Copywork or transcription is one of the early methods Miss Mason used to teach spelling (and it will also help with composition later). You can read more about some of the many ways her early practices are actually building skills that will help with composition later here. Mason used copywork and transcription and penmanship all pretty much interchangeably, but you need not get caught up in being legalistic about the terms. They all lead to the same point, anyway.
To begin, if needed, let the children write in a writing box- it can be a cake pan or jelly roll pan with a thin layer of sand, salt, cornmeal, or something equivalent. Trace letters and strokes in the air. This instruction should not begin before 6, unless the child demands to learn how to write. Even then, keep it gentle and don't let him strain his muscles trying to do things beyond his years.
When the child is ready for working on paper, use pencils and crayons- these tools provide a useful amount of friction. Pens glide too smoothly. The first efforts are just the strokes and lines that make letters. You do not assign an entire page, you explain carefully how to make them properly and then ask for only five or six perfectly done letters. Do not spend more than five or ten minutes on this. Stop when the time is up and move on. Return the next day and pick up where you left off. Point out the best parts of the letters, and perhaps gently comment on the problem with other letters. If they are never closing the circle of the letter a or o, point that out. If the letters float above the line, explain that they need to be standing firmly on their lines. IOW, give concrete, simple directions for improvement.
Once they have mastered letters, you can add words and sentences. Lines and verses from Mother Goose are an excellent starting place.
Then you are ready for copywork from their school reading. The purpose of copywork is to give them careful, focused attention on well crafted sentences (so you do not use their own writing, or yours, for copywork), to help them look closely at words as a whole, to make mental images of the words they see, to notice proper grammar and punctuation, to give them a reason to notice the quality of individual sentences.
So now that they are ready to begin copying sentences, how do you do it?
You can write the sentence for them to copy, you can hand them the book and let them copy from that- either way is fine so long as they are able to work from that source. Whether you write a copy for them to model or whether they copy directly from the book is not very relevant to the principle behind copywork.
You can choose the sentence for them to copy, or you can let them choose. Ideally, it's better for them to choose a sentence from their reading, but it's okay for you assign them, especially if they are really pokey about it, or consistently pick by choosing the absolutely shortest sentence they can find. There is a CM preference here for the child to do the choosing, but sometimes the child's choosing is not respecting the principle of selecting based on the beauty of the language, so then you can do the choosing. Sometimes you have to work under restrictions of local homeschool laws, in which case you may need to choose more of their sentences. In this case, you would choose sentences which include examples of rules and mechanics suitable for their age- words with apostrophes, for instance, or words demonstrating the 'i before e, except after c, or when it sounds like 'a' as in neighbour or weigh' rule.
This next step matters more than whether or not you write the model for them to copy: Go over it briefly- have them read it out loud so they know the words and pronunciation You don't need to discuss every single punctuation mark, but do explain all the marks mean something and when they copy they need to copy *exactly,* including all the punctuation marks. Of course, you don't have to say all of this every time, they get the idea.
This next point really matters a lot: They need to work on copying word by word, not letter by letter. That is a direct working out of the main principle- copywork works by helping children see and focus closely on a smaller segment of well written passages and the words in them, but still as a whole, whole words, phrases, a complete sentence. There are different ways of accomplishing this. I have read of some families who put the model to copy up on the counter and the child sits at the table and gets up and down, looking at the model, sitting down to copy, getting up to check the model again, sitting down to write from memory, etc. Because the getting up and down is a pain, they are motivated to look really hard at the model and imprint it so they can copy as much as possible while staying seated.
You can cover the words with stick it notes or a ruler or whatever, and uncover one or two at a time, let them look, and then cover while they write from memory.
There are probably other ways you could devise, the ways do not matter, the thing that matters is they are not copying letter by letter but seeing the word as a whole (and later the phrase as a whole). Copywork is not dictation, which comes in year 4, so you don't dictate.
After they have written, check their work. Erase misspellings and have them correct them. Have them compare for correct punctuation and capitalization.
Copywork is done every day. It should not take a long time- in fact, do not allow it to take up a great deal of time. Have a timer set if need be.
Don't work on a piece for more than ten or fifteen minutes, depending on the age of the child.
Copywork with younger children should be closely overseen, and it acceptable to write a model for them to copy. From the L'umile Pianta (written by current and former House of Education teaching students):That with regard to writing--I speak particularly of transcription in Class II and IB--it is most important not to leave these children to regularly and too frequently alone. Such an arrangement, however, seems invariably necessary on account of there being seemingly more important lessons in other classes at the moment. The value of devoting more of one's own time to this than one is prompted to arrange for in drawing up a time-table, is enormous. We once completely reform the writing of Class II by stopping all independent transcription for a time, and handing the class over to someone who came to help with Ia and Ib earlier in the morning, and who stayed on later for this express purpose. The result was most satisfactory. The writing "idea" (if I may so call it) was quite changed, and I believe that other children in the class benefit by it to-day. Transcription--or rather, copying from the board--is very useful. It is a change, and it certainly makes for neatness. The teachers hand shows how a transcribed piece should look; there is something, as it were, between the print and the child's own clumsy version. Experience has taught me the value of a little "copying."
In later years the 'copywork' becomes a commonplace book- a book or several books (notebooks) where they collect quotes. The students should be taught to properly notate the source of each of these quotes.
Volume 1, Narrating, Writing, Transcription, Spelling and Dictation, Composition
Specifically- volume 1 starting at the bottom of page 238
Ambleside Online: Copywork Help
Ambleside Online copywork explanation
Ambleside Online: Copywork Help
Make your own copywork sheets
Amazing Handwriting Worksheet Maker
AO's Topical CM series on copywork and spelling
Find copywork passages:
Ambleside Online Copywork Project - Volunteers select copywork passages from the books on the AO schedule. This is not an official AO resource, but it may be helpful.
Bartlett's Familiar Quotations
Kathleen's Copywork Corner
Copywork page from William Blake's Piping Down
For older boys, 12 copywork suggestions from The Art of War
Copywork: some proverbs and maxims. Cut them out and put them in a jar for using on days when you need a quick change, a bit of an attitude adjustment, but you don't want to totally skip copywork.
Printable cursive copywork from Island Story:
If you like these, click on this link and then click on the 'broken' images for each one. The images are not really broken, they work as links to the page images.
For sale, proceeds support my family's work. When creating these things, my constant thought was 'What might readers like to know or think about? What will help our Charlotte Mason parents and families? What will give them something to think about, something to love, something to grow on?' I hope you can tell.
$5.00- Education for All, vol 2- the Imagination (and more) issue!- transcript of the imagination talk from the AO Camp meeting, with additional material I had to cut to save time.
$5.00- Education for All, a new CM journal, Feed Your Mind! This issue contains several articles on handicrafts, outdoor play, nature study and science. See sidebar for purchasing options if you are in the Philippines.
$3.00 Five Little Peppers and How They Grew Copywork (grades 2/3, carefully selected with an eye toward finely crafted sentences, lovely bits of writing pleasant to picture in the mind's eye, and practice in copying some of the mechanics of grammar and punctuation typically covered in these years.
$3.00 Aesop's Fables Copywork for Year One! Carefully selected with an eye toward well written sentences, memorable scenes, and some practice copying sentences that model the basics of capitalization and punctuation. Suitable for use with children who have already mastered the strokes and letters for basic penmanship.
Picture Study! Miguel Cabrera's beautiful, diverse families, painted in 18th century Mexico this package includes 9 downloadable prints along with directions for picture study and background information on the artist and his work. $5.00
Common Kitchen: What's for lunch? Isn't that a common problem in homeschooling families? What to fix, what is quick, what is frugal, what is nourishing? How can I accomplish all those things at once? We homeschooled 7 children, and I was a homeschooling mom for 29 years on a single income. I collected these recipes and snack ideas from all over the world. These are real foods I used to feed my family, my godsons, and sometimes my grandkids. Includes some cooking tips and suggestions for sides, and for a variety of substitutions. I think every family will find something they can use here. $5.00