I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

Reading Comprehension the Charlotte Mason Way

Reading Comprehension the Charlotte Mason Way- How it works in my Homeschool

The dreaded book report. 
It's a black-and-white inquisition designed to prove whether or not a child read a book and actually understood what he read. 

I remember loathing the weekly book reports assigned to me in Mrs. Hurst's second-grade class. Each week, I'd pick up a new-to-me book and be transported to meet far out people in far off places. I'd get lost in the language of literature only to be dragged back to reality when Mrs. H handed out those hateful book report forms. She meant well. It was her simple way of being able to assess the comprehension and completion of 35 students. To her credit, she added cute little clip art and awarded scratch-n-sniff stickers whenever appropriate (Scratch-n-sniff stickers were like childhood gold on the 1980s playground. There was a whole underground market for them by the swing set every afternoon. Don't tell my mom.) But in the end, her little mimeographed report forms were nothing but joy killers making an entire class of reading hopefuls disdain the very idea of reading. For every book we read, we had to complete a lengthy fill-in-the-blank style report. 

Reading became work, so I didn't want to do it anymore.  

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Reading Comprehension the Charlotte Mason Way- How it works in my Homeschool

Sadly, so many homeschoolers repeat this same dismal scenario in an admirable attempt at assessing reading comprehension.

While I think there are definite benefits to teaching the skills of writing an expository book report/review in the upper grades, I don't see the point of assigning them to elementary kids. In fact, I think book reports in homeschool just end up sabotaging a love of reading in your home.

Book reports are designed for classroom use. They are a just-add-water-and-stir method for one teacher to prove the reading frequency and understanding of 30+ children.

You're the mother of your child. You see him read. You don't need him to prove that he's done it. 

That being said, I can empathize with any mother's desire to prove comprehension. Your child may have read the book, but does he actually understand it? Is he able to follow the progression of the plot? Can he unravel all the new-to-him words? And if so, has he moved those terms from his recessive vocabulary (words that he can comprehend and respond to) to his expressive vocabulary (words that he can actually use in proper context; word in his personal lexicon of conversation and writing)?

Reading Comprehension the Charlotte Mason Way- How it works in my Homeschool

Narration in a Nutshell

That's where narration comes in to play. In it's simplest form, narration is a word coined by 20th-century, British educator, Charlotte Mason. It comes in two basic forms, oral and written. And is a gentle way to foster comprehension as well as build natural grammar and mechanics skills. Narration is where reading and comprehension collide.

Unlike the drill-and-kill (textbooks and/or book reports) form of comprehension, narration is a slow-and-steady way to train the mind. Progress won't always be immediate. But it will be lasting.

Narration reinforces a child's natural desire to want to share about a personal experience...to recall and retell all the events that matter to him. We're all born natural storytellers. That is God-breathed in us. Narration provides a simple outlet for kids to tell (or retell) stories and encourages them to own the knowledge they've gained.

Unlike elementary book reports that just require the parroting of someone else's thoughts and ideas, narration demands that a child organize the ideas into a concise summary and allows him to use his own unique voice to deliver them. When a child puts newly learned information into his own words or recounts the plot of a recently read fiction chapter, he claims that information as an inheritance. It becomes his. Those thoughts, ideas, and literary experiences slowly move from his short term memory to his long term memory with every retelling. 

Reading Comprehension the Charlotte Mason Way- How it works in my Homeschool

What Narration Looks Like in My Home

Narration comes in three different forms in my home. 

Non-fiction written narration

For content-oriented learning like history, science, and geography, we use narration in tandem with illustration. We notebook. After we read a book or passage, we have a brief discussion about it. I usually ask a few questions to help my children recall key terms, dates, names. I jot these and any other pertinent information that they all remember down on a dry erase board. This provides a springboard for my children as they write a brief paragraph and create an illustration about the day's reading. The whiteboard helps them spell highly technical terms or difficult names correctly and also acts as a memory trigger. 

Each notebook page has a specific theme. And while all of my kids notebook about the same topic, their notebooking abilities are varied do to their wide age range. My second grader might include only two sentences detailing the main idea of our reading while my eighth grader might create two to three paragraphs of summary. Both show comprehension at an age-appropriate level.

Reading Comprehension the Charlotte Mason Way- How it works in my Homeschool

Fiction oral narration

As simple as it sounds, most reading comprehension assessment done in my home comes by way of face-to-face conversation. I talk...or more aptly, I LISTEN to them as they talk about the books they are reading. I ask questions and allow them each to recall interesting portions in their own words. Even if I haven't actually read the book myself, I can still engage in a meaningful conversation with my kids by simply asking a few fail-proof questions that are sure to cultivate oral narration. 

Fiction written narration

For one particular son, I encourage daily written narration of his mom-assigned book. He is a fluent reader so he no longer needs to read aloud to me. As he transitions from reading aloud to reading alone, I have him narrate his reading chapter by chapter. He keeps a reading notebook (a wide-rule spiral notebook.) Each day after he reads a chapter of his book, he writes a brief summary of what he read. 

Initially, I intentionally only required him to write 2-3 sentences of narration each day. In the same way that the 140 characters of twitter require a tweeter to be very precise with their word selection, a 2-3 sentence summary required my son to really hone his thoughts down to the one main idea. It caused him to really think about the whole point of the chapter and craft his summary to reflect only that.

As time went on, his simple, unembellished sentences became more complex and interesting. Later, I allowed him to add more detail. 

Each day as he shows me his completed narration, I'm able to guide him towards proper spelling, grammar, and mechanics. So, not only are these short narrations helping him recall his reading in his own words, they're also gently drawing him towards better writing skills. 

A Final Word

Charlotte Mason had it right when she said,
"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."
Children narrate by nature. It doesn't have to be taught; it only has to be cultivated. Unlike book reports which seem to extinguish any flicker of reading love, narration ignites storytelling and fans the flame of comprehension and understanding.

Resources for a Charlotte Mason Education


  1. I so agree! I have never assigned my children a book review. We have book discussions over tea time. I am teaching them to do book reviews because real people in the real world write book reviews. No one in the real world writes a book report!

    1. Very good point. Book reviews, not book reports.

  2. How would you do narration when you work full time and have very busy evening schedules most of the week. I plan the assignments that my son works on independently, going to his dad (who stays home) when he has a problem, but Dad doesn't want to listen to oral narration every day and I'm out of the house 11 hours M-F and we're busy most evenings. My son would get tired of wiring all the time because he's an auditory/kinesthetic learner.

    1. I think the answer to your question has two parts...
      1. Remember that narrations should be short. Use them as the topping, not the whole meal of education.
      2. Could he record them on a phone to be listened to later? Could he call up a friend? Grandma? Neighbor?
      Try to split it up and do some written and some oral.

    2. That's an excellent idea! He loves making YouTube videos, so we could use that, too....I appreciate your help; sometimes I get so into the weeds with planning multiple subjects that it's hard to think out of the box.

  3. I don’t have any experiential or professionally advice but for my boys, even though they give good narrations, what we are reading will come out in their play. It becomes part of them so is a natural extension. There are different ways to narrate such as drawing a picture, making a Lego scene, etc. She’s 6 so I wouldn’t worry.

    1. Great advice! Yes, I love how it becomes a natural extension of their play.

  4. Thanks for the article. Can you tell me more about non-ficition narration?

    My students took to fiction narration quickly. How do they narrate something like MLK's Dream speech or his letter from jail? Do they just retell the points they remember in order as best they can?