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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    What to do With Preschoolers: Pre-Ambleside 301

    February 2, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    So far, we’ve talked about accomplishing goals from Charlotte’s Formidable List of Attainments within the context of Circle Time as well as prioritizing reading lessons. Today, I’m going to talk about something that I have done with all of my children before starting AmblesideOnline, and that is preparing for narration.

    What is Narration?

    Narration is a skill that is imperative for a true Charlotte Mason-style of education. Narration takes the place of composition in the early years. It is simply having the child retell what he has heard or read. In Charlotte’s Formidable List of Attainments for a Child of Six, there is mention of the child being able to describe three walks he has taken, or tell stories about his pets. I would consider this an early form of narration, where the child is retelling an experience in real life.

    Preparing to Narrate

    In Year One, I required my oldest to narrate every assigned reading. This was fairly easy for him because he has a naturally great memory. Narration enhanced his strength. With my second child, who is more forgetful, narration will be bolstering a weakness. This is great β€” I think that a CM education does its biggest favors to weaknesses. But I must admit that I have been nervous off and on about beginning Year One next year. I have wondered if she’d be capable of the narration required.

    Now, I think she will be!

    At the beginning of the year, I began preparing her for narration during our daily Scripture reading. We read one story from the Old Testament each day, and E. is required to narrate it in its entirety. I decided that, since our Scripture reading is the most important reading of our day, that is where I’d start with A., who was age five at the time. So, I told her that she must remember one thing from the reading each day.

    For a long time, remembering one thing was really quite difficult for her. But slowly she trained herself to pay better attention, and was even able to remember more than one thing on occasion. When we started back to lessons after the New Year, I told her that I now wanted her to try and narrate the whole story, as best she could. I had caught her narrating detailed experiences to people repeatedly, so my hunch was that she was ready.

    I also told Q. I wanted her to remember two things from the story. She has a memory like her big brother, and so for a while she has also been remembering one thing. But lately she has started just repeating my last sentence, so I now require two things to really get her to flex her mental muscles.

    So currently I have Q.-Age-Four remembering two things from the story, and A.-Age-Almost-Six attempting a full narration. Some readings go more smoothly than others for A. Yesterday, for instance, we read about God giving the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, which is essentially a list, and was much harder for her to remember because there was no plot. But when the stories have a good plot, she is doing almost as well as my seasoned narrator!


    I have enjoyed training the girls in narration in this small way, and I think it will pay huge dividends when A. begins Year One next year. With that said, I think I’d be very careful about pushing any part of narration on a child who is simply not ready. Even though this series might sound very academic, it is a very small part of our day (it is not every day, actually), and our main focus around here is play. I am working with the girls on narration at the level that fits them, but if it didn’t fit them at all, I wouldn’t worry about it.

    To be honest, when I thought it was going to be too much for A., I considered waiting another year before commencing with Year One. It has only been recently that I’ve decided she’s going to do just fine. I made this my “301” level post because it is a great idea, but not a good fit for all preschoolers.

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  • Reply Charlotte Mason and Kindergarten O My! – Lazy Charlotte Mason November 14, 2018 at 6:22 am

    […] I want to be clear that I do not require narration during the kindergarten year. I also wait to start working on reading, writing and arithmetic till after my child turns 6. I do however, read regularly to my child before 6. After they turn 6, I ask my child to remember 1 thing from the story to prepare them for narration in form 1b. My inspiration for this came from the Afterthoughts blog post. […]

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts April 4, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Silvia, It really is amazing all of the growth they go through between five and seven. When Daughter A. was five, I really thought we’d have to wait until “second grade” to start year one. But that would make her really old because she’d be 7.5 when we began. In just a year, I think she will be fine in Year One, though I do think we will have to work up to a good regular narration. Thankfully, so many of the Year One selections are perfect for training in narration.

    I love what you said about your second daughter. My Daughter Q. (age four) is a lot like what you described.

  • Reply Silvia April 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    I have had cases where my oldest simply refused to narrate because I was picking a whole short chapter from a book such as Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans. She could tell me some, but not a whole recollection in her words, such as she can do with for example Lobel Fables which we are reading and she could tell beautifully.
    We have also used our Bible readings to ease them into narration and they both remember. I think they will have the same happen to them with the 10 commandments.
    And yes, I waited until 7 because d1 was not ready as a just turned 6 to start AO1. In four months I am seeing heaps of growth.
    Since I told you she did not pick to read, she has… she is at a quality crunch and I tend to be impatient gravitating over her, instead of trusting and backing off a bit.
    As for d2, she can be read a book once and remember almost all, and (I know this is not narration, though), but if the book has been read three times, she “pretends” to read it with exact words and funny interjections of her own. I never thought that narration is connected to memory, and you are right, when a child has a strong memory he can narrate very well, but children will surprise you if you can expose them to the right practice.
    Thanks for all your posts, I come back to them to read about narration, circle time, etc, and they help me a lot.

  • Reply Mystie February 3, 2011 at 4:28 am

    pmMom — thanks! We will be doing CHOW next year, and I think I should start off doing it that way to exercise our skills. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 3, 2011 at 1:18 am

    pmMom–That is an excellent means of developing good narration skills! One of the reasons I started training a bit of narration early is because I didn’t want to have to do that with each book. But I have heard so many women say that it works, and I am sure there are some Y0 books I will need to do this with.

    Rachel, My oldest is VERY detailed, but he has to stop and think, so he often will go over. When he was younger I allowed it because I knew he was developing, but lately I have thought it was an attention issue (as in, he isn’t paying attention to what he is saying and he lets his mind wander while he’s talking so he’s slow, etc.). So my plan is to time myself in reading the work, and that is how long he gets for narration. I will let you know how it works! πŸ™‚

    Mystie, That sounds like something my 4yo would do! She likes to slack, and she can usually get away with it because she sounds like she knows what she’s talking about most of the time.

    You are convincing me that I need to get my hands on that 7 Laws of Teaching, and you haven’t even reviewed it yet!

  • Reply Mystie February 2, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    We baby-stepped into narration, which I felt like I still didn’t have my head around, by my asking my 6yo or 5yo to tell me “your favorite part” or “one thing that happened.” When we read a chapter of Proverbs for the day, I’ll ask them to tell me one that they liked best. I found if I told them before that they would have to remember one, they’d listen carefully to the first one, get it, then tune out the rest. They, like me, have a talent for finding any room for slacking. I need to increase what I require out of my 7yo. He wants to be done with it as quickly as possible and so gives the broad overview and resists going into details.

    I just finished “Seven Laws of Teaching” (which I will be blogging through soon), and kept writing in the margin “This is narration. This is narration. Narration does that.” I am going to have to get a better grip on this method. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Rachel R. February 2, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Do you have any suggestions for teaching children to summarize? I have a child (and had a sister like this, too) who can take about 10 times as long to retell a story as it would take to just read the whole story. Suggestions for teaching them to tell the “short version” would be much appreciated! πŸ™‚

  • Reply postmodernMom February 2, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    When I had some trouble with my six-year-old daughter and narration (she’s now nine), I pulled out an engaging story with lots of rich words, like Beatrix Potter, and I would read off a line and have the children repeat it back to me. Then I would read a paragraph and have them retell it. Then I would do half a page of Child’s History of the World. Then on to one page at a time. In fact, I should go back to doing this as a drill once in awhile, because she was better at narration then than she is now! We can all slump into “lazy ways” when we aren’t on our toes!

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 2, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    I hear you, Pam! I used to be overwhelmed by what seemed to me to be pointless, incessant chatter. I am a quiet person and I like it quiet. I am so grateful that God has used Charlotte to gently rebuke me in this!

    KM, It is a tricky skill! I totally agree. I have heard a number of mothers say that Aesop’s Fables is their Number One Starting Place for narration training because children seem to do so well with it.

    We will see how Year One goes, but I have a feeling that with some books, I’ll have to train her in narration by reading only a couple paragraphs at a time. And that’s okay! But I definitely won’t start something like that until next year.

  • Reply Kansas Mom February 2, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    Narration is a tricky skill. First Son is a terrible narrator. He’s in first grade, but most of the time I just ask him to remember one or two things. About the only thing he can narrate successfully and completely every time are Aesop’s Fables. It’s a battle.

    First Daughter, on the other hand, often narrates as much or more than he does even if she doesn’t seem to be paying attention. I don’t even require anything of her (four years old) as I’ve usually got my hands full with the six month old and first grade is about all I can handle at the moment.

  • Reply Pam... February 2, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    I love this part “there is mention of the child being able to describe three walks he has taken, or tell stories about his pets. I would consider this an early form of narration, where the child is retelling an experience in real life.”
    When I was new mother with my first babes, I often became irritated with all their telling. I wish someone would have taught me something of children before I began having them. Such a high calling to go about uninformed. How fortunate were those home teaching moms who Charlotte took under her wing.

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