Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Charlotte Mason's Method of Narration

Charlotte Mason’s Method of Narration

Home teachers looking over the ideas of Charlotte Mason ask, “What is narration?”

I answer, “It is creating the opportunity for a child to put the reading (experience or observation) in his own words.” It’s that simple. Sometimes it’s the simplest things in life that get overlooked.

Narration is generic. There is nothing strange or special about it, really. The ability to deliver ideas through spoken language has been fundamental to civilizations around the world for centuries. Yet, when I first read about how Miss Mason relied upon the method of narration in a child’s lessons I thought it very strange. As a young mother I had no familiarity with narration. How odd, and what a novelty I found Miss Mason’s 100-year-old method to be!

Narrating Crafts an Understanding
Narration was generally absent in my childhood. My education was incomplete of putting anything audibly in my own words. A docile and quiet child, I never raised my hand in class. And I was never called upon to speak. Except for the odd composition or project, the assignments that required me to follow a train of thought and craft an understanding in my own words, were few-and-far-between. 

Paperwork was the time-saving, big-classroom kind: boxes checked, letters circled, lines drawn from column A to column B. Homework was a questionnaire or lists of facts to cram for tests. Suffice to say, I found Miss Mason’s method of narration to be refreshingly appealing.

Immediately, upon reading about narration, I wanted my children to have the advantage of this basic power of expression. Although in the 1980s I hadn’t yet met a teacher primarily using narration for schoolwork I sought to make narration intrinsic to our home learning experience. I had an awkward time of it at first. Apprehension hung over my head. But after some trial and error we got into the groove. 

I consider the timing of this narration-enlightenment to be one of God’s blessings in our family. As a result of years of practice the Andreolas now rarely stop narrating – hopefully without recklessness – and hopefully with a listening ear or two. It spontaneously occurs around the breakfast and supper table, and in the car. Narration is personable.

Karen talking with the baker at Lands Valley

Oral Tradition
Down through history, how did cultures convey something they wanted the next generation to remember? Children grew up with oral tradition - usually in the form of stories. The ancient Greeks had their mythology. We still refer to the constellations they named with their characters. 

The Greek teacher Aesop, taught morals by way of fables. Notice my book (pictured) is titled The Aesop for Children. Aesop originally wrote these short stories for adults. His animals act out the idiosyncrasies of people - people like us – with their failings or good sense.

Narration is an exercise in “the art of knowing.” With narration a child learns by doing. Having to work at putting something in his own words, a child gains comprehension - and proves it. Narration is a wonderful way of passing on knowledge that is both meaningful and memorable to children. It gets to the heart of the matter. And impression with expression has staying power.

Narration is low-cost (except in economy of time.) And yet it is so effective as a learning tool, it is a valuable use of time. It takes time for a child to “tell” and for you to listen. It takes time for a child to write a narration and to illustrate it for his notebook. And time for a child to, perhaps, once-in-a-while, read his narration to Dad after supper. 

Begin Anytime
If you’ve missed opportunities for narrating, fear not. You can begin right where you are. Since an Aesop fable is short but meaningful - it makes a good source for a new narrator – of whatever age. Read aloud the fable to your student (but not its moral at the end.) Then, ask the student to tell it back in his own words (and guess the moral).

An older student might be more comfortable reading the fable silently and then penning his spin on it. After several he might find it “cool” to come up with his own fables – and morals – like Arnold Lobel did. I remember my son narrating from the humorous, but sensible, pages of Arnold Lobel’s Fables. 

Our Dearest Narrator
What is one of the teaching methods of Jesus? Through parables His hearers gained insight to what the kingdom of heaven is like. The parables of our Lord are short and meaningful, easy to remember, easy to be passed on - to be narrated person to person.

The Road to Emmaus by Robert Zund

I wonder what Jesus spoke – shortly after his resurrection - when he walked incognito with two men on the road to Emmaus. It was a seven-mile walk. He must have talked a long time. Luke says that “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets he expounded to them in all the Scriptures, the things concerning Himself.”

Later at supper, when Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, their eyes where opened. The moment they recognized him, Jesus vanished from sight. They said to one another, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road?” They were so excited that they got from the table to walk the seven miles back to Jerusalem, to tell the other followers. I imagine that these especially privileged (yet un-named) men treasured Jesus’ personal narration for years to come. They probably shared it over and over again, in their own words, for the rest of their lives.

The Vikings told stories around a blazing fire. The American Indians passed on their knowledge to their children with practical hands-on training and with stories. Who are we letting tell the stories to our children? Those who tell the stories are the ones guiding the next generation. 

A sweet hymn came to mind while I writing this post. You might know it. The first verse is:

I love to tell the story of unseen things above.
Of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story because I know ‘tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.

Has a form of narration found its way into your life?

Post Script
Most of the photographs on this post were taken at Landis Valley Museum.
My daughter, Yolanda, while in Maine, took the water themed photographs. I think they’re beautifully peaceful.
A Charlotte Mason Companion has chapters that explain the philosophy of narration and its benefits. I also give examples of its use. Narration is applicable to a range of literary subjects. It is flexible enough to be made suitable for a range of ages. My book, Story Starters gives students opportunities to narrate creatively.

On her Charlotte Mason blog, Sonja Shafer has generously answered questions that commonly arise on the how-to of narration.

It’s nice to have you stopping by my place in the blog neighborhood. May it support your way of life - in some way - in bearing fruitfulness.
Karen Andreola

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Aiding A Boy's Life by Karen Andreola

Aiding A Boy's Life

This is a girly blog. (Do you like how my son upgraded the design for me?) Girly, yes, but daily I am reminded that there is a male side of life. You see, I am the only female in the house at present. My married daughters are also the only females in their households.

Sophia and her boys

When we get together we talk freely about trivialities – the same trivialities that we stop short of waxing elegantly about in the presence of our husbands. The menfolk are good listeners – but we’ve taken on new house manners. We’ve learned that it is impolite and unprofitable to chatter about more trivial details than our patient husbands can comfortably endure.

Sometimes, however, the Lady-of-the-House forgets her manners.

“Green is fine. If you like it,” the Man-of-the-House replies cheerfully when his opinion is solicited.  

“I don’t mean that green,” the Lady-of-House says, snatching away the color chart he holds in his hand, replacing it with another. She chatters on, “More of a soft celery, I think. Like this one. On this paint chart. It isn’t so muddy that it looks army green. And it isn’t mixed with blue that it hints of robin’s egg. It’s only a teeny-tiny bit yellow-er, I suppose, than crayon-green. And much, much paler. D’you see?” The Lady-of-the-House points to the paint chart with a satisfying decisiveness that finally puts an end to her soliloquy on which green should be painted on the window trim of the parlor.  

“Yeah, green. Looks good,” the Man-of-the-House confirms, suppressing a sigh. He nods (bows out, really) and passes her back the paint chart until he is needed further.

Dean & Nigel and the Memphis Belle!

When important matters arise, my daughters and I, in voices lowered to a hush, talk over the telephone. Since we live apart it is rare that all three of us are together in a room. But when this occurs we are instantly verbose about trivialities. Like a cackle of geese we go on and on. The topic might be curtains – ruffles or no ruffles or maybe bobbles, paint colors – on trim or accent wall, flowers in the garden, something we are hand-stitching for Christmas, a new recipe that was eagerly consumed the week prior by our menfolk, or who had a baby and what color hair it has and how round its cheeks are already, etc.

My son, now a young man, still prefers the topic of  science. I remember washing dishes with a listening ear to the things that he was inclined to talk about - by spontaneous outburst – when he was a growing boy - even if I only responded with, “How interesting.” The topic might be sharks, dinosaurs, dirt biking, the tallest building in the world, the fastest car, the most poisonous octopus, or the useful properties of an element from the periodic table. He brings up similar topics today - add computer lingo. 

Nigel in Maine

Then, there are the important topics - the golden nuggets necessary for good living. These seldom pop up in everyday conversation (unless you have the perfect timing of Andy from Mayberry). And yet, wisdom rooted in the Word and the character it inspires make valuable conversation in a boy’s life. In his books, author Bob Schultz talks about topics from a male point of view. He sets before a boy’s mind and heart, the abstract truths of becoming other-oriented, strong-in-spirit, active, observant, appreciative, faithful, just, industrious - and as I see it from my female point-of-view - gentlemanly.

My husband Dean Andreola highly recommends Bob Schultz’s three books. He reviews two here.

Dean Writes:

Boyhood and Beyond helps build “manly backbone” into growing boys. I searched for years for a book that would be as helpful for boys as Karen’s special edition of Beautiful Girlhood has been for girls.

The late Bob Schultz was a home school dad, loving husband and a carpenter by trade.  He has a friendly writing style and the heart of a mentor. His story illustrations will help your boys glean wisdom and common sense from each of the short chapters. Topics such as: authority, inventiveness, and honesty are covered along with meaty issues such as overcoming fear, laziness, and temptation. He even teaches boys how to love and protect their sisters!

Boys will benefit from this fatherly advice that encourages them to become the men God wants them to be: men of honor, courage and faith. I read this book to my son, Nigel, in his boyhood, and used the questions at the end of each chapter for discussion. Consider it a faithful companion for boys on the road to true manhood.  (For ages 10 -17, illustrated.) 

How fast are you growing? - grandsons.

Dean also Writes:

The late Bob Schultz hit another home run with his “Wisdom from the Woodshop” in Practical Happiness. This book is for teens to young adults. I was sent the manuscript prior to publication and was asked to share some thoughts for the back cover. Here are some of those thoughts:

Modern media teaches young men to think they will obtain happiness when they find the ever-fleeting pot of gold. What they often find instead is a life of filled with disappointment. Rare indeed is the young man who learns early in life how to mine the heart of God for true happiness.

In Practical Happiness Bob once again employs short captivating stories crafted to guide young men toward a life of contentment, even in our pressure cooker world. Your sons will learn that happiness is not found merely in what they have, where they go, or what exciting thing they can afford to do next, but rather in their attitude and response to life especially when “things aren't going their way”.

Behind their brave independent exteriors young men are searching for answers. Without a guide how will they find the path that leads to inner joy and lasting contentment?

Bob Schultz addresses:

What is success?

Will I be able to provide for myself (and my own family) when I leave the protection of my parents and strike out on my own? 

How do I handle personal failure?

How should I respond when others let me down?

Can I find happiness in a world full of sorrow and uncertainty?

True happiness is a precious gift from God available to all who learn to hear His voice and obey His calling. Practical Happiness will light a fire in the hearts of young men drawing them closer to a life of personal fulfillment as they draw closer to God.

Are you interested in Boyhood and Beyond or Practical Happiness?
A click on a book title will take you to Amazon.

Created for Work is another highly recommended title by Bob Schultz

The Lavender Strawberry Kit &
The Parents' Review are now available via PayPal shopping cart.

See my products page.

Thank you for visiting,

Karen Andreola

Monday, September 29, 2014

Feed My Lambs by Karen Andreola

Feed My Lambs
Scrolling, you’ll see I have a contemplative message to share with you today. But before I do, may I take a minute to show you what’s been on my needles? 

This month I got around to sewing up the summer skirt I had cut out of a pale blue-green calico months prior. There were just enough warm afternoons left for a week of wear.  

karen andreola

I added a ruffle of a coordinating print. Then, because this left a slightly puckered seam, I hid the seam with a pleat, and then another pleat to make the whole hem appear intentional. It turned out to my liking, imperfections, length, and all. 

Blue-green is a color that is difficult to match in a T. A lighter version of the color would have matched more satisfactory to my tastes but I knew I had a darker shade of blue-green in my clothes closet before I purchased the calico.  

Red yarn rested snug in my stash for too long. This summer I set my sites on using it up. Content with my stand-by cable pattern (that’s proved itself time and again) and happy with how the size 2 Donegal Tweed fit a two-year-old grandson in 2010 (cute-y here pictured) I am now making another.

This time a size 6 is on my needles for his brother – but in a washable wool blend. My, how fast little boys grow! Anyway, the pattern has just enough diversity-of-rows to make it interesting while being uncomplicated enough to allow ease of conversation with whoever is in the room. My aim is to have it presentable by Christmas.

Donegal Tweed cable knit cardigan

I closed the last page of Miss Clare Remembers with a sentimental farewell, then whizzed through Miss Potter because its author Richard Maltby Jr. carries the reader along almost as swiftly as the film – which makes sense since he wrote the script for it. (Due to comments of a private nature made by Miss Warne in the art gallery, and other details excluded from the film, this book is not for children.) I recommend the film over the book, in this case. I borrow the DVD from our church library, now and again, for the story but also to savor the closing scenes of the Lake District.

Miss Potter by Richard Maltby Jr.

The Chief Business of a Mother
Here is another tool for bringing up children.

What is the chief business of a mother? Is it to be a taxi driver for her children, a law-giver, a laundry-maid, a cook, a home decorator, a fashion assistant, a photographer, a birthday and holiday organizer?

The chief business of a mother is to be an inspirer.

Before His ascension our Lord Jesus told the apostle Peter to “Feed My lambs.” *1 God has chosen loving mothers and fathers for this important work. We are not empty-handed. We have a tool. It’s “a life of ideas.” Miss Charlotte Mason trusted the mother at home to sustain the inner life of a child with ideas as she sustains the child’s body with food. This is how children grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.

“What’s an idea?” you might ask. Well, here’s one way to look at it. An idea is like a watermelon pit. A little boy bites into a thick slice of watermelon. It is so juice-y that he gulps it down instantly and then realizes that he swallowed a watermelon pit. With large, round eyes and a tinge of anxiety, he looks up into his father’s face and asks, “Dad, I swallowed a pit! What’s gonna happen to me?”

Dad teases. “A big watermelon is going to grow and grow in your stomach until it gets this big,” he says with arms wide.

An inspiring idea isn’t stagnant. It may start as small as a seed. But then it grows. If it’s a good idea it nourishes and vitalizes. Ideas and their naturally occurring associations, come to children through various means;

through observing nature,
recognizing beauty,
appreciating art and melody;
through the rhythmic movement of their games,
through handicrafts,
good conversation,
a Sunday sermon, etc. 

When people asked pastor’s wife, Edith Schaeffer, “What’s your advice about bringing up children? What did you do?" she said, “If there is any one thing I would stress . . . it would be this: I read aloud to the children, both individually and together.” Mrs. Schaeffer believed that sharing ideas in the family circle is one of the most beneficial and close “togetherness-things” we can do.*2

pumpkin patch in Pennsylvania
Landis Valley pumpkin patch

Ideas are found in books, most importantly. Of these, children need quality and quantity. Through books, written by enthusiastic authors, we give children what the apostle Paul in Philippians recommends.*3 Books supply us with something pure, lovely, noble and just, to think about. They do the teaching for us.

Speak the Truth with Hope
The maturing child sees that this fallen world is not all sweetness. Therefore, we must reach for books that accompany life’s hard truths with hope. During the confusing and scary week of 911, Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood appeared on public television with a message. He said to children, “Look at the helpers.” This is what his own mother taught him. In life and in books, we look at the helpers. 

And we look for the heroes. 

Heroes are the basis of our religious life. The heroes of the Bible – those faithful ones -  are a cloud of witnesses to inspire us.

In literature we find adventure, sorrow and sin – and perhaps those who take pleasure in sin - but we should also meet large-hearted characters that comfort, protect, correct, bring joy and reconcile.
In history we meet those who destroy and oppress. Therefore, the history books we give children should also include those brave souls who build, defend, and minister the gospel. Who are these brave people? What were they like?

Science seeks to discover how the world works. If it is not only self-seeking it will rise to meet the challenge of relieving hardship and sickness. It is inspiring to meet the inventors and healers. Who are these curious, perseverant people? What did they accomplish?

Pass the Torch
Inspiration comes by way of those who uncover truth and pass on the flaming torch of ideas (especially needed in dark places). Someday our children may be one of the torchbearers, the helpers and the heroes of the next generation. Whatever is noble, true and pure should be considered and appreciated because it all comes from God, whether it is delivered to us by a believer or an unbeliever.

It's a pity when a child has no one to look up to. This child suffers a great loss. He becomes dull, complacent, and thinks, “Why bother?” Any amount of hero-admiration is good for us. Not only does it pull us up out of the dull-drums with its little sparks of enthusiasm, but it changes a “why bother?” into a “let's go for it.”

We can get caught up in ourselves. But it only takes a little hero-admiration to alleviate concept. Teens can get caught up in themselves. But if they care about others to the point of admiring them, then they will waste less time admiring themselves.

Landis Valley

What happens when we feed our lambs? Inspiration can be a personal and quiet thing. When a child admires someone, he will notice things about this special person that he, himself, is lacking. He may become conscious of his frailties or inexperience, yet – at the same time – his admiration stimulates a desire in him to become more like his hero. 

Set the Table
Children are a mixed bunch. Just like we spread the table with a variety of healthy foods, let’s spread the table with differing ideas, because we do not know which our child will choose to care about. In Ecclesiastes we read, “In the morning sow your seed [or watermelon pits]. And in the evening do not withhold your hand; For you do not know which will prosper.” *4

Astronaut Jim Irwin
Jim Irwin's autograph

A Hero Face-to-Face
My husband, Dean Andreola, worked at the Christian Bookseller Conventions back in the hay-day of publishing. As a perk, he got to meet Christian authors and singers. One year a long line of people waited to meet a popular, flamboyant vocalist, to get her autograph. There was no line for astronaut Jim Irwin. In fact, there was no one there at all. Born in 1956, astronauts were Dean’s heroes. The television seems to have been invented and widely in use (in his boyhood) just in time for America to watch (live) the moon landings. Therefore, Dean was excited to walk up Jim Irwin to meet a man, face-to-face, who flew in a rocket ship to the moon. Mr. Irwin penned his name on a photograph and handed it to Dean. It reads, “Dean, Jesus walking on the earth is more important than man walking on the moon.”

A true hero lives for, and points to, the greatest hero of all (of Whom one day we will meet face-to-face.)

End Notes
*1  John 21:15
*2  Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, Tyndale House Pubs., pg 152
*3  Philippians 4:8-9
*4  Ecclesiastes 11:6
Some of the paragraphs in this post were adapted from earlier posts here on Moments with Mother Culture.

Thank you for your visit. Write anytime.
Karen Andreola