Strengthen narration by self-questioning what was just read!

A Charlotte Mason Moment:

“Long ago, I was in the habit of hearing this axiom quoted by a philosophical old friend: – ‘The mind can know nothing save what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put to the mind by itself.’

I have failed to trace the saying to its source, but a conviction of its importance has been growing upon me during the last forty years. It tacitly prohibits questions from without; (this does not, of course, affect the Socratic use of questioning for purposes of moral conviction); and it is necessary to intellectual certainty, to the act of knowing. For example, to secure a conversation of an incident, we ‘go over it in our minds’; that is, the mind puts itself through the process of self-questioning which I have indicated. 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 should 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.”

(Home Education by Charlotte M. Vol. 6 pp. 16-17)

The method is as old as the mind of man, the distressful fact is that it has been made so little use of in general education…

A Charlotte Mason Moment:

“As for all the teaching in the nature of ‘told to the children’, most children get their share of that whether in the infant school or at home, but this is practically outside the sphere of that part of education which demands a conscious mental effort, from the scholar, the mental effort of telling again that which has been read or heard. That is how we all learn, we tell again, to ourselves if need be, the matter we wish to retain, the sermon, the lecture, the conversation. The method is as old as the mind of man, the distressful fact is that it has been made so little use of in general education.”

(Home Education by Charlotte M. Mason Vol. 6, pp. 159, 160)

PS: If you’re interested in learning some practical ways students can study for Charlotte Mason-style dictation passages, have a look at this blog article linked below!

Ways to Study for Charlotte Mason Dictation Passages

Narration and the Importance of a Single Reading

A Charlotte Mason Moment

“I have already spoken of the importance of a single reading. If a child is not able to narrate what he has read once, let him not get the notion that he may, or that he must, read it again. A look of slight regret because there is a gap in his knowledge will convict him.”

(Home Education by Charlotte M. Mason Vol. 1, pp. 229, 230)

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!

Please Explain Where Summarizing Comes into Narration

Dear Carrie

My question is, where does summarizing come in?

Dear Carrie,

I understand the point of oral and written narrations is to have my children retell as much as they can. Also the point is to “borrow” some of the author’s language from the reading. I’ve read a couple threads on that! However, I feel like I still push for more of a summary (give me the main points) than I should. I am trying to get it right. Especially with my younger two who will catch on to this more quickly if I start out the correct way! My question is, where does summarizing come in? Is that helpful to be able to gather the main points from your reading as well? Please forgive me if I sound silly, or the answer is obvious, but if you could explain it to me? I’d love to hear!

“Please Explain Where Summarizing Comes In”

Dear “Please Explain Where Summarizing Comes In,”

This is a good question, and I’ll do my best to answer from my perspective to show the direction Heart of Dakota takes with this! To me, Charlotte Mason style oral narration, which later becomes written narration, focuses on the child making sense of what was read by sharing what stood out to him/her in the reading. Children are to originally do this by borrowing words and phrasing from the author and eventually by moving toward more ownership of their narrations (still narrating in the style of the author’s writing but not really reciting word-for-word anymore what the author said).

Summarizing is a different skill than oral narration or written narration.

Rather than looking for a certain series of main points, the child is to share what struck him/her from the reading, making the narration process personalized to each child, rather than looking for a one right answer type of narration where everyone’s narration looks the same. The skill of orally narrating in this manner leads very well into written narration done in this same manner. So, written narrations aren’t meant to necessarily be a summary. Instead they are to share the flavor of the author’s writing from the reader’s perspective.

Narrations capture the flavor and style of the author.

Some children are more drawn to summarizing simply because they are “big picture” thinkers. My oldest son is definitely that way. So, narrating in a more summary-like manner for him does not make that type of narrating “wrong”. But if I start looking for him to include certain key points and requiring him to have those in his narration, then the lesson has strayed into a summarizing lesson rather than a narrating opportunity.

I will share that even though my oldest son thinks in main idea steps, his narrations still capture the flavor and style of the author, which is another key difference in summarizing versus narrating. Written summaries are often written more like an outline or like a note-taking exercise. Details are not abounding and using wording from the author or of your own style is not a focus. Instead, a summary often reads like a succinct paragraph. There is little extra flavor and the author’s style is not evident.

In contrast to my oldest son, my next son in line is a detailed child. He is very descriptive in his narrations and can get very lengthy when narrating, yet does it beautifully. I share this to show you one thing. Although my two oldest sons are different in their approach to narrating, they both do it well. One in a more summary fashion (in the author’s style). One in a very descriptive fashion (often giving very long narrations). Yet, each son is a good writer, both in creative writing and in more formulistic writing, like with the Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons, even though they may differ greatly in their narration style.

Summarizing is taught best through outlining and later note-taking of more textual material.

So, now with the groundwork laid, we come to your question. I see summarizing as an important skill that is taught best through outlining and later note-taking of more textual material, such as that found within history and science books. Using classic literature for a summary exercise means that much of the flavor and style of the story is being lost in the focus to get the main ideas down on paper. Narration, in contrast, is a child’s opportunity to share what struck him/her in the reading and what made the reading memorable to him/her. While this at first may not seem as important of a goal as being able to summarize, in truth it is the sifting and sorting and deciding which information to share that is the “work” of narrating which leaves the impression on the child’s mind for years to come.

Summarizing (as opposed to narrating) is more in the “one right answer” vein.

At Heart of Dakota, we first teach summarizing through outlining and note-taking through the Rod and Staff lessons and also through some of our writing programs such as Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons. Since summarizing is definitely a more formulistic skill, more in the “one right answer” vein, in our opinion it fits best in that category. It takes much of the personal part out of writing. It is a necessary skill and one I think comes more into focus as kiddos get older and have a need for it, which you can see represented in our older guides’ plans. But, I will say that even with my oldest sons’ different preferred styles of narrating, they can both summarize easily. I believe this comes from years of sifting and sorting through what they want to say (or write) within their oral or written narrations for the living books we’ve scheduled throughout Heart of Dakota. I hope that helps a bit as you ponder this!