Do You Make These Mistakes with Charlotte Mason Narration?

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Inside: Does Charlotte Mason Narration seem more difficult than it should? Learn from an experienced mom and troubleshoot your mistakes. Plus free troubleshooting download!

Guest Post by Jean at Self Educating Family

I am thrilled to have Jean Rudd posting on my blog today. She is a seasoned homeschool mom who taught her boys using the Charlotte Mason method. 

As I read through her article on Charlotte Mason narration, I realized I have felt many of the same things she talks about. Good to know I’m not alone! Here she is to teach you all about narration.

Charlotte Mason Narration

Definition of Charlotte Mason Narration

Charlotte Mason style homeschooling uses narration as part of its methodology. In its basic form, narration is a “telling back”.  It’s explaining what you know about something.

How is it done?

Typically, a child reads a passage or has it read aloud, then the child “tells back” what they heard.

What else?

Narrating stories, per se, has been around as long as people have told stories.  When Charlotte Mason was an educator, narration was not being used to educate children, as we can read in her own words in “The Art of Narrating” in Home Education, Volume 1 of the Charlotte Mason Series.

But she pretty much describes a simple way to begin using narration to help the child grow in so many of the habits they will need to become a life-long learner, such as attention, imagining, remembering, or thinking.

Key Points of the Basics

  • Narration comes naturally to children.
  • Don’t start before age 6.  Read aloud to them long before that age, just don’t ask them to narrate back, but graciously accept any retelling they may offer.
  • Start small with short fables.  Build up to longer stories slowly.
  • You read the story once (or a few pages as you get more advanced) and then they retell it.
  • Always use “well-chosen” books.
  • Go for 15 minutes or so.
  • When continuing a book or story the next day, start by asking them to narrate back what they remember from yesterday.
  • Try not to talk too much yourself.
  • Take turns if you have more than one child.
  • When they are fluent readers, they read independently and then come to narrate to you.
Narration Infographic

Pretty straightforward basics, right?

Why is Narration so Important?

So we find that narration can be simple to do – meaning that all you need is to read and retell, so your “curriculum” is just a book and a method. Straightforward as the process is, narration from a cognitive standpoint is actually fairly complex and not easy to do well – at first.  It takes a lot of practice.  Try it yourself – you should model what a good narration sounds like.

Try It Yourself

In our book club, which was recently reading Know and Tell by Karen Glass together (and which I highly recommend if you want to get deeper with narration), we would narrate parts of the book to each other.  And most of us tried to narrate to ourselves while we read each chapter.  It’s very hard to do well!  But every time you try helps you to learn the material.

To become good takes time. That’s why everyone recommends going slowly with narration.

Studies in Cognition

Cognitively, narration helps your child with so many of the brain functions needed in development, like attention, memory, language skills, and even executive functioning skills like sequencing and working memory.

According to Speech and Language Therapist, Tatyana Elleseff , “Narrative retelling bridges the gap between oral and written language and is important for appropriate reading and writing development (Snow et al, 1998).”

It amazes me that the more we learn about how the brain works, the more Charlotte Mason methods, like narration, seem to me to be just the thing for educating young minds.

My Experiences

Straightforward as narration sounds, execution is not so easy!

I have three sons, two who’ve recently graduated high school (while simultaneously getting associate’s degrees) and we started using Charlotte Mason methods, including narration, when my oldest were in second grade.  Each year, I would try to get better at using narration, with some years better than others.  But I have to admit, we’ve struggled with various aspects over the years.

My Biggest Trouble

I have to confess that consistency was my biggest problem.  There’s an easy fix for that if that has been your problem also… just start again today.  And repeat tomorrow.  Put it on your “to do list” or on your schedule. Or put it on your kid’s checklist or planner. Or put it on your loop. Or in your morning basket.

And try not to be hard on yourself. Just start again, wherever you are in the process

Tip:  I found that when I put “Narration” on my lists without it being attached to a subject, I would fail sooner.  Try something more specific, like “Narrate History Lesson,” or use a special symbol for the subjects you want your kids to narrate, or “Read Together (book) & Narrate.”

Why Is It Hard To Be Consistent?

Here are my excuses:

  • It didn’t seem like it was working.
  • It seemed like other subjects were more important.
  • When one of my sons struggled with it, it felt like we were getting nowhere.
  • When my sons the upper grades, it seemed too hard to keep up with the quantity of reading – we would run out of time.

Here are some rebuttals!

Doubts That It Works

When you are starting out using Charlotte Mason methods, especially narration, it’s sometimes hard to see the forest through the trees.

You start out just reading to your little kids and looking at some birds or trees on lots of nature walks.  It seems like mostly fun.  What could they possibly be learning?  Regular schooling sure seems like it is more work, with lots of “tangibles” like worksheets!

I confess that the confidence I feel now I definitely did NOT feel at first.  I’ve gotten this confidence through my experiences AND by watching my friends use the methods.  It’s actually much easier to see the growth in someone else’s kids because you don’t see them every day.

Get Together with Others

So, I recommend getting together with other people who are using the same methods.  I’m in a book club for Charlotte Mason-style homeschooling moms and narration is always a topic we share ideas about. When they were little, I just got together with some other moms and we would talk about one topic each time we met, like narration, nature or picture study.  I’m also in a co-operative that meets regularly to work on some of these subjects together.  Some of these groups just formed by me asking a few people if they wanted to get together, and I found out about others by asking a few people if they ever tried Charlotte Mason style homeschooling.

You Can Do This

The biggest takeaway that I have for new moms trying this method is that you can do this.  It works.  Give it time.


When you think the other subjects take priority, just remember short lessons.  If math is taking too long, try breaking it up into two 15-minute lessons to help your child learn to bring their own attention and focus back to the lesson.  Put a completely different lesson in the middle that uses a different part of the brain, like music or artist study.  We liked to actually get up and do some “brain gym” type of exercises if we needed a refocusing break.

Meanwhile, I’m going to assume you are reading aloud to your child.  We still read aloud together occasionally – so you can keep going with a family read aloud well into their teen years.  But at a younger age, it brings them stories they can’t read themselves yet, and at the same time gives them a rich working vocabulary.

When you read to your child, spend 15 minutes of it in a narration session.  Just part of one book, once a day.  You don’t have to narrate every subject or every book.  In fact, you shouldn’t! Work your way up to more.

Start small.  It really is worth it in the long run.

Think You Are Getting Nowhere?

Think again.  This method works.  Trust it and give it time.

Note: If there are tears involved, you need to re-think what you are doing.  Are you trying to go to fast? Are you trying to do too much? Are there other learning or development issues involved? Go back to the basics.  Always do what works for your family.

Time Management

So much can be said about time management.  But accept the fact that at some point in your child’s learning, you WON’T be able to pre-read every book they are reading, especially if you have more than one child. It usually happens around high school.

Around that time, our schedules got more crowded with activities that required a drive somewhere.  So I began asking for narrations in the car.  “What did you read about today?”

Fit it in where you can – again, you can make it work for your family.  Take tips and advice from others, but it will look unique in your home.

Narration Troubleshooting

My struggles will be different than your struggles.  By talking with others, I’ve seen some other problems come up.  I’ve made you a chart to help.

Narration Troubleshooting Chart

Download Your Troubleshooting Narration Guide Freebie

For More Reading

  1. The Charlotte Mason Method of Narration
  2. 5 Steps to Successful Narration
  3. What You Need to Know About How to Use Narration
  4. Narration: A Homeschool Game Changer
  5. Narration – The Best Way to Learn
  6. Narration Beats Tests
  7. Narration for a Charlotte Mason Homeschool
  8. Charlotte Mason Narration Help

Just Remember

You can do this! Charlotte Mason narration is a valuable tool to add to your homeschooling toolbox.

Have you tried Charlotte Mason narration before? Did you run into any of these issues? Share your experience in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Jean has been homeschooling her three sons since they were born. Trained in mechanical engineering, she has been a manufacturing engineer specializing in automation and process improvement, a technical writer and software trainer for proprietary systems, an instructional designer, and a web designer and trainer back when the internet was invented. For the past 20 years, she has been focusing on educating the next generation. She now blogs at Self Educating Family.

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Charlotte Mason Narration

4 thoughts on “Do You Make These Mistakes with Charlotte Mason Narration?”

  1. Awesome information! Yes, consistency is the homeschool struggle. 🙂 When first starting out with younger children who are new to narration, it is important to have grace and patience. Praise at any attempt goes a long way and eventually, it becomes second nature.

    Such a wonderful tool for the student to understand and remember the material they are covering. I found narration helpful, once my boys were good at it, in science and history to show us what was understood and what needed a little extra attention. Great job Jean.

    Heidi, I just found your site. I love your mission of taking the fear out of homeschooling. So important!

    • Thank you April! All wonderful suggestions and I couldn’t agree more. It’s a process and it won’t happen overnight.

      I’m so glad you found my site. Thanks for reading the article!

  2. Very complete teaching about narration! We did narration in our homeschool. One child could narrate easily, while one had auditory challenges which made it much harder. All children have different giftings and abilities… I would say give grace to a child who struggles with this.

    • Yes, I agree! Children with auditory processing issues may struggle with this and families may need to make some adjustments. This is a great reminder! Thank you.


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