Singing is to the Song Thrush as Narration is to the Child

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, and 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).

 This post was originally published at the ChildLightUSA blog


  1. I appreciate this blog so much and just want you to know I've put it on my blog list at http://learningjourneyjournal.blogspot.com. I am originally from MN and hope to attend one of your retreats in the coming years. Blessings ...

  2. I just found your blog and love it. I have subscribed to it so that I don't miss anything. :)
    You see, I am a homeschool mom that has only used the textbook method. I never knew there was another method (except for un-schooling, which wasn't an option in my opinion).
    In August, I read about the CM method in TOS magazine and realized it was the answer to my prayers!! My children have always hated homeschool...and they never tried to hide that fact. I loved spending time with my children, but to be honest, I hated the homeschool part. I always blamed myself for their attitude. Now I realize it wasn't me, it was my method.
    We started school on Aug. 29th and the difference is amazing!! My children can't say enough good things about it!! For the first time ever, my children are telling everyone that they LOVE school! :)
    I'm still new to this, however, and was wondering...
    I do alot of reading aloud to the children. Is this enough Literature, or should they be reading silently?
    And we use Saxon Math, which is dry and boring. We can't purchase a whole new Math curriculum, so do you know how I can make Math a little more enjoyable for them? Their Math levels range from 3rd grade to Alg. I. You can email me at lisaknight66@yahoo.com
    Thanks so much for your great blog. I'll be checking in regularly. :)

  3. @ Glory - Thanks for the kind words! I enjoy your blog, too!

    @ Lisa - Yay for happy children and a living education! I will send you an email soon.

  4. Thank you, Nancy, for this lovely post. It is always helpful to be reminded that narration is, in fact, the key to knowledge. I think I will print out Browning's verse about the song thrush ~ love that!
    Peaceful and beautiful blog you have here.