By Karen Andreola
“Mom, quick!” my little girl said, tugging at my skirt. “It’s Puff” (the name of our hamster). She continued: “Come. He’s in the kitchen. He’s eating Tina’s food. He likes it. It’s increb-i-bulls. Come.” She ran downstairs. I followed. What a sight. Puff sat nervously at the edge of the cat dish nibbling dry cat food. He began stuffing both cheeks. Tina the cat crouched at an unsafe distance, watching with intense interest but placidly as if to say, “Only too glad to be rid of the stuff.” My eldest child was on guard ready to make a move in case Tina wanted a juicier entrée for breakfast or something entertaining to paw. How Puff escaped his cage is a mystery, but we put him back with hopes he wouldn’t soon suffer indigestion.
Children express themselves with an ever-increasing vocabulary long before they begin their first language arts lessons. My 5-year-old’s simple speech with her “increb-i-bulls” was a peek into that “art of telling” that is in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered.
When a child is very young, we take joy in watching his first toddling steps. We record his first words until there are too many and we are far too busy following him around to keep track. Once conventional school starts, what is a young child expected to do? Sit down and be quiet—for long, long stretches of time.
I found the most intriguing aspect of Charlotte Mason’s method of education to be what she called Narration. Unlike other educators of her day, Miss Mason believed strongly in this ability to tell. She insisted that this amazing gift with which children are born should not lie fallow in their education. Her students had plenty of opportunities to narrate.
This was the method of learning we chose for our children. It is a big homeschool how-to. How does it work? First read aloud to a child from age-appropriate literature. Then, since knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, require the child to tell back, after a single reading, what he has just heard. It’s that simple. But isn’t it the simplest things in life that often get overlooked?
In my previous article I introduced my readership to “Living Books.” These are books that are alive with ideas. A living book has facts clothed in literary language. It is all-important both in retaining a child’s interest and in giving his mind solid food for thought.
Commonly the oh-so-convenient classroom workbook supersedes this simple method of Narration for every subject. In workbooks a student is faced with pages of mind-numbing multiple-choice, true and false, and fill-in-the-blanks questions. He wearily tries to remember fragments, when all the while his mind craves the freedom to follow a train of thought. But here is the beauty of Narration. When a child relates a passage from a good book in his own words, he follows a sensible train of thought and gets to the gist of it all. He picks up the “whys” and “hows” within the stories of science, history, and works of fiction. Narration is the best way to gain knowledge from books, Miss Mason claimed.
All the homeschool parent needs do is to set the table with a varied diet of true and noble ideas for the child to feast upon. Then, trust in Narration. When you trust in a child’s God-given curiosity, his natural ability to tell, and when you trust in Living Books, you will feel that refreshing sense of liberty replace the dark shadows of insecurity. With Narration, the child’s mind does for itself the sorting, arranging, correlating, selecting, classifying, for which facts-only textbooks, teachers’ lectures, and workbooks are thought to be responsible.
Three chapters in my book, A Charlotte Mason Companion, describe the power and purpose of Narration. If you desire to start immediately (for ages 6 and up), I recommend using Aesop’s Fables. These fables are a good place to start developing the power of Narration in children of a range of ages (even up to high school), because they are short and meaningful. Taking dictation from a young student’s oral Narration will eventually fill a notebook. An older student may feel more comfortable with written Narration. There is no “perfect” way to narrate. Children do have their idiosyncrasies in telling. But wait and see how their personalities begin to come through.
When Narration from their lovely books is practiced not as “a nice thing to do from time to time,” but as a fundamental way to acquire knowledge, your children will be happy with and fulfilled by their school lessons. True personal knowledge is satisfying, and children will hold on to what they have been impressed with for a lifetime.
Home educators know Karen Andreola by her groundbreaking book A Charlotte Mason Companion. Karen taught her three children through high school–studying with them all the many wonderful things her own education was missing. The entire Andreola family writes product reviews for Rainbow Resource Center. Knitting mittens and sweaters and cross-stitching historic samplers are activities enjoyed in Karen’s leisure. For encouraging ideas, visit her blog: www.momentswithmotherculture.blogspot.com.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.