Family Studies is my personal favorite. It is where we are making those family memories, whether it’s a read-aloud, a folksong, or Scripture study. The subjects vary from term to term, and I generally aim for a middle school or Form III level of difficulty to tackle in Family Studies. Younger students rise to the challenge when the reading is accomplished out loud, and older ones benefit because it is in the nature of living ‘books and things’ to be deep wells, rarely failing to furnish new ideas. Though perhaps some subjects lend themselves to Family Studies more readily than others, I’ve found those that simply won’t work to be a very short list.
Here is one subject that has not left our lineup since we started doing it as a group several years ago—Copywork.
For those unfamiliar with the term, copywork is the practice of copying by hand from a model and is the practice Charlotte Mason advocated for beginning penmanship. She refers to it as ‘transcription’ in Home Education (p. 238):
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.
By encouraging students to move from copying letter-by-letter to word-by-word, a foundation is laid for Prepared Dictation to begin in Form II (4th Grade) which is the practice used by Mason, alongside wide reading, for mastering spelling.
The gift of spelling depends upon the power the eye possesses to ‘take’ (in a photographic sense) a detailed picture of a word. (Home Education, p. 241)
Some Unconsidered Aspects
When I call everyone to the table to begin our Family Study time, a crescendo accompanies them as they funnel into the schoolroom, locate needed books, pencils, and journals, and find a place to sit. Copywork is the very first subject tackled for just this reason; copywork is work for the eye and hand, not the mouth. It is a bit of breathing space after the opening notes. The room quiets and bodies still for those five minutes. I love the idea of Bible reading and prayer kicking-off our time together, but my experience has been that copywork accomplishes this transition more effectively and when we take up our Bibles afterwards, we have reclaimed some inner quietness to better ‘listen’ to God’s Word to us.
From time to time, I'll ask if anyone would like to share what they are currently copying and that has sparked many worthwhile conversations.
In this day of texts, emails and desktop publishing, handwriting is a lost art. Our family has benefited from regular, dedicated time to practice. Our penmanship is the primary focus; we are not thinking about creating content (written narrations or compositions) and we are not simply trying to get something on paper quickly (grocery and ‘to do’ lists). The unexpected dividends, for us, have been the pleasure of a gentle transition to our group lessons and the habit of a dedicated space for the meditation of a new thought. Whether it is an idea expressed by the author or the manner in which the author communicates, we have space and time to notice and to enjoy.
The Law of Small Efforts
Copywork is intended as a discipline, to learn the habits of good penmanship and to lay the foundation for noticing spelling and punctuation. It can also have an inspirational aspect, helping to establish ‘science of relations’. Mason was not speaking directly of copywork when she said the following, but my experience has been that this thought about the ‘science of relations’ applies just the same. She said,
In this field [of establishing relations] small efforts are honoured with great rewards. (School Education, p. 163)