Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Injured Eyeballs and Cheering for Our Children (Copywork: Part Three)

Now, isn't that a catchy title? Gotcha here didn't it? ;)

Last Monday, I posted about "perfect accomplishment" in handwriting. Or, as many of us call it, copywork. I've been evaluating my methods for teaching handwriting throughout the last several weeks, so I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts and more than a few of Charlotte Mason's on the subject. Last week's post considered our standards for our children. Are we letting them get by with less than they can actually do? Having decided that most of us probably are not requiring enough of our children in this area, we had to wonder how to "get" that elusive perfect handwriting from our sweet, little students. (Well, mine are little, anyway.)

In her first volume, Home Education, Miss Mason gives us a few specific tips toward our goal. On page 160, she writes the following:

"A Child should Execute Perfectly. - 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 at all sorts of slopes and 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."

First off, let's make sure we even know what we've just read! What is all this talk about injured eyes and vitiated something or others? My interpretation is that Miss Mason is saying that we harm the child's sense of right and wrong when we let him get by with sloppy and half-hearted work. I would say that, at best, we lose an opportunity to train the child to value hard work carefully done. It's also just a waste of time, our time and the children's, if all we are doing is letting them learn to make their letters poorly. As far as the injured eye comment goes, Miss Mason is pointing out that the child is somewhat harmed when he is told, either directly or indirectly, that careless and sloppy work is the acceptable standard. His "eye" for beauty is undermined and he is the worse for his poorly done lesson because it was deemed acceptable.

Now that we have that out of the way, I think there is a very key point here in this passage that draws the line between a high standard and pushing a child too hard. The line is drawn with these words: "No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly". I need to know my children and their abilities as individuals. You need to know your children and their abilities as individuals. Regardless of whether a child tends to be a slow learner or is leaps and bounds beyond her peers, the standard is in relation to that particular child's own abilities. This does not mean that we keep things easy for our children so that they are guaranteed success. No, we are to challenge our child with the highest level of work that he can still do perfectly.

This takes discernment. It's a bit like the little boy who says his tummy aches, but you aren't sure if it really does hurt him or if he's just trying to avoid taking out the trash. Each one of us has to assess where our child's true limit is, not just where that child says it is. He might need gently pushed a bit to challenge his mind and abilities. If he's been accustomed to lazy work, he won't like the new standard at first. But, Miss Mason advises that we are doing our children a great disservice to allow them the habits of a careless work ethic and a careless attitude. Maybe I should write it on my lesson planner - "The little things matter".

So, when you establish the new standard and your child still comes to you that day with a page full of his half-hearted work, what are you to do? Miss Mason is so kind to have written this all out for us, isn't she? ;)

"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-morrow and the next day, and when the six perfect strokes appear, let it be an occasion of triumph!"

We are on their team, on the same side. We ought to be cheering for them! I know it can be so hard to keep from getting frustrated and tired and annoyed, but we must beg God for grace and discipline ourselves in the habit of being positive with our children. If the day's work is sloppy, Miss Mason says to simply have the child do it again. Actually, no! She says if the day's work is less than perfect have him do it again. Matter-of-factly, not with a sigh and a reproving look of disappointment, just matter-of-factly. "Oh, honey, this is better than last week. You are improving, but I have seen you write these letters more carefully and I know you can do it again today if you try." What if the letters are still not well done and the time for today's lesson is over? Whatever you do, please don't have the child write and write and write until his little arm goes numb. That would be completely defeating the purpose. Miss Mason's instructions here are to, in such a case, let the child try again tomorrow. If the letters are not perfect tomorrow, well then, try the next day! Finally, when the perfect letters do appear (and I love this part), celebrate with him! Not with stickers and a new Webkinz, but with genuine praise and pride in his accomplishment. If we would have our children truly value a job well done, we must show them how earnestly we value the same. See? Handwriting just crossed over into character training.

Isn't it a blessing to be on your child's side?

"So with the little tasks of painting, drawing, or construction he sets himself - let everything he does be done well."