Homeschooling with Excellence No. 2

The Narration Method, Modeling, and More

The vast majority of homeschool parents do not have formal training in education. If this is you, we'd like to pass on a few helpful hints that might make the teaching portion of your job a little easier.

The Narration Method

We encourage you to use the narration method to test your children and to help them learn. Narration differs from the more classroom method of testing random ideas, and might seem strange at first, but if you try it I believe you will come to appreciate it.

In the narration method, you read the material together with your children, and then have your children tell you (or, for older children, write) five things that they remember from the reading. (I really believe that it is helpful to have written records of the things you — or, rather, your children — have learned. If some of your children struggle with the mechanics of writing, please act as their scribe.)

I have used this method with my own children, and believe it is very effective. I believe they remember more than a worksheet can test, because they have to listen intently if they are to have enough material to record five sentences.

When I did narrations with my children, I collected their daily sheets in a notebook. That meant my kids had a record of all they had learned.

As for the notes in the Guides: they are "merely" samples of the kinds of things we would expect your children to notice and/or remember.

— Sarita at Sonlight


When you discover a topic you and/or your children want to study in greater depth, do at least some of the study together. Take your children along when you go to the library to do a research project. Encourage them to look up a subject in the encyclopedia. Children learn by doing and by observation. Let them see how you do it (whatever "it" may be). And explain to them why you do things as you do. How do you take notes? Why do you take them as you do? How do you do an outline? Why do you outline as you do? How do you find a book that will really help you in your study and not simply be "somewhat related" to your topic of interest? How do you locate the specific place in the book where your subject is dealt with? These skills can hardly be transferred by written communication. Someone pretty well has to be there to walk children through the various steps and to help them think through why those steps and those particular choices make sense.

While reading the main texts, make sure your children locate places on a map. They should know where whatever it is that is being referred to is located. If an event took place within a certain mountain range, make sure they know where those mountains are. If your children have any questions that could be answered by looking at a map or reading a chart, take the time to do those things. If they need some help, be there to guide them through it, but guide them so that they can do it on their own using resources that are around them.

Whenever you read you and your children should take notes on any special achievements or other facts of interest about the person, country and/or people(s) they are studying. If some of your children can't write well, you should probably do the writing, but help them to take on the responsibility of formulating what should go in the notes. When you do this you are developing good study habits even as you go along. You are modeling note-taking. You will be helping your children learn to formulate adequate notes. You will be taking them along as an apprentice in study skills.

Asking Questions

By the end of every biography, your children should be able to tell you who the person is (or was): when s/he lived, what s/he accomplished in relative order and/or with a general sense of when the events occurred during the person's life ("This happened first, this happened second, etc." and/or "He accomplished this when he was only about 25 years old"; or, "She did that before she was married"); and, finally, your children should be able to tell you what character qualities this person had that set him or her apart from the crowd. Your children should be able to back up their judgment about the person's character by mentioning specific choices the person made and/or specific things the person did that "prove" s/he had the kind of character they say s/he had.

By doing the simple things listed above, you and your children enjoy the following benefits:

  1. They will be reminded of what they have read, thus reinforcing the subject matter they have studied.

  2. You will be able to judge your children's comprehension of what they are reading.

  3. Your children will gain practice in effective communication.

  4. Your children will gain practice in the use of logic and analytical skills.

Besides the academic questions, you will also want your children to answer values-based questions, including: Which character qualities about this person did you like best? Why? Which character qualities did you like least? Why? If you had been that person, what decisions would you have made differently than s/he did? Why?

Whether your children are reading by themselves or not, you can greatly improve the educational process by asking questions. We recommend for all subjects that you ask questions along the lines of "Bloom's Taxonomy" (developed for use with works of fiction, but useful with all books and all subjects if modified) Start with the easier questions, and then move on to more difficult ones when you see your children are getting it.

  1. Knowledge: What does it say? (Where does this story take place? Who is the main character? What is the plot? What was the Declaration of Independence? Etc.)

  2. Comprehension: What does it mean? (What kind of character is the hero? What other heroes have you read about that are similar? What made the Declaration of Independence so important? Etc.)

  3. Application: How does it affect you? (Seeing what you have about the hero in this story, how do you want to live your life differently? Etc.)

  4. Analysis: Compare and contrast (this book vs. that book; this character vs. that character; this subject vs. that subject, etc.)

  5. Synthesis: How could this be altered? (What could the hero have done differently in order to change the outcome? What other devices could the author have used to alter the outcome? What do you think would have happened if the Declaration of Independence had not been written? Etc.)

  6. Evaluation: What is your personal reaction to this book? (How do you feel as a result? What do you think should be done? If you were writing the Declaration of Independence, what would you or would you not want to include in it that was or was not included? Etc.)

Discussing Books

Deb in Indiana wrote, "I am not a very good 'discussion question thinker upper.' Any help for me?"

Laura in Connecticut replied: "I say things like, 'How did you like the book?' 'What was it about?' 'What makes you say that?' 'What was your favorite part?'

"For books we're reading together, I just make comments that come naturally: 'Wow, that was brave, huh?' Or, 'That was a great book. I liked the part where _________. Which part did you like best?' Or, 'What do you think will happen?' Or, 'I don't think I could have done that, do you? How do you think she got the courage to do that?'

"Really, I just talk about the book, how it's hitting me, and invite her to do the same — nothing intense or especially educational sounding. If I have no particular comments to make, I don't try to make one up; we don't discuss every book or every reading."

I would like to second Laura's motion: this is exactly what we did ourselves. Enjoy interacting with the literature you are reading. If you can teach your children to truly think about what they are reading; and if you can teach them the pleasure of reading for meaning, you will have achieved at least 80 percent of the goal of a Sonlight® education.

By interacting and using questions like these you can help your children learn and see if they are getting it at the same time. All without the pressure or hassle of tests or worksheets.

Teaching in a Co-op

Some parents find that teaching in a co-op helps ease the work load and make the learning stick, both for them and for their children. KC tells of how she used a co-op in science to make her homeschooling run smoother.

I did a science co-op this year with two other moms using Sonlight science. We did all the reading on our own during the week and got together to do the experiments. We divided the year into thirds, and each took a 10-week third to conduct/lead. The same could be done with history... do the readings on your own and meet once a week to do an activity to help it all "gel." Depending upon which year in Sonlight you will be doing, Usborne has some history activity guides that correspond with the texts... I am familiar with this for 1st and 2nd only. Some cautions with regards to co-ops: get only one or two families... the number of kids multiplies quickly! You need to have families on the same year, and you lose some flexibility since you are wanting to all stay on the same week (basically) at the same time. It can get rough, too, if you have little children... sickness, etc. can throw off some of the best plans!