The Mystery and Magic of Copywork

A friend recently asked me about any resources to help her daughter with spelling. I was eager to share all about Copywork with her!

I feel like Copywork has been the biggest secret withheld from the traditional school system today. It’s really like gold. I must admit, that as a high school English teacher in my past life, a grammar/word girl, and a person generally drawn to lists and workbooks, Copywork seemed like a shot in the dark. Or like jumping off a cliff and trusting that we would land all in one piece. I dropped all the other workbooks we used and committed to Copywork early on.

What exactly is copywork? Basically, it is a daily discipline and habit of finding and selecting a special sentence from what you read and copying it down exactly in your own special journal. That’s it. In our adult-world, digital version, it’s like clicking the highlight button on your Kindle. But actually, it’s so different, and its rewards are so vast. By copying a well-written sentence each day, a child is learning spelling, vocabulary, handwriting, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, etc. all in one fell swoop!! In just a 10 minute exercise!

Now that to me is magic! And it actually really and truly works. From 1st – 4th grade, in addition to reading great works and having your child orally narrate them, you really do not need to do much more around those early years of Language Arts. In 4th-5th grade, you can up the game a little more with adding dictation. And in middle school, they should begin writing their narrations.

But spelling, unless there are other deeper learning issues involved with your child, should be a non-issue if you are able to commit to the fun habit of Copywork. Stay committed to it. Don’t compromise on it daily. Let your child really own it. You’ll see an eagerness and focus grow in them while reading to seek out worthy sentences and great ideas to capture as they compile them in their special book.

Here are a few definitions and ideas about Copywork to leave you with. Let me know if you have any questions about how to make this happen practically!

“Children should transcribe favorite passages. ––A certain sense of possession and delight may be added to this exercise if children are allowed to choose for transcription their favorite verse in one poem or another…   But a book of their own, made up of their own chosen verses, should give them pleasure.”  ~ Charlotte Mason (1842-1923)

“The purpose of copywork is to get into the child’s visual (and motor) memory the look and feel of a sentence that is corrrectly composed, and properly spelled, spaced, and punctuated.” Jessie Wise Bauer, The Well Trained Mind

“It is a method, that when used consistently in your homeschooling studies, will improve your child’s penmanship, grammar, and punctuation skills as well as expose him to a variety of writing styles, structures, and techniques.” Debra Reed, {affiliate link}

“Its purpose is to improve the child’s handwriting, expose them to noble thoughts, good sentence structure, rich vocabulary and introduce basic punctuation and capitalization rules. Even grammar is incidentally taught but this is just an added benefit and not the purpose for copywork.” Linda Johnson,Charlotte Mason Help


I remember when I first considered homeschooling our oldest son, I thought, “I can teach Kindergarten!” So, I decided to just try it one year at a time. We’d already been learning a lot together. I taught him to read (or really just helped him teach himself!), and we were enjoying lots of books from the library, puzzles, math games, preschool music from Raffi and Laurie Berkner, etc.

Our Kindergarten year was fine, but I made a mistake, because in hindsight, I feel like I switched and made things too formal. The enjoyable learning we were already doing together began to feel like a chore, and I found myself putting on my teacher hat and teacher voice, and along with it, the teacher habits of sometimes adding negative consequences for lack of academic focus.

Instead, I should have just let it be an extension of those things we were already doing.

After my first son’s kinder year, I learned about Charlotte Mason and have been trying to live out her philosophy of education with our three kids ever since. There is still much to learn, but the thing I love most about her philosophy is the way it lines up with what I feel is the more natural way children live and learn. She says, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” I resonated.

I am now teaching a 6th, 4th, and 2nd grader, and still enjoying the homeschool journey. But when looking back on the Kinder year after three different kids, here’s what I would suggest to others:

What To Do for Kindergarten

1. Explore ways of learning that you and your family like best – There are so many educational philosophies out there from unschooling to textbook learning, Waldorf, or online classes. Use this year to figure out where you resonate or fit. Even if you decide on committing to a Charlotte Mason philosophy, there are many resources to peruse. (see lists below) You can fill your weeks with a million wonderful things, and the hard part is filtering out the good from the great. So, use this year to start choosing what you and your family naturally prioritize – math, science, language arts, fine arts, music, etc. Lean in strongly to the things you’re best at and inherently enjoy or are especially curious about.

2. Establish Important Habits – Charlotte Mason is a big proponent of using these younger years to train important habits in our children. Habits like attention, respect, and responsibility are fun and easier to teach and do when they are little. They will add hours to your school life and productivity when they are older. If you decide that fine arts or learning a foreign language are priorities, use this year to set up routines and train habits that are easy to implement and can quickly become natural. Pick a couple chores that your child can do and make sure to be consistent in expecting them done each day/week.

3. Spend Time Outside – Charlotte Mason suggested that children at this age should spend from 4-6 hours outside each day. That was never feasible for us, although we did try to get outside for a couple hours each day, and for a longer chunk at least once or twice a week. We love finding and hiking new trails on the weekend with Dad, too. As our kids are older now, we take our journals or sketchbooks with us sometimes and spread out to choose something to draw. Sometimes we’ll even take our books and find a nice spot to read alone for a while. But when they were younger, it was fun to just go and play at a park or creek, simply enjoying nature and others. Kids naturally find things like rocks, insects, plants, fish, sticks and birds, which offer countless opportunities to teach them about nature or to build with. All of that is so great for their observation, curiosity, and creativity at these developmental ages.

4. Read – Definitely prioritize reading aloud to your kids. And not just picture books, but great books of literature, poetry, biography, and science. Some of our favorites in Kinder were by AA Milne, Beatrix Potter and E.B. White. I also included a list of our favorite longer picture books below. As a parent, you can read educational books like For the Children’s Sake or a couple of the volumes on Education by Charlotte Mason.

5. Connect with Others – Spread your net wide and visit park days or play dates. Visit homeschool moms nights out or meetings. Join activities like chess club, soccer games, roller skate days or art classes. I love having a supportive homeschool network around from which to learn from. And it’s neat to see our children develop friendships of their own. Schedule field trips that peak their interest. Volunteer when you can. You’ll likely meet families somewhere that become special friends through the years. And just remember that building friendships takes time (for both you and your kids).

6. Cover the Basics – And so if you choose, especially if you have state requirements to meet or want to feel like your kids are keeping up with their peers in school, make sure to cover the basics regularly. I wanted to make sure each child could read proficiently by Kinder. I used many resources including

  • Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons (not my favorite layout, but somehow very effective with many kids)
  • Phonics Pathways
  • Bob Books
  • Sight words cards
  • Learn to Read with Peggy Kaye

We moved into early readers like

  • Dr. Seuss (Green Eggs & Ham)
  • Billy and Blaze
  • Frog and Toad
  • Little Bear
  • Gus and Grandpa
  • Iris and Walter
  • Henry and Mudge
  • Amelia Bedelia
  • Oliver and Amanda
  • Snipp, Snapp, Snur or Flicka, Ricka and Dicka

For math I made sure to do a lesson from Right Start Math most days each week. We’ve also really enjoyed reading Life of Fred books together. But you could even take a more relaxed approach to math and just cover basic concepts like numbers, calendars and simple addition. I would also have them practice writing a letter each day and introduced some basic drawing instruction for those fine motor skills.

Again, my encouragement is to enjoy this year, take a more relaxed approach, and use the time to explore all the amazing opportunities around you for learning – books, curriculum, activities, social groups, online resources. There are plenty! There are many years ahead to add more academic study to their plate, but these young years are best for exploration, imagination, creativity, and observation. Take lots of pictures and enjoy the ride!

A few of my favorite resources for Kindergarten year:

Charlotte Mason Curriculum Options:


Read Alouds or Early Chapter Books for Proficient Readers

  • My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
  • Milly, Molly, Mandy by Joyce Lancaster Brisley
  • Viking Adventure and the Sword in the Tree (and others) by Clyde Bulla
  • Little Pear by Eleanor Frances Lattimore
  • The Happy Little Family, etc. by Rebecca Caudill
  • Seven Kisses in a Row by Patricia Maclachlan
  • Dolphin Adventure, etc. by Wayne Grover
  • Paddington Bear Story Book by Michael Bond
  • Little Bo by Julie Andrews Edwards (audio)
  • Suki and the Invisible Peacock by Joyce Blackburn
  • Boxcar Children Books by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  • B is for Betsy by Carolyn Haywood and the other Eddie books she’s written
  • The Apple and the Arrow by Conrad Buff
  • The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame

Favorite Picture Books

  • The Rag Coat by Lauren A. Mills
  • A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Ziefer
  • The Happy Prince by Elissa Grodin
  • Least of All by Carol Purdy
  • The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden
  • The Rainbabies by Laura Krauss Melmed
  • The King with Six Friends by Jay Williams
  • A House is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman
  • Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burn
  • Mr. Pines Purple House by Leonard Kessler
  • My Name is Not Isabella by Jennifer Fosberry
  • Curious George by H.A. Rey
  • Brer Tiger and the Big Wind by William J. Faulkner
  • Come Look with Me books by Gladys S. Blizzard
  • Leah’s Pony by Elizabeth Friedrich
  • The Fool of the World and His Flying Ship (Isaac’s Favorite!)
  • Roxaboxen by Barbara Cooney
  • You are Special by Max Lucado
  • Find the Constellations by HA Rey
  • Two Bad Ants by Chris Van Allsburg
  • It Could Always be Worse by Margot Zemach
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett
  • Climb into My Lap (poems selected by Lee Bennet Hopkins)
  • Animal Crackers by Jane Dyer (poetry)
  • Puss in Boots by Paul Galdone
  • The Empty Pot by Demi
  • One Potato, Two Potato by Cynthia De Felice
  • What do you Say, Dear, by Sesyle Joslin
  • One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey
  • The King at the Door by Brock Cole
  • Katie and the Impressionists (and others)
  • The Squire and the Scroll by Jennie Bishop
  • Let me Hold You Longer by Karen Kingsbury
  • Magic School Bus Books
  • The Making of a Knight by Patrick O’Brien
  • Dick Whittington and His Cat by Marcia Brown
  • Because I Love You by Max Lucado
  • Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
  • Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
  • Stone Soup by Marcia Brown
  • Doctor Desoto by William Steig
  • Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

I’d love to hear about others’ experiences and suggestions for Kindergarten or any other specific questions you might have. Feel free to post a comment to start a conversation below!



Helping Kids Find & Pursue Their Own Interests

My husband and I have been talking recently about how much influence we really have on what interests/hobbies our kids pursue. Are they just born with certain innate talents and inevitable interests? We have our own ideas about what we think would be best or fun for them to do, but offering it to them does not guarantee that they will choose it for themselves.

However, we do want them to learn basic foundational things and to have passions that carry them through the ups & downs of pursuing anything worthwhile. Things such that music, sports, art, etc. can teach. Over time, we have learned what most veteran parents or educators know – performance only goes as deep as ownership. When kids get to choose their own pursuit, there is “buy-in,” excitement, and a positive attitude to push through the inevitable learning curve. If not, you can expect increased friction or laziness.

We’ve learned that we can introduce kids to a multiple of opportunities to see what they become most attracted to. We also watch and listen carefully to see what they might suggest or ask for themselves. I try to test those things to see if it is just a trend or if it really “sticks.” We have a son who out-of-the-blue fell in love with Lacrosse, art, and guitar but we waited patiently with each interest for a while before we started paying more for lessons.  Our daughter mentioned wanting to play the violin since she was 2, but we didn’t start her lessons til 5 1/2, and even it was a challenging learning curve of a year, she’s stuck with it, and we are enjoying the music she plays now.

Some things we’ve learned by trial and error:

1. Kindle the flame. When you see a spark, acknowledge it and definitely “kindle it.” Don’t drown it.  🙂 Test it, one step at a time in the beginning with your investment. At some point, though, it’s great to let them jump in and go all-out.

2. Don’t overdo it, though with your own emotion and ideas. There’s a fine line of enthusiasm to walk. While you want to share their interest and offer total love and support, I’ve found that once my excitement trumps theirs, they start pulling back. I take something away from their ownership. It’s really hard to explain, but I’ve seen it happen several times.

3. Give them options, whenever possible. Let them have a voice in their choice of instructor, art/music class, sport or race. When they get to pick, they are now more personally vested in their decision and commitment. We let our oldest son pick his piano instructor. We had a couple come to the house for a trial lesson, and he was able to choose who he resonated with most. It has been a fabulous experience since then!

4. Set them up for early success. My great friend reminded me that I probably say this more often than I knew! For most kids, their emotional association with an initial experience is so powerful. Of course, this varies on each child’s comfort-level with “failure.” But when possible,  we try to make those early encounters with something new both fun and memorable. We let them know what to expect, for those kids that need to know. And we’ve set a reasonable trial period for those kids that are tempted to quit early on so they can gain confidence and enjoyment beyond the difficult learning curve.

5. Push when necessary. At some point, there will usually be a time when a child is just not “in the mood” to practice or to go to a lesson, etc. That’s normal. We can be understanding – we all have those days, even as adults. Giving them freedom to pick another time of the day to practice or just double up the next time again places ownership onto their shoulders. But it can also be an opportunity to push into what it takes to really be excellent in something, to choose to have self-discipline and to persevere when things get hard. We can offer that voice of perspective and coaching; the voice that believes something bigger than what they can see right now. Ultimately, though, they have to choose. It grows their own confidence when they know they can push through those challenging times.

These are just a few things that we are still learning as we love and lead our kids. I’d love to hear what things have worked for you and your children.

How do you best lead and inspire them to pursue their own interests?


Thinking Putty

In the past, I’ve let my kids build with blocks, Magnetix, Tinker Toys, Superstructs or even Legos while they listen to me read. In many ways it allowed them a heightened sense of attention and focus. There’s much evidence to support this practice, especially for kinesthetic learners. It was successful for my kids as long as their mental energy was focused more on what they were hearing instead of the creativity of what they were trying to build.

Crazy Aaron’s

Recently though, our family has fallen in love with Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, and it has become our “go-to” thing to have when listening to literature or history read-alouds. I tell everyone that this is a wonderful example of packaging and marketing. Essentially, it really is just old fashioned “silly putty.” But this new Thinking Putty comes in small stainless steel containers which sit nicely on a table, in a drawer or can easily slip into a pocket or purse. Our kids keep them in a personal drawer, and ideally that’s where they always are.  😉 They know where to find them when it’s time to sit and listen to a story.

But these are more amazing that just regular silly putty. They have all kinds of fun colors – some hyperthermal colors that change with temperature, some metallic looking sparkly bold colors, and even several glow-in-the-dark colors.

Not Just For Kids

Last night, even as adults, we sat around the table talking with my sister and her husband and each enjoyed messing around with our own bit of Thinking Putty. Somehow it provided a minimal distraction that ironically allowed us to dive into deeper conversation. It was fun for us to create shapes and unique designs ourselves.

Great Gifts

In addition, these are perfect small gifts to surprise an older child with, something they wouldn’t expect to enjoy but totally do!

I like to buy the smaller containers which are found in Austin at Book People, Terra Toys, and Brilliant Sky Toys and Books. Otherwise, you can also order online!

“Working on Things”

Sometimes it seems like all we see is one knot at a time - until before you know it, you have a beautiful completed scarf!

“We all have things that we are working on right now,” our middle son reminded us in a very communal, inspiring way.

It’s true, even as parents, we all have ways we are learning and changing.

And with our children, it seems we are constantly training habits and working with them on various skills or character traits.

It’s a weird process, though, because from my own experience with our children, most of the change is happening below the surface, where we don’t get the satisfying benefit of watching the progress.  We sound like a broken record – “Did you make your bed? Did you take out the trash?” – and may start to get discouraged . . .

Until one day, all of a sudden the bed was made and the trash was taken out without our reminders.

Those are simple chore habits, but I’ve noticed the same pattern in training manners or character. “Look people in the eye.” “Speak clearly.” “Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.'” “Ask for forgiveness; make things right.” For a time, it seems like they keep “failing.” But then again, one day, we notice that we’re not mentioning them any longer because they are actually taking place on their own! Hooray!

It has been so encouraging recently for me to see this taking place on a few fronts in our family:

  • Learning to Say the “R” Sound – Our middle son has struggled with this last developmental sound, and now he is 8 1/2. Over the last few months, we have brought it more frequently to his attention, in a very matter-of-fact way.  We told him it was important right now for his age. We gave him some tools to know and use. He decided to really focus on it, and we have seen him make GREAT personal efforts to form the “r” sound in all its 38 forms! I have completely admired his persistence and humility. We would only correct him a couple times a day, and push forward when we heard a more correct formation. But all of a sudden, last weekend, when we were driving home, I had him repeat all the words with “r” sounds that I saw on signs we passed, and he was repeating them soooo well.  I was giddy with delight and gratitude.
  • Morning Habits – We try to keep things pretty simple around here. But as members of the same family, we figure this operation can run more smoothly if everyone chips in. Laundry, dishes, trash, cleaning own rooms, bathroom and stairs are all outsourced to our kids in the morning. This is one of those drums we’ve kept beating for a while. But all of a sudden just recently, I’ve realized that I’m not having to remind and “push” them along. I hope it stays like this.  🙂
  • Eagerness and Willingess to Help – Ideally, our kids will have eyes to see needs and feel compelled to personally lend a hand. While I would love for this to be an authentic intrinsic motivation, when some kids are in this “training process,” it is valuable to model it and also point out and offer opportunities where they can help. I’m naturally more of a “do-it-yourself-er” as a mom, but I recently realized that I’m doing my kids a huge disservice! So, I’ve started to invite them more and more to help alongside me in the kitchen or with cleaning. And this last week, I invited the boys to help me go grocery shopping. What a blast. Riding on Heely’s down the aisle, feeling like they were on a treasure hunt, and then feeling like big-boy gentlemen putting the bags in the car and taking the cart back, they were a huge help. This week, my oldest son even personally volunteered to help set-up a special neighborhood tea party for the girls, carrying tables, making menus, and serving as a waiter. He also offered to help another neighbor fix her Wii, searching online for the problematic issues and tools needed.
  • Practicing an Instrument – We now have a guitar player and a violin player in the family. Oh, what fun! Now, for little kids, these instruments have a very difficult learning curve (well, at least for mine, there was much initial frustration trying to remember 100 things about a bow hold or to learn a new chord) But with much time, patience, and more patience (mine included), they are now at a point where they both enjoy playing their instrument on their own!

Reflecting on these actually encourages me presently as it serves as a reminder to be patient when I’m the middle of “working on new things” with the kids!

But there are a couple things that we’ve learned as parents to just help this process along:

  • Focus on one habit at a time (Check out the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg)
  • Take time to share the bigger picture (Many kids really need to know the why and the purpose instead of just disconnected expectations)
  • Set up systems for their success (Function follows form.)
  • Show much grace (We’re all in process, and most of the time our kids really do want to do their best and make us smile.)

Ownership and Failure

We were team leaders this year of a group of boys competing in Destination Imagination, a global organization that gives teams of students the opportunity to compete in creative problem solving challenges. Our oldest son met weekly with a group of 3 other boys here at our home to practice instant challenges and work on their main focus project – building a tower out of only natural wood and glue that could hold as much weight as possible. In addition, it had to hold golf balls, delivered by their own constructed “delivery device” and tie in with a relevant creative story presentation – all performed in 8 minutes!

No Adult Interference

It was a life changing experience for us all. The great catch was that there was absolutely NO adult “interference.” The team was responsible for making ALL decisions, without our suggestions or opinions. We could help them find research and coach them through some basic teamwork and problem solving skills, but they had to own the entire process and solution.

And the beautiful thing about it was that the boys made it all happen.  They did it!  They built a structure that could hold 310 pounds of weights! It was only 8.5 inches tall made of balsa wood and super glue. They came up with all of their costumes, props, sign, and story line. They learned how to really personally identify and live into their strengths, celebrate and respect each other, and make decisions as a team.

But they failed. Out of 14 teams competing, they came in 12th. Now, if you have more of “everyone’s a winner” mentality, you might rationalize their results, but the fact is that, in comparison to the other teams, as my son says when asked, “We sucked.” They lost. They were honest about it.

The beautiful thing is that they owned it – they couldn’t dismiss or blame any part of the result on anyone else. It was theirs. Not like some science projects that kids and parents work on till the last minute, to the point where the parent should be the one receiving the medal, and they have a skewed sense of their achievement. Nope, this was all on their shoulders.

And oh man, what an experience. They’re geared up and want to do it again. This being their first year, they now have perspective and a better idea of what they should really shoot for.  Sure, they worked hard, but now they know the level of quality and hard work required to have a shot at a top place slot.

What I Learned

As a mom and homeschool teacher, I learned a huge, important, necessary lesson, especially as I am transitioning into these older years with our son – give him space to decide and fail. I had to bite my tongue and leave the room before I tried to sneak in a little hint here or there. I saw it transfer into other aspects of our relationship.  I learned to stop buffering his decisions in order to help him avoid those negative potential consequences. This allowed him to truly own the success . . . or failure.

And we all know that as memorable as our successes are, we typically learn most – those lessons that really stick – from our failures. And especially when we can’t point the blame finger at someone else. They can propel us towards conviction and growth if allow them. “Keep moving forward,” they say in Disney’s Meet the Robinson’s.

I was so, so grateful for this experience with Destination Imagination this year.  The mature, respectful, fun new friendships that grew out of it with these 4 boys was a privilege to watch first hand. I watched them grow, confident about who they were in their own skin.  I watched them experience many successes all along the way . . . and many failures, too.

But we all learned from it all.

Do you allow your child the space and freedom to own their decisions – and the consequences of them – without shaming them for it? Can you share some examples of what this looks like in your family or homeschooling?



Stop Stealing Dreams

I took some time this evening to read Seth Godin’s Manifesto, “Stop Stealing Dreams” on the state of Education today. His killer question repeated throughout is: What is School For? He attacks this question with case studies, concrete ideas for change, a history of our school system, as well as opinions on the future of higher ed.

His encouragement is to focus on building a generation of creative and motivated leaders.

This is a great read for any teacher, administrator and parent, anyone directly or indirectly involved with the educational journey of children. While it is not the most cohesive document, as even Seth admits, it is easy to skim and scan for inspiring ideas and questions to ponder. Take this one, for example:

Just wondering: what would happen to our culture if students spent 40 percent of their time pursuing interesting discoveries and exciting growth opportunities, and only 60 percent of the day absorbing facts that used to be important to know. (#114)

Even as a homeschool teacher who believes in this, it is great to be reminded where to focus our priorities. Of course, I want my children to be involved in interesting, hands-on, personally relevant discoveries. That’s what “sticks” and what leads to true learning and growth.

And I just love Seth’s ending:

When we teach a child to love to learn, the amount of learning becomes limitless.  When we teach a child to deal with a changing world, she will never become obsolete. And when we give students the desire to make things, even choices, we create a world filled with makers. (#132)

Makers, producers, creators, artists. That’s where the future lies for our children. They only become that by being allowed to do those things now – often.

Share and Dialogue

One of the unique things about this manifesto was the manner in which is was delivered  – free and in all variety of media.  Seth Godin was more concerned with the dialogue around his ideas and the prospect of influence and real change rather than in selling books.  This was made to be shared, dissected, critiqued, re-written even. It’s genius, and a potential representation of the future of the real opportunities of digital content.

In that vein, I would invite you all to read it yourselves and add a comment below on any ideas you found helpful or debatable.