"Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table." -William Shakespeare

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Natural Narration

I am not a purist in nutrition or education. I often associate myself with the Charlotte Mason method of education, but in reality, I find that in my home, the particulars work out… differently.

Narration is the backbone of a Charlotte Mason education, along with Living Books. Living Books are pretty easily defined as well-written, engaging books, written by a single author, which impart information by telling a story. A good story! And of course, Charlotte was very strict on the avoidance of what she called twaddle . In other words, there’s a reason why you feel like screaming when your kid wants “Dora’s Favorite Colors” for the umpteenth time. Living Books are books you don’t mind reading a hundred times.

Narration is a child’s retelling of the stories he hears; in a micro-nutshell, I should say, for most CM educators can lecture for hours on end about narration, how to do it, how it ought to be done, and so on.

Charlotte Mason herself insisted that children should retell (narrate) their lessons after a single hearing, and only a single hearing. To develop, she said, the Habit of Attention. And that works for many families. But for some children, it just doesn’t. Some children feel too pressured to narrate after a single hearing, even when it’s been the house routine for years they still squirm at it, and some are so recalcitrant as to snap in their teachers’ faces- you just heard the story- you retell it! (Not that that has ever happened to me….) At which point of course, she ought to, in good humor.

I am in favor of what I call “Natural Narration.” To me, Natural Narration serves many purposes. But first, briefly, I define Natural Narration as spontaneous retelling of information and stories that a child has found interesting. Narration is supposed to follow after a child has digested the information and story from his lesson. But for some children, that digestion takes a while. Which is why you might find your child telling, in detail, about an apparently insignificant thing that happened last week, or even last year. Or you might have a child ask for a book you read her many months ago, which you had forgotten, but which she must suddenly have again for bedtime tonight. (And of course it was from the library, so she has to wait, impatiently, till tomorrow, if she hasn’t forgotten by then.)

In addition to showing me how well my child has understood a story or body of information, it also tells me what my child is actually interested in. Generally, things they tell me or their father or a friend or grandparent about of their own volition are things that they found deeply interesting and satisfying, not just things I wanted them to know because, darn it, 2nd graders ought to know it.

In CM education, that single telling of a lesson is very important. And while I understand what the aim is, I find that single telling is not natural for us. Instead, I find that the more my children are interested and engrossed in a story or experiment or what have you, the more repetition they want. An important concept in Montessori education is repetition-for-mastery. So a child wanting the same story 50 times over in a day is really taking the story in, processing it, and making sense of it.

And that is what seems more natural to me, in my home, for my children, though again, a “REAL” Montessorian would probably be just as horrified at my methodology as a “REAL” Charlotte Masonist.

Recently we all listened to The Chronicles of Narnia on tape. And then we listened again. And then we listened again. And then, guess what? We listened again.

Not because we were NOT paying attention, but because we were paying SO MUCH attention! Isaiah frequently asks for passages from the Hobbit and other favorite books to be read over and over at bedtime. We’ve read our favorite Geography-factoid book at least 20 times in the past 2 months. Many mothers will attest to the power of classics like Peter Rabbit. In fact, many mothers can still recite Peter Rabbit start to finish even after their youngest child has left for college. The single telling of a lesson is expedient for a school teacher, or homeschooling mother, who has a lot of material she wishes to cover, but I’ve finally let go of my desire to be a “REAL” Charlotte Mason-ist. We use what works, but we do what is most natural for our learning styles.

Natural Narration, repetition (I call it ‘Ritual Repetition’, actually, to myself, because it takes on the feeling of prayers repeated), and lots of Living Books make a solid, joyful core for a child’s early education.

"Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school."
~Albert Einstein

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