One of the many ways Classical Education overlaps other homeschooling methods like for instance Charlotte Mason is through the use of copywork, narration, and dictation as primary tools to teach grammar. But one of the big differences between Classical and Charlotte Mason Education is when to introduce formal grammar lessons. Classical Education begins the use of copywork and narration early on in the grammar stage of learning slowly transitioning to the use of dictation by the 3rd grade or so. Charlotte Mason however uses copywork throughout elementary to teach spelling and grammar not really moving into dictation till the middle grade years.
So lets explore what exactly copywork, narration and dictation are. We will start with copywork. I found this wonderful explanation at a website called
What is copywork? Quite simply, it is writing out by hand, or copying, words from a written model. In the very early stages, children may trace or copy the letters of the alphabet, but once they have had some practice with this, they progress to words and phrases. Later on, sources for copywork include a great variety of written materials: poetry, Bible passages, other writings of great men, to name just a few. Some people equate copywork with handwriting, and this is certainly part of it – but there is far more to copywork than just handwriting.
Copywork carries with it a number of benefits.
- With regard to young children, the most obvious one is that it is a good means of introducing and practising the mechanics of written English: spelling, punctuation, grammar, and handwriting. If children are taught from the outset that only their best work is acceptable, and that they must pay attention to detail, these mechanics will quickly become second nature. But do not be tempted to abandon copywork as soon as the child can write neatly, and has achieved a basic proficiency in spelling, for the benefits go far beyond the simple mechanics of writing.
- Copywork is a valuable addition to any memory work programme, as it involves more than one of the senses. Children learn so much more quickly when their hands and eyes are involved in the learning, as well as their ears and tongues.
- Excellent copywork models lead to increased familiarity with different forms of written expression and with a variety of styles. Results may show up before long in the children’s speech or writing: in allusions they make, or in modelling their own work on that of others. This is one area in which the benefit is an on-going one, as older children choose to model their writing on some of the great writers of English poetry or prose.
- Charlotte Mason, in the Original Homeschooling Series, had a lot to say about ideas being the proper diet for our children’s minds. Copywork, carefully chosen, can be a source of such ideas. It can also be a window into the minds and thinking of others. This is another benefit that can continue throughout life, and it is partly for this reason that even older children should continue to do copywork – though for them it need not be such a frequent activity as for their younger brothers and sisters.
"Narration is a way to develop the child's understanding and story- telling skills. The process is simple: the child tells you what he's just heard or read. You start this process in preschool, when you ask your child questions about the stories you were reading together. In the first grade, you begin to ask the child to summarize the plots of short simple stories... Read the child the story, close the book and ask, "What was the story about." Write down the child's narration, and then read it back to him. Ask him how it differs from the original story. Narration lets you know how much the child retains and understands. It also develops vocabulary and powers of expression, and lays the foundation for good writing later on."
I look at narration as a way of training your child orally to do essay style questions and writing that they will utilize later on in there academic careers. But this way makes it approachable and fun. Who doesn't love a to tell stories especially small children. When I start narration with my younger ones I let them sometimes draw me a picture of the passage and narrate there drawing. My older child writes down there own narrations when we do notebook pages in other subjects.
Here is a video from Susan Schaffer of Simply Charlotte Mason that explains the way Charlotte Mason homeschoolers approach narration.
And now lets explore dictation.
Dictation is the process where the parent speaks while the child transcribes exactly what the parent is saying.
Dictation is primarily used to reinforce grammar and spelling skills.
Now that we have gone over what grammar looks like in the Classical model lets go through some of the best programs out there to get you a solid foundation in Grammar Stage grammar.
Now in TWTM they recommended in older editions that you start with English for the Thoughtful Child
This was before Susan Wise Bauer established Peace Hill Press and started producing her own language lesson volumes. We use her First Language Lessons. First Language lessons goes all the way to level 4 as of now. I have so far used levels 1 and 2. We are starting on 3 this coming school year. I have found the lessons to be quick and easy but very sequential and challenging. I really feel like it has given my oldest a good grasp on grammar so far. The First Language Lesson series includes the a little copywork, narration, and dictation exercises as well as poetry memorization and recitation. They even throw in some picture study as well. She also named in later editions moving on from "English for the Thoughtful Child" which has two levels to a good program like Abeka's God's Gift of Language A: Writing and Grammar or for a secular alternative just as strong G.U.M levels 3- 5 by Zaner- Bloser.
Once again I threw so much info out there I am going to continue on with Language Arts Pt. 3 next week when we wrap up Reading and Writing in the Grammar Stage.