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's 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 up 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 was 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