A Charlotte Mason Education, Narration, Practical Application
Comments 4

Singing is to the Song Thrush as Narration is to the Child by Nancy Kelly

Now this art of telling back is Education and is very enriching. (Mason, 1925/1989, p. 292)

 My frazzled friend wrote to me with the following query, “With all the different levels and subjects of my children, are my days going to consist only of narration?”  So I wrote back, “Well, to a great extent, yes!  That is, if you want your children to be truly educated.”  While my concerned friend had a dreary vision of children standing in line to retell stories to her all day long, I think she has an incomplete view of what Mason so stylishly calls “The Art of Knowing” (1925/1989, p. 292).

First, we all know that if you can’t tell it back, you don’t really know it.  “Whatever a child or grown-up person can tell, that we may be sure he knows, and what he cannot tell, he does not know” (Mason, 1925/1989, p. 172).

Next, there is more than one way to narrate.  While oral and written narrations may be the primary methods, retelling may also be in the form of drawing, demonstrating, explaining, painting, acting, building, etc.  These stand in stark contrast to the monotony of worksheets, comprehension quizzes and multiple choice tests.

Finally, we need to remember that for most children, narration is a natural process that is innate.  Mason (1925/1989) tells us that narration “is as agreeable and natural to the average child or man as singing is to the song thrush, that ‘to know’ is indeed a natural function” (p. 292).  I read that the song thrush’s tune is, like narration, a repetition, but that it is the favorite songbird of many people with its strong clarity and flute-like tones.  Robert Browning’s lovely lines from Home Thoughts, from Abroad echo this.

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!

Narration is so very important and is in a sense, education itself.  Once you look into why it is used and what it actually does, you begin to understand Mason’s reliance on it.  Perhaps if my friend can think about the joyous melody of the song thrush when her children narrate, she will be reminded of the importance of this fine “Art of Knowing”.

(For further, in-depth look at narration, please read this article by Dr. Carroll Smith – Introducing Charlotte Mason’s Use of Narration.)


Mason, C. M. (1989).  A philosophy of education. Wheaton IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (Original work published in 1925).

© 2011 by Nancy Kelly


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. “…are my days going to consist only of narration?”
    Mine already do! This made me laugh as I sometimes wonder as we start this CM way for the first time. I know it is a natural fit for us as my kids want to tell me all they know all the time! At least this way, they’ll have more (interesting?) things to share. Just teasing, though we all do talk a lot.

  2. Bobby Jo says

    I am reminded to listen -with interest- as my child (too young yet for formal narration) narrates to me naturally everyday! The busy mind of a mother can overshadow her listening ear at times.

    Great post!

  3. amy in peru says

    mmmm… I love the illustration of the thrush… perfect, Nancy, thank you 🙂

    amy in peru

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