In a Charlotte Mason education we start off with oral narration, which is basically a child retelling what they’ve heard or read for themselves in their own words. Oral narration continues all the way through high school but written narration is also added around the age of 10 years, depending on the child. Some of my children wrote their own narrations much earlier and others were later.
The right type of book is important. It should be ‘living’ – a book that contains ideas that can be grasped. A good sign that it is a suitable sort of book is whether a child can narrate or tell back what he or she has read or had read to them.
A fit book will ‘make that sudden, delightful impact upon their minds, must cause that intellectual stir, which mark the inception of an idea.’
This, of getting ideas out of them, is by no means all we must do with books. ‘In all labour there is profit,’ at any rate in some labour; and the labour of thought is what his book must induce in the child. He must generalise, classify, infer, judge, visualise, discriminate, labour in one way or another, with that capable mind of his, until the substance of his book is assimilated or rejected, according as he shall determine; for the determination rests with him and not with his teacher.
Below are some examples of written narrations done recently by my 16 year old daughter. They are retellings in her own words of the books she has read but they are only one of the many ways this may be done.
I’ve added a link at the end of this post which will take you to some other types of written narrations (or compositions) by my children at different ages.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet CXVI
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks upon tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Don’t let me be an impediment to the marriage of true minds. Love isn’t real when it changes because of alterations, or lets itself be removed by someone else. No! It stays fixed forever, never shaken even through a storm; it is always there, a star to guide every wandering vessel. True love is not taken away by the passage of Time, though good looks will fade with Time; love doesn’t change, it stays the same until the end of time. If I am wrong, I never wrote, and no man ever truly loved.
The Wetterhorn, Albert Bierstadt
This painting by Albert Bierstadt is of the Wetterhorn peak in Switzerland. The snow-covered peak towers into the blue sky with a few clouds floating around it. The foreground of the picture is dark pines on the side of a steep rise. A dirt track winds away into the middle ground, which is green, rugged hills dotted with bushes, shrubs and a few houses. The hills rise up into the first grey mountain, and behind it is the peak, which appears to be higher, and has more snow. There are a few other hazy peaks in the distance. The foreground is quite dark, with a few rays of sun over the track, but the landscape gets brighter towards the middle ground and the peaks.
Mao’s Long March (Mao Tse-Tung and His China by Albert Marrin)
Chiang Kai-shek, the Generalissimo of China, had a problem on his hands. He controlled most of China, but an upstart called Mao Tse-tung had incited a Communist rebellion against him. The Communists called themselves the Red Army. In 20th century China, the colour red symbolized beauty and all things good, whereas white was the opposite. The Communists called Chiang Kai-shek’s army white on purpose. The Reds had holed themselves up in a base and steadily resisted all efforts to get them out. The problem was they didn’t fight like any army the White soldiers had ever faced. Armies weren’t supposed to run away and then turn around and pincer you from behind. Mao Tse-tung and his general trained their army in guerrilla style warfare, and it was working for them. Chiang Kai-shek gathered his forces and launched an attack at them. He didn’t realise that he wouldn’t win the battle just by outnumbering them ten to one. He also didn’t realise that the attack would stretch into five campaigns. The Red Army kept up their tactics, and every day more peasants joined them. When they captured White Army soldiers, they treated them well. Many were persuaded to join the Reds. If they refused, they were set free and given enough food and money to get home. Mao knew the news of this generosity would spread and encourage more to join his army. All was going well for Mao, and badly for Chiang, when the Generalissimo received a sudden boost from an unexpected corner. The Central Committee in Shanghai found the place too hot to hold them, so they set out for Mao’s stronghold. When they got there, they dismissed Mao as knowing nothing about military tactics, and took over themselves. Mao was left with command of only one small section of the army. A member of the Committee, Chou En-lai, now led the Red Army. From there things went downhill very quickly. Chou fought head-on with Chiang’s forces, and the result was disastrous. Red Army forces were being depleted every day.
By this time, Chiang Kai-shek was friends with Adolf Hitler, who had just come to power in Germany. Hitler sent reinforcements of Gestapo to help train the White Army. They surrounded the Red Army with a blockade, and reinforced it every day. Nothing could get out.
By this time, Chiang Kai-shek was friends with Adolf Hitler, who had just come to power in Germany. Hitler sent reinforcements of Gestapo to help train the White Army. They surrounded the Red Army with a blockade, and reinforced it every day. Nothing could get out. They bombed everything that moved, and they built more and more blockades around the base and moved in closer. It was like a ring of steel. Mao pleaded with the committee to go back to the guerrilla tactics that worked so well. The result was the Committee turned up their noses and dismissed him as an ignoramus. Eventually the situation prevailed, and Chou En-lai went to Mao and asked him to help, apologizing for everything. Mao readily agreed, and started to plan his Long March, which was to become the longest march in history, eclipsing even Hannibal’s climb over the Alps and George Washington’s march over the Potomac. It made them look like leisurely walks around the block.
Macbeth’s Soliloquy (Shakespeare, creative narration)
Out, out! brief candle!
Death’s no more than a walking shadow,
but one that tracks me every step.
War hems me in on every side,
The lords amass their forces and march.
The stars have not concealed my deep
and dark desires. The deed is out.
But ‘tis too late for them and me.
The dark sisters’ tale, brewed up
in an evil storm, tells that no man
naturally born of a woman can take
my head. Safe I am, and safe I stay.
Birnam wood will march to Dunsinane
before ought can take my crown.
Yet rumours, cawing like ill-omened crows,
fly with the day, and Lady Macbeth walks
with the night. All is well,
yet why should she walk like a ghost,
crying of fell deeds that should be forgotten,
or else concealed?
Iran (The Power of Geography by Tim Marshall)
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a country in Western Asia, bordered by the Caspian Sea on the north side, the Persian Gulf on the south side, Afghanistan to the east, Iraq to the west and Armenia and Azerbaijan to the northwest. It is a very hard country to invade, simply because it’s almost completely surrounded by mountains. The only way to avoid the mountains is a narrow corridor down the bottom of the country to the southwest, which is easily protected. If you manage to get inside the mountain range you are greeted by desert. The limited water supply comes down from the hills in little canals, but most of the inhabitants live in the mountains. The capital, Tehran, is situated near the north end of the country, just inside the mountains that border the Caspian Sea. The religion is officially Shia Muslim, but the majority of countries surrounding Iran are Sunni Muslim. Iran has many different tribes within its population, and the problem it faces is that many of them live in the mountains, so they haven’t all settled in with each other and become one nation. They are all still very separate. The Kurds living in the mountains naturally feel more affinity to the Kurds living over the border than they do to the rest of Iran, which creates problems for the government, who have no desire to see a separate Kurdish state.
Australia is the sixth largest country and the fifth largest continent in the world. It’s an island – but an island like no other. It is so big that it has tropical rainforests, deserts, snow-covered mountains and rolling grasslands altogether in the one country. Driving from Brisbane to Perth across Australia is equivalent to a trip from London to Beirut crossing through nine European countries. It all started when the British found themselves with an overdose of convicts and decided to deport them. What could be a better place for criminals than ‘down under’, the bottom of the world. No one would be coming back from there. Yet, 234 years later, here it has become a huge, Western orientated, wealthy, advanced democracy right in the middle of the Indo-Pacific. With the Indian Ocean to its West, the Pacific to its East and the world’s biggest and most powerful military dictatorship to its North, Australia is attempting to maintain a constructive exchange with Beijing while countering its growing influence in the Pacific. The Canberra government will also look to maintain its defence and other ties with the US. Famous Australian cricketeer Don Bradman once said, ‘Play it tough, all the way, Grind them into the dust.’ He was actually referring to a cricket match with England, but his words show the ‘classic Aussie spirit.’ Stubbornness might be a better description. It might be an old cliché, but it’s true, and in Australia’s relations with China and the rest of the world, it’ll ‘play it tough, all the way.’
Tropism (General Biology)
The roots of plants grow towards their source of water. Some plants in the desert have very deep roots to reach down to the water. Where water is abundant, the roots tend to grow out sideways. The movement of a plant or organism toward a stimulus is called tropism. As well as needing water, plants need sunlight to stimulate photosynthesis. This is why plants grow towards the source of light. This is called positive phototropism. The response of plants to light is caused by a hormone called auxin. When light hits the plant, the auxin molecules move to the shady side, where it stimulates growth of the plant cells, causing the plant to bend towards the light.
Birds and High Rise Buildings (Vesper Fights by Helen Macdonald)
Skyscrapers are a bit like deep-sea submarines. They raise us above the chaos of the street level and into the sky, taking us to places we couldn’t otherwise explore. Most people think of the sky as an empty place, but it is full of life like the ocean – except it has bats and birds, spider and seeds, insects and microbes, instead of fish. One of the phenomenon you can observe from a skyscraper is the seasonal night flights of birds. At first thought, birds and high rise buildings seem to be on the opposite ends of the spectrum. When you think of the Empire State Building you don’t think of birds. Millions of birds migrate every year and fly over New York City, which has some of the tallest buildings. Over seven and a half billion birds can fly over a mile of English farmland in a month. It is likely that even more pass over New York City, as it isn’t a chilly island surrounded by cold water like England. The stay-at-home birds of New York City feed on the huge concentration of insects among the down-drafts caused by the high-rise buildings. The city is on the Atlantic Flyway, the route used by birds to fly north every year to their breeding grounds. Most species fly over at night because it’s safer. There are less predators around. What predators there are tuck their finds into nooks and crannies on the high-rises, including the Empire State Building.
Soon after WWII, radar scientists were confused by the mysterious blips that kept appearing on screens. They knew it wasn’t aircraft. The scientists named them ‘angels’ until they realised they were birds. Now radar is so sensitive it can detect a bee over thirty miles away. Now we have aeroecology, which uses radar and tracking devices to study patterns in the sky.
New York is one of the brightest cities in the world. This looks very nice at night, but the lights confuse and disorientate migrating songbirds. More than one hundred thousand die in New York every year from the lights. The New York pest control company has had many calls from high-rise residents asking them to fix the problem of birds colliding with their windows during the migrating season. The answer is there is no solution but turning off the lights helps. There are programmes which have encouraged many high-rise owners to turn off their lights, which saves both energy and birds.
Creative Narrations – various ages & subjects
Narration on Plutarch – creative narration
Written narrations can be incorporated into notebooks. It is still a viable form of written narration and if necessary may be coupled with an oral narration eg. a drawing with short explanations can be elaborated upon with an oral explanation. This works well with reluctant and late writers.
Notebook Narrations – scroll down to see more
Notebook Narration – Architecture, Science & Natural History