Free Writing Versus Written Narration Writing

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

The Positive Impact of Written Narrations and the Negative Impact of “Free Writing”

Charlotte Mason loved living books. Living books are page-turners; they are the books you just cannot put down. They beg to be shared, both in conversation (oral narration) and in writing (written narration). When children connect with something, they long to share that connection. Narration, whether oral or written, provides a natural way to share those connections with others – namely, with us! Their homeschool parents! Young children begin their narrations in an oral format, but they soon move on to sharing their narrations in a written format. When our children write written narrations, they begin to develop their own writing style and learn important editing skills. Unfortunately, “free writing” teaches neither of these things. Let’s see why!

Free Writing Versus Written Narration Writing

Free writing is popular in some public schools. Children are encouraged to free write on any topic that strikes their fancy. I am all for creative writing! But, free writing, well, that belongs in your private journal tucked away in your room for your own personal record of your random thoughts. To really develop your own writing style, nothing beats reading excellent living books and sharing what you remember. Why? Well, authors of excellent books have some pretty amazing writing styles! Somewhere within the meshing of all those incredible writing styles, your children’s own personal style will emerge. Maybe there will be a little Jane Austen mixed with a little Shakespeare, or a little Ben Franklin mixed with a little William J. Bennett. There is much to be learned from timeless authors of living books. How exciting to see our own children’s writing styles emerging with shades of the ‘greats’!

No to Little Editing Versus Daily Editing

Teachers don’t usually edit free writing. Why? Well, random thoughts are hard to edit. Not to mention, free writing can tend to go on and on, with no real stopping point. Often, children are encouraged to let their thoughts flow. Writing with proper punctuation, capitalization, and mechanics and usage is not really emphasized as the ‘flow’ might be lost. The result is lengthy free writing that unfortunately often flows with ample spelling errors and meager use of capitalization and punctuation. Written narrations, on the other hand, are shared and corrected immediately (ideally, that is). This encourages the use of proper punctuation, capitalization, and mechanics and usage. It also encourages pausing to really ponder what you want to say and how you want to say it.

Free writing isn’t all that freeing because no one really wants to read it.

Most children don’t find free writing all that freeing. Why? Well, it often seems no one really wants to read it. In fact, children often don’t even want to reread their own free writing. Can you imagine a daily assigned free writing time? Every day of the school year? Your blank pages of your lined composition book stare up at you. What will you free write about today? Oh, the pressure of finding a worthy topic! In contrast, Charlotte Mason removes that pressure. Children know the topics of their written narrations; the topics are the amazing living books they just read! Likewise, children know we, as the parents, will read and help edit their written narrations.

Written narrations beg to be read. They are a window into our children’s hearts, souls, and minds. They have depth. Never underestimate the power of the written narration. Free write on the side. Written narrations? They craft the future ‘timeless’ writers, and who knows? That could be your child.

In Christ,


How can I improve my 11-year-old’s writing and independence in CTC?

Dear Carrie

What can I do to improve my 11-year-old son’s writing and level of independence in CTC?

My 11-year-old son is combined with his advanced 12-year-old sister in Creation to Christ. Writing is hard for him, so I write down the events as I read the history. Then, he uses that list to type his written narration. He needs so much hand holding! He does have some learning issues, as well as dysgraphia. My kids were not independent in Preparing Hearts. My goal in CTC was to gradually have them gain independence, as we moved along. So, they read the science, but I’ve still been reading aloud the history. My daughter could read the history and understand it. But, my son could not! He’s even struggling reading Gentle Ben in DITHOR. I just don’t want school to be frustrating for him. He LOVES history and geography! I want him to continue to do so. Help! What can I do to improve my son’s writing and independence?


“Ms. Please Help My Son in CTC Improve His Writing and Independence”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My Son in CTC Improve His Writing and His Independence,”

Thanks so much for sharing about your situation. In looking at your kiddos, how important is it for you to keep them together? The reason I ask is because you could consider having your son go back and do Preparing Hearts without his older sibling. He could do the history readings independently, as well as the science and independent history box as much as possible. As he didn’t do these things independently before, it is possible it won’t feel like so much of a repeat. Plus, when you read material to yourself and follow directions in the guide on your own, often the assignment will turn out differently.

Doing all of the projects, activities, and written assignments in Preparing Hearts could improve his work in all the future guides.

Did your son do pretty much all of the projects, activities, and written assignments in Preparing (or did you downsize, skip, or change assignments to fit him better)? The reason I ask is because if you did downsize, skip, or change it may not be as much of a repeat as you’d think for him to do Preparing. Plus, it is possible that in the long haul this will be a better fit for him for all the future guides which come after Preparing.

Your daughter can begin reading the CTC history to herself, as well do the rest of the “I” boxes independently.

As far as your older child goes, I would have her gain more independence by starting to read the CTC history to herself now, since she is able to do it. I would continue having her read her science on her own. I would also encourage you to have her do all of the ‘I’ independent boxes as much on her own as possible, with help from you when she hits a roadblock. You can go over directions with her, but let her have the guide to work on her ‘I’ independent boxes as much as she can on her own. I want to encourage you that this will bless all of you eventually. Your daughter will feel more grown-up, and you will have more time to be with your son to improve his work.

Otherwise, your son could work toward more independence in CTC eventually.

If returning to Preparing does not seem like a fit, you could consider teaching your son more in CTC than we plan, with the thought of moving him toward more independence eventually. I would not hold your daughter back from working independently to do this. Instead, I would let her do the assignments as close to the way they were intended as possible. This means you would work more with your son, but let your daughter be more on her own. Since you shared that your son is able to read the science readings in CTC independently, I would be inclined to think that he could also read the history readings on his own to some extent. This is because the science readings in Land Animals are fairly difficult and are not as far away from the level of the history readings as you’d think.

You could alternate reading by paragraph with him at first.

You could potentially alternate reading by paragraph with him through the history readings, eventually handing more independence over to him. Just know that it is alright if he doesn’t pronounce everything correctly. Students reading to themselves don’t pronounce everything correctly either! If he is able to do most of CTC as written, with the exception of the independent readings, this may be an option.

If you try this and end up modifying almost all of CTC’s written work and readings, I’d place him in Preparing instead.

On the other hand, if you end up modifying almost all of his written work in CTC one way or another, and are modifying the readings by reading them aloud too, then I would be inclined to think he is in over his head in most areas. In this case, he would benefit from Preparing instead. I share this because if you were a new family just coming to HOD for the first time, I would lean heavily toward placing your son in Preparing and your daughter in CTC.

The “Written Narration Tips” are helpful for kiddos who struggle with written narrations.

As far as written narrations go, it’s a good idea to refer to the Written Narration Tips (Teacher’s List) in the back of the CTC guide. This helps give some perspective on how to handle written narrations. There are some tips for kiddos who struggle with written narrations that are very helpful. So, I encourage you to take a look at those as soon as you get a chance.

You can use the helps within the daily plans for writing as well. 

Also, make sure to use the helps within the daily plans of CTC for written narrations as well. Have your kiddos begin by copying the sentence starter provided in the written narration directions box on written narration day. Then, have your kiddos answer their way through the questions provided in the box as a guide for their narration. They can honestly write a one-sentence answer for each question and end up with a good written narration. These helps in CTC bow out more and more as the year progresses. However, they are a huge help in narrating to start. They remain in the Preparing box for written narrations all year though. So, if you do decide to place your son in Preparing those helps would remain.

Balance is key, but we want his year to be joyful – to stretch him a bit but not pull him to the breaking point!

As we ponder options for your son, I want his school year to improve to be joyful and to stretch him a bit but not pull him to the breaking point! Balance is key, and kiddos with challenges need a special dose of grace and very incremental steps to higher expectations skill-wise. Teaching kiddos with learning challenges is a special calling. I know the Lord has equipped you for this task, or He would not have given your son to you. It may be that his areas of challenge are just showing themselves a bit more now as his sister is older and is gaining faster than he is (and rightfully so due to her age). Sometimes the gap between kiddos takes awhile to show itself. It may be that it is just showing itself more now. This just may be the course their academic growth is taking.


Questions About Using Original Thought in CM-Style Narrations and Placement

Dear Carrie

Would you recommend PHFHG or CTC for my son who struggles with using original thought in his narrations?

My 6th grade dyslexic son has overcome his reading difficulties and is now an excellent reader. However, he has trouble with verbal expression. When we read a passage and I ask him to narrate, he gets a deer in the headlights look. We did WWE for 2 years, and it led us through a guided narration with shorter passages. At first, he only had to write 1-2 sentences. He did alright until the passages became longer. It is the original thought that is difficult for him. I really want to switch to Heart of Dakota, but would Preparing be too easy? He can handle all the reading in CTC or RTR. But, I worry about the narration and writing. He just has to put A LOT of effort into writing anything. It seems like CM-style narration is different than classical narration, and I’m not sure how that impacts placement.


“Ms. Please Help Me Understand Original Thought in Written Narrations and How That Impacts Placement”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Understand Original Thought in Written Narrations and How That Impacts Placement,”

I just want to encourage you that Charlotte Mason-style narration is a skill that takes time to hone. It is not a skill that is developed overnight or even in a single year. Think of it as a slow burn that takes time to build but does eventually become a raging fire! Even if you’ve had practice in the past with a classical-style of narration, it will take to transition to a CM-style of narration. As you’ve already realized, CM-style narration does incorporate original thought. So, first I’ll explain how original thought is part of CM narrations. Second, I’ll share some placement suggestions for your son.

How CM-Style Narrations Encourage Original Thought

One way we assess kiddos through HOD is with CM-style oral and written narrations. Written and oral narrations CM-style look very different from child to child. This is different than written narrations done classical style, which result in more of a summary (meaning most kiddos’ narrations will look very similar when done summary-style). These are two different types of narrations. One is a summary, with certain key points being required. The other is a true written narration CM-style, where the child sifts and sorts through information, choosing what to write about and borrowing words and phrases from the author to write in the author’s style (without having certain key points that MUST be included for the narrations to be “correct”).

The sifting and sorting of what to include in CM-style written narrations is left to the child.

In this way, a classical style summary can have a specific answer key. A CM-style written narration wouldn’t even know where to begin with an “answer key.” Instead, each child is to draw out or seize upon different points to express. This is why in HOD’s guides, we may ask leading questions to get the child thinking about what he/she read. However, we leave the sifting and sorting up to the child, as far as what to write and how to write it. The key idea within our guides on written narration days will provide you as the parent with a summary of the reading. This is so you can see if your child is on-topic in his/her narration. However, it is not intended that the child include all those points in the key idea within the narration.

A balance of summary and descriptive styles of narration is important. But, it is also important to understand the difference between simply summarizing and narrating.

We do have children practice orally narrating in both summary style and descriptive style in our upper HOD guides. We consider it important to have a balance of both styles of narrating. However, we also consider it important to understand the two different styles of narrating. There is much more to narrating than simply summarizing what was read. Otherwise narrating in general can quickly become an exercise in outlining key points and can completely lose much of what makes CM-style narrating meaningful.

We tend to use ongoing books for written narration practice and R & S English for summarizing practice.

Since summarizing lends itself well to outlining, and these skills are both important, we teach these areas through Rod and Staff English in conjunction with science or history passages that are more factual. This is because a summary lends itself well to being written from just a portion of a book. In contrast, a written narration is instead intended to pull from a more continuous ongoing story, rather than just an excerpt. So, we tend to use ongoing books for written narration. Knowledge gained as the child continues reading the same book provides insights that can then be drawn upon and pulled together as connections when writing the narration. This process requires a different set of skills than those required to write a summary from a passage plucked from a source, where the goal is a summation of the key points in the particular excerpt or passage instead.

We see narrating CM-style as being very different from summarizing and outlining.

We delineate that summarizing and narrating are two different skills with two different styles. It is important to note that narrating CM-style is a very different skill from summarizing or outlining. I do skim the text as my child is orally narrating to me, holding the book in hand. This helps me see if the child is including ideas, names, places, etc. from the text, but it also shows me that the connections are those which the child has made! I hope this helps as you ponder how oral and written narrations are handled within the HOD guides.

As far as placement, I would lean toward Preparing Hearts for your son.

As far as your placement questions go, with the thoughts you’ve shared so far about your son’s writing especially, I would lean toward Preparing Hearts as being a good placement. While it is possible that your son could handle the reading and the independence of CTC, my concern lies in the amount of written work and writing instruction. With all children, but even more so with those who have learning challenges, it is so important to challenge them without challenging them to the point of frustration. This is the balance we are seeking for your son. Plus, the switch to a more CM-style curriculum can take a bit of getting used to as well, so we want to give him every opportunity to thrive. I think that Preparing Hearts would do this, and there are many important skills in Preparing that will literally prepare him for the rigors of CTC.

I would recommend the Extension Package and the studied dictation in Preparing.

With this thought in mind, I would recommend the Extension Package of Preparing rather than the Deluxe Package (because your son is a strong reader). I would also recommend that he do the studied dictation in Preparing to help with his lack of proofreading skills and to help him pay attention to including punctuation in his writing. The exercises in studied dictation do eventually carryover into the child’s writing. Again, this takes time (at least a full year) to see results.

I’d also recommend DITHR for help with analyzing various story elements and with digging deeply into literature.

I would also definitely add DITHR for literature study for your son, doing either Level 4/5 (if he has not had much in the way of formal literature instruction) or Level 6/7/8 if he has had quite a bit of formal study in analyzing literature. You could then add the appropriate level book pack to suit his reading level. I would lean toward either the Level 5/6 Boy Set or the Level 6/7 set. You will see wonderful graphic organizers all throughout DITHR, which really do help with analyzing various story elements and with digging deeply into literature. However, these organizers are not to be narration helpers, and literary analysis and narration are two different skills. Instead, to help with narrating, we have step-by-step directions and guided questions to set the stage for a narration and get it started on the right foot. This method is very CM-oriented.

I’d recommend Rod and Staff English 4 or 5, as well as an upped level of math.

For grammar, I would lean toward either Rod and Staff English 4 or English 5. You will be completing an entire level of Rod and Staff through Preparing, so there will be plenty of grammar and writing instruction there. You will also have a once weekly writing lesson through the poetry of Preparing Hearts. Last, you’d need an upped level of math. Preparing does schedule Singapore 2A/2B, 3A/3B, and 4A/4B, or you can use your own math.

Your son could do his own history and science readings, based on his age.

You could also have your son do his own history and science readings, based on his age. Take care not to allow him to read ahead though, even if he wants to, as you will get better narrations with slower more thoughtful reading (of a higher level). This is the approach we take to reading in all areas and is definitely a trait of a CM-style education. You can see as you look at this plan that there will be plenty of writing and steady challenge across the guide, rather than making it too heavy for your son and ending up dropping needed things (which is often what happens when we get too much rigor or change all at once).


Editing Using the Marker Board Method

From Our House to Yours

Editing Using the Marker Board Method

In last week’s From Our House to Yours post, I shared the ‘sticky note method of editing.’ I like to use the sticky note method of editing written narrations before using the marker board method of editing. The sticky note method works well because errors can be noted directly next to the line in which they occur. Using the sticky note method also helps me train our kiddos to follow basic proofreading marks to make corrections. Finally, the sticky note method makes it easy to see if needed corrections have been made. I just look at the sticky note to check if each correction has been made within each noted line of the narration. I love using the sticky note method of editing! However, I also enjoy using what I’ll call the ‘marker board method of editing.’

Try the marker board method of editing with children who are older, who make fewer mistakes, and who write longer narrations.

The marker board method of editing works well with children who are older, who make fewer mistakes, and who are writing longer narrations. As my children grow, so do their narrations! The longer and longer their narrations grow, the smaller and smaller their writing gets. I love Heart of Dakota‘s recommendation to have students read aloud their written narrations with pencil in hand. As they read, students make any corrections they realize they need to make. This encourages self editing, which is one of the end goals of writing as students mature! It also encourages legibility. If they can’t read their own writing, they immediately realize they need to correct it without me even having to say it!

There is one drawback to using the sticky note method of editing that causes me to switch to the marker board method of editing.

As my children’s written narrations get longer and their writing gets smaller, I find one drawback to using the sticky note method. I find I want to edit as they read aloud their narration. However, this is not possible with the sticky note method, as it is cumbersome to keep stopping them for me to lean in and jot the errors on the sticky note. I also find it difficult to edit directly within the written narrations in the notebook. As children mature, their fine motor skills improve, which means their writing (as it should) naturally shrinks. They write so small there just isn’t space for proofreading marks. So, because I wanted to edit as they read aloud rather than me having to reread the written narrations to edit them later, I began using the ‘marker board method of editing.’

How to Use the Marker Board Method of Editing

To use the marker board method of editing, I put small pencil marks along the left margin of their written narration. Directly on the notebooking page’s box, I put a small mark/dot dividing the box into fourths. This sections the narration into 4 parts. Then, I use my dry erase marker to divide a handheld marker board into 4 parts. As my children read aloud their narrations, I either sit next to them or peer over their shoulder, so I can clearly see their written narration at they read it. Then, as they read, I jot the needed changes in the right section of the marker board. I use the same basic proofreading marks from the sticky note method.

For example, let’s say they need to capitalize ‘Federalist Papers’ in the first 1/4 section of the written narration. As they are reading, in the first 1/4 section of my marker board, I write Federalist Papers with a capital ‘F’ and ‘P’ with 3 lines under the letters. Or, let’s say they misspelled ‘campaign’ in the next 1/4 section. In the next 1/4 section on my marker board, I write ‘campaign’ spelled properly with a circled ‘sp’ next to it. Or, let’s say in the bottom 1/4 of the written narration they missed a comma before the conjunction ‘and.’ On the bottom 1/4 of my marker board, I write a comma with a circle around it and a carot mark under it with the word ‘and’ after it. Then, after sharing what I loved about their narration, they use the marker board to make corrections.

Phasing Out the Marker Board Method of Editing

As my children become better and better writers and make fewer and fewer mistakes, I divide the written narration and the marker board into just 2 sections. So, there is just a top half and bottom half. As there are fewer errors, it is easier for them to find them in bigger sections. Then, after awhile, I don’t divide the written narration or marker board at all, so they are each just one big section. Finally, I move to just editing directly in the written narration. If a word is misspelled, I just underline it. It is now their job to look it up and fix it using the (history, science, etc.) book they read for help. If a punctuation mark is missing, I just put a carot with the mark. This is easy, as there are only a few mistakes!

In Closing

So, in closing, editing written narrations can be done in many different ways. When children are young and are writing short narrations, it is easiest just to edit directly within the written narration. However, as children grow older, write longer narrations, and write smaller, you may want to try either the sticky note method or the marker board method of editing.  See if you like either one or even both! Then, editing can come full circle, and you can return to just editing directly in your high school student’s written narration again!

In Christ,



Editing Written Narrations Using the Sticky-Note Method

A Heart of Dakota Life

Editing Written Narrations Using the Sticky Note Method

When children write a written narration, they tell back in their own words what they have just read. This Charlotte Mason-style assessment helps children begin to develop their own writing style. We encourage individual personality, spirit, and originality. However, we also strive for accuracy, both in content and in editing. Children begin writing 1-3 sentences for their written narrations in Heart of Dakota‘s Preparing Hearts. However, by the time they graduate high school, they are writing 4-5 paragraphs. Obviously, the length increases through the years! No matter what the length may be, students should always read aloud their written narrations after writing them. With pencil in hand, they can self-edit as they read aloud to you. But, what’s next? For today, let’s chat about using the sticky note method to edit!

A Quick Reminder of the Importance of Using the Appendix 

In the Appendix of Heart of Dakota‘s guides, you will find Narration Tips for both the teacher and the student. These are super helpful for understanding the narration process from before, to during, to end! You will also find Written Narration Skills for both the teacher and the student. These are super helpful for understanding the editing process! In general, students work through these one at a time. Once they do the first thing (indent each paragraph), they move on to the second thing (make sure the first sentence is on the right topic). Once students have moved past these first few skills, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling are next. This next level of editing is the purpose of this blog post!

The Sticky Note Method

For younger students, for students new to narrating, and for students who make many mistakes, I like to use what I call the ‘sticky note method.’ Basically, this involves sticking sticky notes along the left margin of the written narration. While kiddos read aloud their narration, I just listen without interrupting. When they finish, I start with some positive comments. It is incredibly important to be encouraging! Then, I edit the narration with a pencil using the editing marks below. If something needs to be capitalized, I put 3 lines under it. If a capital letter needs to be made lowercase, I put a slash through it. Misspelled words have a circle around them with ‘sp’ above them. Then, on the sticky note, I write the proper spelling of the words they missed next to the line they are in. This helps them easily find the errors and fix them!

The Sticky Note Method for a More Advanced Writer

For a more advanced writer, I use the sticky note method, but in a slightly different way. After they have read aloud their narration, self-edited, and I’ve given some compliments, I put sticky notes down the left margin. But, instead of writing directly on their narration, I just make notes on the sticky notes. My  notes are all next to the line the error(s) are found in.

So, for example, if the word ‘you’ should have been capitalized in line 3, next to line 3 on the sticky note I write ‘you’ with 3 lines under the ‘y.’ Or, if ‘Versailles’ is misspelled in line 10, I put a circle with ‘sp’ next to line 10 and write ‘Versailles’ spelled correctly. If a comma or period is missing in line 15, I put a caret (the ‘add something’ editing mark) with a comma or period next to line 15. This way, they are taking their self-editing one step further because they have to locate where in each line to fix their errors.

In Closing

In closing, the sticky note method is just one way to edit written narrations. I will more than likely share other ways to edit in future blog posts. However, for beginning writers and for writers starting to be a bit more advanced, I have found the sticky note method works well.  Though there are many editing marks, I use the shorter list I shared above. I find using too many proofreading marks gets confusing. Likewise, I find too many editing changes gets depressing. So, while I always note errors in capitalization, spelling, and basic proper punctuation, I might not note every single comma, quotation mark, or apostrophe error at first. These can be added later, as children’s basic writing skills improve. Give this sticky note method a try! Who knows? You might like it!

In Christ,