Of all the types of notebooking techniques out there, copywork is, by far, the easiest one to explain how to do.
The problem is, it’s the why that seems to take the most time to describe.
Because of that, I decided to stray a bit from my most recent Notebooking 101 format, which consisted simply of clarifying how to get started. Instead, today I’ll be tackling some Copywork FAQs, such as:
- What is copywork?
- When should we start doing copywork?
- Why should we do copywork?
- How do you even do copywork?
Shall we begin?
What is copywork?
Copywork is exactly what it sounds like. Giving your child a verse, passage, quote, etc., and asking them to copy it down as neatly and accurately as they can.
When should we start doing copywork?
That can vary with each individual family. Some start at the very beginning when a child is 4 or 5. Others will wait until a child is older and has a better grasp on writing.
What it really comes down to is meeting your children where they’re at. Copywork is not about age level or grade level but is based on ability. (And isn’t that what all homeschooling should be?)
If you are planning on starting with a child who is just beginning to write, start small. Do not expect a new writer to immediately copy entire Bible verses or longer sentences. For very young children, this can even mean having them copy one or two words at a time, and then building upon that as they become more skillful and can handle writing more words in a single seating.
Do not hesitate to use the same guidelines with older children, if necessary. Assign them only an amount they can handle comfortably. Then start to give them a little more at a time.
Why should we do copywork?
Done consistently and done well, copywork can completely replace a language arts curriculum, particularly for children who can read fairly well.
How? I’m glad you asked. Let’s take a look at the branches of language arts and how copywork fulfills them.
As a child is copying their selections, they are reading. Simple, right? Adding variety to their copywork resources will expand the types of writing they are exposed to, as well.
As children are copying their verses/passages, they are learning different types of sentence structures, varying writing styles, and where to place punctuation.
Children who are not only exposed to, but are carefully copying excerpts from quality literature will also learn proper spelling simply by seeing it in a natural setting every day – on the printed page.
As children are doing their copywork, they will often come across words they do not know. Invariably, they will figure out the meaning through the context of the surrounding words, by asking someone else what they mean, or by using the dictiionary.
As with spelling, this is a more effective and natural way for them to enlarge their vocabulary than by having to look up long lists of words in the dictionary that have no contextual or real life meaning for them.
This is the one aspect of copywork that may require an extra nudge, but it’s a simple one. (I must say, however, that it isn’t really necessary to formally teach grammar before the high school years. It just doesn’t take that long to learn it!)
Each day (or week, or biweekly, or whenever you prefer), ask your children to choose one page in their copybook and to (for example) circle the nouns. The next day, have them underline the verbs. After that, have them draw a line between the subject and predicate. (And so on and so on…)
While it will take a quick lesson or two on what these things are when you first begin, after awhile, these lessons will seamlessly fit into your homeschool day.
How do you even do copywork?
(This post contains affiliate links.)
While this is one of those things that will look different for each family, typically, there are two ways you will approach copywork: as a separate assignment or…incorporating it with a lesson.
We happen to do both.
For those who wish to do it completely separately, in our experience, composition books have been the best tool to use as copybooks. Spiral notebooks tend to fall apart too easily, and, while having a book comb-bound or spiral-bound is certainly an option. composition books are less expensive and easier to come by.
On the other hand, incorporating copywork into other activities such as notebooking and unit studies is as easy as writing it on plain notebook paper or even on a notebooking page and inserting it in with the corresponding notebook or folder.
Now let’s take a look at how to actually do it:
The most crucial component of copywork is finding quality literature for your children to, well, copy.
Some examples that we have used or I have heard of others using for copywork are:
- Bible verses/passages
- Excerpts from historical documents, such as the Preamble to the Consititution
- Song lyrics
- Poems (Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic is one of our favorite copywork resources.)
- Plays (We’ve already used “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”)
- Famous quotes
- Selected passages out of trade books. (My kids love copying facts about animals.)
The possibilities are endless.
Once you’ve chosen a passage, tell your children to carefully copy it, as it is. If there is a capital letter, they must use a capital. If there is an apostrophe, they must use an apostrophe. If there is a comma, they must put a comma.
It will take some practice, but eventually, your children will develop an eye for accuracy, especially if you are sure to point out errors they’ve made.
Speaking of errors, copywork is the best time to correct your children’s mechanical errors. When children create their own original stories, reports, poems, etc., focus on content. Save the red pen for their copywork. Believe me, your children will appreciate it. 😉
I cannot tell you what a difference the shedding of textbooks has done for our homeschool. Techniques like notebooking and copywork are a meaningful and natural way to teach your kids needed skills without making your home feel like the school down the street.
Do you use copywork? What tips or insight do you have to add?