Copywork of Excellent Passages Precedes Creative Writing

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Copywork of Excellent Passages Precedes Creative Writing

Charlotte Mason believed the initial step to becoming a good writer was to first copy passages of excellent worth. Rather than encouraging creative writing with inventive spelling, Charlotte encouraged quite the opposite. In contrast, Charlotte had children copy meaningful passages of literary worth, line by line while looking at a model. Then, after children had mastered the art of copying neatly and accurately, Charlotte introduced them to creative writing. However, she continued to have children do copywork of meaningful quotes, passages, Scriptures, and poems alongside their creative writing. At Heart of Dakota we embrace her philosophy! We first introduce copywork of excellent passages. Then later, we add creative writing alongside the continuation of copywork.

Carrie’s 15 Years’ Experience with Teaching Creative Writing in Public School Prior to Having Her Own Children to Homeschool

During my eleven years as a public school teacher, we did much creative writing with kiddos from very early ages. As the kiddos passed through the grades, we discovered that doing creative writing early often caused kiddos to form poor habits in punctuation and capitalization, while emphasizing invented spelling (because kiddos were too young to know how to spell correctly yet). Over time it was tough to undo the habits of incorrect grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and spelling just for the sake of getting the written word on paper from an early age.

We also discovered that young kiddos often had trouble having any ideas about which to write. Even if they knew what they wanted to write, they couldn’t put it into words on paper. They hadn’t been exposed at that age to enough excellent writing to truly know what it looks like. We also found that those who had a God-given gift in the area of writing did well no matter how we taught writing.

Carrie’s Research of Charlotte Mason’s Philosophy in Regard to Creative Writing

When we had our own children and moved into homeschooling, we read more of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. Much of her thoughts on writing made sense to me. So, now at Heart of Dakota we delay “creative writing” until kiddos have copied enough from excellent passages to know what good writing looks like and and have also begun to form the habit of correct spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Once the excellent foundation is laid in those areas in our younger guides, we move into formal lessons on writing written narrations. This begins in Preparing Hearts for His Glory. We also creatively write from poetry in Preparing Hearts, and then continue in that vein in Creation to Christ (adding a formal writing program at that point as well).

Carrie’s Own Children’s Experience with Creative Writing

My own kiddos are avid writers, pouring out “books,” letters, stories, and a love for the written word. They are inspired by the excellent writing that they have heard since they were young and automatically weave that into their writing. It is a stark difference to the struggling writers that I spent over an hour of my public school teaching day every day in a “Writer’s Workshop” session trying to get them to write anything of worth. I fully agree that an exposure to great literature and copywork of excellent passages eventually leads to good writing. We pray that you will find the same to be true for you!


Should my children do poetry copywork if they are doing Cheerful Cursive?

Dear Carrie

If my children are doing Cheerful Cursive in Bigger Hearts, should I still have them do the poetry copywork?

We are starting Heart of Dakota‘s Bigger Hearts for His Glory on Monday. I wasn’t sure if I should have my kids do both the Cheerful Cursive and the Charlotte Mason copywork in the Poetry section. Even though we are starting cursive, their printing could still use some work. Should I do both? Or, is there enough other writing that they will still get enough printing practice? Thanks in advance for your help, and we can’t wait to start!


“Ms. Not Sure If My Children Should Do Copywork and Cursive”

Dear “Ms. Not Sure If My Children Should Do Poetry Copywork and Cursive,”

The choice of whether to do the poetry copywork in Bigger Hearts works well either way, as the poetry copywork is an optional choice if you’re currently doing Cheerful Cursive or Italic D. When we did Bigger Hearts with my second son, we did the poetry copywork in manuscript along with doing Cheerful Cursive. However, that particular son of mine loves to write. There is plenty of writing/copywork within Bigger Hearts, so if you have a child who does not love to write or is easily tired by too much writing, I wouldn’t do the poetry copywork. Instead, I would work toward fully doing the other assigned copywork in history and science and vocabulary.

What We Decided to Do with My Third Son’s Poetry Copywork and Cursive in Bigger Hearts

When my third son did Bigger Hearts for His Glory, I decided to do the poetry copywork in manuscript but wait on Cheerful Cursive. He just was not nearly ready for cursive. I based this decision on him having had some struggles with handwriting due to having surgery on the tips of his fingers on his left hand, as well as on us having to make him be a “righty” when he was obviously a “lefty”). Anyway, we added cursive for him the next homeschool year, when we came back to finish the rest of Bigger Hearts (at which point we decided not to continue with the optional poetry copywork in manuscript).

What We Decided to Do with My Fourth Son’s Poetry Copywork and Cursive in Bigger Hearts

When my fourth son did Bigger Hearts for His Glory, I chose a pace of half-speed with him. As I wanted him to continue practicing his printing but also begin learning cursive, I had him do both the poetry copywork and Cheerful Cursive. So, one day he did the poetry copywork, and the next day he did Cheerful Cursive. This way, I had him strengthening his fine motor skills by writing every day. So, there are many options to choose from, and I would choose which is best for each of your children doing Bigger Hearts based on their individual needs.



Why You Should Continue With Copywork Once Dictation and Written Narrations Have Begun

Dear Carrie

What benefits do you see for children to continue copywork once dictation and written narrations are well underway?

Dear Carrie,

The reasons for continuing dictation, oral narration, and written narration through the middle and upper years make sense to me. I myself have seen fruit from these methods! I’ve been grateful for how much they have helped my children in the process of learning to write. Copywork also makes sense to me in the elementary years, and it helped my 3 oldest when they were learning to write. One thing I don’t understood though is the continuation of copywork beyond 5th grade. I have noticed copywork continues through high school. What benefits do you see for children to continue copywork once dictation and written narrations are well underway?

“Please Help Me See the Benefits of Copywork for Olders”

Dear “Please Help Me See the Benefits of Copywork for Olders,”

This is an excellent question! Heading into upper levels of education, copywork begins taking on a new focus. As students copy from increasingly difficult narrative history books and classic literature, more in-depth elements are present. An author’s style, voice, word choice, descriptive language, use of humor, foreshadowing, mood, and important dialogue can be perceived. In essence, students are copying from great writers and beginning to internalize the author’s use of language.

Many of our founding fathers used this strategy.

This strategy was used by many of our founding fathers as part of their education and all through their lives. Benjamin Franklin was known for copying lengthy passages from the Bible and from Pilgrim’s Progress. He then later tried to write these verbatim, without looking at the model. Thomas Jefferson was also known to copy extensively from various works to internalize the material and note important phrasing.

Charlotte Mason advocated the practice of keeping a Common Place Book through high school.

High school students continue keeping a Common Place Book, selecting meaningful quotes or passages from classic literature for their book. Charlotte Mason advocated this practice throughout high school, and we feel it is an excellent use of students’ time. As students read, they watch for notable quotes or passages and select their favorites from among them. Finally, they copy them into their book for later reference, creating a ‘Common Place’ for their special quotes or passages.

Copywork of Scripture and poetry is especially beneficial.

Continuing copywork of Scripture is another area that is well worth the time spent copying. Within Heart of Dakota, students typically copy verses and passages that they have been asked to memorize. This makes the Scripture within their Common Place Books especially meaningful. Poetry is another area worthy of copywork. Poetry copywork reflects the structure of poems, the flow of words, the sentiments evoked, and the style of the poet.

Continuing copywork ensures students take note of excellent writing.

Copywork is such an overlooked skill especially as students begin doing more of their own writing. However, the inclusion of copywork in Heart of Dakota ensures students are continuing to take note of excellent writing. It keeps students watching how strong writers express themselves and thinking of ways they can imitate great writing. When students read and then copy from what they read, they remember better what was read. The quotes help the student recall the book to mind. So, there are many benefits to copywork all throughout life, no matter what age you are!