Copywork and Handwriting

Just five minutes copywork everyday is all you need to begin teaching your child handwriting.

copywork and handwriting

In our homeschool, copywork was an important part of our English language arts curriculum. It was an independent activity that exposed my children to great literature, got them writing daily, and only took ten minutes.

However, I few failed attempts before it was successful. Once I started using pre-done copywork it was a set a forget activity.

I learnt this the hard way. When I started using copywork I was having my son (age 7) copy from a book. It was too hard for him. The small writing and layout of chapters meant that he was constantly losing his place and it became quite an ordeal. To add to his frustration a paperback book would close if it wasn’t weighted down. I then ended up typing out a quote or making a mark in the book. Although this often worked, it was time-consuming and I was ruining some books with my highlighter.

Finding suitable quotes and presenting them in a suitable format can become tedious. Using pre-packaged copywork, where passages have already been thoughtfully selected and are presented with a good handwriting model can save you a great deal of time and energy – something every home educator needs. It makes organising your copywork simple and as the child grows in confidence and skill, you can introduce passages directly from books.

I used pre-packaged copywork books most of the time. 

My children began copywork at around 6 years old and continue using it as part of their homeschool day until they are around 12. At first they copy one or two sentences per homeschool day. Over time this becomes a paragraph per homeschool day. When they are transitioning to cursive writing I expect less until they regain confidence in letter formation.

Each copywork lesson takes less than 10 minutes to do. Their handwriting should be well presented and not sloppy.

Our My Homeschool programs includes printing copywork lessons until Year 4 and then transitions to cursive copywork. 

After copywork you can add some dictation.

Handwriting Copywork Is Successful And Simple!

‘The earliest practice in writing proper for children of seven or eight should be, not letter writing or dictation, but transcription [copy work], slow and beautiful work…Transcription should be an introduction to spelling. Children should be encouraged to look at the word, see a picture of it with their eyes shut, and then write from memory…. A sense of beauty in their writing and in the lines they copy should carry them over this stage of their work with pleasure. Not more than ten minutes or a quarter of an hour should be given to the early writing lessons. If they are longer the children get tired and slovenly.’ Charlotte Mason

Copywork is simply writing out by hand, or copying, from good quality written texts or models. Actually teaching writing this way was not invented by Charlotte Mason. It has been employed for centuries as a technique for teaching writing.

Copywork begins with simple letter tracing and then progresses to writing out more complex passages. Although copywork is used initially for developing good penmanship, it is also useful for teaching other language arts subjects. How can this be? This is because when we choose excellent literature as models for our children’s copywork, we are giving them a subtle lesson in spelling, grammar, punctuation and literature appreciation.

A Good Handwriting Model

Since copywork is as much about children perfecting their handwriting style, as providing quality literature, we want to make sure that they also have a good model for their handwriting. 

Practice handwriting with copywork— not composition!

Handwriting practice consists of copying, not creating, letters, words and sentences. Remember that composition requires students to focus on content, organisation, spelling and punctuation skills. If handwriting perfection is also required, the frustration may be overwhelming leading a child to avoid writing altogether.

hates copywork

Handwriting Copywork – Less Than 10 Minutes A Day

After a child has been taught basic handwriting techniques, I find that the best way to improve their handwriting and writing skills is with lots and lots of copywork.

One of the things I love about Charlotte Mason was that she never wasted an opportunity. Handwriting was no exception. She wanted to make sure a child’s lessons were rich with learning literature without unnecessary busy work. She saw each handwriting lesson as the opportunity to teach spelling, grammar and literature. Teaching handwriting the Charlotte Mason way  makes a lot a sense. It saves time and children are taught using good models right from the start.

What Should I Use For Handwriting Copywork?

Many handwriting books ask the child to copy a silly sentence while practicing their writing technique. What a wasted opportunity! Choose your copywork wisely. Use fine literature, from great authors with excellent technique.

Copywork selections can be from Scripture, classic literature, poems or famous quotes. You can also choose from books that are relevant to what you studying in your homeschool.

teaching cursive handwriting

When Should I Start Cursive?

You can really start teaching cursive when you think your child is ready. In schools they traditionally start in Year 4 and then complete teaching cursive around Year 6 when kids get their pen license (a term to say they were competent writers).

Some people like to teach cursive from an early age. In the days of inkwells and feather quills children were taught to write a cursive script as their initial writing experience. Children from the age of six were able to manage this handwriting script. When pencils became readily available many schools switched over to ball and stick printing because it was thought that this style is much easier for a child to learn.

Advocates of teaching cursive first believe that introducing printing as the initial handwriting script causes a range of other problems. These include less supervision when teaching cursive with some students never learning it properly, B and D confusion and other reading and writing problems because special sequences are lost with printing and fatigue in writing due to the disconnected strokes of letters.

My Cursive Handwriting Blunders

When my two youngest started learning cursive, I made a few blunders with the introduction..

My First Mistake—Missing a link

Since my kids were familiar with copywork and were printing just fine. I thought that it would be OK to just launch straight into a simple cursive copywork book. I was a knucklehead. I rushed it (I roll my eyes up at myself).

For some reason I didn’t spend time teaching correct letter formation for a few lesson. So, thankfully, the light went on and I backtracked and retaught how to format the letters.

My Second Mistake—One size fits all

Well, I do know that my children are quite different. My youngest daughter who is nearly 9 has exquisite handwriting. Her brother is nearly 11 and is a slower writer; his letters are larger than hers.

Since I knew my daughter would like Manuscript Cursive’s swirly letters, I chose that for both of them. I should not have. My son needed the simpler Italics font, he likes to write simply without all the fancy work. When I switched him over to the simpler font he was very pleased. Writing for him is a tool. His sister sees writing as an art form.

I did get one thing right—I slowed down.

I knew that introducing handwriting takes time so I slowed down my requirement for copywork. I asked them to produce two lines of good copywork rather than eight lines

Making the Transition—Is Cursive Necessary?

I hear some people say they never teach cursive as it won’t be needed. Well I am not of that ilk.

I think they will need to be able to read other people’s cursive and when it is mastered it is a much faster way of writing.

The handwriting method I should Have used was the same as when I first introduced printing. 

  • Start with a good model to copy. One letter at a time. Require perfect execution.
  • Choose a suitable handwriting font for my child’s style. Not just the one I liked best. Consider your child’s dexterity and their desire for fancy letters.
  • Take your time with the introduction of cursive and keep them practicing with their daily copywork.

Once we sorted out our teething problems, progress was being made.

What if your child hates copywork?

handwriting copywork

I was asked by one of our Aussie homeschool mums, what should I do if my child hates copywork? This is a good question because some children do find it difficult. I remember when my son first tried copywork it was a very tedious exercise. If I used a book then it usually flipped closed or he lost his spot and he found it very frustrating. If your child doesn’t like “copywork” why not try some “handwriting lessons” instead. Change the format that you present it and rebadge it. The theory behind copywork is the regular practice of writing using excellent writing models. This is easy to do in a variety of formats. Here are some of my tips:

  • Get organised with the handwriting lessons. If it’s not easily set out, you find they are waiting around for it. For us copywork was always an independent activity that they did without my supervision. They could just pick up the book and do it. I didn’t need to get involved apart from making sure they had their copywork folders. They may say they were waiting for me to come to do their math or English etc and I would say, “have you finished your copywork…” I could also say this if they were playing around saying they had “nothing to do.”
  • This may sound counter intuitive but I would consider increasing her handwriting lessons to daily as part of the routine so it becomes a habit rather than a chore once a week. You could say since you don’t want to do copywork anymore we are going to start daily handwriting lessons – (I am a meanie aren’t I). I’d put the onus back on her that this is a part of her school day just like math.
  • Short lessons are very helpful with copywork. If your child is exhausted with the too much writing, stop earlier.
  • Having your child write directly under the words that they are copying can also decrease their frustration because they don’t lose their place. This is why I prefer to use copywork worksheets – they are much easier for the child to achieve. Even copying off a board can be frustrating for some children.
  • If textas or coloured pens excite her use those.
  • There are some good arguments for introducing cursive first so maybe she would like to have some running writing lessons.
  • Advocates of teaching cursive first believe that introducing printing as the initial handwriting script caused a range of other problems. These included less supervision when teaching cursive with some students never learning it properly, B and D confusion and other reading and writing problems because special sequences are lost with printing and fatigue in writing due to the disconnected strokes of letters.
  • I think we progressed to a poetry book for copywork when my daughter was confident with copywork, personally I wouldn’t use the poetry all the time as the grammar of poetry can is quite different.
  • You didn’t mention the age of your daughter but if she is old enough (around 8 -10) she may like some simple dictation. Then you can sit with her and get the work done faster.
  • Yes I am a believer in copywork but I never had much resistance from my kids. One of my friends used Handwriting Without Tears very successfully, she was a believer in copywork but her boys weren’t- that has good content but it’s very much a handwriting program.

Explaining The Best Handwriting Fonts

Handwriting styles vary only slightly from one to another. All maintain some basic similarities that everyone can recognize. To find out the best handwriting fonts for your child you will need to know a bit about the main fonts used today.

Our ability to read someone else’s writing even though they were taught a different writing system is dependent upon very similar letter formations between the different styles. If styles were too varied we would be unable to communicate using the written word.

Even though there are many handwriting styles, in practice, they fall into two main categories—manuscript and italics.

Printing is using unjoined letters.

Cursive (running writing or joint writing) merely means to join letters together.

Manuscript Handwriting Font Styles

This style is characterised by its easy to learn vertical letter forms. The child has only four simple strokes to learn and mastery is quickly accomplished. The printed letters are easily read and are often used in books.

Manuscript cursive is fancier; in fact it is quite different to the printing style.

Zaner-Bloser and Ball and Stick are basically the same manuscript font with a different name.

best handwriting font -ball & stickmunuscript cursive

Modern manuscript (D’Nealian) is a slanted form of manuscript. It still has two different styles for print and cursive but the slant, in theory, makes the transition to cursive easier.

Italics Handwriting Font Styles

It is a slightly slanted font that looks similar to cursive. The same alphabet is used from printing to cursive. There are more strokes for a child to learn initially than with manuscript print. Letter formation taught to beginners evolves seamlessly into joined-up (cursive) writing. The letter formation never changes.

best handwriting fontBest handwriting fonts cursive

Charlotte Mason was an advocate of Italics. She believed Italics was “pleasant to acquire because it is beautiful to behold.”

Since italics cursive is just an extension of italics printing the difficulty some children experience when transitioning from printing to cursive using manuscript almost disappears.

Italics advocates argue that when the child is ready to progress to cursive they are usually still mastering reading and teaching a new writing style at this time could hamper the child’s progress in both reading and writing. Confusion is avoided and teaching time is saved!

Italics font include:

  • Foundation Font  (Australia and New Zealand)
  • Getty Dubay  (USA)
  • Handwriting Without Tears (USA)
  • Barchowsky (UK)
  • Jarman (UK)

Which is the Best Handwriting Font For Your Child?

Handwriting styles and fashions change and there are so many theories on what is the best style to teach. In the end it all boils down to personal preference.

Both of my girls have enjoyed the fancy font used in manuscript cursive and my sons have preferred the easier to master italics cursive.

Why not trial your children with a few styles?

handwriting fonts australia

Australian & New Zealand School Fonts

In New Zealand and each state of Australia different font style are used for teaching in schools. All of the fonts with the exception of Ball and Stick are slanted fonts that have a printing alphabet that is similar to the cursive alphabet. The printing is then developed into cursive by teaching joining strokes around grade three or four.


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