Home homeschooling Homeschooling with Charlotte Mason: Part 4–Writing, Spelling and Grammar

Homeschooling with Charlotte Mason: Part 4–Writing, Spelling and Grammar

by Kelly Crawford

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.

I cover some of these in a little more detail in my book, “Think Outside the Classroom: A Practical Approach to Relaxed Homeschooling.” But here are some basics:

Copy work.

“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!

Part 1: Homeschooling With Charlotte Mason: A Series

Part 2-Homeschooling With Charlotte Mason: Living Books

Part 3-Homeschooling: Charlotte Mason: The Schedule is Your Servant

Part-5Homeschooling With Charlotte Mason: Nature Study

Part 6-Homeschooling With Charlotte Mason: The Arts

Part 7–Homeschooling With Charlotte Mason: Daily Plans

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Elizabeth October 23, 2009 - 12:08 pm

My kids are in public school until DH will agree with me to pull them out. Their handwriting and grammar skills are atrocious. I give them copywork daily – famous quotes or Scripture – afterschool. They enjoy it because they are learning something new as they read the quote, and I notice their handwriting is improving. This is not something that is taught anymore in regular schools.

Mary at Civilla's Cyber Cafe October 23, 2009 - 10:13 pm

Oh, I remember learning “penmanship” in Catholic school. Penmanship lessons took place every day at 1:pm after lunch recess. A good way to calm down. I LOVED penmanship…unfortunately, I never got very good at it, much to my dismay, as it was my favorite subject. My handwriting is still, unfortunately, almost undecipherable.

The nuns had this wire chalk-holder that held 5 or 6 pieces of chalk at a time so as to be able to draw lines on the blackboard, using a yardstick under the bottom piece so as to make all of the lines straight. Then in addition to making the letters in our workbooks, we had to write them on the board in between the lines for everybody to see. My letters got progressively smaller and started to go downhill, and I’d have to try again.

To the nuns’ dismay, I could NOT, and still can’t, make a capital “E” — not correctly, anyway. “Oh, and your last NAME begins with the letter ‘E’!” they’d cry in dismay. My hand spazzes out on that letter.

Oh, well, at least I KNOW what proper handwriting should look like.

Those nuns gave us working-class kids a prep-school education.

Steph October 24, 2009 - 1:28 pm

We did penmanship, too – I remember being kept in the coatroom during play time because I couldn’t make the cursive capital G. I cried and cried but I have beautiful handwriting.

Mary at Civilla's Cyber Cafe October 25, 2009 - 1:59 pm

Also, we were required to write with fountain pens — the kind with the little ink cartridges. Ball point pens were considered low class and were confiscated, broken in half by the nun, and thrown in the trash. Pencils were permitted only to make a margin on the right side of our paper, using a ruler as a guide. Other than that, nothing could be done in pencil. Keeping my brother and me supplied with cartridges for our fountain pens got expensive, and occasionally the boys would flick their pens at one another like a weapon and many was the time my brother came home spattered with blue ink! Thank goodness it washed out (it was called “washable blue” ink — the only color and type allowed).

misty October 29, 2009 - 2:50 pm

Can you recommend a good natural shampoo for dry curly hair?

Floria Elsensohn November 28, 2011 - 11:11 pm

Highly energetic article, I loved that bit. Will there be a part 2?


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