Narration – Practical How-To’s

by Catherine Levison
Guest Contributor

Narration is assimilating information and retelling it. Anyone would listen closely if they knew they were going to retell what they had heard. Just like when you’ve seen a documentary and tell your friend all about it the next day, you remember it better.

Charlotte Mason uses an illustration of a doctor visiting a sick person in the hospital. The patient’s in extreme pain and the doctor has written the remedy on a three-by-five card. He tells her this will alleviate the pain, however, he’s only going to let her look at the card for a few minutes. Then the card will be destroyed permanently, and he won’t be writing it for her ever again. Can you imagine the attention you would give to that card? This is the kind of attention Charlotte wants the children to pay to their reading.

When they’re retelling, they have to leave some information out and that’s one of the choices being made by their minds. Charlotte says it is not a mere act of memory because we let their minds act on the material in their own original way. They will classify and connect information. Remember, you can’t narrate what you don’t know. If you can narrate it, you know it.

Narration can be used in all school subjects and in all experiences. Charlotte says years later the child will be able to narrate the same passage with the “vividness, detail and accuracy of the first telling.”


You read aloud to the child in one single reading, only about 10 to 13 minutes for each book. This is very important in order to maintain their full attention on each reading. Don’t stop to define words during the reading unless they specifically ask; they’ll usually understand the sentence or paragraph anyway.

Ask one of the listeners to tell you what you just read. If they hesitate, ask them if they remember one thing of what you read. If my children seem reluctant and I know they understood, I’ll usually make a joke like, “Oh, I see … well I guess it was about a pink rabbit who met an elephant?” This always makes them laugh since this probably wasn’t what Robin Hood or Gideon was just doing in our story and then they start telling me what it was really about.

Have only let one child narrate per reading. Don’t correct them, but if another child points out an error that’s okay.

Charlotte Mason says to not interrupt a narration. Most kids narrate easily because we tend to do this as people … we relive events (or books) with others. Your child has probably told you all about some event he witnessed or every detail of a show he’s seen. This is the same thing. Narration is casual and natural, which is why it differs from a book report. Keep it simple … don’t make more of it than it is.

Narration is a very powerful learning tool. Charlotte Mason tells us (and she’s right) that perfect attention and absolute recollection is an asset to employer, teacher, and the nation. She says adults read and forget, but her students “have the powers of perfect recollection and just application because they have read with attention and concentration and have in every case reproduced what they read in narration.”

She also points out that many professions wish they could grasp the content on a single reading. For some children it takes a little more practice. One child, whose test results showed he was behind one full grade level in “listening” on the IOWA Basic Skills test, is now narrating with a “photographic memory.”

They begin narration at six-years-old, and they do it orally. They tell, you listen. You may take dictation if you care to and file those as often as you desire. Don’t let it become a burden to you, though. To prevent that, I often take down the narration at the end of the book with only an occasional chapter narration. Most books take us three to four months to read. If I wrote out each oral narration they ever told me, I would not be doing much else. I know one mom who uses a tape recorder as a time saver and a way to not have to stop or slow down the child while she takes dictation. This could be useful with many children, but I would take the time to listen to them narrate in person as often as I could.

At ten-years-old, they begin to write out their narrations. This can be a long transition process from oral to written. Give them all the time they need (I mean a year if needed) to make this transition. The Hon. Mrs. E. L. Franklin wants us to be cautious not to begin too early with written narration or nature notebooks. Accept their written work without undue concern for the punctuation, capitalization, or the spelling. These “skills” will improve with practice and with the reading the child will be doing. I will, on occasion, point out in a lighthearted way one very important error such as the pronoun “I” not being capitalized. Keep in mind these narrations are not done for the purpose of spotting errors.

The young child is being read to before he can read for himself. Your youngest children can be learning the Bible, history, and even geography before they’re six-years-old. Charlotte Mason says that a child of six has begun his education; it doesn’t matter whether he understands each and every word. It matters that he learn to deal directly with books. That’s why what you choose to read to them is so important. Charlotte Mason wants them exposed to the best in literature, poetry, music, and art. She most definitely doesn’t want them reading what we call “dumbed-down” books. She calls literature written down to children “twaddle.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Catherine Levison — long-time homeschooling mother of five and popular conference speaker to parenting and educational audiences throughout the USA and Canada — is the author of several books on Charlotte Mason-style home education.  Visit Catherine online at:

You can order Levison’s books online at:

  1. A Charlotte Mason Education: A How-to Manual
  2. More Charlotte Mason Education
  3. A Literary Education: An Annotated Book List

NOTE: Stop by and “Like” Charlotte Mason Home Education on Facebook!  :-)

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