Charlotte’s methods are freeing to me as a mom, too. Because of their simplicity, I don’t have to try to decipher a complicated curriculum or do a lot of mental gymnastics to dream up a new way to try to get my children to learn something.
In Charlotte’s schools, learning was natural and made common sense. ( If you are just joining us, you may wish to read through the Charlotte Mason Basics previously covered.) We have looked at narration already and have seen that our children begin to learn story composition by retelling the stories in the high quality literature they read. Similarly, our children learn grammar, spelling and penmanship by doing copywork, that is copying worthwhile portions of literature precisely and in their best handwriting.
Children still have specific penmanship lessons and in our modern home, these take the form of completion of the Getty-Dubay series of workbooks on Italic Handwriting. Ideally, the children would be doing specific penmanship lessons alongside copywork, but in our home, I find it more practical to work on the italic workbooks at the beginning of the year and then move to focus exclusively on copywork.
Our older children each have an attractive, lined journal-type notebook for their copywork, as I hope this will be a treasure they will want to look at again and again in later years. Younger children (about grade 3 and under) need to copy from a separate page specifically made for them in the style of handwriting I want them to use as opposed to the original source, so I find it more practical to give them a binder with page protectors.
Older children in our family use a fountain pen purchased at the local Waldorf school, while younger children just need a pencil and an eraser.
Choosing a passage to copy:
The possibilities are endless here. You can choose from Bible passages, selections from the literature the child is currently reading, or from poetry. You can even use the words of a beautiful hymn. I have even read of people assigning math times tables for copywork! For very young children, to get them excited about copywork, I have occasionally used something they have dictated to me about a subject they love. I correct grammar and print out a page for them to copy. They can then reproduce their own words and even add a picture. Here is an early example from my son’s work when he was about five:
Older children can choose their own passage or have one assigned. To encourage variety, I like to have a mini-schedule.
Monday – Literature
Tuesday – Bible
Wednesday – Poetry
Thursday – Free Choice
The selection needs to be somewhat challenging. As they get older, watch for opportunities to encourage children to learn the use of quotations/quotation marks, to include challenging vocabulary, and to practice difficult spellings or unusual punctuation. Also, the selection needs to be long enough to be appropriate to their age. As with narration, we are going for quality. You are aiming to end the copywork before the child gets tired and bored and the writing becomes sloppy. This trains them to do their very best work. It is better to have one line done beautifully than a page full of sloppiness. Also, keep in mind that it is not necessary to finish a passage during one session. You can make it an ongoing work. For example, a child might copy one verse of a poem each day until it is completed.
When the child is finished, check their work against the original. This gives you a chance to check spelling and punctuation as well as to gauge if the passage was a good length for the child, neither too short nor too long. I get our children to date their work. (And, I won’t tell them the date. I will help them look it up on the calendar, if necessary, but they have to find out for themselves.)
I also encourage our children to add a beautiful coloured border or small illustration to make their work even more aesthetically pleasing. We certainly don’t do this every time, but it is definitely a special part of their books.
Next week, we will look at some great sources for copywork, some books and some online sources.