What is Narration?

Narration is really the backbone of the Charlotte Mason philosophy. At it’s core, narration is simply telling back what you read or heard. It is a way to sharpen listening skills. Narration takes the place of reading comprehension and tests – you no longer need a list of questions to see if your child was listening or focusing on what they read. So, for example, I might read an Aesop Fable to my child and then ask them to retell it in their own words. For a very young child (I believe Charlotte Mason didn’t begin narrations until a child was 6 years old), this sort of retelling is enough.

Read a short story, or a brief excerpt from a longer story, and then ask the child to tell back what they heard. A few short sentences is enough for you to gauge if they were listening and if they were able to comprehend the story.  For a child who is new to the idea of narration, the first few times they might need some assistance – maybe ask them about a specific part of the story or write a list of key words from the reading on a white board to help them stay focused.  It is important to remind them to use their own words – narration should not be the same as memorizing the story. They need to learn to take something and make it their own.

Narration is also the beginning of composition. When you read a book, or watch a movie, your instinct is to talk to someone about it. You might even write a review or take part in a book club. This is a form of narration. Children need to talk about things – narrating comes naturally to them. Between the ages of 6 – 10, narrations can and should be mostly oral. Around the age of 10, or when their writing skills are becoming stronger they should start writing their narrations down. In the beginning, it will be very brief – where they can talk for 15 minutes straight about a book they just read, when asked to write they may reduce it to 3 sentences.

As they become more comfortable with writing down their thoughts, they will expand their written narrations. Over time they will be able to easily progress to writing essays. It’s important to continue oral narrations at this age, as it will give them opportunities to organize their thoughts without the stress of also having write them down.

Not all children think and learn in the same way, and it’s important to change things up a bit to keep them interesting. Not every book needs narrating, and if you always ask them to just tell back what they heard with every reading, they will quickly become bored with narration. This is why I created the Narration Cards. I brainstormed lists of ideas and wrote them on index cards. My children LOVED this. It was different, there were silly ideas, like making a puppet show about their favorite scene and prompts to give them different ways of looking at a reading. It made narrating fun and interesting.

So when I wrote Build Your Library curriculum, I knew I needed to include those Narration Cards. The cards included at the first grade level are written to be at a 6-8 age level, whereas the cards in the 5th grade level program are written to be for an 8 – 10 age level. In all there are 3 levels of narration cards (starting in 6th grade there is a 10 – 12 level.)

As you use narration in your child’s education, you will find that their listening skills become sharper. You’ll see they are able to concentrate and give more focus to their studies, and when done on a regular basis, it will improve their writing skills. Such a simple idea that will reap huge rewards.


Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-10 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 14 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
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