Sunday, February 8, 2009

Narration Trepidation

I find intriguing the idea of using narration in place of much written work for younger children. Narration is one of the most important methods in the Charlotte Mason approach to education. Recently I checked out A Charlotte Mason Companion from the local library; it contains these inspiring words about narration on page 114:
We are living in an information age. Today's children are exposed to much information, but they come away with little knowledge. Why? First, most schools use books that are purely factual. Such books can actually be an obstacle to acquiring knowledge because they are not the kind of book children naturally "take to,"or can narrate from. Children need books written in literary language to narrate from. Secondly, children are persons, not parrots. Workbooks obligate children to parrot back information. Knowledge is not attained through these means because the child really hasn't narrated (or thought the ideas through and made them his own). Narrating invites children to meditate, that is, to think ideas through to their conclusion. Charlotte Mason observed that what the child digs for himself becomes his own possession. Narration develops the power of self-expression and forces the child to use his own mind and form his own judgment.
I was always a good little parrot of a student. I excelled at worksheets, multiple choice exams, and fill-in-the-blank questions. But I never liked or felt I did well at creative writing and essay assignments. My powers of deliberation and self-expression were limited for most of my youth. I was told once by one of my professors that she and her co-teachers in a colloquium course had discussed together the problem of how "to get [me] to think." Now I know that teenagers in general are rarely accused of being "deep thinkers", but surely with my adolescent academic performance in recalling and synthesizing facts, I should have developed some intellectual curiosity and meditation skills before I reached the university! I want a better early education for my children than I had. I want them to be able to sift ideas for themselves and clearly express their conclusions before they become adults; if narration will help me develop these abilities in my children, I will implement it as a central method in our homeschool.

However, in spite of all the positive good that narration is said to accomplish, I fear that my children will struggle with narration, leading me to try to force them to do it, and they will end up hating narration and, by extension, Mommy's teaching. My oldest child, now 4-1/2 years old, was quite slow to begin speaking because she was in a trilingual environment. She still has difficulty composing answers to questions like "What did you do today?", so I worry that she in particular will not be able to narrate effectively. I was halfway relieved from my narration-related anxiety to read on page 116 of A Charlotte Mason Companion that Charlotte Mason said "formal telling should be required of children only after the age of six." My daughter should be much better at coherent sentences a year and a half from now. (Poor first children--we parents can get so hyper about their development!)

Readers, do you use narration with your children? At what ages/ability levels did you start to do it formally? How do you avoid narration becoming something your children dislike?

1 comment:

  1. When I was in school, I gave the teachers the answers I thought they wanted. Indeed, the system of grading encouraged it. Who will really fairly evaluate a paper that goes against their point of view?
    Give 'em what they want so they give you what you want. I'm still like that today, I think. I want to please and so when people in other cultures would ask me what music I like, I'd tell them some local/language group they'd be familiar with. Floricienta in Ecuador, F4 in the Philippines and Die Prinzen in Germany.