Welcome to Build Your Library’s “Homeschool Tidbits: Episode 7 – Why You Should Give Copywork a Chance“. In this new weekly video series, I will delve briefly into a topic related to homeschooling and will share some of my knowledge and expertise as a long-time homeschooling mother of 4 children. Three of whom have graduated!
We are going to get back to my Charlotte Mason series. We discussed her methodology, living books, how to use them, book recommendations, and narration. Today, I want to discuss copywork, and why you shouldn’t skip it! It’s easy to see Copywork as mindless busywork, but I hope that this video can change your mind about this tenet of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education.
Charlotte Mason was all about lessons being short and to the point. Copywork is an extension of that. You assign a passage to your child to copy in their best handwriting. These passages should be the right length for your child’s ability, and they should be taken from the literature they are reading. It’s very simple and straightforward. But what is the purpose of it? Can’t you just teach them handwriting and then have them write their own thoughts and stories?
Of course, having them write their own thoughts is important too, but that isn’t the point of copywork.
First of all, learning to write letters is the precursor to copywork. A child must know how to form the letters correctly before they can be expected to copy words and sentences.
But once they can write their letters, we begin with simple copywork. Just a word or three at first, then expanding to sentences and longer passages from their reading.
“No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly, and then perfection should be required of him as a matter of course. For instance, he is set to do a copy of strokes, and is allowed to show a slateful of all sorts of slopes and all sorts of intervals; his moral sense is vitiated, his eye is injured.
Set him six strokes to copy; let him, not bring a slateful, but six perfect strokes, at regular distances and at regular slopes. If he produces a faulty pair, get him to point out the fault, and persevere until he has produced his task; if he does not do it to-day, let him go on to-morrow and the next day, and when the six perfect strokes appear, let it be an occasion of triumph. So with the little tasks of of painting, drawing, or construction he sets himself – let everything he does be well done.
An unsteady house of cards is a thing to be ashamed of. Closely connected with this habit of ‘perfect work’ is that of finishing whatever is taken in hand. The child should rarely be allowed to set his hand to a new undertaking until the last is finished.” ~ Charlotte Mason
Copywork is about observation skills, working on perfecting their writing, as well as exposure to great writing. They must carefully observe the passage they are copying. They must also take their time to copy each letter to the best of their ability. After they’ve copied it, they should read over their work carefully, comparing it to the original passage. Were they able to copy it exactly or did they make any mistakes? Too many mistakes might indicate that you are giving them too long of a passage.
This is the most important aspect – they should never turn in sloppy or rushed work. That’s true for anything they are doing, but copywork is where we focus on giving their best effort. This is an essential habit they must master. They need to learn to carefully read through the passage, then write each letter as perfectly as they can. This assignment should be brief. It should never take more than 20 minutes. This is why it is so important to ensure that you aren’t assigning them too long of a copywork passage, too early. It needs to be just long enough that they are reinforcing the habit of giving their best effort AND giving them a sense of accomplishment, rather than a feeling of frustration.
Copywork will help your child’s spelling improve. When they are carefully observing the words being copied, they are really focusing on how words are formed. Now I’m not saying it will make them a spelling be champion, but it will help even the worst spellers to improve.
“Transcription should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory.” ~ Charlotte Mason
Copywork will help your child to become a better writer. Since they are carefully observing great pieces of writing, they will come to know what great writing looks like. When it comes time to write their own thoughts and ideas, they will have a blueprint of great writing in their mind to work from.
By studying each piece of copywork with you beforehand, they can also learn about mechanics like capitalization and punctuation rules, grammar, word choice, and more. It can help to improve memory, focus, and of course, their handwriting!
They should be copying the best examples of writing. You can choose passages from the books they are reading, quotes from famous people, and poetry. It can really be anything related to what you are currently studying. You want to choose passages that illustrate the kind of writing you want them to learn to emulate. If you use Build Your Library curriculum, I include copywork selections in the lesson plans so you don’t have to search out passages to assign.
Buy yourself and your child a fancy journal and you can both practice copywork together. I like to write down beautiful passages from the books that I read, lines that just make me pause and think, poems I especially enjoy. You can encourage your child to give their best effort by doing so yourself! Make it a fun family activity that everyone can take part in. Then share which passages you are working on together. This could be a fun teatime activity.
“A certain sense of possession and delight may be added to this exercise if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favourite verse in one poem and another. This is better than to write a favourite poem, an exercise which stales on the little people before it is finished. But a book of their own, made up of their own chosen verses, should give them pleasure.” ~ Charlotte Mason
I hope that I’ve encouraged you today to give copywork a chance in your homeschool. Come back next week when I’ll be discussing the benefits of studied dictation!
Until next time, happy reading!
Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full-year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 18 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also make incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books, and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also check out her author page on Amazon.