Narration: the art of story-telling

Children love to tell stories. My day is filled with little voices narrating what happened in the bedroom upstairs, what happened in the backyard, and what happened just 2 minutes ago at the table right in front of me.

Even Littlest has started this. The other day, he threw a piece of trash into a receptacle with a revolving lid. At the angle he was standing at, he got smacked in the head with the lid as he pushed down on it. I saw it happen, yet he turns to me and tells me exactly what I saw. “Da’ tash bonked ma head,” he said. He’s learning language by using it, by putting the events of his day into words.

That’s what narration is. It’s teaching knowledge and language through retelling, challenging the child to put his thoughts into spoken words. But because it’s spoken, he’s learning this skill without having the added worry of how to spell and punctuate those thoughts, at least not yet.

I mentioned before that Oldest has been a little hesitant to make the switch to narration. I know it’s a different thought-process than what he’s used to (regurgitating the right answers to my questions), so I’ve been patient with his transition. I’ve also seen, when he has been less self-conscious, what an enthusiastic narrator ┬áhe is. Example:

“There was a fire [insert sound effect]. And the flames went up like [another sound effect]. The animals all ran away [he hops across my floor like a rabbit, screaming, ‘AHH!’].”

So here are some practical things I’m trying to make the transition smoother and to make narration more varied and appealing.

  • Draw pictures. This was our very first alternative when telling the story was simply too overwhelming at first. After I finished our reading, they chose a scene they remembered and illustrated it.
  • Act it out. Middlest sparked the whole idea when she suggested we make our own paddle boats to go along with the Paddle to the Sea audio-story we were listening to. The kids made their canoes, and then each day, they acted out the part of the story we’d just listened to. It was a huge turning point for Oldest, and their narrations were very detailed and enthusiastic. (See the example above!)

narrating with props

  • You Pick. One of the free resources at SimplyCharlotteMason.com is a narration bookmark, which includes a myriad of ideas for how to ask for narrations from your child. I printed off these bookmarks and gave one to Oldest to use in his independent reading. Then, I allowed him to read his bookmark and choose how he wanted to narrate his reading to me after he’d finished it on his own. Not only was it great accountability, allowing me to double-check that he’d read and comprehended, but he was much more willing when he had a choice in the matter.

How do I ask for a narration? Well, I’m still learning, and that bookmark has helped me quite a bit, too. But when I ask for a retelling, I try to do one of two things. First, chapter titles can be very helpful. If the chapter title is “Night in the Settlement,” then I ask “Describe what the first night at the settlement was like.” Another idea I’ve used is to reread the first couple of sentences (after I read the selection) and then pause and wait for them to continue the story.

One more idea I found simply hilarious and can’t wait to try was from one of Catherine Levison’s books. She said that when her children hesitated and resisted narrating, she’d say, “I guess our story was about a pink rabbit that met an elephant.” And her kids would rush to correct her.

One last thought here. I have not required Middlest to narrate. Sometimes after Oldest is finished I will ask her if she has something to add, but that’s usually because I can see her squirming with excitement about to burst with what she has to add.

This has been a very fun journey for all of us, including Oldest. And in just 3 weeks, I have seen both of their narrations and the details they include improve tremendously.