Friday, May 28, 2010


I've had by boys doing copywork, or transcription, since the age of 6. Basically, I type a quote from their literature (I use the font QMF from the Queensland style found through EFI Fonts using three rules), print it out, and have them copy it into their composition notebook.

Copywork is not just handwriting practice, although that is a most important aspect of it. It is also a lesson in the habit of attention, attending to the detail and exactness of the written word. It is an exposure to well-written work. One is not to copy just anything, but literary examples of excellence in writing.

But their first lessons of copywork actually started sometime after age five and simply began as copying one letter correctly a few times. It didn't take long, but we made sure the letter was started at the top and formed in the proper direction. My oldest used the student edition of Handwriting Without Tears, and so we used some of the terminology with the others, like "magic c" and "Where do you start your letters? At the top" (sung to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It"). Starting a b at the top and diving down, and starting a d with "the magic c" and then going up helps differentiate the two confusing letters.

Their order of introducing letters makes sense, too. (You can watch their sample videos from the link above or look at the sample TOC to see their order of introduction.) But a handwriting book is not necessary, as many require too much writing, resulting in sloppy work.

The children only make a few letters well executed, as perfectly as their ability allows. Quality is most important, not quantity.

Copywork should only be done for ten to fifteen minutes. You can set a timer to keep the children focused on the work at hand and then stop when the time is up. If too much time is allowed, the children lose focus and their work gets slovenly. Once again, it's not as important that the entire quote is completed in one sitting as having focused, excellent execution.

Once they know all their letters, they can start with short sentences. We started with Charlotte Mason's motto: I am; I can; I ought; I will.

The child is to look at each word, study it, and be prepared to write it without looking at it.

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. CM vol.1, p. 238

This was a step that I failed to enforce in my oldest, and later realized that he had been writing letter by letter, instead of benefiting from looking at the whole word and "taking a photograph" of it in his mind.

Having too long of a passage can get dull, so start short. Charlotte mentions allowing children to choose their own selections:
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. CM vol. 1 p.238

However, I have chosen my children's selections from their literature according to either something I want them to learn, like the spelling of a word or a certain punctuation or because the quote contains especially beautiful thoughts. (Usually the help with spelling and grammar is just an added bonus, but when I notice some common word misspelled in birthday cards or notes, I try to sneak it in the copywork so better attention is paid to it.)

I had my son in year one copy quotes from the biography on Ben Franklin we were reading.

And later from George Washignton's Rule of Civility. But having a variety of choices and styles of writing keeps the interest high. And selecting from the interesting books we read seems to be our favorite way of choosing copywork. Sometimes a little pencil underline or a star in a margin while reading will help me find a quote later. I may ask my boys to start suggesting their own choices.

We do keep a poetry journal with their favorite poem of the week and draw a picture of it.

I ought to have them choose a few lines or a stanza from it to copy each week. Maybe I will start.

I have a Bible copywork journal for our memory work.

If the verse is too long, they can continue it the next day or week, but all the Bible verses are in one book. The other quotes are in one notebook. I usually have them write the Bible verse on Monday. The other days are for literature or poetry quotes. I used to keep them all in one book, but wanted them to have a book with Scripture separately. Lines from hymns or poems studied for recitation are helpful to transcribe, but I try not to choose anything too long at first so as to keep their interest.

And now, we are beginning studied dictation. But that's for another day.


  1. I love that you keep them in different books - like a keepsake of their favorites. Great post!

  2. Thanks! Needed this...was just looking for some ideas for copywork! Have you already submitted to the CM Carnival this time around?

  3. Kristine... I am LOVING your posts. Well done friend. Great pics. Great info. Keep 'em coming.