In my last post I discussed the simplest and easiest tool for building strong writers in the early years — copywork — and today I’m moving on to perhaps the most difficult — narration.
If you’ve spent any time learning about classical or Charlotte Mason education, you’ve no doubt heard narration mentioned. In case you aren’t familiar with the concept though, narration is simply the retelling of what has been read, either to the child or independently by the child.
What does narration have to do with writing?
In the beginning, narration is completely a verbal exercise for the student. So why is it considered an important element in early writing instruction?
Narration plays an important role in learning to write well because it is oral composition. Just as children are able to listen and comprehend at a higher level than they are able to read, they are also able to verbalize at a higher level than they can write.
Writing is a complex process that involves several steps. The first step is simply an idea, but then the idea must be transformed into words, and then the words must be transcribed onto paper. Narration builds the mental skills required to do this with ease by removing the last step and focusing on the transfer of ideas into words. Mental composition is strengthened without the burden of additional writing skills impeding the student (spelling, handwriting, etc.) until writing skills catch up to thinking skills.
What are the benefits of narration?
Builds attention span
Helps with learning to order thoughts
Teaches to process information, not merely to regurgitation it
Helps to make connections with other content
Allows you to evaluate the students learning
Opens the door to discussions with your child
Develops higher level thinking
Increases comprehension and retention
Narration Tips & How to Get Started:
Start Small. Begin by using only a short passage, around a paragraph in length. Ask your child to tell you what you just read in their own words. Gradually increase the length of your selections to match your child’s progress and abilities.
Try using guided narration. Instead of only asking them to retell the content of the passage, prompt them to share about what they found the most interesting, most important, or their favourite part. Use these free, narration prompt bookmarks to help!
Use narration in other subjects (science, history) to simplify the curriculum and integrate writing across the curriculum.
Don’t interrupt or correct your child’s narration. Wait until they have finished before offering feedback.
Provide assistance when moving into written narrations. Provide a word bank of key words to include, help with spelling, or help your student to create an outline prior to beginning.
Don’t be alarmed when beginning written narrations if suddenly the length and quality of the narrations decreases. This is normal, and your child will gradually increase their skill and proficiency with written narrations just as they did with oral.
Narration is a great tool for developing strong writers in the early years, but it is in itself a skill that will build on itself and remain useful for your child throughout all the years of their education and beyond.
It can begin as simply as taking your child and a well loved storybook onto your lap and letting them tell you the story!
I’ve already mentioned that I don’t require any creative writing at all from my young writers — no stories, poetry, or even journal writing. Instead, I wait until my writers have developed mastery of the skills required to properly express themselves on paper: quality penmanship, grammar, punctuation, spelling, […]
We don’t do a lot of the typical writing activities and assignments that are popular in public schools (and homeschools!). In case you are over your shock and horror over the fact that I don’t have any assigned reading in my homeschool, I have also never assigned my fourth grader a book report! Neither have I required her to keep a journal or to write a story. We haven’t used any writing prompts either.
It’s my opinion that young writers do not need to be made to be creative — they are creative by nature! Just as a young child will freely build, paint, or draw if given the tools and the media to do so, they are also constantly creating stories and expressing their ideas through words and play.
The trouble with requiring creative writing (in young children especially) is that you are compelling a child to create without having first provided the tools required! Expecting a young child to compose a piece of original writing can actually prove to be quite stressful — the physical act of writing, spelling, grammar, AND the challenges of organizing his own ideas can be overwhelming.
This is why it is essential that the focus be on developing the skills of self expression first. What they need most is mastery of the tools required to properly express themselves.
How are these skills developed? What are these tools?
The good news is that laying the foundation for good, written self-expression is very simple. You don’t need to invest a lot of money (or even time) to work on these skills with your child. Any good, early writing curriculum will include these three components, this three pronged approach to writing instruction:
Copywork: copying from a model
Narration: telling back in one’s own words what was heard
Dictation: hearing, remembering, and transcribing word for word what is heard
Copywork, narration, and dictation are found throughout the classical and Charlotte Mason models in the early years, and any good writing curriculum will not only include these components but be based on them.
Join me in this series of three posts as I explore the value of these tools, and how we have implemented these early writing methods in our own homeschool:
I’m so thankful that many years ago when my own parents were making education choices for their children, they decided to opt into the French immersion program of the public school system. We were fortunate to have begun our education in French, and I stayed in the program from kindergarten through my high school years. Upon graduation, I was considered fully bilingual which proved an invaluable asset when I later enter the workforce in Ottawa as a registered nurse in an officially bilingual hospital.
Fast forward several more years, and I am now a stay-at-home, homeschooling mama in a fairly unilingual area. My own French has become rusty from lack of use, and homeschooling resources, opportunities, and support for French language learning are hard to come by. Still, I really want at least some of the opportunities for my children that I had myself. Since I’m always up for exploring French learning resources, I was happy to give Middlebury Interactive Languages‘ Elementary French 1 (Grades 3-5) a try in our homeschool.
Middlebury Interactive Languages offers online foreign language learning for students K-12 in French, German, Chinese, and Spanish. Courses are subscription based, and therefore expire at the after a year or semester, depending on the course. Many of their courses have the option to purchase teacher support which provides feedback on both speaking and writing. This review does not include the teacher support option.
Our French language learning efforts over the last several years have been quite varied, and we have used a little bit of everything, including library books & videos, homeschool co-op lessons with a French teacher, book based homeschool curriculum, and apps, with varying amounts of success. Anything with a screen involved has proved to be very popular with my children, and as expected, Middlebury received a warm welcome!
The course begins with a brief introduction that acquaints the student with the methods and features of the program, including how to navigate through the course, drag & drop, highlight, and record their voice. There is also some additional information regarding the stories used, song lyrics, and course vocabulary.
The course is divided into 16 themed units, each of which is introduced by a story which originates from various French speaking cultures. The lessons also contain games, activities and songs which allow the student to interact with the language.
The units covered are:
Days of the Week
There are six lessons in each unit, and my 9 year old has been working through the course at a pace of 2-3 lessons each week, or one unit every two weeks. The lessons seem to be pretty fascinating to her little sister who really enjoys watching the story and even practices saying the vocabulary words.
The course also contains a page to view the student’s grades so the parent can check up on how their student has been doing on the tests and quizzes. Some of the activities include the student recording themselves saying the vocabulary words, and you can listen to these as well — I’m not sure but I think that if you purchase the teacher supported version, the teacher listens and evaluates these recordings.
My daughter is really enjoying her Middlebury French lessons, and I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to review their course. It offers a more “immersion” styled experience than others I have seen, using video, music, and activities to provide as rich a language experience as as possible while sitting behind a screen.
I would be remiss to mention however, that unfortunately for us, the price of the course (which is for one student, one level, and one year) is beyond what we budget for any single subject in our homeschool. Budget constraints aside, if you are looking for online language learning, check out the various courses offered by Middlebury, and the reviews from other members of The Homeschool Review Crew.
I’m willing to bet that Math and Language Arts are on the list, and probably Science and History too. You might even have Art, Music, and Bible included in your plans.
I don’t know about you, but my list of “to-do’s” each day keeps getting longer and longer! And yet I added yet another subject to our homeschool this year — cooking.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see my disclosure policy.
In the midst of all this busyness, why did I add yet another subject? Why bother teaching kids to cook?
For Health – involving kids in food preparation helps them learn to make good food choices now, and invests in their future health. How many young adults resort to living on boxed mac & cheese and cereal when they move out on their own? I know I did, and it set some pretty bad habits that have effected me negatively.
Independence – I’m always looking for ways to work myself out of a job! If my kids can learn to cook, then that’s one less thing I’ll have to do for them. Hey, maybe they will be able to do it for me!
Responsibility – I want to nurture a sense of responsibility in my kids. In our family, we believe that everyone plays a role in the running of the home. That’s why I train my kids from a young age to participate in household duties. Everyone can have a job!
It’s fun! – Don’t all kids want to help in the kitchen? I’ve never met a toddler who didn’t want to stir and get right in there! And wouldn’t it be so much better if your kids could actually be a help in the kitchen when they ask “can I help?”
Ok, so teaching kids to cook is important, but why add it to the official curriculum?
We’ve added learning to cook to our official homeschool curriculum simply to make sure it get’s done. We all know what it’s like to have high ideals, and to WANT to do something but not follow through. Or to start something only to find we haven’t been consistent or let it slide entirely. Using a pre made, organized curriculum simply makes it easy to get it done. I’m certainly not saying that you need to purchase any kind of program in order to give your children a solid education in cooking, but for me, it is a huge help and eliminates any possible excuses for neglecting this area.
We are currently using the Kids Cook Real Food e-Course, and I just love how easy it is to use. Video lessons for kids and parents, grocery lists, printables, and even a Facebook group for support! And it includes all my kids, even my two year old!
She actually peeled that carrot almost perfectly! And I love the look of concentration on her little face! My older kids are working together, helping each other, and learning so many skills that they have actually had the opportunity to use outside of our lesson time.
Using a prepared curriculum for teaching my kids to cook also helps me make sure that I am teaching them correctly. When I fist watched the Kids Cook Real Food Knife Skills Video, I discovered that I have been handling my knife wrong my whole life! I’m so glad to have quality resources to help me do a thorough job of teaching my kids.
The curriculum also includes special terminology to help kids remember the techniques! In the picture above, my daughter is keeping her fingers safe with the “up and over, soldier!” position.
I’d like to encourage you, whether you decide to make it a formal course of study or not, to get into the kitchen with your kids — learn together and have fun while investing in their health and yours!
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You’re on your way home from a busy day after running around taking your kids to music lessons, co-ops, athletics, or maybe a field trip. You haven’t got a clue what to serve your crew for dinner. Do you swing by your favourite take out joint? Order a pizza? Make pancakes? What else is a busy homeschool mom to do?
This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for details.
Getting meals on the table has long been a HUGE struggle for this homeschool mama. That’s why I was so excited to have the opportunity to try out the MyFreezEasy.com Freezer Meal Plan Membership from MyFreezEasy. And after the experience I’ve had in this past month, I have to tell you that freezer cooking, and this resource in particular, has been a game changer for me!
Cooking once and having 10 meals prepped for your busiest days?! Yes please!
I’ve long been a fan of freezer cooking, and I do try to double up on my cooking to keep my freezer stocked. But I had grown tired of the same fare: spaghetti sauce, chilli, shepherd’s pie, and lasagna. I was anxious to try out new recipes!
What is MyFreezEasy?
MyFreezEasy is a meal plan website that provides monthly meal plans complete with recipes, shopping lists, assembly instructions, video tutorials, and even printable labels to make freezer cooking a breeze.
Each month, members are provided with 8 meal plans (traditional, gluten free, slow cooker, all chicken, all ground beef, all pork chop, clean eating, and 20 meals). All of the meal plans are designed to have you spend 1 hour in the kitchen and come out with 10 pre-made meals, except the last one which will add 20 meals to your freezer.
My first session
September was a really busy month in our household with the return to many of our outside activities (piano lessons, co-op, field trips, etc) but also with my parents temporarily moving in with us. It also involved a lot of painting and cleaning to get their new home move-in ready, and then another moving day when they moved out. It was a great opportunity to both make use of my mom’s free labour, and have 10 prepared meals in the freezer for the busy month ahead.
As soon as I got my membership, I quickly checked out the system. The September meal plans had just been released, and I chose to use the Traditional Meal Plan for my first time through. Like all the other meal plans, the Traditional Meal Plan has printable grocery lists, detailed assembly instructions, and printable freezer labels, but it also has a full, hour long video of Erin (the owner of MyFreezEasy) actually preparing the meals and demonstrating her system. I’m not exactly a whiz in the kitchen, so after previewing parts of the video the night before, I actually set up my laptop on the kitchen counter and cooked along with her when I was ready to begin.
Mom & I hit the grocery store together, armed with the MyFreezEasy grocery list. The only difficulties we had were with the way some of the ingredients are listed (using imperial measurements rather than metric, and American standard sizes rather than Canadian), and in actually finding some of the ingredients in our local store. I’ve never purchased canned green chilies, and they were no where on my local grocery store’s shelves; I’ve also never seen bags of frozen peppers and onions. After making a few adjustments, we were ready to go!
That evening, after all the kids were tucked into bed, we set up for an evening of cooking. We lined up foil & pyrex pans, and labeled Ziplock bags. We chopped the fresh peppers & onions to replace the frozen. Then we watched the assembly video and cooked, stirred, and chopped along with Erin. It didn’t take us one hour (it took closer to two!) but we went to bed that night with 10 meals from the five recipes!
The September Traditional Meal Plan included:
Lazy Lasagna – this turned out excellent, and I don’t think I’ll ever make a regualr lasagna again!
Chicken Fajita Bake – this one was good too, we love fajitas around here.
Slow Cooker Spicy Mango Chicken Tacos — this one wasn’t too popular with the kids.
Slow Cooker Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin — we haven’t tried this one yet.
Slow Cooker Spanish Rice — we haven’t tried this one yet either.
And now for the best part …
After my initial experience using MyFreezEasy, I decided to dive a little deeper into the membership site and try out the features of the Premium Membership I was given. This is when I really got hooked. With the Premium Membership, you can build your own meal plans! Your kids don’t like peppers? Your husband is allergic to eggs? Maybe you hate slow cooker meals? No problem! Simply browse their recipe library and drag and drop the recipes you are interested in into the recipe box and you can create your own custom meals, just right for your own family.
You can search or browse the recipes by type of protein, cooking method, or dietary preference, so this resource is great for families working with gluten-free, dairy-free, or whole foods/Paleo diets. Another great feature is that you can file your favourite recipes into a favourites folder, so after we actually eat the meals, I can remember the ones my family loved, and which ones went over like a lead balloon. Because I don’t know about you, but my kids have a lot of opinions about what I serve for dinner, and they aren’t too shy (or very polite at times) about telling me about how they enjoyed dinner. Or didn’t.
I try to feed my family a primarily whole food diet, so for my second time using MyFreezEasy I made my selections mostly from those options. I made:
Pineapple Chicken Curry — this one rivalled the one I get from our favourite Cambodian Thai restaurant! Loved it!
Slow Cooker Mango Chicken — this one is good.
Cheesesteak Sloppy Joes — Sloppy Joes are new to our family and my oldest daughter loved it and has requested that we have it weekly. I don’t know if that will happen, but I’ll definitely be making it again.
Slow Cooker Curried Chickpeas & Vegetables — this one was a no go for everyone.
Slow Cooker Sweet Potato & Chicken Curry — the adults all liked this one, but the kids not so much.
This time, my kitchen time was much closer to the hour promised! I made a total of 20 freezer meals in the month of September, and I’ve still got some left over for October!
Who could benefit from MyFreezEasy?
While I think most, if not all busy families could benefit from the great resources offered by MyFreezEasy, I think it would be a great fit for:
homeschoolers whose activities take them away from home often
those who have a hard time meal planning
a group of moms who would like to get together and have a big freezer meal prep day/night together
mamas with babies & toddlers who are prone to having meltdowns late in the day (during typical dinner prep time)
those who would like to have a freezer well stocked with easy dinner options for when life gets busy, crisis strikes, or to bless new mamas, the sick, or bereaved
I’m thoroughly impressed with the MyFreezEasy system, and will be continuing to explore all the wonderful resources they have to offer — I’m so thankful for how it is making my life easier!
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