Narration: The Art of Telling

by Jeannie Fulbright, homeschool science author.

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 were any closer because its millions of degrees on the inside but if we were further away we would all freeze and you should never look at the sun because you have a lens in your eyes that focuses the sun onto the back of your eye and will burn a hole in your eye and..." As the nine 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 that you can do today to help your child succeed in later academics, this would be it. For, so many teens and adults have a difficult time putting their knowledge and thoughts into clear communication, much less creating intelligible writing assignments. In fact, many college graduates can not sequentially order facts and ideas nor put their tenets in convincing, intelligible compositions.

Narration, the art of telling back what was learned, is so simple. Yet this small act produces profoundly important results. Charlotte Mason teaches that by the simple act of narrating, the child better preserves his learning and it becomes, not just some abstract fact 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. For, once a child explains to you what he knows, it is, indeed, what he knows and will not soon be forgot. 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 him for composition. For once he can clearly speak; he can also clearly write orderly, organized and logical expressions.

By merely having the child regularly recount what he learns, he 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 narration. It takes both time and forbearance. We must be patient in the beginning as they fumble through the material so haphazardly jumbled in their mind. It can be laborious to pull one sentence out of one careful child, and at the same time look for a place to interrupt a more long-winded child. But these are the early steps that, with patient endurance, will train the child's mind. The child who does not regularly orate his learning, is likely to enter adulthood without these skills.

For the youngest child or the older child just beginning narrations, use short, simple paragraphs to begin. Eventually the child will build up to entire chapters, and later, entire books. The child well versed at narrations, will eventually be able to assimilate information gathered from many different sources and deliver a well reasoned research paper.

After reading to the child, ask him to tell back what he remembers. In the beginning, you will need to jog his memory. But 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.

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