Many homeschoolers like the teachings of Charlotte Mason and for good reason – they are gentle teaching methods that are family friendly.  One of the key methods that I have used is oral narrations.  But what is a narration?  A common understanding is that it is a retell. But there is a difference, a big difference between retell and narration.

Retell is about reading competence and comprehension but narrations is about learning, about taking in information, comprehending yes, but it goes further, narrations is also about connecting the dots.  In order for our children to learn (not rote learning of giving back the facts) but learn deep and wide they need the freedom to connect what they have just heard with other information, feelings and thoughts they have already collected.  This is narration.

Charlotte Mason said it herself, “A narration should be original as it comes from the child — that is, his own mind should have acted upon the matter it has received” (Vol. 1, p. 289).

I remember the day I learnt this difference.  I sat the kids down around the table – we were going to improve our narration skills.  I had read that Aesop’s Fables are good stories to read when starting narrations so that was my reading for the day.   I read the story and asked for a narration starting with my youngest.  They all did well until I got to my oldest, Joshua.

He started to tell me all this information about who Aesop was and why he wrote the story.  I was actually very cross!  That information wasn’t in the story (interesting though it was!!)  I don’t know what made me stop for I was truly about to deliver a very firm and concise lecture to my verbose child that he should stick to the story – after all, I had asked for a narration.  Bells went off in my head – it suddenly clicked.  He had given me an excellent narration. He had given me a narration at the level he was at.    I am so thankful that the penny dropped for me before I delivered that lecture!!

The younger children had given me a retell in their own words and it was mostly about comprehension – they didn’t have any other information to add but Josh had read more about Aesop and the time in history he lived than I had even thought of.  He had extra information, he had dots to connect, and he shared them.  This is what narrations are about.

I have learnt from that day.  These days I discourage them from giving me the story word for word, but encourage my children to share broader than what we’ve just read.  Sometimes I prompt them before they give the narration to remind them

  • that they may have something extra to add (as long as it is on topic),
  • that they may have an opinion or feelings about what we’ve read,
  • that they may even have questions

And all of this maybe included in their narration.

When we encourage our children to give narrations like this we are encouraging them to think not just regurgitate what they have heard and that is true learning.

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