A Child should Execute Perfectly. No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly, and then perfection should be required from him as a matter of course… 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-morrow and the next day, and when the six perfect strokes appear, let it be an occasion of triumph. So with the little tasks of painting, drawing, or construction he sets himself–let everything he does be well done… 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 undertaking until the last is finished.
~ Charlotte Mason

I have done precious little of copywork with Ms M for someone who is supposed to follow the Charlotte Mason approach in homeschooling. I have been striving to remedy that since relocating to Pakistan and alhamdulillah, Ms M is now enjoying writing. She has a journal in which she scribbles her stories and thoughts. Her copywork book is used not only for penmanship but also reading and narrating.

So just what does copywork entail? In it, a child is expected to copy a selection of meaningful and well-written work in his best penmanship. However, it is more than just perfecting handwriting – it is about instilling and perfecting proper grammar, spelling and phrasing through copying great literature.

The child learns to spell well by looking at the word, seeing it with his mind’s eye and then writing it from memory. A friend of mine who does a great deal of copywork points out that you must not allow a child to spell a word wrongly on paper because this will create an impression of the wrongly spelt word in his mind. In my elder daughter’s case, copywork is ideal – she is highly auditory and while she reads very well, is weak in visualising words for spelling.

Copywork helps to improve writing techniques because the child is exposed to a wide variety of quality literature and thus, diverse writing styles and techniques. It is a nice way of teaching punctuation and grammar – he gets to see it in action as opposed to learning the mere mechanics, which can be so dry.

These are a few things that might help make copywork a success:

  • Keep copywork sessions short. Since Ms M has yet to master neatness, trying to shape her letters nicely and meticulously tires her. I try to keep copywork sessions to no more than 15 minutes.
  • Use a variety of interesting sources. We use Qur’anic verses, ahadeeth, meaningful passages from books that my kids love, Aesop’s fables, poetry (sometimes funny ones help!) and quotes or idioms. Basically, copywork sessions are fun because Ms M knows that she gets to read something really interesting each time. I reproduce the full poem or short story because likes a good yarn and because she is a context kind of girl, but she only has to copy a small selection of it, which I have formatted in bold.
  • Make the book all the child’s own. We made our own copywork book. I kept in mind Ms M’s interests when I compiled the material. Her book’s cover has her name and vintage clip art which she loves.
  • Incorporate copywork with other subjects. Umm Tafari of River City Homeschoolers says that she alternates with science, history, and Islamic studies passages. I can see the wisdom in this – if the child is already journalling or notebooking, then we can compromise and ask him to write extracts of his studies in his best writing so he doesn’t have to do copywork as an exclusive subject.

Umm Tafari uses the Startwrite programme, which looks very handy ma shaa Allah, and Handwriting Without Tears. You can download lots of notebooking and copywork pages from sites like Notebooking Pages and Notebooking Nook.

I prefer using the writing exercise books available here in Islamabad and my own pages that I format using MS Word. I use 4 lines instead of 2 or 3. The letters sit on the third line – capitals and tall letters like (b, d, h, l etc.) go all the way up to the first/top line. The second line is the midway point and is shorter letters (like c, e, m, n, o, etc.). Hanging letters like (g, j, p, q, etc.) go down to the fourth line. I don’t know if this makes sense – I’ll upload a copy of our copywork book if anyone is interested :) (EDIT: OK, did some more research – I use top, middle, bottom & descender lines.)

I’ve recently purchased Penny Gardner’s Italics, Beautiful Handwriting for Children because my daughter wants to try cursive. I think this was a little premature though :)

We need to do more Arabic copywork… this Ramadan in shaa Allah. Any ideas?