Narration is an easy, normal and effective way to retain information. We have all used this process when we’ve told someone about a meeting we have attended, a documentary we’ve seen, or a book we have read. That is why it is also called “telling back.” The act of repeating information or events has a powerful effect on memory, much like when we repeat a number over and over to ourselves if we are unable to write it down. It’s different from summarizing information because we allow the person narrating to choose the emphasis, even the omissions, and in all ways we let his or her mind act on the material.
Narration helps you to know exactly what your child knows about any given topic. In fact it takes the place of testing in the Charlotte Mason method. In what we might call “regular” school the students cover a body of information, and — regardless of whether they spend a week, month or year on a topic — a test is administered at the end of the teaching. When the graded test is returned to the students it often will have red check marks indicating every time information could not be recalled or was recalled incorrectly. It focuses on what the child does not know about the topic covered.
Winston Churchill once said of exams, “I should have liked to be asked to say what I knew. They always tried to ask what I did not know. When I would have willingly displayed my knowledge, they sought to expose my ignorance. This sort of treatment had only one result: I did not do well in examinations.” What Mr. Churchill wanted done is exactly what we do in the Charlotte Mason method. We ask the child to tell us everything he knows about Canada, pollination, the endocrine system, long division or whatever we have been studying either for that day or the entire year. This helps you as the parent to know immediately if your child has understood and comprehended the materials he is working through. The main point is that you cannot narrate what you do not know, and you can only narrate what you do know.
Narration can be used in a variety of situations but it is often implemented following a book reading, whether read aloud or silently. In a Charlotte Mason education we present a very broad exposure to art, poetry, history, nature and foreign languages to name just a few. All of this subject matter is chosen by you, the parent, including the literature.
As you implement Charlotte Mason’s techniques you will find yourself able to replace expensive curriculums with the finest literature, poetry, art and music — you do not need to invest large amounts of money to try out this method. But you’ll also find that when your children pay attention to what they are reading (to such a degree that they are able to talk about it afterward), you will want to improve their literary taste by exposing them to the best of the best.