Later in the series, I plan to include a more detailed explanation about how to implement the Charlotte Mason method in a typical school day, but it’s important to get a full “big picture” of her methods before you put together a plan. One of the benefits is that this method of instruction doesn’t have rigid parameters (which intimidates some and frees others ) and allows each family to tailor it to their lifestyle.
Part 2 discussed the importance of “living books” in the CM homeschool, and the next cornerstone is the practice of copy work, narration and dictation. These exercises have proven excellent tools in teaching spelling, grammar, punctuation and composition. It can, for all practical purposes, replace a standard grammar, spelling and writing curriculum.
“The purpose of copywork is to get into the child’s visual (and motor) memory the look and feel of a sentence that is correctly composed, and properly spelled, spaced, and punctuated.” (The Well Trained Mind)
Copy work was a common practice for centuries. Even Hebrew kings were required to make hand-written copies of the Scriptures. It’s important to understand the dynamics and benefits of copy work–it’s not just busy work!
“By and large, the greatest writers in the English language developed their writing skills through copywork and narration. Neither Shakespeare nor Jane Austen ever enrolled in a creative writing course; Dickens never studied journalism; Robert Louis Stevenson did not take classes in How to Write for Children (or for anyone else, for that matter)! Living before the invention of photocopy machines and computers, anything they wanted to keep a written record of, had to be copied down by hand: so copywork was a normal part of everyday life. Our children obviously live in a different age, but if we hope for them to become great writers, we can do no better than provide them with the same kind of training as these, and other, writers of the past.” (From Wonder to Wisdom)
Copy work is very easy to implement…students can copy from a selected passage in a book, from a poem or from Scripture. The main goal of copy work is to make sure he copies exactly what is written–perfectly. The quality is more important than the quantity, but the amount copied can be steadily increased as the child progresses. Obviously, the quality of the passage he copies is important as well.
Narration is simply the “telling back” of what the child has read. Narration has important implications in teaching the child to retain information, develop his thoughts, and learn to articulate those thoughts.
Narration should not be critiqued too much, especially at first. The child should feel free to share what he learned from his reading, even if it doesn’t seem like much or what you would have gathered from it. Asking questions is the best way to draw out more information. If the child doesn’t read yet, he can still narrate from selections you have read aloud.
Sometimes it’s helpful to show a child what you want in a narration. Simply read a selection and then say, “I’m going to narrate for you.”
Dictation is practiced once the child has a good grasp of writing through copy work. Dictation is writing down a selection that is read out loud. One important part of dictation is that you correct mistakes quickly, as they are made. If words are allowed to be misspelled, he could have a hard time breaking those spelling habits.
Dictation is best utilized by taking a selection, having the student read it through a few times, discussing any problem areas of grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., and then proceeding with the dictation. When you read the selection, you should make natural breaks where there is punctuation, but not tell where the punctuation goes.
After the selection is copied, you just talk about any problem areas, perhaps having them dictate the words again the correct way. Any words misspelled could be copied several times with the correct spelling.
When we first learned of the Charlotte Mason method, we began just by implementing copywork. I’ve now learned more about the depth and richness of these practices, and would encourage you to try them for yourself. It actually takes some faith to believe in what appears to be such a simple exercise, but that faith will take on flesh after a while!