A child's brain is built on words. A strong foundation in language arts (and other subjects) depends on the quality and quantity of words heard in the first few years of life.
Narration is the act of telling back what you know. It is the most effective way to turn information into knowledge. Children narrate as a replacement for quizzes and worksheets.
Recitation is the act of reading aloud poetry, passages, or speeches many times and then reciting it to others. This requires the child to ponder over the author's purpose and emotion behind the poem or passage and reflect that in their own recitation. Memorization is not the purpose, but is usually a by-product.
Reading lessons start whenever the child shows interest, as early as 3 years old. Lessons before age 6 should always be child-led. A combination of phonics and whole word approach is used to develop avid readers and competent spellers.
Children copy down favorite sentences from their school books and lines from their favorite poems. This gives children opportunities to notice patterns in punctuation, grammar, and spelling. This lays the groundwork for future lessons in grammar and dictation.
The parent reads a passage clause-by-clause while the child copies it down. The child then looks at their work and the original side-by-side to check for errors. This is another "living" method of teaching punctuation and grammar.
Grammar is started in year 4 along with composition. Real books and the child's own writing are used to teach grammatical concepts. Additionally, children look at their favorite author's style to understand how grammar can be used effectively.
Once children have a good foundation of oral narration, dictation, and grammar they are ready to start composing their own writing. Composition, or written narration, is simply writing down an oral narration and advances to more structured writing prompts.


“Children will probably be slow to receive this first lesson in abstract knowledge, and we must remember that knowledge in this sort is difficult and uncongenial. Their minds deal with the concrete and they have the singular faculty of being able to make concrete images out of the merest gossamer of a fairy tale.” (Vol. 6, p. 210)

When we think about language the first thing that comes to mind is the written word; books, reading, grammar, etc. But the written word is merely a tool used to communicate the most foundational part of language: the spoken word.

If a person is to be successful in any field that requires the written word, they must have a solid foundation in language. Parents create this foundation through meaningful conversations with their children, reading books, and listening to their children narrate (i.e. tell back). Correct grammar and a large vocabulary does not come from direct-instruction; it comes from being exposed a wide variety of words in their correct context, and hearing correct grammar spoken and eventually read in books. Grammar and spelling lessons are not exposing a child to anything new, but assigning names to truths and patterns the child is already famililar with.

In no other subject is “line-upon-line, precept-upon-precept” more apparent than in Charlotte Mason’s method of language instruction.  First, infants and toddlers are given a rich atmosphere full of words and opportunities to practice their conversation and speaking skills. Second, they are taught that words are symbols for things and feelings in their life. Words are a way to communicate ideas to others. When a child is ready, he is taught to read and write.

Charlotte Mason was way ahead of her time in that she taught reading and spelling separately. Research shows that spelling is a developmental ability, whereas reading is not. Reading a word does not require the brain to put the letters in order; it simply recognizes a word by sight. The Word Study method of spelling is based on current research on how children’s brains develop, and it completely in line with how Charlotte Mason recommended teaching children to read in her book Home Education. Children are taught to spell by looking at patterns in similar words: arrow, marrow, sparrow. The patterns and difficulty increase as the child develops. The sight-reading lessons are tailored to fit the child’s unique learning style and ability. (see Early Years and Form 1 Guides for detailed instructions)

During the first three years of school, children choose sentences from their school books to copy in their copybook. This gives them opportunities to see words correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Now is a good time to point these things out, like “This is a comma, period, etc.” After a while of copywork, parents can ask their child questions that direct their attention, like: “Where are the commas?” “When should you use capitals? Exclamation marks?” There are no essays or creative writing required yet; the child will “tell back” what they heard or learned from each lesson. Before a child can write intelligently, they must first learn how to speak and think intelligently. Narration is learning how to think and speak intelligently and eloquently.

After the child is familiar with concrete forms of language through copywork, word sorts, and reading, it is time to begin dictation and written narration; which are more difficult, abstract forms of language. This usually begins in Form II (grades 4-6). Dictation is just like copywork, but the child does not look at the sentence as they copy it down; the parent reads the passage, pausing at punctuation, allowing child to decide which punctuation is most appropriate. 

Next level is written narration. A good way to begin is by writing down your child’s oral narration, or a portion of it, and having them write it down like copywork. Showing them where to put punctuation and change grammar to make it more readable. Better yet, let them read it aloud and make changes. From this stage on, children will continue writing their narrations and choosing the form of narration: essay, poem, newspaper article, magazine, etc.

For details on how to teach each subject, click on the subjects above, or download the Curriculum Guides available in “Downloads.”