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Classical Education

Narration: The Art of Oral Composition

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.

COPYWORK, NARRATION & DICTATION: simple and effective methods for building strong writers in the early years

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 or my fun Narration Cootie Catcher to help!
  3. Use narration in other subjects (science, history) to simplify the curriculum and integrate writing across the curriculum.
  4. Allow your child to illustrate their narrations, act them out, or try these other creative narration ideas from Simply Charlotte Mason.
  5. Don’t interrupt or correct your child’s narration. Wait until they have finished before offering feedback.
  6. 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.
  7. Don’t be alarmed when beginning written narrations if suddenly the length and quality of the narrations decrease. This is normal, and your child will gradually increase their skill and proficiency with written narrations just as they did with oral.

Have you got a reluctant narrator? Use this narration prompt cootie catcher!

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!

Other posts in this early writing series:

Copywork... a simple yet effective tool for building strong writers in the early years




Building Strong Writers in the Early Years

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?

COPYWORK, NARRATION & DICTATION: simple and effective methods for building strong writers in the early years

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:

Copywork... a simple yet effective tool for building strong writers in the early years

Building early writing skills through narration - the skill of oral composition

Dictation: How Memory and Mental Pictures Build Writing Skills



Booklists: Finding Great Reads for Your Children (and Yourself!)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve often been discouraged and annoyed by the books my children bring home from the library. I’ve even hid some of them. And as much as I want to and believe it would be ideal to do so, I just can’t pre-read everything before handing it over to my children. So what’s a mama to do?

Well, the very best thing to do (next to reading them all yourself of course) would be to get book recommendations from someone you trust and who has similar values to your own. Families differ, so be sure to ask questions if you are at all unsure regarding content and age-appropriateness. Reading level, age suitability, and maturity vary greatly from one child to the next, and what is acceptable to one family may not be to another.

Another great option is to find a quality booklist and work from there. Now there are a lot of booklists out there that are riddled with junk. I’m not going to get into the “what is twaddle?” debate because everyone seems to have their own definition of twaddle, and even those who agree on a given definition may actually differ in whether or not they allow it into their homes.

The booklists I’m sharing with you today I believe will likely be considered by most, if not all picky readers as twaddle-free. I obviously haven’t read every book on these lists (I’m the busy mama who can’t pre-read her voracious 8-year old’s books, remember?) but they are from sound, trusted sources.

So fill up your library requests queue with books from these online booklists, and keep your kids so busy reading great books that they forget all about those captain underwear and rainbow fairy nonsense books!

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using these links, I may get a small commission at no extra charge to you. You can read my full disclosure statement here.

Here are some great, online booklists:

  • Five in a Row/Before Five in a Row: FIAR is a popular literature based unit study program. While I’ve never used or even previewed their curriculum, their booklists are full of wonderful children’s classics for the younger years.
  • Sonlight: Sonlight is a literature based complete package homeschool curriculum. I have no experience with their program at all, but I love their booklists. Full of rich classics with a strong emphasis on history.
  • Ambleside Online: Ambleside is a free, online, Charlotte Mason homeschooling curriculum. Great living book selections from the early years through to high school.
  • Mensa for Kids: The Mensa for Kids Excellence in Reading Program is pretty cool. Your kids can earn a certificate and t-shirt for working through their booklist!
  • 1000 Good Books List: This list, put out by Classical Christian Education Support Loop, is a real gem. The lists are arranged by from primary all the way through high school. I used this list extensively when looking for high-quality books for my oldest when she was a new reader — most of the selections commonly labelled as “easy readers”  and those “first chapter books” are drivel at best — and this list provided some great alternatives.
  • Classical Reader: This list is also available in print from Classical Academic Press and is a new favourite of mine. You can filter books by author, level, grade, genre, and even by medals/awards won! I love that this is a searchable list, and has been put out by such a trustworthy source.

Booklists: finding great reads for your children and yourself! These are my favourite sources for wholesome & classic literature selections for our family and homeschool

More booklists!

If you are searching for books that will be especially great as read-alouds (not all great reads make great read-alouds), Sarah MacKenzie from the Read Aloud Revival has put together a great list that is categorized by ages & genres. The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease is also a great resource for this.

My absolute favourite resource for choosing books for my children would have to Gladys Hunt’s Honey for a Child’s Heart; it is so much more than a booklist! It includes books by topic, age, & genre from picture books all the way up to young adult. And it provides so much inspiration and encouragement for creating a reading culture within the home.

What about mom?

Don’t forget to get your own nose in a book! You certainly don’t want to be so busy feeding the minds of your children that you forget to set a feast for yourself too. Children learn by example above all else, so if you want your children to be lovers of good books, you need to be one yourself. There are tons of great booklists available for children’s books (my favourites are mentioned above), but what about mom? Well, you could explore the Senior Reading Level list from the Classical Christian Homeschooling Support Loop, or other high school aged selections in the above mentioned lists.

If you would really like to get started in earnest with self education but don’t know where to begin, I would recommend both Adler & Van Dorren’s How to Read a Book and Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had. Both books contain excellent information on how to read challenging works from different time periods and genres as well as book lists to get you started.

The very best thing you can do though, is to find someone to explore books with you, like a friend or book club, where you can discuss what you are reading and exchange ideas. My greatest source of support has been an online book club full of true bibliophiles, and I get most of my book recommendations from them. I started the year by scanning the list of books that were going to be covered in the coming year and picked out for myself a modest number that I could be sure to get through.

Do you have a favourite source for booklists that isn’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments!

This post is linked up at Trivium Tuesdays.

How We Homeschool: Memorization

There seems to be a lot of kick back against memorization in education these days, even amongst homeschoolers. Learning math facts and memorizing parts of speech, for example, have gotten a bad rap in favour of “critical thinking” and a “love of learning”. You may […]

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A Day in the Life of a Classical Homeschooler: A Peek Into The Day of Five Families

Are you curious about the day to day life of a classical homeschooler? Maybe you think that classical homeschoolers are all super organized and scheduled, speak to each other in Latin over breakfast, and play several musical instruments.

Well, it turns out that the the ways of implementing a classical education at home are as varied as the families who do so. And what’s more, each family’s day to day life will look different from one season of life to the next.

Today, I’m excited to introduce you to five classically homeschooling families. Each family’s homeschool reflects their own individual style, goals, season of life, and values.

So if you aren’t a classical homeschooler and are curious about what goes on in a classical homeschool, or if you are and want to know what is going on in the homes of others who share some of your methods or ideals — this is the post for you!


Our Take on Classical Education

A Day in the Life of a Classical Homeschooler - Hungry SchoolerAngela is the mother of 3 children, aged 10, 8, and 2. She describes her  homeschool as fairly Latin-centered, and is influenced by the Well Trained Mind, Charlotte Mason, and Memoria Press. She blogs about her homeschooling over at The Hungry Schooler.




A Charlotte Mason Day in the Life

A Day in the Life of a Classical Homeschooler - Nelleke's DayNelleke is a Charlotte Mason homeschooler using Ambleside Online. She has four boys, aged 7, 5, 3 and 1. Her style would look rigorous to some and relaxed to others. She has routines in place that incorporate memory work, poetry, artist study, picture study, and nature study as well as their regular lessons involving math and copywork, reading and narration of literature, history, and natural history. With four little boys, things are often disrupted and broken up, but they do usually manage to accomplish a set amount each day. She blogs at Education is a Life.


A Day in the Life of our Homeschool

Tamara, mother of three, is in her fourth year of homeschooling. Her family uses the Charlotte Mason approach to homeschool, with an emphasis on great literature, nature study and handicrafts. Tamara’s own interests include blogging at Unhurried Home, starting new knitting projects, and lying on the couch in a daze, wondering how the house could be so messy when all she’s done is clean for the past 27 hours. It’s good to have hobbies, right?


A Day in the Life – What Classical Homeschooling Looks Like in our Home

A Day in the Life of a Classical Homeschooler - Joelle's Day with a 10 & 12-year-old

Joelle is a Christian homeschooling mom of two boys (ages 10 and 12). She has always homeschooled and gears toward a classical model of education. Her core curriculum is Tapestry of Grace, but she also uses material from Classical Academic press. She loves to call their style ‘Relaxed Classical’, where the relaxed refers to their day to day way of homeschooling, and the classical to the content of their homeschool. You can find her at her blog, Homeschooling for His Glory as well as on Facebook and Pinterest.


A Day in the Life of a Classical Homeschooler

Carol from Journey and Destination's Day in the Life of a Classical HomeschoolerCarol and her family live in Sydney, Australia, and have seven children who have been home schooled from the beginning. Five have graduated and the youngest two are still being taught at home.  Their desire to give each of their children a liberal education has led them to pursue a Classical Charlotte Mason approach in a home educational setting. She shares about her homeschooling life on her blog, journey-and-destination.

A Day in Our Homeschool

Poetry Memorization with First Language Lessons Level 3 {FREE PRINTABLE}

This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

It’s certainly no secret that I love Peace Hill Press and their products! We have been using their phonics primer since Big Sister was in Kindergarten, and their grammar, writing, and history curricula for three years and are very satisfied.

A key component of their grammar program, First Language Lessons, is poetry memorization. Being exposed to, and especially memorizing poetry helps to feed the mind with beautiful language. Children have a wonderful capacity for memorization! I’m constantly amazed at how quickly my children memorize scripture and poetry, and that Little Sister is memorizing most of her older sister’s selections passively without any effort or intention on my part.

I recently prepared some poetry printables for our Morning Time binders — and today I’m happy to be sharing them with you! If you are using FLL 3 or are looking for some poetry to memorize in your homeschool, download your own First Language Lessons Level 3 Poetry Printables by clicking the link or the image below.  Watch for upcoming posts sharing more about our Morning Time, Morning Time binders, basket,  and memorization in our homeschool!

Poetry Printables: Free poetry memorization printables for First Language Lessons Level 3 (FLL3)

You may also be interested in my Parts of Speech Printables, great for use with First Language Lessons 1,2 & 3, as well as my First Language Lessons Memory List Printables. All my other printables can be found on my Printables page.

Do you have any favourite sources for poetry memorization? I’d love to hear about it!

Classically Homeschooling