Three Simple Things That Help with Oral Narrations… and Three That Don’t!

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Three Simple Things That Help with Oral Narrations… and Three That Don’t!

When children narrate, they tell back in their own words what they have just read or heard. It allows them to share their own version of the passage with accuracy, individual personality, spirit, and originality. Children should give oral narrations after the reading of living books. Using Heart of Dakota, you already are filling your children’s homeschool day with the reading of Charlotte Mason style living books.  But, as oral narrations are new to many of us homeschool parents, what can we do that will help (or not help) our children thrive with oral narrations?  The focus of this More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment will be on 3 simple things that help with oral narrations – and 3 that don’t!

#1 – Set the intention for the oral narration in one simple way!

Charlotte Mason says,

Things that we read only become knowledge as we assimilate it, as our mind acts upon it. We must read with the specific intention to know the matter being read. We can read without that effort but it does us no good. (Vol. 6, p. 12-13)

So, how can we set the intention for our children to orally narrate well?  Prior to reading the living book, we should simply tell the child he/she will be expected to orally narrate.  If a certain kind of oral narration is to be expected, we should make sure to tell them what kind as well.  Heart of Dakota’s guides make it easy to set the intention for oral narrations, as the daily plans clearly state its purpose.  We share the purpose with our children in younger Heart of Dakota guides, where modeling is still needed.  But, once children practice narrating in a more general way, you can expect specific narrations. Oral narrations may be summary, key word, topic, detailed, etc.  You can simply say, “Today you will be giving a summary oral narration after reading your history, and it should be 5 sentences long.” You have now set the intention!

What is the opposite of setting the intention for orally narrating, that is not a help?

I realized how important this is to do myself one day!  In Beyond…, the plans ask us as parents to model narrations.  The guide gives tips on how to do this, so it is not hard.  However, I did not realize I’d be modeling an oral narration prior to reading aloud one day.  During my reading aloud of our Storytime living book, I was mentally making my grocery list.  We as moms can multi-task like this, can’t we?!?  When I finished reading,  I could not tell my poor child one thing about what I read!  Because I’d read with no intention, I could not narrate. Since that moment, I have set the intention for orally narrating by always reminding my kiddos they will need to narrate after reading!  The opposite of this, that is not a help, is springing it upon them after the reading.

#2 – One uninterrupted reading provides enough content for the oral narration!

Charlotte Mason says,

To secure a conversation or an incident, we ‘go over it in our minds;’ that is the mind puts itself through the process of self-questioning… This is what happens in the narrating of a passage read: each new consecutive incident or statement arrives because the mind asks itself, – ‘What next?’ For this reason it is important that only one reading be allowed; efforts to memorize weaken the power of attention, the proper activity of the mind; if it is desirable to ask questions in order to emphasize certain points, these should be asked after, and not before, or during, the act of narration. (Vol. 6, p. 17)

So, how do we encourage one uninterrupted reading?  

We simply make sure that once the reading begins, it continues unhampered until it is done.  It makes no difference who is doing the reading.  Whether a parent is reading aloud or a student is reading independently, the reading should not be interrupted.  It may be tempting to stop and explain things, such as vocabulary or terminology a student may not know.  Or, it may be tempting to assign a second reading of the material.  Both of these responses interrupt the flow of the reading and weaken the power of attention.  They also detract from the story-like quality of the author’s style of writing in a living book.

What is the opposite of encouraging one uninterrupted reading?

The opposite is simply stopping the reading with questions, with explanations, or with personal commentary.  Remember, orally narrating is the student’s responsibility, not ours!  As fun as it is to do sometimes, we as parents aren’t the ones getting to share our every thought in narrations of our own!  I remember struggling with this early on.  We were reading about immigration, and in the middle of the reading, I began to tell a story of my own.  I stopped to share our family had immigrated from Holland, and I had a picture of the ship they came on in a family binder.  After getting the binder and finding the picture, I began reading again.  But, then I stopped to define some words I thought my son might not understand.

At the end I asked him to narrate, and do you know what he did?  He told me about my family’s immigration from Holland and then defined the words I had defined.  Yikes!  Kind of missed the boat (no pun intended) on the actual history retelling that should have followed the reading!  As hard as it may be, we need to keep our thoughts to ourselves during the reading.  If we want to share them after the child has orally narrated – wonderful!  Just not during the reading or the narration.

#3 – One uninterrupted oral narration that is crafted by the child is the goal!

Charlotte Mason says:

As we have already urged, there is but one right way, that is, children must do the work for themselves. They must read the given pages and tell what they have read, they must perform, that is, what we may call the ‘act of knowing’. We are all aware, alas, what a monstrous quantity of printed matter has gone into the dustbin of our memories, because we have failed to perform that quite natural and spontaneous ‘act of knowing,’ as easy to a child as breathing and, if we would believe it, comparatively easy to ourselves. The reward is two-fold: no intellectual habit is so valuable as that of attention; it is a mere habit but it is also the hallmark of an educated person. (Vol 6, p. 99)

So, how do we encourage one uninterrupted oral narration personalized by the child?

We simply make sure we don’t interrupt the child while they are narrating.  This is harder than one would think!  Children sometimes mispronounce things, say things in an improper sequence, elaborate on topics we wouldn’t, and omit facts we’d include.  But, it is not our narration – it is theirs, and the child must do the work themselves.  Interrupting only causes loss of focus, discouragement, and omission of personal style.  So, during the narration, we are avid listeners and encouragers.

After the narration, we can start by sharing what we enjoyed about the narration.  I make it a point to try to have more positives than negatives.  Starting with what the child did well and ending with a few suggested improvements keeps narrating a positive work in progress.  There is a time for correction; it just should be after the narration, and it should  not be a long list of negatives.  Kiddos do improve with encouragement and time, so take heart, narrations will get better!

What is the opposite of encouraging one uninterrupted oral narration crafted by the child?

The opposite is simply interrupting to correct the child and to interject our ideas.  This is discouraging, and it leaves the child trying to think about what we want them to say rather than what they want to say.  In essence, they are trying to give the narration we would give.  Likewise, we don’t want to quiz the child by asking one answer type questions to make sure they ‘got it.’  This shows we don’t really value their narration, as we still need another assessment to make sure their response is ‘right.’

Imagine going to a wonderful movie and calling your friend to share your retelling of it.  You excitedly begin to share, retelling what you remembered and connected with most.  But your friend stops you to interrupt that you’ve forgotten a part, as she watched the movie trailer.  You’re a bit annoyed, but you try to address the part she mentioned.  You excitedly return to your retelling, only to be shortly interrupted that you’ve mispronounced a word.  Hmmm.  You fix it and attempt one last time to finish out your retelling half-heartedly.

She interrupts again to ask you to answer a series of questions about what the real intent of the movie was. She read a review of the movie, and she wants to be sure you truly understood it right.  You listen to her retelling of a movie she didn’t really even truly watch.  As soon as possible, you get off the phone.  You make a mental note never to call your friend to share your retelling of a movie you loved again!  This is what narrating can feel like to our children if we aren’t careful!

In Conclusion…

Remember, there are assignments in Heart of Dakota that require one-right answers.  The timeline, vocabulary work, comprehension questions, map labeling, research questions, etc. are examples of this.  However, narrating is different.  It is personal! There is no one right narration, though there are ‘right’ parameters to maintain within specific kinds of narrations.  Narrating is truly a wonderful Charlotte Mason style assessment tool!  I hope these 3 simple ideas can help you and your children thrive with orally narrating!

In Christ,


P.S. To learn more about written narrations as a form of Charlotte Mason assessment, click here!

P.S.S.  Are you starting HOD with an older child?  Click here to find out more about training your child in Charlotte Mason skills!

P.S.S.S. This month’s library builder coupon is for the Beyond… boy interest I linked for my comments on the Storytime Living Books. Click here for the coupon code!

Ways to Study for Charlotte Mason Dictation Passages

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Charlotte Mason’s Method of Studied Dictation

Heart of Dakota uses Charlotte Mason’s method of studied dictation to teach spelling beginning in Bigger Hearts for His Glory.  Charlotte Mason’s dictation emphasizes the studying of a passage in order to fix it within one’s mind. Students practice the habit of making a mental or a photographic image of the text. This includes paying attention to how words are spelled, where capital letters are found, and which punctuation marks are used. Training the mind to capture correct images of words, sentences, and eventually passages is a powerful tool in spelling. Often it does more for kiddos who have struggled with spelling than any amount of memorizing rules can do.

Three Different Sons, Three Different Ways to Study for Dictation

When my three sons first began studying for their dictation passages, I gave them helpful tips on how to study. I’d point out the paragraph indentation, any difficult words to spell, and any punctuation marks. Then, I’d give each of them as much time as they needed to study the passage on their own.  They would call me when they were ready, usually within 5 minutes.  Interestingly enough, each of my sons developed their own unique way of studying for dictation.

Study Method #1 – Wyatt’s Way of Studying:
Passed 9 Dictation Passages in a Row

Wyatt would read the passage in his head first a few times.  Then, he’d get a black dry erase marker and a white markerboard.  While reading the passage  through another time, he’d jot on the markerboard anything special to remember.  So, for example, he’d write the first word of the paragraph indented and capitalized.  If there was a punctuation mark after a word, he’d write the word and then the punctuation mark following it.  Any words that were difficult to spell also made it on the list.

All of these notes were jotted like shorthand, moving sequentially from left to right on the markerboard.  They were even written on the proper place on the markerboard within the right ‘lines.’ Of course, there were no lines on the markerboard. So to me, it just looked like a bunch of floating words and punctuation marks on the markerboard. I finally asked him what he was doing. Imagine my surprise when he explained his method to me!  When it came time for me to read the passage to him,  the markerboard was put aside.  This method of studying for dictation worked well for Wyatt!

Study Method #2 – Riley’s Way of Studying:
A Silent Successful Way of Studying for Dictation

Riley’s method was quite simple.  He studied the passage in complete silence.  All the studying was going on in his head.  When I asked him how he was studying it, he simply said he was reading it in his head.  He said he just pictured it as he read. This method of studying dictation worked well for Riley!

Study Method #3 – Emmett’s Way of Studying:
Nana and Emmett Doing Dictation Together

Emmett’s method is much like his personality, talkative and exuberant.  He talks through the entire passage out loud.  As he reads, he gives commentary on the passage.  For example, “Hmmmm.  ‘Flo-rence’ with a ‘c’ ‘e,’ NOT with an ‘s’ at all.  Oooh!  ‘Night-in-gale’ – that’s really 3 words, Mom!” He also circles on the page anything he wants to remember, like capital letters and punctuation marks. Finally, to practice spelling difficult words, he closes his eyes and spells them out loud.  He tells me he is picturing the word.  Then, he opens his eyes and either shouts “Got it!” or “Shoot!”  If he says “Got it!”, he spelled it right. If he says “Shoot,” he spelled it wrong, and he studies the word again. Then, he closes his eyes and tries again until he can spell it out loud and shout “Got it!” This method of studying dictation is working well for Emmett.

Finding Your Own Way to Study for Charlotte Mason Dictation Passages
Dictation Builds Strong Spelling and Careful Writing Skills

In summation, dictation is an excellent way to train our children to write carefully with good spelling and mechanics.  It is a good idea to model how to study the passage to our students. Drawing attention to capitalization, punctuation, and easily misspelled words is especially helpful. However, students may find their own unique method of studying for dictation, and this will probably be their best method. Therefore, personal study methods are to be encouraged. Hopefully my sons’ methods will help you and your children find success in exploring your own personal dictation study methods!

In Christ,

How to Create a Charlotte Mason Timeline and Book of Centuries with Heart of Dakota

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Creating a Charlotte Mason Timeline and Book of Centuries

Children will need to have the sense that what they’re reading has a specific time when it happened before their collection of knowledge gets too vast. To do this, make a century table, something like a timeline chart only longer. To make one, divide a long sheet of heavy paper into twenty columns. Put the first century in the center and let the rest of the columns represent a century, either B.C. or A.D. Let the child write the names of people he reads about in the the century they belong to. At this point, children don’t need to focus on exact dates, but this simple table of the centuries will give the child a graphic memory of when things happened. He will have a panorama of events pictured in his mind in the correct order.
                                                                                                                      – Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason’s column timeline is part of Beyond Little Heart’s… and Bigger Heart’s history plans.
Charlotte Mason's column timeline in Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory
Charlotte Mason’s column timeline in Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory

Heart of Dakota begins with Charlotte Mason‘s suggestion for a column timeline in Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory and Bigger Hearts for His Glory. Children don’t really have a good grasp of the flow of history at that age. Seeing events in 50-100 year columns on a single or double page helps them better understand the flow of time. Prior to writing these guides, Carrie’s oldest son kept a separate timeline book for his beginning 5 years of schooling. He used cut and paste figures. Since then, we’ve found much greater retention and connection for younger kiddos when we switched to the method described here. Drawing and labeling the figures really helps cement the people and events in young children’s minds. It forces them to interact with the material more and makes it personal (and also very engaging to look at)!

A wall or accordion-style timeline is part of Preparing Hearts… history plans.
Wall timeline in Preparing Hearts for His Glory
Wall timeline in Preparing Hearts for His Glory

Next, we move into our one year overview of world history with Preparing Hearts for His Glory. We step the timeline up a level to either a wall timeline or an accordian-folded timeline. This also is designed to give a feel for the major events in the flow of history. It provides mental pegs for children to hang their history readings upon in the future. Children of this age are more invested in their timelines when they complete the work themselves. Doing it themselves means more to them because of the work it has taken them to produce the timeline.

A chronological continuous timeline using a 4-year cycle is part of Creation to Christ through Missions to Modern Marvels.
Chronological continuous timeline in Heart of Dakota's 4-year history cycle
Chronological continuous timeline in Heart of Dakota’s 4-year history cycle

Once we move to Creation to Christ, we begin a chronological flow to history using a 4-year cycle. At that point we do begin a continuous timeline, which will be added to each year. However, we do not do it in isolation but rather within a beautiful full-color Student Notebook. This adds depth to timeline entries by providing places for written narrations, copywork, sketches, and maps (alongside the timeline). Many history connections can be made, as the timeline book is not separated from the rest of the children’s work. The student adds a new section to the Student Notebook each year through each guide from CTC to MTMM. The result is one large beautiful volume completed over 4 years.

A Charlotte Mason-style Book of Centuries is kept as part of Heart of Dakota’s 4 years of high school.
Book of Centuries in Heart of Dakota's 4-year high school curriculum
Book of Centuries in Heart of Dakota’s 4-year high school curriculum

Finally, in high school students begin keeping a Book of Centuries.
Carrie researched and read much about Charlotte Mason’s version of a Book of Centuries. There is much to love about her approach. Heart of Dakota’s approach is similar to hers in some ways and a bit different in others. Our Book of Centuries has a two-page spread for each century. This is in keeping with Charlotte Mason (except earlier centuries are combined as there are less known dates to record).

The right side of each two-page spread includes horizontal lines to record entries.

The right side of each two-page spread has horizontal lines. Each line represents an increment of 5 or 10 years in the century. To record an event on the timeline, students first locate the correct century. Then, they write a word or phrase to represent the event on the correct line within that century. This allows students to see at a glance events that defined the century.

The left side of each two-page spread includes customized portrait/picture gallery images.

The left side of each two-page spread is a portrait/picture gallery of people/events from the century. Amy Pak’s beautiful hand-drawn timeline images and descriptions coincide with Heart of Dakota’s plans. A customized printable CD for each guide helps students make a special keepsake Book of Centuries through high school. This portrait gallery replaces Charlotte Mason’s version of the left side of the two-page spread. Her students were instructed to draw artifacts, clothing, and instruments from the century on the left page. While this is also a great visual for the century, as part of this assignment Charlotte Mason’s students regularly visited museums to sketch from the real artifacts. A luxury we don’t tend to have in our day to day homeschooling.

Charlotte Mason was not focused on memorizing exact dates but rather on comprehending the flow of time.

Carrie and I find it interesting that Charlotte Mason was not focused upon memorizing exact dates in which events occurred. Instead, she felt that comprehending a flow of time was more important. In thinking back, we memorized many historical dates through our high school and college years, and then promptly forgot them. It is interesting to note we still struggle to place things within a flow of time. We have little memory of what events or people share a century. We must continually refer to timelines to refresh our memory as to what happened when and what events proceeded others. Charlotte Mason’s reasoning and thoughts on the keeping of a Book of Centuries resonate with us! We are glad our children will have a different experience than us! Who knows?!? Maybe their Book of Centuries will be a reference tool for them for years to come? Or at the least, a lovely memory of years we spent together enjoying history Charlotte Mason-style through high school!