Does your child get off track? Here’s a game plan for getting back on!

Dear Carrie

What can I do when my son gets off track and drags out his day?

We figured out a schedule for our school days last week that worked really well! (Thanks Heart of Dakota – great idea!) We did our son’s English/DITHOR mostly orally and had set blocks of time for work. I thought we’d solved the main issue, which was my oldest dragging out his day and getting off track by complaining and not doing his writing. Today was going really well until he didn’t get his cursive done. He said he would do it during his free time. I said okay, not thinking it would be a big deal. Then, we got to science, which was a notebooking assignment. He had to copy a kind of long Bible verse. But, he had not been required to do much writing at all today. I mean, is that really asking too much?!?

He has good handwriting. I think he just doesn’t want to do it. He has cried, complained, said he was too tired (so I had him go to bed for a bit to rest, which got him further off track). Now, he has lost outside time. He said he didn’t want to go out today anyway (so not true – he loves to be outside). Now, I’m taking away his tv time (sometimes they can watch one show after nap). How do I fix this? I like to get school done, but he is again getting off track and dragging things out. I would appreciate any suggestions! He is such a good boy and very bright, usually obedient. It just seems he doesn’t want to do any amount of writing. How can I keep my son on track and happily moving on through his school day?


“Ms. Please Help My Son Stop Getting Off Track and Dragging Out His School Day”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My Son Stop Getting Off Track and Dragging Out His School Day,”

With my boys, once we began implementing a schedule, I looked at the times on the schedule as a general rule of thumb rather than legalistic times. So, for instance if something on the schedule is meant to take 15 minutes, as long as the child is working, I allow a bit more time if needed (like 5-15 extra minutes). Once I can see we are stretching beyond that and are headed toward getting far enough off track that we soon can’t recover, I jump in and help the child recover if at all possible.

Getting Back on Track and Happily Moving Through the Day

To get back on track, I might do all of an English lesson orally, assigning none to be done on paper. Or, I may write out the math problems from the textbook to help the child move more quickly. I might downsize a math assignment a bit if needed. Or, I might put away or set out a child’s materials open to the needed pages to move him along. I may write a younger child’s answers to DITHOR, while he dictates them to me to save time.

Or, I might sit right by a child pointing out text or redirecting while he works to keep him on task. I might read directions aloud from an older child’s guide while he follows them. Or, I might send the kiddos for a much needed break, while I quickly check their work to see why they might have gotten off track. Anyway, these are just a few ideas of how you can partner with your kiddos to keep them on track and happily moving through their day.

Fixing an Off-Track School Day with a “Finish School” Time

Next, I’ll share that I have a “finish school” time in the afternoon for my third son. This is a 45 minute block of time that is a part of his schedule (after his lunch, recess, and work in the warehouse break). This is a time where he returns to his schoolwork and finishes anything he did not finish earlier during the school day. This works well for him right now! He has learned he prefers to get it done then rather than have it left in the evening. However, when we were training him in diligent work habits when he was younger, we had a work time in the evening after supper when he worked with his Dad on anything he had not finished during the school day with me. This worked well, as it was Dad who enforced the finishing rather than me!

Getting Your Son’s Handwriting Back on Track

In your son’s case, when he begins melting down over the handwriting, I would jump in to stem the tide right away. You can say something like… “Alright, I can see that you are overwhelmed with the amount of copy work today! You will have to work up to doing all of it eventually. However, to help you today, since it is a longer passage, I will write the first sentence (or two) to get you started. Then, you need to dry your eyes and get going with the rest. Let’s see how much you can get done then in 10 minutes if you work hard the whole time.” Often, once kiddos see the length reducing before they begin, they feel more able to do it. This is true of any assignment they find overwhelming!

Encourage diligent work, but still require the work to be done.

Then, head away to do something else after setting the 10 minute timer. Be sure he knows he doesn’t have to finish in that amount of time. He just needs to work diligently. If you return and he has shown progress, he can either finish (if he’s close to done) or set it aside to do the rest later. If he has chosen not to progress in the 10 minutes, simply let him know this means he’ll have to finish it later. Then, set the work aside to be done at the later time you’ve designated for leftover work (either in the evening with Dad or in the late afternoon).

Partner with your child, but if a consequence is still needed, award it only one time in the day.

If he does not work hard during the leftover work time, then you award the consequence at that time. This means you are giving the child every chance to succeed without drawing battle lines all throughout the day. You’ll only have one time that you award the consequence. You want your child to see you are partnering with them to get their work done instead of lying in wait to take away privileges. (Even though you really aren’t, they see it that way!)

Also, if the child ends up with quite a pile of work to finish during the “leftover work” time, both you and your husband (and your child) will be able to see that the day wasn’t very productive. You can discuss ways to do better the next day then. But again, you are partnering with the child to help them be successful. Anyway, these are just some thoughts you can ponder to see what might work in your family when your son gets off track.



Quick Tricks to Work on Common Problem Areas

From Our House to Yours

Quick Tricks to Work on Common Problem Areas

Have you discovered a problem area you want to work on with your child? Maybe you’ve realized your child struggles with spelling? Or, maybe your child just can’t seem to progress to the next reading level? Maybe you’ve discovered your child doesn’t have his/her math facts down? Or, maybe your child just can’t write or read cursive and ought to be able to by now? Well, here are some quick tricks to work on these common problem areas that will keep your child progressing normally within Heart of Dakota’s guides!

Quick Trick #1: Solving Spelling Struggles

Young children are often not the greatest of spellers. Copywork alongside the spelling lists and exercises assigned in the younger guides often iron this problem area out. However, if you have on older child using Bigger Hearts for His Glory or above, dictation is truly your best ally to improve spelling. So, what’s the quick trick? Well, dictation is only assigned 3 days a week. So, to improve spelling simply do dictation daily, either 4 or 5 times a week!  We did this with one of my sons who struggled with spelling, and little by little he improved until one day I realized he rarely made spelling mistakes at all anymore!  Did this happen overnight? No, but it was super easy to do, it took little to no time, and it kept us moving forward nicely in the guides. If you have a struggling speller, give this quick trick a try!

Quick Trick #2: Getting Over the Hump of Being Stuck at a Certain Reading Level 

Young children progress at different reading paces – that is just normal! However, if you have a beginning reader doing the Emerging Reader’s Set (ERS) that seems to just be unable to read the next book, this quick trick is for you! Carrie has extra supplemental books noted for every unit in the ERS schedule. These supplemental books are at the same approximate reading level as the ERS book scheduled in that same unit. So, for example, if your reader gets stuck on the reading level of Unit 15, simply go to the library to check out the supplemental books from Units 1-15. Read through them slowly, and before you know it, this quick trick will have your kiddo over the hump and onto the next ERS book!

Quick Trick #3: Helping Older Children Who Learned to Read on Their Own Progress to the Next Reading Level

Sometimes younger children just seem to learn to read on their own. Phonics didn’t seem necessary. They just knew how to read naturally! The only problem is, now that they are reading chapter books, they are stuck. They come to harder words, and they have no idea how to sound them out. You try to coach them on word attack skills, but they have none. Why? Well, often these smart little cookies are excellent memorizers. You read a book once or twice to them when they were little, and voila! They could read the book on their own! Or, these little smarties are excellent guessers. They looked at the pictures, followed the storyline, and guessed quite well earlier on in those easier, predictable books. But now, the books are harder, the words are longer, the storylines are less predictable, and they’re stuck. What to do? Well, just take a break and do Sound Bytes Reading. This more grown-up take on phonics is just the quick trick they need!

Quick Trick #4: Helping an Older Child Learn Their Math Facts or Cursive

Maybe you have an older child who just can’t do large number multiplication or long division. Often times, the root of this problem is the child just really still doesn’t know his/her facts. A quick trick to help is to slow their daily math program to half-speed and add some skip counting math songs to it! Try doing the 6’s on Mondays, the 7’s on Tuesdays, the 8’s on Wednesdays, the 9’s on Thursdays, and whatever the hardest facts are for them on Fridays. Soon, they will be on their way to having these tough facts memorized! Or, maybe you have an older child who just can’t read or write anything in cursive. No worries! Have that child print everything assigned in the HOD guide, but do one page of Italic D or Cheerful Cursive each day. One year later, this quick trick will have your kiddo writing cursive fairly well and reading it too!

In Christ,


Building better writing habits… one step at a time!

Heart of Dakota Life

Building better writing habits… one step at a time!

Red pens can make people shudder. Why? Well, red pens used to be a teacher’s weapon of choice for tearing a written paper to shreds – all in the name of ‘correcting’ or ‘editing.’ I always enjoyed writing, but I had a friend who didn’t. He tried so hard, but writing was just not his thing. I remember him getting a paper he’d written back from the teacher with more red on it than any color. He was embarrassed and devastated. He also didn’t know where to begin to be a better writer. I wanted to help him but felt pretty defeated too. Where do you begin when everything is wrong? Well, you build better writing habits just like you build any structure you want to be solid…  one step at a time.

Choose the first step carefully – success is a must!

For kiddos to feel confident in building their writing skills, it is important to focus on improving one skill at a time. I choose the first step to building a better writer carefully. Children need to experience success. For little ones, proper formation of letters is important. Spending time by their side to encourage and gently correct mistakes helps prevent poor habits. Heart of Dakota’s handwriting programs in Little Hearts for His Glory can help instill these good habits. Once students move past writing letters well, the next concern is often spacing issues. Their words might all run together. Or, they may not use the top, dotted, and bottom lines as stopping places. Building a better writer begins with the step of helping them recognize how to correct spacing issues. Below, you can see some ways I addressed this with our sons.

Other Steps to Building a Better Writer

Once children have learned proper letter formation and spacing, often the next step to building a better writer is simply shrinking their writing. Moving from handwriting paper to wide-lined notebook paper is a step that takes much encouragement. As students shrink their writing, often times legibility and spacing becomes an issue again. One of my sons began making the letter “s” with no curve – essentially, every letter “s” looked like the letter “l”. Another son didn’t close his vowels. Basically every letter “a” and every letter “o” looked like the letter “u”.  My nephew wrote every lowercase “r” as a giant “r,” as tall as a capital letter. Another nephew wrote microscopically small. One of my sons put large spaces in the middle of bigger words, making them look like two words. Each of these steps were patiently tackled, one at a time.

Further Steps to Building a Better Writer

Once letter formation, spacing, shrinking, and legibility have been tackled, often times spelling is next. There are many steps to building a better speller. Blessedly, Heart of Dakota makes this maze of how to begin to build a better speller easier. Spelling tips in the Appendix include a hierarchy of steps to work through. Beginning steps involve more parent help. Ending steps promote more independent spelling helps. More mature steps to build a better writer come next. Maybe students need to use better transition words. Or, maybe they need to vary the length of their sentences. It could be they need to use more descriptive words. Or, maybe they need to do a better job of choosing their topic. Heart of Dakota’s editing list, R & S English’s lessons, and formal writing programs’ instructions in each guide help each step of the way. So, here’s to building better writers – one step at a time!

In Christ,





Is answering questions an important skill? Or, can we replace it with narrating?

Dear Carrie

If my daughter narrates better than she answers questions, should I focus on improving her skill of properly answering questions, or should I let her narrate instead?

We are reading Tornado from the Emerging Reader’s Set. I’ll ask my daughter the follow up questions, and she will often not know the answers. She’ll ask if she can narrate instead. Then, she’ll give a beautiful oral narration. She’s like this with Bible too. She can almost never answer the questions in Bigger Hearts for His Glory‘s Bible study. She does have auditory processing and visual perception issues. I don’t know if that could be at play. So, if my daughter narrates better than she answers questions, should I let her narrate instead?


“Ms. Please Help Me Decide If I Should Let Her Narrate or Focus on the Skill of Answering Questions Better”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Decide If I Should Let Her Narrate or Focus on the Skill of Answering Questions Better,”

Let me begin by saying it is wonderful that your daughter is able to narrate well! I’ll also share that it isn’t uncommon for kiddos to have an inclination toward either narrations or answering questions. This is because each type of assignment appeals to a different type of learner and requires a different thought process. Questions often have the expectation of one right answer, whereas narration allows kiddos to choose to share what they took from the story and focus on that. Narration is more open-ended. Both types of assignments are important to do, as different skills are learned.

Some learners prefer to answer questions with one right answer, while other learners prefer to give more open-ended narrations.

So, as we look at learners who are more comfortable in knowing exactly what to do and how to do it, and who thrive on one right answer, we can see that questions will appeal to these types of children. On the other hand, as we look at kiddos who are more free-flowing through their day, who do not like to be restricted, and who enjoy creativity, we can see that narrations will appeal to these types of children.

If children struggle with answering questions, you can let them know the questions prior to reading.

In looking at the challenges the questions are providing for your daughter, it would help for your child to know the questions prior to reading. Just be aware that sharing the questions prior to reading, will put your child’s focus wholly on finding the answers to those questions as she reads. So, if you shift gears and then ask her to narrate after reading she may be lost.

As children move through Heart of Dakota’s guides, they eventually improve and learn to work well within their weaker area.

Usually as kiddos travel through Heart of Dakota, they eventually get to the point where they learn to work within their weaker area well. This means that kiddos that weren’t born narrators can learn to narrate well. Likewise, kiddos who have a tough time answering questions can learn to excel in that area too. It just takes time, often years! So, be encouraged that while a processing disorder may definitely play a role in how quickly a child progresses in a weak area, all kiddos will have some struggles in any area that does not come naturally to their learning and personality style. As always, when we are pondering a child’s learning progress, it is hard to know where an actual disorder ends and where the diversity of a “typical” childhood personality or learning-style begins.