking to the four year old, I encourage him to begin. “I learned that the sun is ninety-three miles away. It’s so far away that it would take a lot of years to fly there in a spaceship.”
The nine year old child draws a deep breath and rapidly explains, “It’s ninety-three-million miles away and it takes eight minutes for its light to reach us here on earth which means that we always see what the sun looked like eight minutes ago and it would burn us up if it were any closer because it’s millions of degrees on the inside, but if we were farther away we would all freeze and you should never look at the sun because you have a lens in your eye that focuses the sun onto the back of your eye and it will burn a hole in your eye and…”
As the eleven year old draws her first breath, the seven year old child opportunistically interjects, “And you can burn a hole in a leaf with a magnifying glass. Mom, can I go first next time?”
What I have just described is a process that many classical educators call narration.
Narration is simply having your child tell back what was read. If there is one thing you can do today to help your child succeed in later academics, this would be it. So many teens and adults have difficulty putting their knowledge and thoughts into clear verbal communication, much less intelligible writing. In fact, many college graduates cannot sequentially order facts and ideas or put their tenets in convincing, well written compositions. Yet the student well versed in narrations can assimilate information gathered from many different sources and deliver a well reasoned research paper, a necessary skill for any successful college student. Narration, the art of telling back what was heard and learned, is so simple.
Charlotte Mason teaches that by the simple act of narrating, the child better preserves his learning and it becomes, not just a set of abstract facts from a book, but the child’s very own knowledge. The process of narration hones all of the child’s mental capacities. He must first attend to the reading, concentrating on the information. Then the child must assimilate the data in his mind in an orderly manner to verbally articulate his thoughts. If narration becomes habitual in all areas of study, workbooks are no longer needed and tests are obsolete. Once a child explains to you what he knows, it will not soon be forgotten.
Remember that the teacher always learns the most. Narration employs this philosophy, for the child becomes the teacher! It is often good to use words such as, “Teach me what you just learned,” or “Now, you be the teacher! Teach me all about that!” A wonderful benefit to narration is the early preparation for oration and composition. The child that regularly gives a discourse of his learning discovers how to articulate with both ease and clarity. His training prepares him to be used for the Lord’s work in speaking, teaching, and defending the faith. It also prepares him in literary rhetoric.
The process of organizing his thoughts in sequence prepares a child for composition. Once he can speak clearly, he can also write clearly, producing orderly, organized, and logical expressions. By having the child regularly recount what he learns, he naturally develops complex mental faculties, as well as oration and composition skills. It seems too easy to believe. But actually, it is difficult to get in the habit of narration because it takes both time and forbearance.
We must be patient in the beginning as our children fumble through the material that is so haphazardly jumbled in their mind. It can be laborious to pull one sentence out of a careful child, and at the same time challenging to appropriately interrupt a more long-winded child.
The one who does not regularly orate his learning is likely to enter adulthood without these skills. For the youngest child or even the oldest just beginning narrations, use short, simple paragraphs to begin. Eventually, they will build up to entire chapters, and later, entire books.
After reading to the child, ask him to tell back what he remembers. In the beginning, you will need to jog his memory. Give lots and lots of prompts. Don’t be surprised if he simply can’t do it on his own for a while. That is normal. With consistency, he will soon begin to see what it is you are wanting him to retain and orate. As with all things, practicing will make it effortless to tell what he has learned on any subject. Won’t it be wonderful to watch him easily recount interesting material from the day’s studies when Dad comes home from work and asks, “What did you learn today?” Though beginning narrations is a bit challenging, with fortitude, the seeds you sow today will reap a harvest if you endure.
Read more about Charlotte Mason’s methodologies.
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