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Saturday, May 15, 2021

CM Language Arts, Part II

Part I

When children start formal school at age 6 or later, (not earlier), they start something called:

 Copywork or transcription.  Most people understand that this is associated with Charlotte Mason's practices, but they don't always understand the details.   There are some people who tidily organize a whole method, using different terms for different stages, and this might be useful to help people understand the different stages, but it's not part of Mason's principles.  Mason herself didn't even use the term copywork that I can find.  She just called it transcription, and transcription in Mason's usage covers several stages.

 At first, this is simply teaching the children the mechanics of handwriting. Mason didn't believe in having children just copy a page of the letter m until they got it 'right.' She suggests teaching them how to form the letters, and then spending only a few minutes in practic asking for just five perfect letters.  One way I found to help with this is to have them make one letter and then compare it to the model and see where it's similar and where it is different- does their letter 'a' make a closed circle, or does it look like a letter U?  Point it out and explain they need to continue the stroke and close the gap.  Is the letter squashed, wobbly, floating above the line, or nicely rounded, and sitting properly on the line?  I would put smiley faces next to the best letters to help them see what they were doing well.  You continue to work through this early stage of penmanship until they are comfortable making the letters. THis might take a couple weeks, a term, half the year.  Just keep steadily at it, but no more then ten or fifteen minutes a day.

 But once they have mastered the correct formation of their letters, they begin copying from their reading.  This is so important.  It seems like a small detail, but it is not.  It is the difference between implementing Mason's methods and doing something else altogether, and then blaming her methods when the student does not learn how to spell or punctuate.  These things are *not* copywork as Mason envisioned it:
Making their own shopping list or birthday list

 Writing a letter

Using the children's own stories and written narrations for their copywork.

Writing their own poetry.

There is nothing wrong with doing those other things.  It could be writing practice, penmanship practice, or just something the child wants to do.  It has nothing to do with Mason's use of copywork for language arts.  If you do this, you are kicking an important prop out from under your language arts program. Copywork *must* be from well written models in their reading- nursery rhymes, folk tales beautifully retold, their history readings, hymns, literature, and so forth.  The point of copywork is that the children are taking a focused, intense look at a well written, properly formatted and punctuated, excellent piece of writing.  They are carefully copying it, and then checking their work to make sure they got it right, and correcting any errors.  If it's not a well written piece of excellent writing, it cannot serve the purpose intended for it.  It won't help children internalize the rhythm and structure of good writing, and no matter how charmingly your darling tells stories, the darling is not a St. Mark, an E. Nesbit, a Walter De La Mare, an H. E. Marshall.   I have written extensively about Mason's plan for copywork and how it works in this post.

Another tool that makes up part of Mason's early language arts is recitation.  Recitation is learning to carefully and correctly, and beautifully, read aloud beautiful words. It requires attention to little details like commas and full stops (periods), question marks and exclamation points.  It helps build a good ear for word smithing, for beautiful writing.  

Children continue with their nature journals and the proper labeling and descriptions of the entries contributes to that important skill of knowing the precise word for something, understanding its importance- and spelling!  

Reading- as soon as they can, the children are to read their own books. Another mistake many parents make (this parent right here included) is to rely overmuch on audiobooks. I know the lure of audiobooks.  I know how helpful they can be in other ways.  I am not saying not to use them.  I am saying that  Charlotte Mason's methods are predicated on the children having years of exposure to seeing the written word- of seeing thousands of pages of well written books with proper punctuation and elegant syntax and complex vocabulary on paper. Audiobooks remove those experiences. I know sometimes we must rely on them, but we need to understand how much Mason assumed children were reading their own books as soon as possible and *seeing* the words on paper if we want to understand that using audio books instead might help in some ways but hinder in others.   There are ways to compensate if you are in just such a hard place. More on that later, but first we need to recognize that some compensation will be necessary if we overuse audio books.  .

We don't need grammar books, workbooks and worksheets, and lots of formal lessons in grammar and writing in the earlier years, and this is not what we're used to.  It's common to say Mason just used copywork, but I hope you're seeing there's more to it than that.  It's not that cpywor is all she used, it's that the whole, intricate tapestry of what fills in for formal language arts lessons is being woven naturally through other parts of the curriculum.  In addition to the copywork, recitation, and nature journals already mentioned, we also have....

Wide reading of many well written books over many, many topics over several years. Every parent notices that when they start reading the sorts of books found in AO, their children start to talk like their books, using vocabulary, descriptions, phrases, and sentence structures beyond their years.  This is language arts happening naturally.  Instead of vocabulary lists and spelling tests and fill in the blank tests and worksheets, children are introduced to advanced material through their reading and they start using it naturally. They internalize it, so we don't need those external workshets, which are far less effective anyway.  

Narration, narration, narration.  This is oral composition.  A well written paper requires the writer to organize ideas, thoughts, events, and people.  Narration gives children practice in doing this.  Good writing is good communicaiton.  Narrations are communication. Good writing requires putting words together to clearly communicate, and it demansds some sort of sensible order.  Narration is hard work because it gives the students practice in working through all those things.  That's why narrations are often so messy in the first year- kids are learning.  Narration is not negotiable. Every school book, every reading, every day.  Every reading is narrated by somebody in some form or another.

Continued practice in observing things as they are through picture study, drawing, and nature study.

And then, a little more narration.

Patience, because this does take time.

Foreign language- we don't often thing about this one, but many of us notice we learn more grammar than we ever knew when we start trying to study a foreign language.  Even when you delay introduction of the formal grammatical terms, learning another language helps one understand how one's own language works.  A child doesn't need to know the words for nouns and adjectives and plurals and apostrophes in order to learn that in one language the words the describe things come before the things, and in another they come after the thing.  They don't need to know the formal word 'plural' to learn that in English I can have one banana, and if I have more than that I have bananas, and in Visaya I can have a sagin but if there are more than one, I have mga sagin.  Lots of practice with the words and language first will make learning the formal terms later very easy.  Children are grasping the structure and categories of words as they learn a new language. This, too, helps children develop skills that fall under the category of language arts.

But these are all part of Mason's approach to language arts for the first three years of school.

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