Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Narration and the Silver Skates

and the Silver Skates

Three degrees F greeted us one morning this week. Pennsylvania has had temperatures suitable for freezing ponds for ice-skating. All our snow, however, has gotten in the way. I dug up a pair of our girls’ skates in memory of some thrilling days on ice. Placed outside the door they embrace the season and display an appreciation for it.

This gesture worked as a kind of therapy for me. It helped to uplift one who naturally sinks under the weather in January.

Roaming the rooms of the house to peruse our bookshelves for winter themes led me to our copy of Hans Brinker or the Sliver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge (1830-1905). I opened its pages to reacquaint myself with the illustrations. They are of an early edition and make a colorful decoration for this post.

Leafing through Hans Brinker I stopped at the last page. Handwriting caught my eye. It was an inscription: “Read to Sophia in the winter of 1990 by Mom.”   If I meant to start a trend in those days I didn’t succeed. I must have been distracted by the ongoing business of reading aloud itself and all the other details of living the educational life. For it seems I had forgotten my initial idea of jotting down a record at the close of a book. I haven’t come across another inscription like it so far.

A Book of Virtues

I remember choosing Hans Brinker because I was familiar with the 1960’s made-for-TV Disney film I watched as a child. It was filmed in the beautiful land of Holland. Its characters showed a love of family, determination, patience in adversity, a willingness to work toward an unselfish goal, and trust in God. I decided also to read Hans Brinker for the purpose of developing my student’s skill of narration. The more I read of Miss Charlotte Mason’s original writings the more I understood what a critical part narration had to play in her educational method.

Walking on New Ground

I certainly was walking on new ground in those days. Home teaching had dawned but the sun was really just rising. When you consider what limited information was available for all us “do-it-yourselfers” I was glad to have Miss Mason’s writings. But with all the reading I did on education I never strayed from Miss Mason’s time-honored ideas. I clung to them. They spoke the clearest to my mind and heart. Not only was the educational method I was trying new to me, the books themselves were new. 

Feeding the Soul

As it was with all the children’s classics on our shelves, with each reading aloud I was reading the story for the first time. I experienced the satisfaction of feeding my children’s souls with inspiring literature, while I took joy in feeding my own soul what I had missed in my childhood. For the home teacher this is just one perk that comes with the job.

A Child's Telling

What is the method of narration? Simply put it is the child telling back in his own words what has just been read aloud to him. As the student matures he reads to himself and provides an oral or written narration to the teacher. Narration is brainwork. It is personal. It is personable. For the talker builds a relationship with the listener - and visa versa.

The modern author Jane M. Healy, Ph.D. in her book, Endangered Minds says, “. . . unless [children] possess the internal sense of responsibility for extracting the meaning, [of what they read] they are engaged in a hollow and unsatisfying exercise.” Pg. 25

A page later she says, “An effective way to probe a reader’s understanding is to ask him to tell what happened . . . give a summary or paraphrase. Many students have particular difficulty . . .  perhaps because they have never been required to synthesize or talk about texts in this way; they’ve been too busy filling in the bubbles.” 

Jane Healy reports her findings of how beneficial it is for children to build on oral expression with writing. When children are required to write regularly on what they are learning they have an improved understanding and memory, she said.

Doesn’t this modern message sound familiar? It describes narration to a "T". More than one hundred years ago Miss Charlotte Mason was traveling a circuit in England communicating the same message.  

A Homespun Newsletter

You’ve probably noticed how my friends are nameless. They enjoy a peaceful state of anonymity. (And - I’m smiling – I’m free to talk about them more this way.) One friend was much taken by the method of narration in the 1990s. She willingly made extra work for herself by putting together a newsletter to feature the narrations of her six children. It was mailed only to a small handful of family and friends. I was happy to receive a couple issues. While it gave her children that wonderfully encouraging feeling that comes with seeing one’s work in print, I imagine it demonstrated to her extended family in those earlier days of home teaching that, yes, aside from the fact that at first glance the newsletter looks “cute,” real learning is taking place in the home, and indeed, children like learning when they are given the opportunity to “tell.”

With contributions on a range of subjects, drawings and clip art, the little newsletter was truly interesting to read. As the children began entering their high school years and lessons became more sophisticated, so did their narrations. And the newsletter? Well, with her plate ever-more full my friend left that phase of their journey behind. But what lovely keepsakes those homespun newsletters will always be. 

“I don’t know if I can trust in narration,” a young mother said.
Understanding her insecurity to turn from relying on worksheets for every subject the second mother replied gently, “If you are not putting your trust in narration, you are putting your trust in something else.”

For a further introduction to Miss Charlotte Mason’s method of narration click HERE.

Post Script
Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates has recently been issued on DVD. I think you will like the film.
Perhaps I should share this tid-bit. As my narrator was a young age I skipped over several of the “travel” chapters. 

Thank you for visiting.
   Karen Andreola


  1. Ah, I have gotten away from narration but am headed back to it! I am finding that I need to take the time with my younger students that I did with my older ones....


  2. Thank you, Karen, for using your gift of writing to encourage and bless the body of Christ! I started "Lessons at Blackberry Inn" on Monday during a quick trip to Indiana. On our way back to Michigan today, my husband smiled at my tears as I read the 'home' poem on page 200.
    I simply could not put this book down. What an encouragement! By the way, I love Nigel's lovely illustrations-he has such a gift! I love the 'domestic' stories as I'm sure many others do also, and I LOVE pink! Warm regards, Teresa Cook

  3. The more I practice the method, the more I see how really practical narration is, especially when compared with dull true/false questions and "bubbling". I'm content with my children's progress (and wish I could narrate what I read as well).

    Reading a chapter of a good book or working on a project in the afternoon always perks up a blah winter day. I look forward to those moments--however brief. The skates placed outdoors look cheerful and seem to embrace the season, rather than reject it. Perhaps we'll hang up the old snowshoes in our mudroom!



  4. "I experienced the satisfaction of feeding my children’s souls with inspiring literature, while I took joy in feeding my own soul what I had missed in my childhood. For the home teacher this is just one perk that comes with the job."

    This is so true Karen and I am really enjoying homeschooling my 6 year old dd the CM way!

  5. Dear Ladies,
    May your home teaching experience enrich all those within your home circle and your acquaintances without.
    Your comments encourage me to keep writing.
    Karen A.

  6. Dear Karen,THANKS fos this text.
    "Silver skates" was my first and favorite book of my childhood.It was the very first present-from my mom's friend Emma-in the very first day of my life.
    So I like this book,with the simple philosophy of love,friendship and humanism.And I'm a little girl,who crying and smiling,when I read this story now.

  7. Karen, thank you so much for the Hans Brinker DVD suggestion. I ordered it from Amazon and waited for a cold, snowy night this week to finally put it on for my girls. The whole family watched -- neither my husband or I had seen it as children. It was wonderful! We held our breath so many times as Hans faced his trials. From the 7 year old to the 16 year old... it was enjoyed by all. Disney just doesn't make movies like that anymore.