In the early years of homeschooling my children I was in a hurry to see progress and not yet able to just enjoy the process of my children maturing at their own pace. In those days language arts worried me. My first child was a late reader and subsequently struggled with writing and spelling. We labored through several reading curriculums and slowly made progress, but in hindsight I learned that what she needed was time. Finding the right window of time for a child to learn how to read is an important part of the process. For some of mine that has been at four years old and for others it wasn’t until age nine. (Both are ok!)
Just like there is often a certain time when a child is suddenly interested in learning to read, I’ve found the same thing happens with writing. My young children will show a desire to practice forming letters and I take advantage of this interest to gently introduce them to copywork.
What is copywork?
Copywork is a beautiful, painless (slow and steady!) way for a child to learn grammar, spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, and so much more. Just as your child learned how to speak without a curriculum by modeling what they heard spoken, in the same way they can learn how to write by copying the written word.
When my current five year old expressed an interest in writing he requested a notebook like his older siblings have. I also pulled out a beginning reader leveled book that has the words printed in large font. I showed him how he could copy the words into his notebook, letter by letter, and then let him go. This introduction to copywork is a time that I let the child take initiative and I don’t yet offer correction. He does not work on his copywork notebook every day, but I keep it in a spot that is easy to find so it encourages him to continue working on it. I find children enjoy the simplicity of a task that feels so “grown up” and yet is very doable for them. If your child doesn’t show interest in copywork at this age there’s nothing to worry about. You can introduce it when the timing seems right for them.
For older children who aren’t still learning to form letters or even hold a pencils, copywork is a simple practice. All they need is a notebook or sheet of paper and a quality piece of literature. Each day they will spend time copying the words, being careful to duplicate everything exactly as it was originally written.
When to start offering correction?
In those early days as my young child begins to pull out his notebook or some other copywork project more frequently (many weeks may go by in between!) I show excitement for what he has done and at the same time begin to point out ways to improve his work. I only mention one thing at a time, in a non-confrontational way.
If he is running all the words together on the page I might say, “Did you notice there are little spaces in between the words? You can leave spaces like that in your notebook too.”
Or if he is just copying the words and doesn’t seem to notice the punctuation: “Look at this dot after that word. That is a period! It means that the sentence is all done. Whenever you see one in the book you can also write it in your notebook”
When should I begin requiring daily copywork?
When the child is writing more easily and ready for some daily expectations to be presented (often around age 7 with my kids) we begin making copywork a daily requirement. I find it is important to start slow when you are transitioning to daily copywork. There are many years of learning ahead and I don’t want to burn a child out during these precious early years. Five minutes of careful copying from a book is enough to start. Over time you can increase it until they are copying for longer periods. It is important to know your child when setting a daily expectation. Most of my children do better with a “number of lines in my notebook” requirement than “copy for this many minutes”, but after some trial and error you will figure out what works best for yours. Remember that a little bit done daily over years adds up to a great amount of learning, so don’t feel pressured to have them do a large amount of writing each sitting. We want this to be an enjoyable part of their day!
I have my younger children fill just a couple lines of a wide-lined notebook per day with their copywork, slowly increasing over time until they are filling an entire side of a college rule notebook during the highschool years.
What should I have my child copy?
As I mentioned earlier, my early writers start by copying easy reader books with large print. This is a good way to begin but the goal is to have your child copying quality works: books, poems, essays, passages from the Bible, etc. If you have a child who is very resistant to copywork you may choose to pick something that aligns with their personal interests or hobbies, even if it may not be filed in the “quality literature” category. Sometimes you just have to get the ball rolling!