Narration and the Very Young
First Stones in the Foundation
Early school in this curriculum includes Pre-Preparatory, Preparatory and Year One students and these years are foundational years. Narration, like reading and writing, is an ever-evolving skill that further develops as children grow. There are many key components to this development, but the groundwork begun in the early years is certainly one of them, playing a central role in the narrator a child becomes.
Early habits and attitudes, both in children and in parents, are the first stones to be placed in this foundation. Parents and teachers, the forefront of this entire endeavor, need to examine their own attitude and goals in order to best begin the habits and methods needed for narrating. It must be understood that reading aloud quality literature, listening and engaging children in conversations, respecting children as individuals and teaching the habit of attention all contribute significantly to how well children narrate later.
Listening to quality literature, poetry, music and nursery rhymes will build good narrators in that all of these develop the ear to the rhythm of words, the structure of sentences and the imagery created by description and verse. Reading aloud instills in children the knowledge that words, written and spoken, have meaning. These words strung together are a form of communication and that they must learn to decode these words so that they can participate in this literary conversation. Follow these moments of reading loud with lots of discussion. This should not be a formal, regimented type of discussion, but a free-flowing, informal, family discussion about what was just read. Invite and support all thoughts and ideas from everyone listening. In “Lessons before School”, Somervell writes: “…boys who read and remembered were very often boys who had been read to aloud a good deal at home, and I have no doubt, had been accustomed to talk over the stories read to them” (Somervell pp. 295-302). This article writes about the importance of what takes place before children begin formal lessons. Additionally, Mrs. E. L. Franklin tells us in her Parents’ Review article that “Verbal accuracy and power of narration as well as the power of imagining may be much nourished in these early years. Story telling is always a delight to children, and I believe that we should, from the beginning, give them a knowledge of true literature” (Franklin pp. 890-898). The stories and verse awaken the imagination of children and spark a desire to reflect on them and then, in turn, reproduce them in their own way.
Along with reading aloud, regular conversations with small children will go a long way towards teaching them that their words and ideas matter. Children are more likely to want to share what they think and know if they feel that others are actually listening to them. This is a crucial step in showing children that narration is a beautiful extension of who they are, what they have to say and how they communicate. It trains them to recognize that they can gather their inner reactions and thoughts together, arrange them in a logical order and communicate them in a way to which others can respond. Narration is more than just retelling a story or a moment-it is children understanding that they play a role in how this world is viewed and that they can communicate this. This knowledge then changes how they view themselves! Children who narrate well later already understand this and have confidence in sharing. This helps reduce the likelihood that they will see narration as something they “have to do” or as something that is of no real consequence.
Parents who listen to their children teach them that what they say and think has value. It also shows them respect and goes back to the fundamental principle that “Children are born persons”. Respecting children gives children the confidence to want to share, since the atmosphere of respect is filled with support and encouragement and not criticism and annoyance. “Probably the most fundamental principle, and even in this age of child worship, the most neglected, is respect for the children. A respect which will forbid our neglecting their environment, or giving them anything but what is really good and true, both as regards the people and the things which surround them. We know that the little child does notice, does see and does hear, and we are careful that our respect for his powers in these directions shall act as a safe guard” (Franklin pp. 890-898).
Equally as important as reading aloud, conversations and respect is the building of each child’s ability to pay attention. This is reinforced with the training made clear in Charlotte Mason’s books that a reading should only occur once. This teaches children to listen carefully, since they will only have one opportunity to hear it. This focused concentration is also trained when children explore nature. Their happy explorations increase their desire to share what they’ve discovered. They will want to pay attention so that they can tell about it. “The habit of attention is, perhaps, almost the very best equipment with which a child can start his schooldays, and probably no means of forming this is so generally successful as that of letting the children learn to be good listeners. If they are encouraged to relate what they have heard, their powers of narration will be strengthened, and gradually they will reconstruct the ideas received and will tell stories, the apparent originality and beautiful imagination of which will surprise the heavier adult mind” (Franklin pp. 890-898).
Formal narration does not to begin until age six. Children under the age of six might narrate, but the expectation for it should not exist. Any type of narration at this level should be thought of as informal and this can be seen in several different ways. “Until he is six, let Bobbie narrate only when and what he has a mind to. He must not be called upon to tell anything” (Mason, Home Education 231).
Children often wish to share their exciting news of the day with another family member or relative. Their news will reflect the joy that often only small children can find in everyday life. As adults we begin to take such small wonders for granted, but for young children they are often still very new. Perhaps they want to tell about seeing a wild flower blooming along a familiar trail, a ladybug landing nearby, a dog racing around the yard to avoid a bath, etc. Encourage children to share and tell about these events as often as they wish. This is a “type” of narration in that they are describing something they saw or recalling something that happened. These sharing moments are the first steps in narration, but they should not be named as that and they should always come forth naturally.
Narrating is an art, like poetry-making or painting, because it is there, in every child’s mind, waiting to be discovered, and is not the result of any process of disciplinary education. A creative fiat calls it forth. ‘Let him narrate’; and the child narrates, fluently, copiously, in ordered sequence, with fit and graphic details, with a just choice of words, without verbosity or tautology, so soon as he can speak with ease. This amazing gift with which normal children are born is allowed to lie fallow in their education. Bobbie will come home with a heroic narrative of a fight he has seen between ‘Duke’ and a dog in the street. It is wonderful! He has seen everything, and he tells everything with splendid vigor in the true epic vein; but so ingrained is our contempt for children that we see nothing in this but Bobbie’s foolish childish way! Whereas here, if we have eyes to see and grace to build, is the ground-plan of his education. (Mason, Home Education 231)
Narration can also be found in the way that children reenact a favorite scene from an adventure story to which they were listening. This story or poem sparks their imagination and they might bring these scenes to life with plush animals, dramatic play, toys, etc. Sometimes these reenactments do not occur on exactly the same day on which the story was first told. Children may digest these thoughts and ideas and then reveal what they’ve absorbed another time though play. Observe these reenactments from a quiet distance unless children specifically call for an audience. Just as they may wish to reenact a scene using toys to represent characters, they may also wish to reenact scenes with themselves as the characters. Access to play silks, hats, dress-up clothes, play dishes and other pretend play props and items will make this not only more enjoyable but will offer inspiration, too. “Therefore it is well that children should, at any rate, have the outlet of narration, that they should tell the things they know in full detail; and, when the humor takes them, ‘play’ the persons, act the scenes that interest them in their reading” (Mason, Formation of Character pp. 305-306).
This same type of reenactment can be expressed creatively as well. Give your children as much free access to Play-Doh, modeling clay, blocks, LEGO® bricks and other tools to build or sculpt. Children can then express scenes, characters, animals, events and objects from stories, poems, songs and nature through the creation of models.
Overall, the theme to be noted is that children can express or extend from what they’ve learned or heard through conversation, play and creation. These should be encouraged and if observed can be seen as early “narrations”.
Informal narration is always voluntary, although daily parent-child conversations can encourage children to share their thoughts and ideas. This can be done by simply asking questions and being interested in what they say. While having these conversations, it’s important for parents and teachers to model good listening skills, as this teaches children that when they speak then we are listening. We show this by not interrupting them or looking away when they are speaking. Children, too, need to be held accountable to these same interpersonal skills. “Children should be allowed to talk and ask questions; no narration should be expected. Children will volunteer their own small experiences about the matters that are brought up, will bring things from home, will repeat what they have heard Daddy or Mummy say about the events of the day and indeed provide a large part of the carrying on. But care is necessary. Children must be trained not to interrupt each other or the teacher, to talk quietly, to ask questions one at a time” (Kitching 13).
In the Parents’ Review, Helen Wix writes:
Very young children, in the nursery class, are not expected to narrate, but often they insist on doing so because of this instinct to ‘tell all about it’ to somebody. How many of us can refrain from telling that good story we heard yesterday? And anything that must be remembered, do we not repeat it even if it is only ‘First turning to the left and third to the right?’ Narration is extraordinarily satisfying to the narrator… (pp. 61-63)
How Not to Handle Beginning Narrations