Narration in the Early Stages

Before my children were ready for formal lessons, I dug deep into the many philosophies of education. Although I don’t pin myself to one certain style completely, I do strongly lean towards a Charlotte Mason way of educating. One of the main elements in a Charlotte Mason education is narration. 

What is narration?

In a nutshell, narration is “the art of telling back” what a student has read or heard. It is a method that strengthens the student’s habit of attention and really secures the information in the mind. It is a skill that requires attention and more mental energy than you may think.

At the beginning stages, narration is oral. The child listens to or reads a passage or a story and then tells back what they read or heard. As the student advances, the oral narrations turn into written narrations. First, starting with a sentence or two and eventually, entire essays summarizing the information or story.

I first learned about narration when I had preschool-age children, and I knew that narration would be a huge part of our upcoming education. In order to put our feet on the path towards successful narrations, I tried a few gentle methods I wanted to share with you. Regardless of your child’s age, if narrating is new, you may want to start here.

Play-based Narration:

At this level, the whole idea is that the child retains the story that you just read to them. Rather than asking the child to narrate a story to you after reading, try offering props and toys to the child to play with and see if they narrate it through play. Don’t push it, just offer it to them and watch them play and explore. We started this early on while reading the books offered in The Peaceful Preschool each week. I would offer the toys and leave them out near the book that week for the children to play. It was amazing to see the kids telling the story as they played, remembering details I wouldn’t expect. 

Here are a few examples:

Caps For Sale

After reading the story to my children I gave them a tree (a stick stuck in air-dry clay), a barrel of monkeys, a wooden doll, and some felt circles for hats. I left the book nearby for them to recall the story as they played. 

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

We created a big map together and used peg dolls and a toy bear to play the story. 

The Little Red Hen

I just pulled toys from around the house and grabbed some weeds from my yard and oats for wheat seeds. Don’t stress out about having the perfect props. Use what you have or have your children help find all the characters and create the scenes. 

The Beginnings of Oral Narrations

When I felt it was time to start oral narrations (around age 6), I started with short, engaging stories and made it fun. Don’t jump in with long, informational passages. The first stories that I started with were Beatrix Potter’s Tales as we went through them using A Year of Tales. I also asked my son to narrate the short stories from Aesop’s Fables. If the story was lengthy I would read a few paragraphs, pause, and have him narrate before I moved on. 

When I first asked my son to do this, he thought it was silly since I just told him the story. “You already know the story, Mom. Why do you want me to tell it to you?” Other times he just doesn’t want to tell it and complains. So, we tried a few methods to keep it fun and get him comfortable. Here are a few ideas:

1. Narrate to a stuffed animal or toy.

I allow my son to bring a stuffed animal or animal figurine to lessons and tell the story back to his “friend.” For him, that has been a key to make it fun. 

2. Draw the story and then tell it to you.

Sometimes creating a visual will help jog your child’s memory. My son loves drawing, so sometimes he will draw as he narrates or draw and then use the picture to explain what happened in the story. 

3. Film the narration and watch it back.

I don’t know about you, but give my son a phone to make a video, and he’s a happy camper. Some of his best narrations are saved on my phone because that’s how I got him to narrate!

4. Call or video chat a family member or friend to narrate to.

If they’re tired of narrating to you, try calling a close relative or friend who may be interested in hearing the story. Grandpas and Grandmas across the world would surely appreciate this kind of call. 

5. Dramatize the story.

My children love to narrate the story by acting it out. One child will be the narrator and the other will be the characters. Costumes and props are fun but totally optional. 

The main ideas I want to convey here are to think outside the box and meet your child where they’re at. Narrating is harder than you may think. Go at your child’s pace, but challenge them little by little and you will be amazed at their attention and language skills as they grow.

At age 7.5, we are just now dipping our toes into written narration. After reading a story to him, my son will orally narrate it and then tell me 1-2 main idea sentences from the story. I will write them on the chalkboard and he will copy them to lined paper and then illustrate the story. This has been a great introduction to longer, more thorough written narrations that are coming in the future. 

My favorite resource to learn about narration is the book Know and Tell by Karen Glass. This really helped me understand the value in narration and the steps to take as I include it in our home education. I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy.

I also love this blog post by my Instagram friend, Keri Botch, @keribotch sharing her story of beginning narration and the mistakes she made starting out.  It was a helpful read for me and I believe it will be for you too.