Copywork and Dictation: How often? (Revisited)

HomeworkImage by Alastair Vance


Could you briefly share with us how copywork and dictation look in your home and include the highest grade you’ve had at home? I’ve shared your arrow and boomerang (the concept) with several friends and the common concern is that it doesn’t appear to be enough. Many believe that copywork and dictation should be daily not weekly. I would love your insight on this matter!


Hi Lisa.

Sure, I can share.

My oldest kids are in college (the oldest two are 21 and 18). I homeschooled both of them through high school, though the second one went part time to our local high school as well. Our third child is a junior in high school and goes full time. He was homeschooled through 9th grade. We have two more kids: 8th and 7th grades – all homeschooled.

Copywork and dictation can be done more frequently than weekly. The Arrow/Boomerang are designed to support the homeschooling parent, not to replace her own good judgment and her skills as a home educator. In fact, when I first designed the Arrow (which came first), I used to always say that the goal was to model how copywork and dictation can be done (how to select passages, how to teach them, how to make them more meaningful). Mothers can learn to do it themselves, if they like.

I included only one passage per week for several reasons:

1) Discouragement: Many mothers set out to do copywork/dictation more than a couple times per week and then when they fail to hit their target, they give up and stop doing it all together. I’ve found that copywork/dictation once per week is way better than not doing it at all while holding the ideal of doing it twice or three times or every day of the week. In fact, I’ve found that once a week adds up to a lot of copywork/dictation if done all year.

2) Length of passage: Some of the passages in the Arrow and particularly the Boomerang are long. They benefit from being broken up into multiple days of work.

3) Personal preference: Kids like to pick their own copywork. Not all copywork has to be selected for them. By offering only one passage per week, your have the freedom of selecting other passages to copy (song lyrics, poetry, passages from a beloved book, refrigerator magnets, a religious text). If I give you more than one per week, you will feel you must impose those passages on your kids to get your money’s worth. But this way, you focus on one passage, really teach it, and then can allow your kids to select the ones that they want.

4) Stress: For reluctant writers, it is a lot to ask them to do handwriting work (in a book, for instance), copywork, dictation, freewriting, and any writing project all in a week. The Arrow and Boomerang allow you to feel that you are covering the material necessary to a good language arts program without putting your child through too much pencil trauma.

Brave Writer is different than other programs. I believe firmly in a parent’s role in the homeschool. We are supports to what you do. We offer products that teach you how to teach. Of course you can do more copywork and dictation if you like. I have a son (14) who copied things every day and did special handwriting therapies for his dysgraphia. Yet two years ago, he could hardly write even one passage a week. I have an 11 year old daughter who doesn’t like the passages I pick who writes in her journal and her Greek notebook every day, even in summer. We talk about grammar over lunch or in the car. She is learning spelling through Facebook status updates!

My older kids credit their years of dictation with their punctuation skills (the ones in college). They feel like they learned mechanics painlessly. My junior in high school has successfully gone straight into Honor’s English without having ever done a formal grammar or spelling program. He’s learned it all through less than once per week dictation over his lifetime.

Pay attention to your kids. Do what you believe nourishes them. Let them tell you what is working and what is not. Kids don’t learn as well when they are numb to the subject matter, when they feel obliged to fulfill your expectations without their buy-in. If once a week copywork/dictation is tolerable (even enjoyable) for you kids, they will learn a lot! There’s no reason to think that more is necessarily better.

3 Responses to “Copywork and Dictation: How often? (Revisited)”

  1. Well said.

    So often we homeschooling parents are driven by our fears rather than guided by our experience and wisdom. One of my favourite quotes: “Do not take counsel of your fears.” George Patton

    Our fears can function as a good alert system, letting us know when danger approaches, but they make lousy advisers.

  2. Anonymous says:

    In our home we do dictation once a week. That’s a passage that I usually pick from whatever read aloud we are currently reading. Not only do we do the dictation, but we spend time talking about the passage. Sometimes I pick it because of it’s literary content, and sometimes because of it’s grammatical comment. A day or so after that, my kids will do a reverse dictation (also an idea from Julie). They always look forward to that. They also do a copywork each week – sometimes it’s something I pick out and we all do it together (“Group Copwork” time) and sometimes it’s something that they get to choose completely on their own. My goal is for them to gain a deeper appreciation of literature and poetry…not for them to create sheer volume of writings. I agree with Julie that you’d be surprised how it adds up over the course of a year, but I’ve also found that with this amount of such writings, no one ever dreads it.

  3. Tara says:

    Sorry…meant to leave my name in the above post. 🙂