Monday, August 13, 2012

What is Copywork and Why? ~ Charlotte Mason Series

"Children should transcribe favourite passages. ––A certain sense of possession and delight may be added to this exercise if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favorite verse in one poem or another... But a book of their own, made up of their own chosen verses, should give them pleasure."
~ Charlotte Mason, Victorian Era Home Educator

Victorian Era, home education advocate, Charlotte Mason, encouraged copywork for children as a means of influencing many parts of their education. Though she was not the inventor of copywork, she did recognize the wonderful results it yielded. She taught this concept focusing on the use of short but precise lessons using virtuous verses. Ms. Mason also placed emphasis on the quality of work instead of the quantity. 

"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." ~ Charlotte Mason

What is copywork?

Copywork is simply the act of copying selected passages, word by word, punctuation by punctuation mark, with every attention to detail into a composition book, student journal or binder. The student is encouraged to "check" their own work since they are given the perfect sentence to start with (this also aids their proofreading skills).

"Secure that the child begins by making perfect letters and is never allowed to make faulty ones, and the rest he will do for himself; as for 'a good hand,' do not hurry him; his 'handwriting' will come by-and-by out of the character that is in him..."

"Perfect Accomplishment.–– I can only offer a few hints on the teaching of writing, though much might be said. First, let the child accomplish something perfectly in every lesson––a stroke, a pothook, a letter. Let the writing lesson be short; it should not last more than five or ten minutes. Ease in writing comes by practice; but that must be secured later."

Home School by Benjamin Wu
Why Copywork?

One benefit of copywork is that the children are receiving lessons in writing by the best tutors in history! When we have them copy verses from the Bible, they are exposed to the greatest thoughts of wisdom ever recorded. When they are copying sentences by classical authors, they are learning how the great minds of literature manipulate words, use grammar and construct sentences. As they mimic their thoughts on paper, they are being influenced by wonderful styles of writing (or composition) while practicing their penmanship at the same time. 

Another positive to copywork is that the more words the children copy, the more they are exposed to them and spelling is learned in a natural way. How many times do we play Scrabble and realize that a word just doesn't "look right"? It is because our mind visually absorbs the spelling of a word since we have seen it so many times on paper.

This is the beauty of daily copywork, it is constant exposure to rich vocabulary, spelling, and proper punctuation. The mechanics of a sentence are presented while they copy the beautifully crafted verses in well written novels such as Black Beauty, The Secret Garden and Heidi. Once children are comfortable with writing, the future will naturally inspire them to begin their own personal compositions/creative writing.

We have so much fear that we must teach our children, step by step, every grammar doctrine in order to provide them with a proper education but Charlotte Mason had her own ideas about this...

"Our failure as teachers is that we we place too little dependence on the intellectual power of our scholars, and as they are modest little souls what the teacher kindly volunteers to do for them, they feel that they cannot do for themselves."

What a burden was relieved from my mind as I read that quote! The thoughts of a dull classroom with a pointer stick in my hand saying, "today class we are going to learn about sentence diagramming…" evaporated and I was free to enjoy teaching my children language arts/grammar through beautiful examples of written works instead of dull and dry textbooks. There has been much fruit from this method in our homeschool and I encourage you to try this if you are frustrated with your current system.

To take copywork to the next level, begin dictation with your older child. Read to them the passages and see if they can correctly write them with all the proper punctuation and so forth. Younger children can be given dictation but with the commas, etc., included in the reading.

Lastly, if we are presenting our children with wonderful thoughts and ideas to pen on paper, copywork is also a gentle character building tool. 

What to Copy?

Bible verses, hymns, nature quotes, poems (or a few verses from poems), historical quotes, recipes, favourite passages from literature, lists (such as Ten Commandments, Fruit of the Spirit), etc… Anything wholesome that will delight the child, educate the mind and feed the imagination with "things of good report". 
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." ~ Philippians 4:8
I do encourage you to mix up your selections in order to accommodate their tastes and interests as well. Older children may be able to choose their own verses providing they are of good quality and well structured in thought. 

Where to Start?

Younger children should begin by copying the letters of the alphabet or their name. Once that is mastered to some degree of quality, provide them with short sentences and let it progress into longer passages. If you are a bit shy to this idea or are limited on time to provide passages to copy, you can start by using an already prepared copywork book such as Copywork for Little Boys, Copywork for Little Girls, Lessons in Manners for Copywork, Copywork for Older Girls, and Copywork for Older Boys. For our favorite supplier of Charlotte Mason-Style copywork booklets, visit here {affiliate link}:

Language Lessons - Charlotte Mason Style Language Arts

For further reading about the educational ideas of Charlotte Mason, visit here.

For our free copywork booklets, visit here.

“This method (copywork) is not new or experimental. It is an old and proven method, probably as old as writing itself. Great writers have used it and you have already used it with your child. But once children reach school age, we tend to shed the natural method for a slower, artificial method. Our society thinks grammar books or Language books somehow carry the secret of good writing, but few of them do.”


  1. I have only been able to read a short bit of your post and LOVE the subject at hand. I will have to come back later with my husband and children and read through the entire post. Have a blessed day!

    1. Hi Angelina,

      Thanks for stopping by (P.S. I love your aprons!)…

      And who new 20 years ago what a fascination I would have with COPYWORK ;) Glad you like the subject too :)

      Have a wonderful week! ~ JES

  2. Charlotte Manson's teaching of copy work appears sound and balanced. I like how she encourages teachers to let children copy work that is pleasing to them (in good taste, of course), which in turn, makes copy work meaningful to them, and to strive for quality in their work. I used to work in a public school as a teacher's aide, and when it was time for copy work, it was just mere busy work for the children, as they just hurried along to "get it done." Instead of focusing upon quality, it was a mere "speed game" to see how many words or sentences a child could copy. Ugh!

    At any rate, though I don't have children of my own, I truly enjoyed reading this post. I gained some insight into a part of your homeschool curriculum.

    1. Thank you for sharing Mara :) Yes, the idea is to do a small amount but well done. Busy work is never prosperous for student or teacher, thanks for pointing that out!

  3. Love this post, JES. We begin school on Aug. 20th and we're so looking forward to getting back on schedule. Copywork is a favorite of my children. :)
    Have a wonderful week!
    ~ Lisa

  4. Loved this post.
    This is my second year homeschooling and I'm still feeling things out. I'll be following you so I can come back and dig around for more ideas.

    1. Great to hear! I hope you end up loving it as much as we do over here. It has become a way of life and has been a blessing in so many ways! Have a wonderful week ~ JES

  5. We have done copywork off and on in our homeschool. My 12-year-old daughter, especially, loves it! I love all the pretty pictures in this post. Thanks for sharing!

    Mrs. Sarah Coller

    1. Thank you for stopping by :) and your kind comments! Have a wonderful weekend!

  6. This is a great post. We had always done copy work as part of our school. We even made our children write out a pertinent passage from Proverbs as punishment and they have tell us today that it helped them memorize it. It wasn't onerous to them. I meant to tell you that I am occasionally sharing a post like this on FB. You are a blessing!! Please pray for things going on with my mom and siblings right now...challenging time wise and energy wise. I lift you all up often <3

    1. Hi Jacqueline, We too, do the Proverbs copywork as a disciplinary measure using the "Proverbs for Parenting" book because it has all the proverbs in categories (LOVE THAT) and the "Go to the Ant" chart by Doorposts for the same reasons (of course, the Bible is always there too!). Thank you for your encouragement and will keep your family in prayer! Yours truly ~ JES

  7. I loved the Charlotte Mason quotes you used on this page. She has a great way to express her view of children and education.

    Charlotte Mason insisted that children are read excellent literature. “For this reason we owe it to every child to put them in communication with great minds that he may get at great thoughts; with the minds, that is, of those who have left us great works; and the only vital method of education appears to be that children should read worthy books, many worthy books.” Charlotte Mason, A Philosophy of Education, 1925.
    We like to incorporate CM learning in our homeschool in these ways:

    1. Thanks for sharing and I LOVE THAT quote and agree with it 100%. We strive to offer excellent reading for our whole family. We also incorporate her ideas but in our own unique way which makes homeschooling a blessing for us! Have a wonderful weekend and I will have to check out your post, JES :)

    2. I tried to leave a comment on your CM post but since I am not on Facebook, I wasn't allowed so I will leave it here for you, Marriane :)

      I agree with you on the reading aloud constantly. Reading is half of the homeschool time and is the most treasured. Also, it hasn't hindered readers in this house and there are 4 bookcases without dust on any of the books. ~ JES

  8. I just LOVE your blog. I've only read a few posts, but I going to make a cup of tea and read some more :-)

    I've linked to your post -

  9. Thank you for taking the time to comment and share! :)

  10. As new homeschoolers, I was unfamiliar with the benefits of copy work although I had heard of it. We are using a Bible curriculum that includes some copy work where my daughter is copying scripture. It's a bit tedious but she is improving her handwriting and learning scripture. Thanks for the excellent post and Charlotte Mason quotes. I really like her way of educating children. Blessings to you!

    1. What is neat about copy work is when your children come up to you sharing something they are copying that they appreciate in some way. That makes my day! :) I am sure you are finding many blessings in home education no matter what curriculum you use!

  11. Saving this idea away for the future. :)

    1. Wonderful! You will be more ahead of the game than I was!!! An accumulation of home education ideas is like an information hope chest that you are filling!


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