Do you ever see or hear something funny or interesting and go off and tell somebody? Read a newspaper article or watch a film and explain to your friend what it was about? Welcome to the art of narration! We don’t think of it, but we use it constantly, and by retelling something, we clarify our thoughts about the subject, highlight what we have and haven’t understood, and record an event or episode in our mind for future reference. No wonder Charlotte Mason considered it so important!
Teaching tends to revolve around passing information onto someone and then asking questions to determine how much they have understood or retained. The problem here is that the question often presupposes a particular response which may not be evident straight away to the person questioned , whilst not encouraging them to think for themselves and take ownership of the material studied. They end up simply trying to work out what response or information is required of them. Who hasn’t heard the example of the little boy who, when asked by his Sunday School teacher what was brown and furry, replied “I know the answer is Jesus, but it sounds like a squirrel to me!”
Narrating gives the listener or reader the opportunity to organise their thoughts and express them clearly, encourages them to pay attention to the reading the first time (ideally no repetitions!) and enables them to engage with the material in their own way, noting what strikes them. Equally, it gives a clear picture of what they didn’t grasp, so you can think about how to address that next time, ie if the passage was too long or the vocabulary unfamiliar.
We dipped our toe into the world of narrating last year but didn’t really get going until this year, so it has been a real learning curve for LissaLou and me. As Charlotte Mason Help says, it is a complex skill to be learnt gradually. And that includes the parent! LissaLou needs to remember to listen and give her full attention but equally I need to remember not to interrupt and ask questions – continually guilty of that!
Our narrations this year started with Aesop’s Fables which my three not only love, but sit and read to themselves. These are perfect for a beginner as they are very short and memorable, with straightforward vocabulary. We love the pictures in our version too. Whilst learning to narrate at the age of 7 has been hard work for LissaLou, I have noticed that as the other two hear it being done every school day of their lives, it is very natural to them, and they even request to be the one who narrates! JoJo might only get as far as “there was a fox” before stopping, but hey, at least he is willing to try!
LissaLou and I have also been reading and narrating The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. Some of the stories are rather odd and lead to interesting discussions about the characters and their actions, but as far as narrating goes, the main challenge is to not get caught up in the masses of detail or too thrown by the more complex vocabulary.
Just So Stories have provided another mixture of the weird and the wonderful, with a range of stories describing how creatures and others became as they are. The original version that we have is particularly fun with Rudyard Kipling’s own illustrations and amusing explanations. We particularly enjoyed Armadilloes, with all the confusion caused for poor Painted Jaguar by Slow-Solid Tortoise and Stickly-Prickly Hedgehog.
Our final book for narrating is Parables of Nature by Margaret Gatty, which is a lovely book with great moral themes conveyed through observations of nature; what would happen if the worker bee realised how oppressed he was and decided to be the Queen Bee? How can a caterpillar believe that she will one day have a wonderful transformation into a butterfly? However, they are quite hard going with more difficult vocabulary and sentence structure. Despite the difficulties, it has been encouraging hearing LissaLou point out all the plants around us that have been “trained and restrained” for their own good and protection, just as happened in one of the stories.