Topical CM Series

Charlotte Mason's ideas are too important not to be understood and implemented in the 21st century, but her Victorian style of writing sometimes prevents parents from attempting to read her books. This is an imperfect attempt to make Charlotte's words accessible to modern parents. You may read these, print them out, share them freely--but they are copyrighted to me, so please don't post or publish them without asking.
~L. N. Laurio

The Charlotte Mason Series in Modern English Arranged Topically

Copywork, Transcription, Writing

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 160

A Child Should Execute Perfectly

A child should not be assigned work that he isn't capable of doing perfectly, and perfect work should be expected as a matter of course. For example, if he is supposed to write a series of strokes and is allowed to turn in a page of sloppy stroke-marks unevenly spaced and sloping irregularly, then his moral integrity is compromised from getting by on less than his best. Instead, just assign him six strokes to copy instead of a full page. Require that they be six perfect strokes, evenly spaced and with uniform slant. If one isn't right, have him show you what's wrong with it and let him re-do it. If he can't do six perfect ones today, let him try again tomorrow, and again the next day. When he finally writes six perfect strokes, celebrate the occasion! Let him feel a sense of triumph. The same with other little tasks that he wants to do--painting, drawing, making things. Let everything that he does be done well. If he builds a house of cards, he should be ashamed if it's rickety and uneven. Along the same lines, he should finish whatever he begins. He should rarely be allowed to start on a new project until the last one is finished.

Volume 1, Home Education, pg 233-240


Perfect Accomplishment

A lot could be said about teaching writing, but I only have a few hints to offer. First of all, the child should feel the accomplishment of doing something perfectly in every lesson, even if it's just one letter or even a single stroke. The lesson should be short--no more than five or ten minutes. Being able to write easily comes with practice, but that can be saved for later. For now [speaking of a child 6-8 years old], it's more important to prevent sloppy, careless writing habits, such as humpy m's or blocky o's.


A child should practice printing before beginning to write. He can print the simplest of the capital letters first, the ones with straight lines and simple curves. When he can do the capital letters with confidence, he can go on to the smaller letters. He should print in an italic style, but straight up and down rather than slanted. He should write as simply as possible, and large.

Steps in Teaching

The straight stroke used in making letters should be learned first, then the curved stroke as in an s curve. Then letters with a large, simple curve should be learned--n, m, v, w, r, h, p, y; then letters that combine curves such as o, a, c, g, e, x, s, q; then looped and irregular letters--b, l, f, t, etc. One single letter should be formed perfectly in a day. The next day, a similar letter that uses the same elements should be learned so that the element becomes familiar. Then three- or four-letter words should be copied, connecting letters already learned, such as man or aunt. The goal of each lesson is to write the word one time where every letter is flawless. At this stage, it's better to use chalk and a blackboard instead of paper so that he can erase to his heart's content until what he's written satisfies him.

Little needs to be said about later stages. If the child begins by making only perfect letters and is never allowed to make flawed ones, he will do the rest himself. Don't worry about beautifully styled handwriting. As he writes, his own individual character will personalize his handwriting style. But his character isn't developed yet.

Put only neatly written work in front of him to copy from, and make sure he copies the model faithfully. His writing lesson shouldn't be a full page of copy, or even a set number of lines. Instead, he should be assigned one single line, copied exactly, character for character. It may take quite a bit of writing before he gets one line that's perfect.

Book Text

If he writes in (or copies from) books with fancy copperplate headings, they should be selected carefully. Better yet, they shouldn't be used at all. Many of them have bad examples of text and are adorned with flourishes that make him work harder to copy, but add nothing to his skill at handwriting. Don't rush a child to write small, but, at the same time, he shouldn't work too hard writing giant letters. A medium size should be used until writing comes more easily for him. A child who writes small may easily get into a habit of irregular scribbling that is hard to break. As in everything else, the teacher's job is not only to teach the right thing, but also to prevent bad habits.

A 'New Handwriting'

A few years ago I heard about a lady who was working out a system of beautiful handwriting to teach to children. She was basing it on her study of old manuscripts, Italian and others. I waited patiently with eagerness for this new kind of copybook to be published. There is a need for this kind of book, because the 'commonplace' copybooks currently in use may be clear and meticulous, but the text is unrefined. But now the lady, Monica Bridges, wife of poet Robert Bridges, has finished the project and this book, A New Handwriting, will be a resource for teachers to teach children a style of writing that they will want to learn because it is truly beautiful. [The handwriting taught in the book is what we know as Italics. See page about that here] Children take to this new handwriting surprisingly quickly, even those who have had ugly handwriting.

Monica Bridges' purpose in writing the book can be understood by reading from her preface, 'The ten plates included are meant for those who teach writing. They need a few words of justification and explanation. I've always been interested in handwriting. When I saw sixteenth century Italianized Gothic, I changed my own handwriting to look more like it in form and character. Other people liked my handwriting, and I was asked to make them some samples. Teachers asked me to write a book so they could teach it in their schools. One is never quite satisfied making models for others to copy, but these plates are close to what I wanted. Due to my lack of experience, some of the plates have suffered in the reproduction . . . A very young child must first learn to control his hand and make it obey his eye. To learn that, any handwriting form will work. One might argue that the model which is used is irrelevant since the skill of coordinating the hand muscles for writing can be learned by copying bad models as well as good ones. But that isn't true. An ordinary copybook, whose goal seems to be to simplify the individual parts of each letter, can't train the hand as well as a greater variety of shapes can. And the streamlined efficiency of the simplified letters strips them of any beauty, which makes them less appealing to look at. Variety and beautiful form are nice to look at, even for little children. If something is interesting to them, they will be more likely to want to copy it. And they will be more satisfied with their results after copying something nice than they will with copying the same monotonous shapes. But I don't know whether copying pretty or boring models helps to learn to write a quick, legible cursive. Perhaps the variations that make the letters more interesting contribute to sloppiness when done quickly, and sloppiness is the worst fault of bad writing. Some of the best examples of English handwriting today are as quick, legible, and yet beautiful as anyone could wish for. But such handwriting is rare and shows character, and a person with such character probably would have had nice handwriting no matter which system he learned with. The average handwritings of most people, learned from old copybook models and scrawled quickly, seem to have in common the ugliness of those old copybooks. And when those writers have a reason to write something beautifully, they find that they can't, which shows that their bad handwriting isn't just the fault of writing too fast.'

How to Use

What we find works best when teaching from Mrs. Bridges' book, is to practice each letter example directly from the models, first on the blackboard, then later with pencil, and finally with pen. After a while, the children will work up to transcribing little poems and things in a nice Italic style.


Value of Transcription

The best way for eight or nine year olds to learn to write is not letter-writing or dictation, but transcription, done slowly and beautifully. Monica Bridges' A New Handwriting works well for this, although some of the more ornate letters should be left out.

Transcription [copying text word for word] should be a child's first spelling lessons. Children should be encouraged to look at a word, imagine a picture of it in their mind with their eyes closed, and then write it from memory.

Children Should Transcribe Their Favorite Passages

Children will enjoy their work and take more pride of ownership if they're allowed to choose material for transcription. Choosing one verse from a favorite poem is better than writing the entire poem because the child may get tired of the exercise [and the poem!] before the project is finished. But they will enjoy a book of their own filled with verses they've chosen themselves.

Small Text-Hand--Double-ruled Lines

Double-ruled paper should be used at first [to encourage children to write larger letters]. Children are eager to write very small, but once they've gotten into the habit of writing small, it's harder to get them to write well. Feeling a sense that their handwriting looks nice, and that the text they're copying has literary beauty will help them to enjoy transcribing. No more than ten or fifteen minutes should be spent on early writing lessons. If they are any longer, the children get tired and their writing gets sloppy.

Position in Writing

When writing, children should sit so that the light source is at their left. Their desk or table should be at a comfortable height.

It would be good if children learned from the beginning to hold their pencil between the index finger and middle finger, using the thumb to keep it steady. This way prevents the uncomfortable strain that results from the usual way of holding a pencil. When the student is older and has more writing to do, this could cause writer's cramp. The pen should be held in a comfortable position, close to the point-end, fingers and thumb bent a little, and the hand resting on the paper. The child can lay the left hand on the paper to support himself. He should write in an easy position, with his head bent, but not with his body stooped over. Since children tend to make scratchy, spidery marks if the nib of the pen is held sideways, they should use the flat of the nib. In all writing lessons, the blackboard should be available to model and practice.


The best desks I know of are the ones recommended by Dr. Roth. They are single desks that can be raised or lowered, moved backwards or forwards, and they have seats with a padded backrest and footrest. There may be others available that are just as good, or even better, but these seem to be sufficient in every way.

Children's Table

For little children, it's a good idea to have a table just the right height made by a carpenter. The top of the table should have two hinged leaves that open in the middle to reveal a box instead of a drawer. The leaves of the table-top make the lid. It's easier for children to keep their books and writing materials neat and organized in this kind of box than a drawer or ordinary box.


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Paraphrased by L. N. Laurio; Please direct comments or questions to AmblesideOnline.