Help for My Struggling Speller

Dear Carrie

Help for My Struggling Speller

I am getting ready to start the second half of Heart of Dakota’s (HOD’s) Bigger Hearts with my 8 1/2 year-old son for his “3rd grade” year. He is still a struggling speller. Therefore, he does not write sentences yet. This is something I really want to work on before starting Preparing Hearts. I’ve not used the spelling lists in our manual. I was using an outside spelling curriculum, but I just haven’t seen many results. Should I start with the word lists in Bigger Hearts and go from there? Do you have any suggestions for me to help my struggling speller? Can you explain your thoughts about spelling in general? Thanks in advance!

“Ms. Please Help Me with My Struggling Speller”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me with My Struggling Speller,”

Thanks for sharing about your son! This is a good question. Spelling in the early years is often quite tied to a child’s reading. This is because kiddos at the early stages of spelling are often sounding out their spelling words as they write them. So, in the early years, as your child’s reading progresses, the spelling will lag a bit behind that reading progress in coming along too. That is not to say that in the long haul spelling and reading progress are always linked as that is not necessarily true, since the spelling words get longer and harder.

Regular practice in capturing the correct mental image of a word is the skill that needs to be developed.

Another thing to keep in mind for kiddos that are struggling spellers is that more drill is not really what they need. Regular practice in capturing the correct mental image of a word is the skill that truly needs to be developed in order for the mind to know whether a word that has been written is written correctly. This is the skill that is being developed in Beyond Little Hearts and Bigger Hearts.

It is also one of the reasons why the other writing the child is doing during that season of learning is kept to copywork or copying from a correctly written model. This is because we don’t want the mind capturing the incorrect image. Having a child inventively spell many words results in the incorrect spelling beginning to “look right” in the mind’s eye. So, to prevent this same thing from happening during spelling lessons, be sure to immediately erase any incorrectly spelled word and have the child copy the correct spelling over top of the erased word instead.

Spelling time can be thought of as ‘mental training time’ rather than thought of as ‘memorization of specific words’ time.

Think of spelling time as mental training rather than seeking memorization of specific words. In that way, every error is an opportunity to swoop in and retrain the mind. Be vigilant as you do the spelling lessons. As soon as an incorrect letter is written in the spelling of a word, erase it away and redirect to the correct image (showing the index card with the correct spelling upon it). Be sure to use a dark colored marker on a white index card too when writing the spelling words (as directed in the guide). This helps the mind capture the image of the word even more clearly. Over time you will see continued progress with your struggling speller.

Dictation builds on the mental picturing skills practiced with the spelling lists in Beyond and Bigger.

Dictation builds on the foundation of mental picturing that is practiced in the spelling lists in HOD’s Beyond and Bigger. This is where kiddos actually start to pay more attention to spelling in the context of sentences. It is the moment where they realize spelling is about writing a string of words correctly. It is mental imaging taken to the next level. This is often where kiddos start doing a bit better in spelling, if they had a hard time in the word lists that they did before beginning dictation. This is because in dictation they are putting to use the mental imaging and beginning proofreading and auditory skills they practiced in Beyond and Bigger and are applying them.

Studied dictation teaches many skills that help struggling spellers.

Through studied dictation, kiddos learn to transfer the skills of capturing a correct mental image of a string of words, of hearing the sentence and repeating it back correctly, of writing the words in the correct sequence (including all punctuation and capitalization), and of proofreading and correcting their work to make sure the right mental image remains (rather than the wrong one). Over time, these skills transfer to kiddos’ proofreading their own written work in other subjects. You can see this is all a part of spelling, but it is a process that takes years to internalize. This is why I encourage you to keep on going, patiently guiding and diligently correcting. You will see progress as the years pass. Just make sure not to put the focus on word memorization but rather place the focus on the ultimate long-term goal of writing correctly and proofreading in daily work.

With these methods, even struggling spellers will make gains in the area where it really counts.

So, I would definitely encourage you to follow the plans for spelling in Bigger Hearts for the last half of the guide.  My own third little guy struggled with the spelling lists in Beyond and Bigger too. He improved as he headed into dictation, even though he is by no means a natural speller. In CTC, he really started to show some carryover and improvement in his daily written work. Now, he refers back to his reading material to copy the correct spelling of words within his written narrations. This is another moment where capturing the correct mental image of words (i.e. names and places) and transferring them to paper in written narrations comes in handy. I share this to encourage you! Over time with these methods, even struggling spellers will make gains in the area where it really counts.




Start a 5-day a week guide now to school 4 days a week later!

From Our House to Yours

Start a 5-day a week guide now to homeschool just 4 days a week next school year!

Do you find yourself searching for things for your children to do at home right now? Due to COVID-19, many families have had to cancel spring and summer plans. Increased time at home can leave parents scrambling to find things for their children to do. While older children can often find ways to entertain themselves, younger children still need parents to oversee them. In Heart of Dakota (HOD), the guides Little Hands to Heaven (LHTH) through Bigger Hearts for His Glory (BHFHG) utilize 5-day a week plans. If you find yourself looking for things to do with your younger children, here’s the answer! Try starting LHTH through BHFHG now, and you can shave time off your next homeschool year!

Why do the younger HOD guides have 5-day a week plans?

The younger HOD guides have plans for 5 days a week for many reasons. Spreading work over 5 days means days are kept shorter. Shorter homeschool days fit little ones better. Shorter days match their shorter attention spans, and they prevent fatigue and frustration. This shorter lesson format for younger children matches Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on the matter. Not to mention, more days of teaching of foundational skills like beginning phonics, handwriting, and math skills gives more days to cement these important skills for a strong start to learning in general. So, HOD’s scheduling of 5-day weeks for little ones is intentional.

Why do the older HOD guides have 4-day a week plans?

The older HOD guides have plans 4 days a week for many reasons. Taking 5 days’ worth of work and condensing it into 4 days means students have a free 5th day each week. Longer homeschool days fit older students better. Longer days match their increased attention spans. Likewise, longer blocks of time help students have enough time to truly complete their more in-depth, independent work. Having one free day each week fits older students better. This format allows older students to have free time for extracurricular activities, outside interests, and work. So, HOD’s schedule of 4-day weeks for older students is intentional. (Of course, if you happen to have an older student with a shorter attention span, you can always spread the 4 days of work over 5 days to have shorter days.)

How many units/weeks of 5-day plans would you need to complete to homeschool 4 days a week next school year?

Homeschooling 4 days a week is appealing to many homeschool families. A 4-day week is especially appealing to families who happen to have older children using HOD’s guides Preparing Hearts for His Glory through U.S. II high school, as these guides utilize a 4-day week format. Little Hands to Heaven has 33 weeks of 5-day a week plans. Little Hearts for His Glory through BHFHG have 34 weeks of 5-day a week plans. This equals a total of 165-170 days of plans. The older guides, from PHFHG through U.S.II, have 35 weeks of 4-day a week plans. This equals a total of 140 days of plans.

So, if you start homeschooling your youngers only now, and you make it through about 6 units/weeks of plans, you can homeschool just 4 days a week next school year and finish your guides!  You can do this either by homeschooling 5 days a week for 6 weeks, or by homeschooling 4 days a week for about 8 weeks. I often did this with my younger sons, once my oldest son had moved into 4-day a week guides. This was the best of both worlds in my opinion! My youngers still had shorter days, had more days of school to cement skills, and had me all to themselves when I needed to be with them anyway – but, during the school year their days matched my older son’s schedule… and I loved a day off each week! Give it a try!

In Christ,



HOD Guides: A Journey to Enjoy Not a Race to Complete

Teaching Tip

Think of the Heart of Dakota guides as a journey to enjoy rather than a race to complete.

Are you getting closer to the end of your school year? If so, you may feel like rushing or cramming things in to finish your guide by a designated time. I encourage you to resist that urge. Instead, think of the sequence of Heart of Dakota guides as a journey to be enjoyed each step of the way. One guide’s skills will prepare your child well for the next guide to come. So, it’s best to use each guide to its fullest along the way.

Do you feel like rushing or doubling up days to finish your guide on time?

You may have had a year full of life’s unexpected surprises, or maybe you began Heart of Dakota later in your year. Either way, there is little benefit to doubling up days or doing multiple days in one in order to finish “on-time.” However, there is a huge benefit to solidly teaching the skills that are wound within each guide one day at a time. This steady progress forward will help students practice and form skills they will need life-long!

So what should you do if you find yourself “behind” in your progress by “year-end”?

First of all, accept where you truly are in the guide. No amount of rushing will change that fact. Second, make a realistic plan to teach a day within a day until your designated break date. During your break, reassess whether your children are still correctly placed in their current guide(s). Most likely, their current placement will still be best. If you have gotten very far off track for an extended period of time, it is possible that your children may need to be placed in a different guide. Third, after your break, either pick the guide back up where you left off or begin your new guide(s). In this journey, steady progress forward pays big dividends.

What did our family do when we were “behind”?

I share this tip with you, because I know from personal experience what it’s like to be “behind.”

In one of our years of schooling, we were behind by 10 weeks by year-end. The year had started with some medical challenges that ground our year to a halt before it even began! My husband finally stepped in and set a finish date for school regardless of where we were in the guide. During our break, we reassessed our boys’ placements. Our older sons needed to move forward to a new guide. So, after our break, they did. Our younger sons needed to keep going in their current guides. So, after our break, they did. For our younger sons, we just picked their guides back up where they had left off. Once this decision was made, I felt a huge sense of relief! We felt like we had done what was best for our boys academic journey in a difficult year.

We would love to help you too!

If you need help deciding whether your children are correctly placed for the coming year, please contact us! We would love to help!!


Will R & S English 7 still benefit my high school student if she completed other programs?

Pondering Placement

Will my daughter benefit from doing R & S English 7 for 9th grade if she has already completed several other grammar programs?

My 9th grade, 15 year-old daughter will start using Heart of Dakota’s World Geography this coming year. My placement question is actually about grammar. She has already previously completed Analytical Grammar twice in her 6th and 7th grade years. Last year for 8th grade, she used the high school reinforcement book from Analytical grammar along with Easy Grammar Plus. She has always done most of her grammar on her own now. My question is will she still benefit from R & S English 7? She has been independent in this area and used to correcting her own work. I will confess, I’d love to hand her the teacher’s manual and student book and let her do this on her own. I’m not sure if I’m supposed teach it at this point, but I do want her to get all the benefit she can from English these high school years.

Carrie’s Reply:  Yes, I think your daughter would still benefit from using R & S English 7.

In my opinion, I think that your daughter would still benefit from using Rod and Staff English 7 because it integrates writing and a whole host of other English skills within the program. This will provide a different feel from what she’s already had in the past.

How My Oldest Son Completed R & S English in High School

As far as using Rod and Staff English, I’ll share that at our house my oldest son preferred to do his lessons orally with us rather than write out all of the answers. However, due to time constraints for his senior year, he did benefit from doing the last half of English 8 just the way you are describing in your post. He did the lessons and checked them himself using the Teacher’s Guide key. He did share that it was more difficult, and less interesting, to do Rod and Staff English this way. However, it did work for him for that season. 

How My Next Son Completed R & S English in High School

With my next son in line,we still went over his lessons regularly. However, he did enjoy writing out the answers ahead of time to save time during the meeting with us later. Sometimes he had the whole lesson done before he ever met with us. To me, this was still of benefit to him as well. We just orally did whatever he had left. With my younger kiddos, we definitely meet each time with them and do 2/3 of the English lesson orally and 1/3 on paper.

Students do benefit from some oral discussion and application, simply because English is a spoken as well as a written language.

So, with your older daughter you can decide how best to approach Rod and Staff English to best fit your needs and hers. There are benefits to both ways! It may be a changing approach from year to year, depending on what your schedule allows. I do feel that kiddos benefit from some oral discussion and application of the English lessons, simply because English is a spoken as well as a written language!


Should I switch my kids from Easy Grammar to R & S English?

Dear Carrie

Should I switch my kids from Easy Grammar to R & S English?
I am a mom to nine. We’re getting ready to start our second year with Heart of Dakota (HOD)! Two are graduated already. My 18-year-old is doing U.S. History II, and my 16-year-old is doing World Geography. Our 14-year-old with learning delays is doing well in CTC. My 11-year-old with learning delays is enjoying Bigger Hearts with my 9-year-old. Our 6-year-old is beginning Little Hearts soon. My 2-year-old is our chief meddler adored by us all! This is our second year using HOD mostly only for history and science. For other subjects, we just continued using the resources we had already been using before finding HOD. As the year went by I began to realize that using the guides for more of the other subjects would greatly simplify things! So that leads me to my question… should I switch my kids from Easy Grammar to R & S English?
Helpful Background Info When Considering a Switch in Grammar
Easy Grammar doesn’t require much of my teaching time, and I have a lot of kids! However, I understand R & S teaches important additional writing skills. My 10-year-old will be moving into Preparing. She excels with grammar and spelling and language arts in general. I’m thinking Level 4 for her, if we switch from Easy Grammar. My 13-year-old struggles a lot with grammar. Easy Grammar is the first grammar course he has had some success with. But, he struggles with writing as well. This makes me wonder if he may benefit from making a switch. I have no idea what level he would be in… probably no higher than Level 4. However, he’ll be in Resurrection to Reformation and in 8th grade. If he uses Level 4 this year, what will I do for him next year when he is in high school?

My 15-year-old-son also struggles with language arts. (Both he and the 13-year-old deal with some dyslexia.) But, for some reason he really “gets” grammar and actually does pretty well with it. He used Missions to Modern Marvels last year for his freshman year. He’ll be using World Geography (WG) next year for 10th grade. As you know the WG  guide schedules R & S 7. However, I’m assuming that he should not start there, since he is new to R & S. How far back should he go? I’m concerned if he goes back too far, I won’t be able to give high school credit for it. Would it be better to just keep him moving in Easy Grammar? Sorry this is so long. Thanks in advance for any help you can offer!


“Ms. Please Help Decide If I Should Switch to R & S English”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Decide If I Should Switch to R & S English,”

In looking at your precious teaching time and the amount of kiddos that you have in your household, I want to be fair in my advice to you. Honestly, using Rod and Staff for English may result in more teaching time for you. However, I have become such a believer in the way that English is approached in the Rod and Staff English books that I would venture to say that it is some of the best time spent in teaching.

R & S English truly ties together virtually all skills related to the English language.

This is because Rod and Staff is so much more than a grammar program. It is the whole English umbrella of skills (i.e. grammar, composition, outlining, notetaking, speaking, dictionary skills, using a thesaurus, poetry, prefixes, suffixes, etc.). It truly ties together all skills related to the English language. In doing so, it has a direct impact on how kiddos present themselves (both in spoken and written form). On top of that it is the most God-honoring text I have ever seen!

I would focus on switching my oldest child to R & S first.

With that being said, I think I would focus on switching my oldest child to Rod and Staff first. This will not be an easy transition, as Rod and Staff assignments require more work to complete. However, if you keep in mind that you are trying to do 2/3 of the assignment orally or on a whiteboard, with only one exercise to do on paper each day, it will go better. The reason I would start with your oldest child is because I think it is such a good program that all kiddos should have some of it prior to graduation. It truly will be of benefit to them lifelong no matter what their previous grammar experience has been.

I would start with half of R & S English 5 or 6.

I would start your oldest in either Rod and Staff English 5 or English 6. Do half this year and half next year. Don’t worry about the grammar being enough. When combined with the literature and composition in the high school guides it is one part of the overall credit. When you list it for your transcript, just list the title, not the level of the book.

I would consider combining your 10 and 13 year-olds in R &S English 4.

Next, depending on how the 10 and 13 year old would feel about being together, you could consider combining them in Rod and Staff English 4. If the combining is not a go, then I would keep your younger child in Easy Grammar and switch the 13-year-old to English 4. Again, do much of it orally or on a whiteboard, only writing one exercise on paper each day. Of course, you may wish to stay with Easy Grammar instead. It is definitely up to you the route to take with this. I did use Easy Grammar with my oldest son for only one year, and we did not find nearly the retention or carryover with that program that we have found with Rod and Staff, but your experience may vary.


Response from “Ms. Please Help Decide If I Should Switch to R & S English”

Carrie, thank you for understanding my situation. You’ve had so much going on lately. I want you to know I really appreciate that you took the time to give me such a thoughtful and empathetic answer to my question. Each of the skills you list here are ones that my kids do need to practice and grow in. I’m really liking your advice to switch my 15-year-old now, and add in the others as I can. Thank you so much for helping me come up with a plan that is doable in my real life! I’m hoping to be able to switch the others soon after we get into the swing of things with the 15-year-old.


“Ms. Please Help Decide If I Should Switch to R & S English”