"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." - Home Education, pg. 238
After a child has learned to print his individual letters neatly, what should he write for copywork lessons? Several popular workbooks and educational approaches recommend writing the same sentence, verse, or short passage each day all week long, possibly using that same passage at the end of the week for a spelling or dictation lesson. It's easy to become confused about how CM copywork should look because our ideas of CM get all mixed up with these other "copywork-ish" approaches. What does Miss Mason have to say about what a child should copy?
By taking a close look at the quote above (and reading between the lines a little), we can begin to see why Miss Mason would not advocate the child writing the same sentences each day for his copywork lessons. In her view, the content of copywork should be kept fresh and interesting for the children, if for no other reason than to help alleviate some of the tedium that must so often accompany handwriting practice. Some children just really do not like to write, and variety in what they write can help them put forth a better effort as their interest is engaged. Miss Mason writes that the children should be allowed to choose their own passages; however, not lengthy ones. Less is, more often than not, more in copywork.
There are a few practical considerations to consider with this idea of letting the children choose their own copywork selections. For one thing, the book used should be a quality book - well written and engaging. It may be useful to narrow down the choices for the child. For instance, something like, "You may choose anything you would like to copy from Charlotte's Web... about six to ten words." Or maybe, "You may choose a Bible verse or one line of a de la Mare poem for your copywork this morning". Some children may need even narrower choices to keep the selection process from taking all morning long ;) An indecisive young one might benefit from something like, "Which book would you like? Good. Now then, you can choose one sentence from this page to copy this morning". I have looked for proof that Miss Mason required the copywork to be done from school books used during that term, but I have not found sufficient evidence. As far as I can tell, the book choices are fairly wide open. My girls have done copywork from free reading as well as from school books, and also from poems that were completely new to them.
I hope to write another post soon about how we have settled the "choosing" issue in our own home. There are, I'm sure, many creative ways to go about it. Ambleside Online offers copywork suggestions for each year of the curriculum, too, that may be printed out and quickly referenced. We've found a number of typos in the Year One copywork list, though, FYI. However each family goes about it, the point is that the material use for copywork be interesting, well written, and of the child's choosing.
As far as using the copywork for dictation, this was not Miss Mason's method. Spelling and dictation in the Charlotte Mason method depend upon the habit of giving full attention to a passage, a previously unstudied passage. There must be one time to study it only before the dictation exercise. This is similar to Miss Mason's insistence upon only one reading before a narration. Too many chances, too many reviews, in her opinion, developed inattentive children with lazy mental habits. Lindafay at Higher Up And Further In has a wonderful post about how dictation differs from copywork. Click here if you'd like to read it.
Well, I think I'm nearly finished this rather exhaustive look at CM copywork :) Can you believe I can get so many posts out of one little subject?! I sincerely hope you are all doing well and that this post is somehow a blessing to a few of you :)