Sometimes, I take care of a couple of boys for the day because their mother, a single mom, works full time outside the home. She home schools them in the evenings and on weekends. I consider their mother to be one of those unsung heroes on this earth. Although her sacrifices go unnoticed here, she’s a star in heaven.
I know that she has been reading aloud rich classic literature to her children for many years. Her son, Justin who is in 6th grade, has been reading his schoolbooks for several years but has only been narrating for about a year. On the day that he was visiting our home, he brought his schoolwork and began working on his assigned readings. Everything was going fine until he told me that he was supposed to write a narration. I hate writing narrations! It’s like climbing a sheer cliff! Tears welled up in his eyes. His brother explained to me that Justin has always hated writing narrations and it usually took him over an hour to complete one. I had expected this resistance because his mother had warned me that I probably wouldn’t be able to get a narration out of him.
In order to find out the reasons behind his frustration, I began to ask him questions. After pinpointing the problem, we sorted it out and twenty minutes later, he wrote a beautiful narration. As he prepared to go outside for a break, he said to me with enthusiasm, “If I could write narrations like this, I wouldn’t mind it so much!”
So what were the problems and how did we solve them?
I learned that Justin had read thirty-five pages from one book that day. Reading and narrating from that many pages is too much to expect from a child. Charlotte Mason kept the readings for younger children brief. Upper level students who have several years of narration under their belt may be called upon to do this, but no one else. Justin instinctively knew this was too much. He was overwhelmed. I would be, too.
In order to solve Justin’s dilemma, I asked him to recall one small part of his reading that he really enjoyed. Then I asked him to tell me about that part, and that part ONLY. I could tell that the ice was breaking. His face showed that he thought this task just might be possible to accomplish. Now, I realize that there are times when children double up their readings to catch up on a lost week. We do this sometimes too. But this should be the exception to the rule. Shorter readings are ideal.
Justin understood that he had to SUMMARIZE thirty-five pages. This requires sifting through huge amounts of material and determining the main points while leaving out all the juicy, exciting details. Such a task is not only overwhelming for children, but extremely BORING. Essentially, he was being asked to write an ESSAY. It's difficult enough for a child to have to write his thoughts down. Adding the task of summarizing can shut down some children. Crafting an essay involves higher level skills that are best suited for older children. Some children in the elementary years are capable of doing this, but I’ve never met one that enjoys it, especially if asked to do it on a continual basis. Charlotte Mason expected high school-aged students to begin learning this skill, not young children. Technically, essays are not even narrations, but a form of academic writing that is used in college level classes. This skill can be learned in a short amount of time. But it is best learned when children have become proficient writers and only AFTER they have learned to enjoy writing. And yes, I firmly believe that EVERY child can learn to enjoy writing (or typing), if the proper foundational steps have been put in place using Miss Mason’s suggestions religiously.
When I asked Justin to tell me about a particular part of the story he had just read, I reminded him that I hadn’t read the story, so would he please make it interesting. Don’t just tell me what happened because that is boring. Tell it to me like the author did. If you remember something interesting he said, try to do the same. Use fun words. Justin warmed up to this idea and did a fine job giving me a detailed narration. Why? Because in his thinking, this was doable and could even be fun. In fact, when he finished he was surprised that it was acceptable to me. He expected it to be harder.
Next, I told Justin that I wanted him to write down on paper what he just told me. I placed a timer beside him and set it for twenty minutes. If he worked hard and didn’t waste any time, he could stop when the bell rang even if he hadn’t finished writing down all he wanted to say. I assured him that since he had already told me out loud his entire narration, it didn’t matter if he couldn’t finish writing all of it down. The most important things he needed to remember were to be accurate and interesting. I don’t want to read a boring narration, Justin. And I’m sure you don’t want to write a boring one either. Have fun while you are writing. Again, he lighted up at the thought of these new guidelines. Maybe I can do this.
Twenty minutes later, Justin had written a FULL page. I honestly wasn’t expecting that much. I had browsed through his notebook and noticed that he generally wrote about half of a page. I asked him to go over it very slowly with his pencil and see if he forgot to capitalize or punctuate anything. Take your time. Then, I asked him to read his narration out loud to me. He hesitatingly began. I didn't interrupt.
Folks, it was simply beautiful. He uncorked the rich words that had been bottled up in his mind after several years of listening to great literature, and they began to run all over the paper. All he needed was the proper coaxing to start the flow. He had added little descriptive details that were not to be found in his previous narrations-and clearly, he was greatly enjoying it.
If your children are having troubles with the skill of written narration, it is just possible that their passions are being stifled by unrealistic expectations. Remember to shorten the reading, keep the writing brief, and let the child RELIVE THE TALE by saving the skill of summarizing for later years.