Saturday, April 18, 2009

First Grade - Copywork/Handwriting/Transcription

After a recent conversation it was brought to my attention that maybe I don't include enough handwriting, creative writing or spelling practice in my 1st graders curriculum.

While at first this comment rather bugged me; after some reflection and thought I decided to use it as an opportunity to analyze whether or not I was meeting my goals for my children in this area. And whether or not I was following the guidelines laid out by Charlotte Mason.

So after a bit of reading and research and thinking I have come up with the following. I feel this is a fair representation of Charlotte's guides and is workable for most 1st graders.

First off if you have read CM's "Home Education" you will notice that there is no mention of copywork in her writings, that is simply because she called it "transcription". You can reference her writings on transcription and handwriting here. (scroll down the page to parts X & XI)

"The earliest practice in writing proper for children of seven or eight should be, not letter writing or dictation, but transcription, slow and beautiful work..." CM vol. 1 pg. 238


First Grade Goals

  • Short Lessons, no longer than 10 -15 minutes

  • Learn 1 letter daily, gradually working up to short words and then sentences.


  • Avoid careless, sloppy work

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. In the meantime, the thing to be avoided is the habit of careless work––humpy 'm's, angular o's. CM vol.1 pg. 233

Why you may ask should writing lessons be so short? After all doesn't a child need more practice to get better? And won't he surely forget what he has learned if his lessons do not encompass more than just 1 letter a day?
If you have observed a child of this age writing you will notice that the more that they write the more careless their letters become.
Unknowingly I experimented with this very principle this year while teaching Ali & Tom. Since they had learned their letters in Kindergarten using a workbook, I figured it would be too laborious for them to backtrack and relearn to write their letters in a perfect hand. And everybody said that they should be doing "copywork" for this first year. So we delved into transcribing short sentences accomplishing a couple per week. But I did not expect perfect work and therefore did not get it. It did not matter how short the sentence or how long it was as if they were incapable of turning out beautiful work. I also did not notice any change in their penmanship during other projects and this was very discouraging because if I truly believed what Charlotte said then I was not expecting enough from my children.
So we made a break.
I purchased Penny Gardner's Italic Handwriting and we started over from the beginning. I probably did not need to go back this far but it has proved to be worth it.
Some days they only turn out 1 letter perfectly, other days 1 word and some days several words of perfect handwriting. We have not added sentences yet but I am confident that as long as we continue through the perfect forming of each letter that by the start of next year they will be more than ready to produce the quality of penmanship that I desire.


"Of the further stages, little need be said. 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; but, as a child, he cannot be said, strictly speaking, to have character." CM vol. 1 pg. 234

As they have trained their eyes to look for perfect work I have noticed a difference in their handwriting during phonics lessons and in their nature notebooks. I do not expect perfect work outside of copywork but for their nature notebooks I ask them to write as nicely as they can.
I have found the best approach in training their eyes to "see" perfect work is to ask them if they think their work is "perfect". Nine times out of ten the will reply honestly and will correct their work if needed, the rest of the time I will point out how their letter differs from the original and then work on getting them to see what needs to change.
I should say as well that right now our writing lessons are not longer than about 5 minutes, but as Tom & Ali have become more accustomed to writing perfectly they have been able to accomplish a bit more each lesson. In the beginning though it was a major struggle for them to accomplish 1 letter perfectly.
I think it is wise for us moms to remember that in the case of copywork consistency and diligence in careful, beautiful copywork are much more important than having your child fill in pages of handwriting practice sheets.





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