Did you ever sit down to write something and have nothing to say? A likely case if you have been asked to write a report. Our mind races to where to begin, what do we have to share and how should we do it? Curriculums on report writing can be very helpful in teaching us structure. However, a step before applying the writing style is to determine what we are writing. The content can come from books, experiences, newspapers, articles, and a host of other possibly not so reliable media sources. In choosing books to read, one will easily find possibly thousands of books on any given topic. Each author has something to say and it’s up to us as parents and teachers to determine if it’s truly worth our child’s ear. Also, with so many treasured books, we must be certain our child is tuned into well written literature.
A well written book is called a living book. To be alive means to fully engage, to draw in the reader. At a first glance one can read a few sentences and know if the book has strong verbs that bring the reader into the storyline. Are there many adjectives and adverbs? They will help make the story more interesting. However, even with an engaging plot we must know if the book conveys a point that we are hoping to impart on the minds of our children. If you are not sure which books to choose, ask a friend who has older children who you know read living books. Or look on this blog and you will see plenty of book recommendations. Once you have found an author you like, they often will have written other wonderful books.
Once we have discovered rich books, we must take our time in reading the book. Our children must have time to tell back or narrate parts of the story to us. It is through the habit of telling back, or narrating, that they will learn to pay attention to the story. These details they hear may bring them into the story and they should unveil the author’s points or themes in his story. Whether we are trying to teach about a period in history or about a culture, there should be some main ideas we are trying to convey to our children to mold and shape their character. Oftentimes, the book will point out negative traits in a character that will help our children from making the same mistakes. Very young children often walk around repeating or mimicking much of what they have heard. This too is their way of narrating. Acting out stories, drawing pictures, and making up songs are other ways our children often express themselves and narrate. Narration is a tool that expresses what our kids know and also reinforces ideas that they are picking up through their readings and experiences.
When we go on vacation we often cannot wait to share our experience with a friend or family member. That heart connection is the same experience our children may or may not have with their reading. If a child is engaged with a quality book, a living book, they will naturally want to tell someone about the book. If they don’t, then encourage them by asking a few questions. Once they begin to share, or narrate, look at them and just listen. If your child doesn’t have anything to share about a book even after your gentle promptings, perhaps the book is not well written. Read it aloud and listen to how it sounds. Does the book bring you alongside the author on their journey? Do you feel empathetic towards one of the characters? If no, put the book down and pick up a different one! If yes, then pick up a pen and start writing. Your child will likely be impressed to see just how much they have to say and to write! Typing the narration can bring an official feel to your child’s work. Increase the font size, double-space, print it out, and he may even ask to do written narrations! Once we build the confidence in our child that he has something to say and can write, we can begin moving into more formalizing writing such as persuasive essays or structured reports.
Charlotte Mason recommends teaching these more formalized writing styles at around age 14 but I believe you can begin once you are very comfortable in your child’s oral narrations. Adding the task of applying writing styles at a young age seems unnecessary when really we are having them read to gather ideas from books, pickup excellent language and to develop a love for learning. The more your child reads quality literature and has time to narrate; you will likely hear him speak words he has been reading. Spelling can also be improved just by reading living books and doing written narrations from them. Written narrations are your child’s work of art and your pen should not be marking it up for the first year or so. Even after then, you want to be sure to leave the creativity to your child and not squash their efforts. If my son was telling me about hitting his first homerun with the bases loaded and I corrected his grammar throughout his story he would quickly lose his zeal. Be an encourager, use copy work of scripture, poems or speeches to teach and correct grammar.
Now that we have determined we need to have our children do oral and written narrations for awhile, have fun. Asking them to write about what they just read is one way; however you may choose to change things up to challenge them. Perhaps they could:
Tell what they think is going to happen next
Tell about their favorite scene
Act out a scene they read about
Draw the scene
Draw the scene by creating a cartoon strip with captions
Write a different ending to the story
Tell about a field trip
Create instruction on something they created and what purpose it serves (boys love legos and erector sets)
The opportunities are infinite, it’s just most important to make it fun for both of you. Written narrations help reinforce their knowledge in that area and strengthen their writing skills at the same time. So if your child is new to written narrations, read quality living books, listen to them narrate and have fun ! Allow them to be creative in their writings 🙂