Narration Archives - Eva Varga

September 9, 20085

We went up to the lake on Sunday to enjoy one of the last warm weekends of the season. It was quite windy so we weren’t daring enough to take the plunge, but the kids enjoyed looking for frogs, watching dragonflies, and building a castle and moat along the shoreline.

Inspired by Theresa at LaPaz Home Learning, I took several “Not Back to School Portraits”. It was a joy to watch the kiddos enjoy themselves and interact with one another. They discovered a tiny little green frog whom they played with for some time.
The following day, we sat down on the couch to do a little ‘current events’ work that I had saved. I save articles I think the kids will find interesting in the newspaper and try to do at least one ‘current events’ assignment each week. The article I saved was from the 25th of July, titled Beetles Killing Trees, Causing More Damage Than We See. The kids were delighted to learn that the article was about the forest that surrounded the lake we visited the day before. “That’s where we went yesterday!” If you look carefully at the photos above, you can see the trees that have succumbed to the pine beetle infestation. [Had only I thought to read the article before we went up to the lake – we could have talked with the Forest Ranger to learn more.]
I read about two thirds of the article, stopping frequently to help them understand the larger vocabulary. We discussed the illustrations and photographs. Once Sweetie was comfortable, I asked her to give me an oral narration. Here is her response (note, the brackets indicate what I said to help her to elaborate or to correct miscues);

These beetles [Mountain Pine Beetles] are killing trees like Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pine near … Lake where we went yesterday. The beetles make tunnels in the new bark [inner bark] where they lay lots of eggs. Then the little larvae hatch out and they dig holes where they make a pupa. Then they dig out as a grown-up. The beetle also brings in some chemical [blue fungus] that gets on the bark and it changes blue. This kills the trees.

They [Forest Service] closed a road near … Lake because they don’t want the people to get hurted. They don’t want the [dead] trees falling down on people. [Do you recall what the foresters are doing to protect the trees?] Moving all the shrubs, sick trees and stuff to make the trees stronger. [… we discussed in more detail the process / purpose of thinning in more detail.]

When doing narrations, it is always interesting to me what details they focus on, in this case she provided the most details about the life-cycle of the beetle and how it affects the tree. We’ve always been fascinated with insects in our home (expect perhaps DH) – one of our first thematic units was on insects, in fact. So, it was no surprise that this part of the article was most interesting to her.

On the other hand, we haven’t talked much about forest ecology or how foresters work to protect the health of the forest. Her narration of this part of the article was thereby much more vague. By asking for a narration, I was able to pick up on that and we spent a few more minutes discussing the process of thinning. How it is done. How it helps the forest to be less susceptible to the pine beetle.

They now have a block of information on which to build upon during future trips to the mountain. They are better informed. The experience, coupled with reading and discussing the article, will help them better understand future lessons on ecology.


On a related note, when we had stopped by the Ranger Station to inquire about a good area to play in the water and relax on shore, I picked up a few brochures. One of which describes the need for Forest Guards; volunteers who spend a week or more at the forest station, providing assistance to the public and interpreting the ecology of the area. I asked the kiddos if they would be interested in doing something like that for a week and they were both enthusiastic. I’ll have to look into this again when the kids are older.

Edited 28 Sept 2008 – Linked to Barb’s Outdoor Hour Challenge #32: Pine Trees.

As the Ponderosa Pine is the dominant tree in our area, the kiddos are very familiar with its characteristics. Sweetie gives an oral presentation on the Ponderosa on our weekly nature walk pointing out ways to identify the tree and noting its adaptations for survival.

Medicinal Uses

  • Roots – can be used to treat indigestion.

Nutritional Value / Food Uses

  • Inner bark – raw or cooked. Best in spring. Often dried, ground into powder and used a thickener in soups or mixed with bread flour.
  • Seeds – raw or cooked. Rich in oil, can be crushed into a meal or used in making making bread.
  • Resin – chewed as gum.
  • Young male cones – chewed for juice.
  • A vanillin flavoring obtained as by-product of other resins in pulpwood. You can even smell the vanilla if you get up close and smell the bark crevices.

Interesting Facts

  • Needles fall from tree after ~3 years
  • On younger trees, bark is brownish black. Older trees develop thick, spongy bark. As trees mature, the bark color becomes a rusty orange.
  • Basketry: root fibers and needles.
  • Dyes: yellow dye from pollen, blue dye from roots, tan/green dye from needles.
  • Thick bark helps protect the Ponderosa from forest fire making it less susceptible. It also self-prunes and drops the lower, dead branches and thereby decreases the amount of fuel available for fire to reach canopy.
  • Releases chemical that prohibits growth of many other plants in its vicinity – thereby creating a park-like setting in the under-story.

July 25, 20083

After a couple of months of vacation we are back in the groove. It feels good to have a plan… a schedule. I like having an outline… a map to guide us along our journey.

Since we initially read about historical discoveries in The Story of the World: The Ancients, Sweetie has wanted to be an Archeologist. So she was delighted to start our studies again and is so immersed in Ancient Egypt, she wants to have an Ancient Egypt themed birthday party.

Ancient Egypt Activities

Reading & Narration

This morning, we read Chapter 4: The Old Kingdom of Egypt. After reading each section, I asked her to tell me what she could recall from the chapter. Right now, I play scribe and record her words on the back of the map work that accompanies the chapter. When she gets older and is more comfortable writing, she will do written narrations. Here is her oral narration of the the section on Egyptian Mummies:

“The Pharaoh Cheops died so they [the priests] took all his organs like brains, heart and stuff and washed them and put them in special jars with heads of goddesses. They then wrapped his body in linen. They saved him for 40 days. They then washed everything again, wrapped him in linen again, and put his body in a silver case. They put that case in a wooden one. Then they carried him across the street to the pyramid. Inside the pyramid was a special place called a burial chamber. They put food and a boat for him to use in the Afterlife. Later, he will discover his chamber is filled with treasure.”

Wonderful! She is so detailed (though a few minor errors – it was a gold coffin, not a silver one). We frequently practice doing narrations – for movies, recapping the days activities for Daddy at dinner time, of books I’ve read aloud at bedtime, etc. I hope her narrations continue to be as accurate when she begins writing them on her own.


She loves crafts so she was delighted to create a Canopic Jar of her own. Using an empty creamer bottle for the base, she covered the bottle with paper maché. Once they were dry, she painted them to look like cats and other animals revered by ancient Egyptians.

She also added what she learned to her Book of Centuries notebook, pictured above beside her finished jar which she plans to exhibit it the county fair next week!

June 10, 20082

As I’ve mentioned briefly in the past, we use a unique blend of materials and methods suited to our lifestyle of learning. It is largely literature-based, a little Montessori, a little unschoolish, a little unit-study, a little classics based (Thomas Jefferson/Well-Trained Mind), a little Charlotte Mason… We basically go with the flow.

I encourage the children to ask questions and investigate their natural curiosities. When they express an interest in something, I plan hands-on lessons, activities and excursions to provide avenues for them to explore and learn. We frequently create lapbooks for each of these explorations. Thus far, we’ve created lapbooks for Ancient China, The Iditarod, Song Birds, Ballet, The American Flag, and Maple Sugaring.

Sweetie will frequently ask to do schoolwork and pull down workbooks that we’ve purchased at Barnes & Noble or local teacher supply stores. She generally works through them independently, particularly the math books as this is her strength. When she selects a language arts workbook, she will ask me to sit with her. I’ll read the directions and help her to work through each page. Her phonetic skills are improving and she needs my assistance less and less.

On occasion (and according to the schedule I created to help maintain my sanity), I will ask if they would like to listen to a story. Either from Story of the World, books that relate to our focus in history or science, or an everybody book just for fun. In the evening, after they have brushed their teeth and changed into PJs, I read to them from a chapter book. They are loving Laura Ingalls’ Little House series right now (we’ve read both Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie) – they wanted to read the third, Farmer Boy, but I encouraged them to take a break as I wanted to read My Side of the Mountain.

One of the greatest things about homeschooling is knowing exactly what your children have been exposed to… particularly in books. When things come up as we are out and about, I am able to tie the experience back to a book we have read, helping them to connect the pieces of random information they have collected in their minds. Case in point…. The kids and I were at Safeway the other day and Sweetie picked up a package of tiny flint pieces near the cigarette lighters. “What are these?” she asked.

I replied, “Remember in the book were reading, My Side of the Mountain, Sam uses a piece of flint and steel to start fire. I further explained that these were pieces of flint I assumed to be used to replace the flint worn down inside a lighter. I am not certain, but I postulated that the components within a lighter consist of a tiny piece of flint and a when you move the ball with your thumb, a tiny piece of steel strikes the flint resulting in a spark. This spark in turn ignites the gas and behold, you have flame. When we go camping in a few weeks, I ask my dad to show them how to use flint and steel to start a fire.

I take advantage of every teachable moment that comes along. We lead a weekly nature walk at our local natural history museum. As the kids have become more comfortable with these walks, I have assigned each one a plant that they are responsible for teaching to the visitor. When we come to the Manzanita along the path, we’ll stop and I will turn to Buddy asking him the name of ‘his’ plant. He zealously calls out, “Manzanita!” I’ll then say, “Manzanita is Spanish for….” and I pause as turn back to Buddy. He shouts out again, “Little apples!” The visitors chuckle. His ‘speech’ is short. As he grows and learns more… he’ll be expected to share more.

Sweetie claimed the Ponderosa Pine. When we arrive at the Ponderosa, one of the first things she likes to share is that it smells of Vanilla when you put your nose up close in the crevices of the bark. She also points out that it has 3 long needles in a bundle and that it has very thick bark (she holds up a tree cookie) that protects it from forest fire. As she speaks, I remind her to look at her audience and speak loud enough for everyone to hear her. Public Speaking! She is getting pretty good at it but is still rather quiet.

We’ve recently started listening to audio books while we’re driving about town on errands. We are currently listening to The Last Dragon by Silvana de Mari. Sweetie picked it out at the library – she loves fantasy stuff! 😀 At dinner last night, I asked her to narrate what she could recall from the chapters we’d listened to thus far (Charlotte Mason in action!). It is also a great way to share with DH what we’re reading about… what we’re learning.

The past couple of weeks have been pretty laid back, however. I finished up the required elements for an art class I took (Art for Teachers) to renew my teaching license. I’ve thus been preoccupied and honestly, quite stressed. I spent many hours trying to develop a curriculum that would not only meet the course requirements but would also be usable in our homeschool. This turned out to be a waste of time but I did manage to find and review a number of great lesson plans and art activities.

We visited a new dojo and Sweetie is very excited to begin her training in Taekwondo. On Saturday, we saw Kung Fu Panda as a family and of course, she loved it (DH too)! We’ve both been singing the theme song all week! We have even had a few discussions over the week about the secret of the Dragon Master… that everything you need is within you, you only need to believe in yourself.

May 6, 20085

I’ve seemingly been absent from the homeschooling/blogging realm lately. Marathon training and an online art class I’ve been taking to renew my teaching certificate have been overwhelming me a little lately. This is, perhaps, what I like best about homeschooling… the ability to relax and allow life and learning to happen naturally. We are not forced into some arbitrary schedule. Though I consider ourselves now to be a Classical/Charlotte Mason Homeschool, I am also very flexible and occasionally, our schooling looks more Unschoolish. For this reason, we won’t be taking the summer months off. We are a year-round school and take advantage of all learning opportunities that we are presented.

After recently reading The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer, I did a little research online and was intrigued by The Story of the World. It is a four-volume series of books (with accompanying activity guides) that introduce the student to the history of the world. It is designed to be a read-aloud for parents and teachers to share with elementary school children.

The history of the world is divided into four time periods and ideally, the student would cycle through each time period three time during their school years (grades 1-12). We begin grade 1 with The Ancients and will revisit the same time period again in 5th and 9th grades. As we do so, more indepth (grade level) readings will be integrated and by the third cycle, she’ll be reading original works (i.e., The Odyssey)

Volume 1: Ancient Times

Volume 2: The Middle Ages

Volume 3: Early Modern Times

Volume 4: The Modern Age

I purchased the first volume and planned to get started when Sweetie would unofficially start first grade (Fall ’08). [Because her birthday falls after the Sept 1st cut-off, she would officially be in Kindergarten this fall, however, we started in Aug ’07.] She saw the books in our new homeschooling classroom and immediately started asking questions. She found images of Chinese script and Emperor Qin in the book and was excited (we did a small unit-study on Ancient China in January). She started begging me to start now! I thereby gave in and we got underway last week.

Each chapter is divided into two sections. I read-aloud each section and then stop to allow her time to narrate (re-tell what she heard). Narration is a learning method that can be used for any age and for any subject. The child simply ‘tells back’ what she just had read to her. This simple concept is the cornerstone of a Charlotte Mason homeschool. Essentially, after we’ve watched a movie or educational program or read-aloud a book, I will ask Sweetie to tell me what she can recall. As she does so, I write down her words. When she pauses, I read back what she told me, inquiring if there are any details or facts that she would like to add.

Occasionally, a weak narration can be the result of simple misunderstanding. There may be key vocabulary words that she is not understanding. Maybe a key event was not grasped. When this happens, I ask questions to identify where the problem lies and we may re-read the passage.

Here is a sample narration that Sweetie did after we read “The Earliest People” from The Story of the World, Volume 1: The Ancients. The purple indicates her words. The black italic typeface indicates areas where she paused and said, “That’s all I remember.” When she does this, I try to illicit more information by asking questions. I may also review key vocabulary with her if she uses a word incorrectly.

Indians moved their tents a lot to get food. They looked for lizards, honey, eggs, nuts, seeds, berries, and roots. [We reviewed the term ‘nomads’.] A nomad is a person who moves around a lot looking for food. [When do they decide to move on to a new place? How do they know when to move?] They move when there isn’t as much food anymore.

In the Fertile Crescent and other areas, nomads kept coming back because there was a lot of food there. So they stayed there and started building houses and walls to keep bad guys out. These were the first villages and cities. [What about the animals?] They also started planting crops, raising animals for food, and trading with other people.

Narration also provides a foundation for good writing skills. Right now, as her writing skills are just beginning, she gives oral narrations. But later, those exact same skills of articulation, analysis, application, and comprehension are used in writing expository paragraphs and essays. We will begin transitioning into written narrations (instead of verbal narrations) around age 10 or 11, when she is comfortable writing.