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AO Copywork Help AmblesideOnline.org

Ambleside Online: Copywork Help

Access copywork assignments taken from Ambleside Online readings by joining the copywork email list
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What if children are resistant to copywork?

My kids (8 and 11) have been doing copywork forever, and they don't like it, either. Some things you just have to do. :-)

That said, I do have a few other suggestions. Some boys find writing very tiresome and tedious. At that age, my son only did copywork twice a week, although my daughter did it every day when she was 7. Kids are different.

Also, at that age, and for a child new to copywork, it is hard to look back and forth between the book and the paper. If you make a model in the size and script you expect him to choose, he might find the copywork less arduous.

Also, when the whole concept of copywork is new for your child, you might give him some input into what he copies. I remember my son, at that age, being particularly thrilled with the selection, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." If you can give him some choices, he might be more willing to work at it.

Hang in there. Your child may never love copywork. But he will learn to do it, and will be effective anyway if you persist. :-)

~Karen Glass




Question: How is copywork different from handwriting practice?

Handwriting is the preliminary step in copywork. Until a child knows how to make each letter and make it well, letter practice is pretty much all that copywork encompasses.

Question: Is copywork for handwriting practice, for form practice, or for exposure to good writing?

Yes. =) It begins as handwriting and form practice. Once these are mastered, it is for exposure to the best in writing. Copywork done properly forces a child to slow down and absorb the punctuation details, notice capitalization, and internalize sparkling prose. For this reason, a child's own stories are not the most ideal source for copywork a la CM.

Question: What are the very best sources for copywork?

Finely crafted, well written sentences are the best sources. In our home we have a different selection each day of the week. One day is poetry, another Bible, another from their history, another from Science, and one from their literature selection. A copywork selection from the foreign language being studied is also good. Hymns may also be used.

Question: My child still doesn't form letters properly except under direct supervision, so I would hate to offer a selection to copy at this point.

Your intuition is correct. If you gave him a selection to copy you would still watch him carefully at first to make sure he was forming letters correctly.

From volume 1 of CM:

"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-mrrow 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 understaking until the last is finished." (pg 160)

"Value of Transcription.--The earliest practice in writing proper for children of seven or eight should be, not letter-writing or dictation, but transcription, slow and beautiful work, for which the New Handwriting [a handwriting text; online here] is to be preferred, though perhaps some of the more ornate characters may be omitted with advantage.

"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.

"Children should transcribe favorite passages.--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 verse, should give them pleasure.

"Small Text-hand--Double-ruled lines--Double-ruled lines, small text-hand, should be used at first, as children are eager to write very minute 'small hand' and once they have fallen into this habit it is not easy to get good writing. A sense of beauty in their writing and in the lines they copy should carry them over this stage of their work with pleasure. Not more than ten minutes or a quarter of an hour should be given to the early writing-lessons. If they are longer the children get tired and slovenly." (pg 238, 239; this section of volume 1 in the six volume series is especially useful for the language arts. Pages that follow cover dictation, spelling, composition and more).

Wendi Capehart




Question: Are copywork and narration really enough for langauge ats?

I understand these concerns. :-) I threw myself whole-heartedly into CM-style language arts when my son was in 2nd grade. I began the year with a list of LA materials so long it would make you laugh. It was all good stuff, in and of itself, but it was ridiculous for a 7year old--Learning Grammar Through Writing AND Daily Grams AND English For the Thoughtful Child AND The Seven Sentence Story AND copywork....and I hate to say it, but I think there were one or two more things I forget now, like maybe Explode the Code. I juggled this for a few months and finally decided we were wasting our time.

I made the decision to allow narration and copywork to be the foundation of our language arts and didn't look back. In short, I trusted Charlotte Mason. Oral narration is composition, and every time time your child narrates orally, he is organizing and expressing his thoughts. These skills will carry over into written work later. We had several years of copywork and oral narration under our belts, and I began asking for written narrations when my son was 10. I won't take the time now to explain the very slow way I organized this. Charlotte Mason says to allow at least a year for a child to grow into this, and two would not be uncommon. This is exactly how it played out for me. My son will be a 12yo 7th grader this fall.

At 10, his first written narrations were short, and filled with spelling, punctuation, and capitalization errors. He gradually learned to write longer narrations, and I slowly introduced "rules" into his work. (Rule #1 was, "All sentences must begin with a capital letter and end with a period or other punctuation mark.")

At the end of two years of doing written narrations, he had progressed to the point of using the computer to compose, and produced a 12-page paper on different aspects of Greek culture. I had originally asked for a 2-page paper, but he really got into it, and said he couldn't say everything in 2 pages, and the paper just grew and grew. :-)

During most of this time, we have not had much instruction in "how" to write--I've just let him write as he pleased, and addressed the nuts-and-bolts issues of spelling, run-on sentences, and such things. Believe it or not, CM does not recommend beginning formal composition until jr. high age. I can see why now. My son is comfortable with writing, and can put his thoughts on paper with a certain degree of fluency. NOW is the time to discuss forms of writing, structure, and formal composition and begin practicing, and that's what we'll be doing for the next few years.

I threw all my eggs in the CM basket some years ago now, and I knew that we would have to wait some years for the results. I learned that I should have begun dictation earlier and been more consistent with it (for the sake of spelling, if nothing else). However, the consistent use of oral narration, and slowly adding in written narration, have produced a soon-to-be 12yo boy who can write fairly fluently. We still have 6 years of school to polish those writing skills, and I continue to be utterly confident that the methods outlined by Charlotte Mason will produce results not "just as good as" more traditional language arts programs, but much, much better.

I will throw in my 2 cents' worth here about the computer. I write much and frequently, but I rarely put pencil to paper for more than a grocery list or thank-you note. Daily copywork provides enough handwriting practice for us. Composition--including "written" narration--can be done on the computer. In this 21st century world, I say let the kids learn to type as soon as possible, and let them type their work. I'm sure I get much better "writing" from my son on the computer than I would if he had to hand-write everything--although we did begin written narration with pencil and paper.

~Karen



I'll tell you a few things I have done over the years to help with copywork, and to blend it with handwriting and spelling -- with a caveat that this is just a few ideas among many you could use. ;-)

This is one of the ways I've scheduled copywork in the past, that worked well for us:
Monday -- Scripture Memory
Tuesday -- Term Poetry
Wednesday -- Literature Dictation
Thursday -- Completion or Quotes

In the early years, Monday's scripture copywork took a couple of days -- sometimes more -- but as they have grown older and need longer daily copywork selections than just a Bible verse or two, I have added the verses leading up to or following the memory passage, or added related verses (I find the center column references in my Bible, a concordance, or a topical Bible helpful for this). Occasionally, we have thrown in verses of a related hymn.

Tuesday, they work on copying some of their poems for that term. For Wednesday's dictation, I prefer literature over scripture or poetry, because the punctuation is more standard and follows known rules more closely.

Thursday, they finish whatever may be left over from those assignments, or rewrite anything needing correction, and file the week's passages away in their binder. This coming year, we may make Thursday quote book day, "a la Wendi."<G> I am looking forward to getting them started with this -- what a treasure to have through life! We don't do formal copywork on Friday.

By using scripture memory and term poetry selections for Monday and Tuesday, we eliminate a lot of the maddening scramble to find selections, and we reinforce learning those passages to boot. Finding Wednesday's literature dictation passages is still often a scramble -- I'm working on it, I'm working on it. ;-P The girls bring passages to me from their books that they want to use for dictation, and I have this elusive goal of maintaining a super-duper oh-so-handy list of these as they come up (alas, I am an organizational whiz in my dreams, but not in 3D reality). I just bought The Harp and Laurel Wreath to feed my fantasy of having ready-made passages at my fingertips when I draw a total blank and the clock is ticking us off-schedule while we dig around for ideas. We'll see.<G>

As for blending copywork with handwriting, before I knew about Startwrite and such, I discovered that the Lucida font on my computer was very close to Italic manuscript (however, you have to substitute a "u" for the Lucida "y", and add a tail with a black pen). I typed up the girls' copywork passages in Lucida in the early years, alternating the lines of text for them to copy with blank dashed lines so they could copy right below the example (I constructed dashed lines of various sizes and saved them in a document so I could copy and paste them into the page I was preparing -- this minor headache isn't necessary with programs like Startwrite, which do that bit for you). When this became easy for them, we moved up to the next step of just printing out the passage in Lucida in one big block of text, then cutting and glue-sticking it to the top of their copywork paper for them to copy below. I would prepare a week's worth at a time. In time they could just copy from a book -- what a blessed day. <G>

For the really little tykes, in the first year of learning handwriting, we sometimes did our "copywork" in pans of sand, cornmeal, or... the fave... on a desktop covered with shaving cream. This is fun! If you're feeling really adventuresome, you can squirt a little tempera into the shaving cream, but you might want to use a tray or lasagna pan to contain this spectacular technicolor mess. For a really special treat, I sometimes used yogurt or chocolate pudding! They can start with fingers, and then move up to using a pencil, paint brush or wooden spoon handle. This really seemed to help my little ones with letter formation -- gets the feel of the letter into those large muscle groups, and the mess-ups don't feel quite so much like failures. (Toward that end, it also helps to have them form letters in the air using the whole arm, but that's another topic. ;-)

The sand/cornmeal/shaving cream is also a dandy way to work on spelling a la CM. CM felt that children should never see a word misspelled for any longer than absolutely necessary, and that spelling mistakes should be crossed out of a child's view immediately whenever possible (apologies to Spelling Workout fans, which violates CM's principle here in spades!). A pan of sand is great for using CM spelling techniques -- the child can look at the word spelled correctly, close his eyes to visualize it, and then spell it in the pan... and Mom can easily wipe away misspellings immediately, almost before he's really seen it.

HTH, Lynn Bruce

Question: Do you use the same copywork assignment every day of the week, then do dictation on last day,or pick out something new everyday? Are students supposed to memorize poems?

You might want to take a look at a couple of the Parents' Review articles available on the Ambleside site; there are a couple of interesting examples of dictation.

Copywork and dictation, in Charlotte Mason's terms, are not used in the same way as they are generally understood by those familiar with Ruth Beechick's methods and/or the Learning Language Arts Through Literature curriculum (which is based on Beechick's methods). This is not to say that you cannot incorporate her methods, just that they are different from CM, done a little differently and to different purpose.

In CM terms, copywork (Charlotte Mason called it transcription) was more or less a handwriting exercise. Small children started out copying letters and then words from their reading books, and older children copied lines from Shakespeare and so on. All grades also used a handwriting program (a teacher's book and cards of examples). Of course the benefit of copying good literature was that the students had good models to work from; however, that's all it was for, copying, rather than for added lessons in grammar or other language arts topics.

Dictation was done about once a week, and as there seemed to be no other formal spelling work, it was considered very important. The student was to spend time studying a given passage, and then (the same or the next day) some part of the passage would be written from dictation. (Older students also did this sometimes as "memory writing.") The dictation passage was not tied to the copywork being done.

To put this in practical terms, some children will need more work in spelling than this allows, and some people enjoy taking a passage of copywork and using it as a bridge to writing or other lessons. (Last summer, just for a change, I had my daughter do Ruth Beechick-style weekly lessons based on Bambi, one of the Ambleside books she was reading.) You are certainly free to do whatever works best for your child. But to do things in Charlotte Mason's style, copywork and dictation should be taken separately (and also separately from narration).

Hope this helps.

Anne W.

Question: My son likes to use the dictionary for copywork, is that okay?

Copying from the dictionary is a good thing to copy to help him remember definitions and spelling, but he needs to copy whole sentences out of literature as well. In the early years, copywork is intended to instill the mechanics of great writing - they learn form and spelling and phrasing and all of that through copying and internalizing literature. Definitions do not have the literary quality needed for that part of the exercise.

Your son probably likes that format partly because they are short and sweet. You might want to print out the passage he is to copy on a piece of paper (I print off their copywork on the computer, and they copy below it) Then he isn't looking at an entire page and thinking WOW this is so long instead of focusing on the short passage he is to work on.

Choose copywork from the books they are reading, in Year One, perhaps a passage from An Island Story, or a paragraph from Minn of the Mississippi. Make sure it is not too long - just long enough that they can copy it perfectly in 10 minutes. Perhaps only a sentence at a time in the beginning. Repeated exposure and involvement with living literature will result in children who will be able to write well, and intelligently, after 10 years of age.

The hardest part may be keeping the selections short enough that the student, especially the beginning student, doesn't feel overwhelmed. Very early copywork may only be ONE LETTER, or ONE WORD. This is fine, it is the beginning. Don't push them too hard or too fast, and trust that this really does work. One perfect letter is worth a page and a half of sloppy ones.

Amy in Missouri




Question: Should I start my year 1 student in cursive if he wants to learn it?

Two of my children have struggled with writing, probably from poor teaching on my part, so I feel very hesitant to give my own recommendations. I prefer to explain what I think Charlotte Mason would do in a situation. I don't think that Miss Mason would be opposed to teaching a more attractive italic at this point, she might even encourage it, but I don't think she would continue to teach both manuscript and italic. Personally, I would be cautious in making the transition because 5 and 6 year olds are predictably unpredictable.

I noticed that when my children (I have 3 - a 12yo, a 9yo, and a 7yo) each met a certain level of proficiency, they experimented with what they thought was cursive or italic writing. Their attempts were mostly incorrect, and I didn't feel the need to correct them other than showing them briefly the correct letter in cursive. I think that their attempts were mere curiosity rather than a serious commitment to additional learning at that point.

I would try to encourage his enthusiasm in the words he is writing by giving him some more interesting words (longer) or even lines from short poems or nursery rhymes he likes. Hopefully he will enjoy seeing the poem unfold in his own writing one word or a few words at a time. The writing of poems for copywork was generally done by a 7yo who had learned his letters, but if your son has already learned the letters then the introduction of poetry copywork seems perfectly reasonable.

My 9yo who still struggles with writing was an early reader and writer. His enthusiasm for reading was much greater than his enthusiasm for writing. I started teaching him at his own insistence when he was 3, before I knew much about CM. His manuscript writing is fine (he is learning cursive slowly also) but he is extremely pencil resistant and is reluctant to print more than a couple of lines at a time. I tried to give him more writing a while back and it caused a major problem for him. So, I would also try to avoid giving your younger child more writing than a few words at a time regardless of how proficient they are until he at least seven and then increase the work very slowly. The attention span of a 5 and 6 yo is quite short and writing is difficult and requires concentration. Your child may be tempted to rush through and not do his best work if you don't keep the lessons very short. Short lessons also help Mom as well, because you should attentively watch his writing to encourage him and prevent errors.

Leslie S.