Know and Tell: The Art of Narration

Screen Shot 2018-05-19 at 9.34.16 AM

My homeschooling style can best be described as “relaxed classical” or “love of learning through living books.” In ordinary words, I am homeschooling for heaven not Harvard. That said, if God’s plan for my children includes Harvard, I want them to be adequately prepared to meet the challenge. In our homeschool, we are focused on cultivating character and deepening our faith such that each of us can pursue whatever vocation God is calling us to. Describing our philosophy this way helps me to find the balance between scholastic pursuits and soul tending. In the spirit of good stewardship, I want to waste no gifts that God has given to us, whether they be intellectual, spiritual, physical, or experiential. I want to raise my children to know, love, and serve the Lord here so that they may be happy with Him forever in heaven. Everything we do has that in view.

This kind of ideal sounds beautiful because it is. The hard part is that every homeschool family knows that translating the ideal into the practical can be paralyzingly challenging. Certain schools of educational thought, however, have made this ideal-to-application process easier for me to facilitate. In studying classical and Charlotte Mason models as well as taking note of the educational practices of the past, which can be found in good literature, my husband and I are convicted of certain specific “must-dos” for our homeschool. We do a great deal of memory work, we are learning Latin, we believe in pursuing a well-rounded education, most of our texts are literature-based, and we spend a great deal of time out of doors. Because my children are just that – children, I want to make sure that they have a childhood that is rich with play, meaningful work, and good exercise. I hope that by safeguarding their childhood, I will be better positioning them to become men and women of character with intellectual, moral, and physical stamina to do what is right. I think that this is the heart of classical education.

Along the way, I have come across a few resources which have made a marked difference in our homeschool experience. As the homeschooling market has exploded, however, I have also invested a lot of time and money into resources that were disappointing. Those experiences have made me skeptical of the many new books which are rolling out every season.

I am a purist. Typically, I like to read original sources. So when trying to understand Charlotte Mason, I strongly prefer to read her own words rather than those of someone who is repackaging what she said. Last year my reading buddy and I read through volumes one and six of Charlotte Mason’s Home Education series. I loved that reading. It was worth every minute and gave me excellent focus without being overly prescriptive. In my reading, I became deeply convicted that the art of narration was a must-do for our homeschool. The problem was that I was having a very hard time figuring out how to teach my children to narrate.

When looking for videos, blog posts, programs, etc. that would aid me in understanding what to expect, how to mentor, and what to do with narration, I was disappointed in my findings.

Many friends recommended reading Karen Glass’s Mind to Mind and Consider This. Again, I am a purist. It was my understanding that Karen was a modern writer interpreting Charlotte. I wanted to read Charlotte. Because I had success reading Charlotte’s books, I felt like reading one of her interpreters would just be a waste of time. But this narration problem was eating at me.

When Karen Glass’s book Know and Tell came out, I was sufficiently frustrated with my efforts to be interested in something, anything, useful that could get us unstuck.

Again, I am a skeptic when it comes to new books. I wasn’t eager to part with my precious resources on a gamble. So, I waited. And then the reviews started coming in. And my friends took a few interior snapshots to help me see what I would be buying. And, again, I was desperate.

Hoping my friends were right… hoping that my instincts were wrong… hoping that my resources would not be wasted… I ordered the book and said a prayer or two or more….

I was totally wrong about Karen Glass. Glass is not regurgitating Charlotte Mason. This beautiful book has convinced me that Glass is an educational philosopher in her own right, and a darn good one at that. Her love for Charlotte and her understanding of Charlotte’s methods is inspiring. More importantly, her ability to communicate deeply nuanced philosophy to parents of all stripes with kids all over the spectrum of ages, preparations, and learning needs is nothing short of impressive. In Know and Tell, she does a brilliant job of communicating the essentials of narration and then applying them to the varied experiences of modern homeschoolers. She answers all of the questions that no one else does:

  • What if you’re starting with a sixth grader?
  • What about a child on the autism spectrum?
  • How many words should I expect from an 11-year-old just learning how to do written narration?
  • What if their punctuation is terrible?
  • At what point do I make them go and edit?
  • What is an acceptable effort?
  • What happens when it doesn’t feel like we are making progress?
  • What do I do with a preschooler who is not ready to narrate but wants to mimic his siblings?

Glass has intelligent and practical advice for just about every situation. Her recommendations are well reasoned, grounded in true understanding of what is at play, and supported by research and examples. Peppered throughout the text are countless examples of real life oral and written narrations from children in various stages of development. Also attached to almost every chapter are tables and charts which help a mother know at a glance approximately where her child should be. Far from condescending, this book is a friendly mentor and a guide.

In the last two months that I have been slowly reading and savoring Know and Tell, the narrations in my home have gone from painful to delightful. Having a good understanding of what is right to expect has taken the burden off of my children to meet standards they were not able to meet. Having a good understanding of what it is that we are about, has made it easier for me to enjoy walking this road with my children.

Screen Shot 2018-05-19 at 9.34.16 AM

Without question, I consider this book to be one of the fundamental tools in the homeschooler’s toolbox. This is one I would recommend to any new homeschool family just starting out or any veteran homeschooler looking to enrich their experience.

I am deeply indebted to Karen Glass and this little treasure.


(The feature image in this post is “Jungle Tales” by James Shannon.)