What is Copywork?
Copywork or transcription is a handwriting exercise advocated by Charlotte Mason, a late 19th century British educator whose philosophy is followed by many homeschoolers today. Copying great thoughts not only provides a meaningful penmanship exercise, but also gives the child experience with a variety of writing styles and types of writing.
Miss Mason believed strongly that habits govern the man (or woman or child) so it is very important to develop good ones. In order to develop good habits in the student, Miss Mason kept the assignments short, (about 5-10 minutes for copywork) and required the child to do his or her best, without dawdling or whining. (If your student has a problem with dawdling or whining, please read How to Replace Dawdling with Good Habits by Catherine Levison.) Beginning students would just make a few letters in their best handwriting. Gradually they move on to a whole sentence, a whole paragraph and perhaps a whole page. In this way, the child will be in the habit of neat handwriting. Each child progresses at his or her own level.
A lot of schools today teach that it is better that a child develop a love for writing than have the spelling and grammar correct, so they don't correct a child's work. Charlotte Mason thought that would reinforce the wrong habits since a child might not learn to recognize when words are spelled correctly or develop a habit of using bad grammar. Copywork reinforces the correct model. The child is copying from a correct document and over time learns the correct spellings and grammar, punctuation, etc., almost effortlessly.
If you are just beginning copywork, your students might benefit from actually tracing the selection. Special handwriting fonts are available in which you type the selection and print out a page with the quote on it in the selected font. The student then traces over the original. I also have several tracing sites listed here under "Free Resources." Or you can simply write it yourself and the child traces over it, either directly or using tracing paper. Another way is for you to write the quote in a spiral notebook, and your child copies it underneath or on the next page. Eventually, the child will copy the quote directly from a book or paper without having to see it modeled.
Some people encourage their child to write as neatly as possible by using special decorative paper. When my children were younger, we would display their quotes, decorated with designs or drawings around the quote on the refrigerator or other locations around the house. They loved passing by and seeing their work and it also reminded us all of the lesson from the quote.
The quotes can also be used in their journals, for greeting cards, gifts and visuals for lessons. Now we use a hardbound journal with a favorite picture on the front. When the handwriting assignments are completed, the child is left with a beautiful book of inspiring quotes, scriptures and poems which can be used for talks, memorization, or dictation.
Beginning students should start with the alphabet, of course. When your child is ready to move on to phrases or sentences, I suggest the four seasons, the months of the year, days of the week, continents, math facts, the fifty states, presidents of the United States (or Church presidents), the Articles of Faith, entire verses of favorite Primary songs and hymns, the names of the books in the Bible, Book of Mormon, etc. Try using longer selections such as important historical documents over a period of several days or even weeks. For examples, click here.
As the child becomes older and more confident, gradually move to longer selections. I have an email list for those who would like to receive daily copywork selections. In the Charlotte Mason style, the selections are short, but not "dumbed down" to a child's level. The selections are actual scriptures, quotes, hymns, poems, etc., as they originally appeared. As such, some of the selections may require parental explanation, but nothing will be considered inappropriate for children. They are best suited for those who are age 10 and above but most can be adapted for younger students, such as only using part of the assignment. One or two quotes could last the entire week in this case, or the child could simply do a portion of each quote each day. Many of the messages are also good for dictation, memorization or daily devotionals. Here is one example:
My beloved young friends, you are the vanguard of the righteous spirits to be infused into the Church in the last days. Back beyond time, it was so determined, and you were prepared - before the foundations of the world - to help save others in the latter-day world. You cannot keep that resplendent rendezvous if you become like the world! Make your righteous marks on the world instead of being spotted by the world.
It is not expected that this copywork assignment will be the only writing a child does. In addition, children might write letters, do written narrations, reports, write in their journal, and so on. Some people choose to do copywork every day and others do it twice or three times a week. The great thing about homeschooling is that you can adapt any method to your own preferences and needs.
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