Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Tips for Leading a Child in Narration

"Attentiveness is a vital part of understanding and remembering, for one does not know what one has not attended to. The practice of oral and written narration is a way for the learner to acquire knowledge as well as to be held accountable in an active way for what is seen, read, and heard."

- Maryellen St. Cyr in When Children Love to Learn

Besides Charlotte Mason's writings, When Children Love to Learn has been the most helpful book in explaining the hows and whys of the CM method to me. In particular, the chapter on narration has been one that I have read over and over again. For a mother about to begin a year of schooling in which narration is meant to be a pivotal tool in nearly every subject, concrete help like that found in that book is very much appreciated :) Over the last few months, I have been gathering together a few "tips" in how to correctly implement narration methods with my oldest daughter. Several of the tips are word-for-word from When Children Love to Learn - I've denoted those quotes with an asterisk. Other tips have come through the CM Moms of Many email group or through information I have come across in the last year or so (but can't remember the source). Here's my little compilation of CM narration tips:

1) Before beginning a first narration, many mothers have found it useful to first narrate once or twice for their child. A short, lively story that captures the child's imagination is desirable for a first exercise in narration.

2) Read (or at least skim) the passage beforehand to note any vocabulary words or phrases that may be exceptionally difficult. Also note dates, cumbersome proper nouns, geographical references, or foreign words that may need a bit of explaining before the passage is read. Some readings will require more "background prep" than others.

3) Write all of the more difficult proper nouns out on a chalkboard/dry erase board before the passage is read.Allow the child to refer to these words when narrating.

4) Begin a lesson with a short narration of the previous lesson.*

5) Explain that you will be requiring a narration from the passage, then read it only ONCE. This is a very important point. As St. Cyr notes, "It is impossible to fix attention on that which we have heard before and know we shall hear again."

6) Narrate less before you narrate more.* By this, it is meant that a young child should narrate shorter passages than a child who has been narrating for some time. With the progression of time and skill, narration passages become longer.

7) Also consider the type of book when determining the length of the passage for a narration. With a closely packed book, one or two paragraphs between narrations are sufficient.*

8) Never interrupt or prompt a person narrating even if a person mispronounces a word. Persons soon forget what they were going to say next when interrupted.* (I am trying to figure out how to record the narration without having to interrupt in order to catch up with my daughter. I'm considering tape recording her narrations and then writing them).

9) When the narration is finished, ask the child if he would like to include anything else. Now is the time to correct errors in content if they are present. There are not to be corrections for grammar and such. Content is the important point in narration. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation (for written narrations) can and should be addressed at a separate time.

10) If there are more than a few children, you may ask (at the end of a narration) if anyone else has anything further they would like to add.

11) At the first, narration should be oral. Written narrations only come after a child is both developmentally ready to handle all the different facets of composition smoothly, and has also had sufficient experience with oral work.

More to come as we "trial and error" our way through Year One :)

Wise Words From An Older Mama

I recently received this group email from an older, homeschooling mom of a large family and I asked her if I could share it here. I was really blessed, and I thought someone else might be, too :) The following are her thoughts:

"I have sat at many get togethers discussing 'how to get it done' with
many moms. We all sat around and scratched our heads in wonder.

Being a mom of a large family is a full-time job and homeschooling
is a full-time job. That is two full-time jobs for one woman. That is
a tall order. I felt guilty about all that I was not doing for so
long. Now I am starting to realize that I can only do so much and I
need to adjust my expectations to reality.

Here are some things that helped me.

1. Teach your kids (3rd grade and above) to self teach. I really enjoy
teaching my children, doing unit studies, notebooking etc. But their
are times (like pregnancy) when I just can't. They can still get a
good education at these times. Give them a Math book, some high
quality literature and some copywork or written narrations and let
them learn on their own for awhile until life evens out a bit.

2. Simplify. Put away all the dust-collecting knickknacks. Limit toys.
Cook simple meals (pot roast with potatoes and carrots in a crock).
Limit children's clothing. Keep toys in a central location like a play
room or familyroom so that only one area of the house need be messed up.

3. If you have kids age 6 and up, delegate housework. My oldest
daughter did all the housework and some of the cooking all on her own
when I was extremely ill with CFIDS. Not ideal, but she managed and
learned responsibility in the process. I no longer feel guilty about
handing out chores to my children. They learn so much that they will
never learn from books.

4. I don't schedule more than one activity in a week. I don't schedule
more than one activity on the weekend. I just get too wore out (and I
am not currently pregnant either!) I just cannot get the schooling
done if I schedule too many outside activities. Sometimes we feel
guilty if our children are missing out on all the opportunities
available to them outside the home. I don't allow myself to feel
guilty about this anymore.

5. Set aside time to clean. We do a half day of school on Fridays and
spend the rest of the day cleaning house. Daddy is happy to have a
clean, orderly home for the weekend. We do not do any heavy duty
cleaning the other 4 weekdays, but focus on school and meals. If you
haven't met FlyLady, you will love her book and website. She saved my

6. Use audiobooks. We check out audiobooks of classic literature to
listen to at bedtime and while traveling. We love Joy Hakims History
of US series. So my children are being "read to" while I am not doing
the reading.

7. Use your computer. I like Phonics Tutor to teach phonics to K-3rd
graders. Very effective, although not very exciting and colorful.
There are also some good free online spelling tutors, math flashcard
drills and even SAT vocabulary drills. Assign one of these activities
or hand them a good book and take a nap. (I have to jump in here and say I prefer the book idea, lol)

8. Make and keep a regular school schedule with strict hours. This was
a tough one for me. I realized if I held a job outside the home, I
could not schedule anything in the hours I was working. I could not
take phone calls while I was at work. I could not check my e-mail
either. So I try to view my schooling as my "career" of sorts and
don't answer the phone unless there is an emergency. I schedule
doctor's appts late in the day after we are usually finished with school.

9. Make sleep a priority. I am crabby and emotional if I get sleep
deprived. I also get less done in the long run because I cannot think
clearly and efficiently. So I will allow myself to sleep in or nap if
I am up with a fussy, teething baby or sick child. I view sleep
deprivation as dangerous. It can result in accidents (physical or
spiritual). I have come to see it as setting a stumbling block before
me if I allow myself not to get enough sleep. I am more likely to
scold and yell at my children in an ungodly manner. I just plain find
it difficult not to have a bad attitude when I am overtired. I act
just like my 3 year old when he misses his nap!

10. Keep time with God #1. If I neglect time to nurture my
relationship with God, I don't receive the wisdom and guidance I need
to manage each day.

So here are some ideas I have employed. I still have my days and weeks
when things go awry and we don't get much done. At those times, I try
(but admittedly don't always succeed) to trust the Lord that He is
sovereign and we will get done what is needful in His plan for our lives."

Coping Strategies (When All Your Children Are Little!)

My dear baby boy is now 3 weeks old :) Can you believe it? Time is flying by! Well, at least it feels that way if it's not between the hours of 3:30 and 6:30 pm on a weekday. Then, time draaaaags by until another adult face shows up in the doorway, lol. The children have been wonderful, though. I truly praise God for the smooth transition He has so graciously given to our little family. I also thank Him for little tips and hints friends have given along the way that have provided an arsenal of "coping techniques" for trying hours (or days). Three practical helps from friends top the list for me.

The first, far and away, is to occupy the other children with something purposeful and productive while I nurse or rock the baby. I've been trying to make the most of the time by having Punkin brush up on her Dostoyevsky. Sorry, I just couldn't resist posting this photo ;)

The real #1 help for me has been the advice to have a plan for the day at the beginning of the day. This "daily plan" has taken on various forms through the last six years. My "schedules" have ranged from highly detailed and neatly written out when SweetP was an infant to, now, mentally thrown together just upon rising in the morning and somewhat subject to last minute changes throughout the day. But, I have a plan! ;) Often, I lie in bed just long enough in the morning to pray and get some idea of what I'm doing that day. I may have a basic idea several days in advance, but not always. Somethings are given and fairly consistent. Lunch always begins around 12 or 12:30pm. Dinner is nearly always between 6:15 and 6:45pm. Punkin's naptime falls nearly always around 1 or 1:30pm, etc. Then, the rest of what I hope to fit into the day falls in the spaces between these set times. I have a friend who literally manages her home on a schedule broken down into 15 minute increments. She has a large, homeschooling family and this seems to work well for them. I might get there someday, by necessity, but - right now - I think I'd be a nutcase. I all too easily become a slave to the schedule, stressing out over getting "behind" 20 minutes here or there. I have a horrible time keeping priorities when I'm so distracted by the next "to do" item on my list. I really, really need a general plan of action, though. A direction for me and for each of the children. "Idle hands are the devil's workshop", and idle little minds are worse! Thank you, Lord, for friends who have encouraged and modeled the importance of a plan for the day :)

The #2 fantastic tip that has saved me more than once from sinking into a sobbing heap in the middle of the kitchen, is cribtime... 30-45 minutes for the older baby or young toddler to play, quietly in her crib. To those who haven't done it, this sounds like a far fetched idea, but - trust me - it works! Around the time that the girls dropped their morning naps, I started them out with "cribtime". Personally, I begin at 10 to 15 minutes and work my way up. I decide when it's over. I'm careful to not reward fussing by ending cribtime with a whiny or crying child. Instead, I wait for a quiet moment (they fuss at first when cribtime is new) then go and get them, praising them for playing quietly). It hasn't taken long to get to 30-45 minutes of quiet play on a consistent basis. It is really, really important to make certain the crib is completely safe. All toys must be chosen very carefully. No small parts, long cords, broken pieces. Larger toys are major dangers for the toddler that may use them as steps to climb up on the crib rail. Safety first. I leave the door to the room cracked an inch or two, set up a baby monitor, and we both enjoy cribtime! I can take a shower, lie down, nurse without distraction, teach phonics, or whatever else I may need to do. Baby benefits from increased attention span (she can't wander all over from this to that), skills in entertaining herself, and a period of restful quiet, too.

Once the girls have gotten too old for the crib, I've moved them to "quiet roomtime" in a well baby-proofed bedroom with a baby gate in the doorway. Even now, at 4 and a half, Shug loves roomtime. Sometimes children, just like adults, need a little time alone with relative peace and quiet. It can be a really positive thing for everyone :) SweetP and Shug don't nap anymore, but nearly every afternoon they have quiet roomtime with a few well-chosen toys, activities, and books. This is SweetP's time to read alone without interruption. I nearly always take a little nap ;)

Last but not least, the third little strategy is Book Time. Forgive the "schedule titles", lol, but the girls really like officially naming different parts of the day :) When I need ten to fifteen minutes of quiet, or uninterrupted time - book time is a blessing! Ten to fifteen minutes of quiet time with each child in a specific seat with a few books. All I need to do is say, "Quiet book time, girls!" and they're off to the bookshelves and then to their respective places in the family room until I'm finished.

Sometimes I may tell the older girls to choose specific books, like "science" books or "history" books, but usually I let them choose 3-4 of their own preferences. I choose Punkin's books for her. Anyone who's waited on a 2-year-old to decide anything knows why ;) And that's it. I try to save booktime for when I'm nursing Little Dude mid-morning, but it's also a great resource when I'm trying to make dinner in a hurry. They aren't allowed, generally speaking, to run back and forth from the bookcase getting new books. Part of the point is that they pay attention, real attention, to the books they chose first. Again, this is a wonderful attention skill builder, too :)

So, there you go! Those are my big secrets of staying sane each day :) None of them are my original ideas - well, booktime is sort of an original spin-off of another idea - but are ideas that were lovingly passed down to me from older, wiser moms. So, I lovingly do the same, although I'm not much older than many of you and definitely lacking in the "wiser" category. Hope something can be a blessing to one of you ;)