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Slow and Beautiful Work

"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..."                             - Mason, Vol. 1, p. 238
Transcription is copywork.  Often it is just something we do quickly and check off our list.  But it shouldn't be.  When we do our Work at Table, I remind myself to take a breath and slow down. Then I remind my children to take their time and do "slow and beautiful work" with their copywork.

Mason had some other ideas that I don't see mentioned very often when it comes to copywork.  One is that the student should look at the word, visualize it in their mind's eye, and then try to write it from memory.  This takes time!
Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory. - Mason, Vol. 1, p. 238
Above is a favorite copywork resource, The Boy's Book of Verse by Helen Dean Fish . It is, of course, perfectly appropriate for girls, too.  My 15 ds is presently copying "Ultima Ratio Regum" by Stephen Spender.  Read the one review at Amazon for a great endorsement. Which leads to my next point about letting the student select his own copywork.

Mason tells us to let the child choose the verse that he likes.  Mason tells us that if you make them always write the entire poem, it will "stale" upon the children. It's as if the copywork is almost to be thought of like a commonplace entry...or a nature notebook entry...or a Book of Centuries entry... - the student's own choice. 
A certain sense of possession and delight may be added to this exercise if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favourite verse in one poem and another. This is better than to write a favourite poem, an exercise which stales on the little people before it is finished. But a book of their own, made up of their own chosen verses, should give them pleasure. - Mason, Vol. 1, p. 238
All of this reminds me of this Wendell Berry poem:

Suppose we did our work
like the snow, quietly, quietly,
leaving nothing out.

- from New Collected Poems by Wendell Berry


Truly,
Nancy



P.S. - Jen Spencer brought this interesting technique idea to my attention.  Mason suggests that the student should, from the beginning, hold the pencil between the first and second fingers, steadying the pencil with the thumb. This would seem to indicate that the pen would then sit comfortably between the knuckle of the middle and the index finger. 
It would be a great gain if children were taught from the first to hold the pen between the first and second fingers, steadying it with the thumb. This position avoids the uncomfortable strain on the muscles produced by the usual way of holding a pen––a strain which causes writer's cramp in later days when there is much writing to be done.  - Mason, Vol. 1, p. 239




29 comments:

  1. Wish I'd seen this yesterday! :) thank you

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    1. Suz,
      Glad you think it might help you! The cool thing is that each day, each hour, even each moment we can have a do-over thanks to His mercies. (Sorry to go on about that...it's been on my mind!)
      Truly,
      Nancy

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  2. I have done this and it is very good for students to dig into a poetry book and find what they like. It makes them read through. I did this with Seamus Heaney when he died and we were also reading Beowulf. I don't have to teach my students to write in high school but I do tell them about good pens that write and slide easier and good paper too. Both matter. Thanks for the poetry book. I don't have it and just ordered a used copy. **hugs

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    1. Thanks, Bonnie! That's a good point that I just assume (incorrectly) that everyone knows about pens, pencils, and papers. Because I'm so picky about those materials, my own children get it. Yes, with the poetry books I find if they have one that is "theirs", they do tend to read through and meet favorites.
      Hugs back,
      Nancy

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  3. and one of my favorite Wendell Berry poems... !

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  4. What a quick simple change I can make! thank you for the reminder to slow down and make things beautiful. Looking forward to school tomorrow to put it into practice!

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    1. And I hope you had a great day slowing down and making things beautiful alongside your children.
      Truly,
      Nancy

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  5. You have a BUNTING. :D I love it! :) Thank you...once again so helpful. I love your practical tips with Charlotte's words referenced! It really makes the volumes come alive! :)

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    1. {I love bunting, too. I have...a few!} Thanks for stopping in, Amy dear.
      Truly,
      Nancy

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  6. Wonderful post! Such a beautiful Wendell Berry quote too. Your "I am, I can, I ought, I will" motto pin caught my attention. I am wondering where you got it or if there might be a way to purchase one like it. Thanks for your inspiring blog.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by, Colleen. I designed the badge to look like one of the PNEU designs and they were given out at the Living Education Retreat in 2013. The few left will be sold at the LER (they're in storage now!) I'm glad you like it!

      Truly,
      Nancy

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  7. Interesting point regarding the pencil/pen grip. My hand gets so tired when journaling! I'm going to attempt this and see how it works. Maybe it would help my ds who's allergic to his pencil ;-) Thanks for sharing!

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  8. Slowing down in all things. So important to be reminded. This day and times almost forces us to speed up, and I don't want to. So hard to make a habit of it, though. Thanks for the words. :)

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    1. I couldn't agree more, melissa. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts.
      Truly,
      Nancy

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  9. SUCH a good reminder... makes me want to go over everything and make sure we're all doing as well as we can!!

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    1. It's a slow-growth kind of education, isn't it? I know you are doing amazing things the best way you can down in Peru! Lord willing, I'll see you this summer! ;)

      Truly,
      Nancy

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  10. I really enjoyed this post. I've homeschooled our children for a long time now. However, CM is new in our household. I'm excited to begin homeschooling from the beginning once again. The Lord has blessed us with two little boys through adoption. I believe the CM method will fit nicely with my boys, especially due to their backgrounds. Everything about Charlotte Mason's ways seem with a gentle approach, something our oldest adopted will truly need. I'll be sure to return to your blog for resources and encouragement. Thanks! Deanna @ loveadopted.blogspot.com

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Deanna! And what an amazing thing you are doing with those boys. I agree, since Mason's main premise was that children are persons, it tends to be the best fit for everyone!

      Thanks for commenting,
      Nancy

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  11. I am currently reading Berry's New Collected Poems (and gifted a copy to my brother for Christmas), so I was happy to see it here. Even after just a few years of homeschooling, I am already a firm believer in CM's slow-and-savor approach after seeing the joy, interest, and love for beauty that it has developed in my children. Beautiful post!

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    1. Thank you, Celeste! Have you read Berry's Port William books? I am currently rereading them. So good and rich! Aren't you thankful the Holy Spirit has led you down this path? I am grateful every day.

      Truly,
      Nancy

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    2. I read Hannah Coulter last fall and it was my favorite fiction read of the year. I'd like to read Nathan Coulter next, but my library doesn't have it, so I think I'm going to move on to Jayber Crow. And Berry's poetry is so rich and satisfying.

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  12. Nancy, your posts always warm my heart and inspire me ... and this post is wonderful! I love the gentleness and richness you ( and dear Ms Mason!) encourage us to follow. Blessings!

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  13. You know, I came digging around here after hearing Sandra Rusby Bells talk on composition about narration at LER. She mentioned writing from memory. I see that I commented here, but obviously I wasn't paying close attention. I have been missing the part about writing from MEMORY in my copywork. Very interesting as my oldest is going slower with her spelling and now I see that if I had cultivated this "taking a picture in the mind's eye" earlier how that would have built onto our dictation lessons now. WOW. I'm glad that I know now though...reminder to S L O W down myself and make sure I'm doing things as CM led.

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  14. I'm not sure if you'll still see this (I'll just email you if I don't hear in the next week or so! HA!), but I was reading this post (again) and I wonder, at what age do you let your child choose their copywork passage?

    My DD is 7 and letting her choose is too open-ended for her, I think. I might try it tomorrow and see what happens. I'm pretty sure, though, that all of Copywork Time will be spent looking for that perfect passage to write. :)

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    1. Hi, Catie!
      The age at which I let my children choose their own copywork varies! Usually it is when they are much older than 7. Part of the key for me is to have it ready to go beforehand so that we aren't taking the time to search for something during school.

      So I might decide before the school year that she will copy this passage of scripture and that scene from Shakespeare and have it in her notebook. But then, if she is memorizing a favorite poem or begs to do a different piece, we might switch to that.

      I don't leave very much open-ended in the early years.

      Does that help?

      Warmly,
      Nancy

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    2. It does help very much! Thank you!

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  15. Can you tell me please, we have been doing unlined paper for copywork with my rising fourth grader, is this preferable or should we have lined paper and if so, which size? Maybe it doesn't matter but I thought I would check! Thanks, Jennifer

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    1. Dear Jennifer,
      That is an excellent question and one I hadn't really thought about! At first I thought, "Well of course they used lines" but then, when they imagined the letters, or wrote in sand, or even in the air, there were no lines. And Miss Mason herself recommended Mrs. Bridges Handwriting, in which we don't see any lines - http://www.amblesideonline.org/CM/NewHandwriting.html

      But for early writing, she mentions lines -

      Small Text-Hand––Double-ruled Lines––Double ruled lines, small text-hand, should be used at first, as children are eager to write very minute 'small hand,' and once they have fallen into this habit it is not easy to get good writing. A sense of beauty in their writing and in the lines they copy should carry them over this stage of their work with pleasure. Not more than ten minutes or a quarter of an hour should be given to the early writing-lessons. If they are longer the children get tired and slovenly. (Vol. 1, p. 238)

      So it seems that to start with, you would use lines and that perhaps you might graduate from that, as in Mrs. Bridges Handwriting.

      That whole section in Volume 1 is packed with great information on all things writing in a CM education.

      Warmly,
      Nancy

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