Thoughts on Shifting Things to Make Bigger Hearts 4 Days

Dear Carrie

Would you recommend shifting certain things each day to make Bigger Hearts a 4 day a week schedule?

Dear Carrie,

I love the design of Heart of Dakota‘s guides!  The balance you planned in each 2-page spread of plans is genius. I started the first few units of Bigger Hearts half-speed. Now, we are taking our summer break. When we come back, we will start half-speed for a bit. Then, I was thinking about shifting things around to make Bigger Hearts a 4 day schedule. However, I have learned a lot from using Heart of Dakota for the past decade. I know you have reasons for every bit of how you plan things. Before I consider this, I wanted your take on what this would do to the intended balance of the plans you wrote. Thanks!


“Ms. Please Explain Your Thoughts on Shifting Things to Do Bigger Hearts in 4 Days”

Dear “Ms. Please Explain Your Thoughts on Shifting Things to Do Bigger Hearts in 4 Days,”

Thank you for sharing you’ve enjoyed using Heart of Dakota for over a decade!  As you ponder the pacing of your year, one thing to remember is that each guide is designed to have a daily workload that is appropriate for the skill level of your student. Each day of plans is written with a careful balance in mind of visual, kinesthetic, and auditory assignments. Creative and more structured assignments are also balanced within a school day. Also, the activities on the left side and even some from the right side of the guide are meant to intertwine together as written within a day of school to allow kiddos to make connections.

When you shift boxes around, you lose the carefully timed workload, balance of skills, and planned connections.

I share all of this to say that when you start shifting boxes around, you lose the carefully timed workload, lose the balance of skills, and lose the connections that are designed to happen effortlessly. To show you what I mean, I’ll share this example. Imagine that you are a classroom teacher in a Christian school. Each week you spend your entire weekend and many nights writing a week of plans for your class. You work to be sure that each activity has a special purpose in that particular day, bringing out things from the history reading or the Bible or science that you desire your kiddos to relate together.

Each time you shift the plans, cohesiveness and connections are lost.

As you arrive on Monday, you discover that there is a two hour assembly scheduled for Monday that you were unaware was taking place when you wrote the plans. So, you begin shifting the plans, trying to keep what was really important together (which you can do fairly well because you wrote the plans). Now, later in the week there is a fire drill, and the plans shift again. Later in the week the guidance counselor stops in to talk about playground troubles, and more shifting occurs. By the week’s end, how well do you think those original lesson plans are functioning? How cohesive are they at this point? You sigh, and hope the next week will be better.

Shifting each week means your kiddos can no longer just follow the two-page plans.

If you do this shifting every week with HOD, you can quickly see what is lost! No longer can your kiddos just follow the two-page spread and know when the boxes are checked off they are done. No longer do you view your school day that way either, as you are constantly trying to squeeze more into less time.   At that point, you are pretty much rewriting the plans in a way that they were not designed to be taught. When we talk to moms who have shifted too many things in the plans, we often discover that they are on different days of plans in so many areas that both they and their kiddos are completely confused as to where they really are.

Homeschooling is a journey with steady progress forward rather than a race to the finish line.

I share this not to discourage you, but rather to encourage you with some wisdom I’ve gained through the years. As we homeschool our kiddos, we have to ask what it is we are racing to do? Why must we approach schooling in a way that has us cramming more into fewer days? Homeschooling is a journey that goes on for many years. It is not a race to the finish line, but rather requires steady progress forward.

I’d recommend teaching a day within a day and simply setting aside the guide on your day off.

So, if you have a child in Bigger Hearts and you need a 4 day schedule, I would recommend teaching a day within in a day (once you work your way up to it from half-speed). On your day off, simply set the guide aside. Then, when you return to your school, pick the guide up where you left off and go forward. Once you get to Preparing Hearts on up, you will switch to a 4 day plan anyway, so why not give your family every chance to succeed with Bigger Hearts by using it the way it was written? You always want to leave your kiddos begging for more in the early years, rather than leaving them (and you) barely getting done.  Enjoy the younger years, where the school day isn’t so long, because it will get longer soon enough!

Blessings to you as you ponder,

Setting Up for Little Hearts for His Glory

From Our House to Yours

Setting Up for Little Hearts for His Glory

So, you’ve placed your child in LHFHG, enjoyed your HOD “box day”, and are ready to set up for the homechool year! Well, the first important step is to read through the LHFHG Introduction, Appendix, and first week or month of plans. Reading through these parts of the guide helps me envision our year. It also helps me note any special supplies I might want, based on the options given for me to choose from in the Introduction. I also think it is important to read the beginning pages of the phonics program and of the handwriting workbook. The instruction tips shared there are important to developing good habits. They also note any special preparation needed to begin. For example, Reading Made Easy’s beginning pages notes “Things to Do Ahead of Time,” and The Reading Lesson explains how to use the download in the instruction lesson.

Setting Up the Front of My “Little Hearts for His Glory” Binder

First, I photocopy the cover of my LHFHG guide in color and insert it in my binder. If you don’t have a color copier, a black and white cover looks nice as well! Second, I print the Introduction of the guide off the Internet (click here). I use the Table of Contents that is part of the Introduction as my attendance record. Next to each ‘Unit,’ I write the dates we completed it (i.e. Unit 1:  Sept. 2-6, 2019). Third, I print the first week of plans (click here). This is just a nice overview. If your state requires you to turn in your student’s completed portfolio, printed pages or copies of the Introduction and first week of plans give an excellent overview of what is covered. Please note, Carrie gives permission for the Introduction and First Week of Plans to be printed or copied for portfolio compilation. However, any other photocopies (i.e. of daily plans) would be a copyright infringement.

Label Tab Dividers Inside My LHFHG Binder

Next, I label tab dividers for my binder. My goals are to show what my child did and how he progressed in skills. So, I label my first tab “HISTORY.” Anything my child did on the left Learning Through History part of the plans is placed here. Usually this includes lots of art projects, a few science projects, and a few decorated Bible verses. Next, I label my second tab “FINE MOTOR SKILLS.” I put completed Do It Carefully, Finding the Answers, and A Reason for Handwriting K pages here. (Note: this is based on what I chose for resources; your fine motor skills workbooks might be different.) Then, I label my third tab “LANGUAGE ARTS.” Here, I put Storytime written projects (from Day 4) and phonics worksheets (if my child did any). Last, I label my fourth tab “MATH”and put any completed math activity pages or worksheets here.

Extra Tab(s) for Those Who Take Pictures and Actually Print Them

If you are a super mom who not only takes pictures but also prints them, you can include one more tab called “HANDS-ON LEARNING.” Behind this tab, you can place printed action photos of Rhymes in Motion, Science Experiments, Thinking Games, Dramatic Play, Bible Study activities, and/or the Corresponding Music singing. Or, you can label the tab “OTHER” and put pictures of anything special, like you reading the Bible, the devotional, the history/science books, or the Storytime books to your child. However, ask me how many times I have gotten that done in three trips through LHFHG? Zero. So, if you don’t get this done, no worries! I DO have many pictures taken, and I DID have them on a slideshow in a photoframe for awhile. So, if you don’t have the time, don’t do this. Your binder without any of these extra tabs will still be amazing!

Label Sticky Tabs to Mark Places in the Guide

Next, I label sticky tabs to mark places in the LHFHG guide. I label the first sticky tab “DAILY PLANS,” placing it on Unit 1, Day 1. Then, I label the next tab “RHYMES IN MOTION,” placing it in the Appendix (back) of the guide. If you are using the first grade science option, I’d label another tab “SCIENCE” and place that in the Appendix. Likewise, if you are using the first grade math plans, I’d label another tab “MATH” and place that in the Appendix. Or, if you’d rather not reference your Appendix for the 1st grade science and math, I’d just jot the page numbers in the daily “Math Exploration” and “Science Discovery” boxes of plans instead. Finally, if you are planning on using your library for the optional additional literature in the Appendix, I’d label another tab “LITERATURE SUPPLEMENTS.” 

Shopping for Supplies

Carrie’s plans use readily available household supplies, and many options are suggested. For example, the plans may call for either a bean bag and a basket, or a rolled up pair of socks and a plastic bin. Art supplies are noted in bold print in the Artistic Expression daily plans. I just skim the Art and Science plans every month or so, to look for the one-off supply. However, to get ready to begin LHFHG, I just stock up on usual art supplies, like crayons, markers, glue (sticks and liquid), scissors, construction paper, tape (masking and clear), a ruler, playdough, paints/paintbrushes, cotton balls/yarn, etc. I also stock up on index cards, page protectors, and a few catalogs. Finally, I’ve found a flashlight, CD player (for Hide ‘Em in Your Heart), bouncy ball, paperclips, paper plates, and q-tips/toothpicks are also handy.

Just for Fun Extras

For LHFHG, I enjoyed having on hand some musical toys, a few party streamers/hats, and a scarf to toss – but these items are just for fun and not necessary! As the LHFHG plans say, instead of having on hand musical toys you can always use a kettle and a spoon for a drum, a box of rice to shake as a maraca, or 2 wooden spoons to tap together for rhythm sticks. Instead of party streamers or hats, you can just use construction paper. Rather than a scarf, you can toss a tissue! For this young age of children, I also enjoyed having on hand My First Tinconderoga pencils, a pencil sharpener, sturdy clicky pencils, a big eraser, a few different pencil grippers, several different kinds of scissors for little ones, and twistable crayons.  But, these are really just for fun type extras!

Sorting Resources into “Things We Need Now” and “Things We Need Later” Bins or Totes

One of the last things I do is get two canvas bins or plastic tubs.  I use one for ‘things we need now’ and the other for ‘things we need later.’ As I read through each box of my first week of LHFHG’s plans, I put each needed resource in the bin or tub for ‘things we need now.’ I put the remaining items in the bin or tub for ‘things we need later.’ Throughout the year as we finish using books or resources, I put them in the back of the ‘things we need later’ bin or tub, and I move the next books or resources we need into the ‘things we need now’ bin or tub. This way, my ‘things we need now’ bin or tub only contains what we need for each week. Another benefit is the ‘things we need now’ are always mobile! I can pick up my bin or tote and move it to any table, desk, couch, counter, work surface or area I want!  Likewise, I put many art supplies in a tool turnaround, so these are mobile too!

In Christ,


Make an effort to be fully present during school time.

Teaching Tip:

Make an effort to be fully present during school time.

During school time with my kiddos, I am often reminded how important it is for me to be “fully present.” If I don’t make a conscious effort to focus on my kids, I can easily be distracted. The telephone, computer, people at the door, cooking tasks, laundry, texting, errands, or a million tasks can divide my attention. When I am doing all these tasks while schooling, my boys are continually waiting on me. This means their school day (and mine) drags on longer than it should!

Try to minimize interruptions and limit outside tasks during school time.

So, I am reminded anew to try to minimize interruptions and limit my tasks to a time when I am not teaching. Depending on the ages of your students, you can do this in several ways.

For younger students, try alternating school time with breaks.

If your students are young, you can alternate a half hour of school with a half hour break. Simply continue this alternating pattern until the school subjects are done for the day. This pattern alternates chunks of school time with chunks of free time. We followed this plan for years when our boys were young, so we know it works. Just be sure to return to school after each half hour break!

For older students, try focused teaching hours.

If your students are older, and their school day is longer, you can focus your teaching time during certain hours. At our house, we typically teach from 9 A.M. – 1 P.M. With this plan, the kiddos often have school left in the afternoon, but my formal teaching is done by 1 PM. I simply schedule more independent subjects for my boys to complete after 1:00 PM.

The last few years, our older boys have done several school subjects in the evening to “get ahead.” They always do independent subjects that would typically be done after lunch the next day. Working ahead helps them finish by 1:00 PM the next day, which they prefer. Doing several subjects in the evening is another option to help your children get done earlier.

Or, try a scheduled mid-day break before returning to school.

One other scenario we tried in the past was to take a scheduled mid-day break. One year we took a scheduled break from 1:00-3:30 PM. This allowed me to deal with many things that needed my attention before it got too late in the day. We then returned to school from 3:30-5:30 PM. This was a plan that worked for a year, but I must admit it was hard to return to school at 3:30!

It is amazing what can be accomplished in a short time if you are fully present.

I am amazed what I can get done in a very short time with my boys if I am “fully present.” While this is not always possible, I encourage you to see with a new light any time stealers that really can wait. Strive to be mentally and physically present as much as possible during school time. If emergencies and situations that need to be dealt with occur, return to the pattern of being fully present as soon as possible. I am trying to focus on being fully present and am finding new joy in the time I do have with my boys!


Placement: PHFHG or CTC for a 10 yo newly independent reader and writer?

Pondering Placement

Would you recommend Preparing Hearts or Creation to Christ for a 10 year old who is a newly independent reader and writer?

I’ve been pouring over the HOD Message Board and catalog! My daughter is a 10 year old 4th grader. She’s taken time in becoming independent in reading. Last year, she did really well with Bigger Hearts, but she only made it through Unit 24. She didn’t continue into Preparing Hearts because she was not reading independently. This year, we spent lots of time with intense phonics review and lots of reading. She also completed Singapore 3B, Dictation Level 2, Rod and Staff 3, Writing with Ease, and Level 2 readers. She can read and orally narrate, and she can write about 3-5 very simple sentences. One minute I’m convinced she should be in PHFHG. Then, I switch to CTC! She might not be ready for DITHOR 4/5. I’m very unsure. She’s self-motivated but can be a complainer if she thinks she can’t do something. My worry is the reading!

Carrie’s Reply: Preparing Hearts for His Glory is my placement recommendation.

Thanks so much for sharing about your daughter! With what you’ve shared so far, I’d be inclined to suggest Preparing Hearts for her placement, based mostly upon her reading and writing level. Additionally, CTC is quite a step up in independence, in amount of reading, and in following lengthy written directions. I would be hesitant to put a child who has been a bit of a late bloomer in reading into CTC without first having had that child go through the stepping stones that are built into Preparing Hearts.

I’d recommend DITHR 2/3 along with the Level 3 DITHR Book Pack.

I think that a year in Preparing Hearts would also keep her from being too overwhelmed with the addition of DITHR to her days. With this in mind, I’d lean toward having her do Preparing with DITHR Level 2/3 (if she hasn’t already done it) or 4/5 (if she has already been through DITHR 2/3). I’d also lean toward the Level 3 Book Pack (which actually has a reading level in the range of 3.5-5.1). If you think that is too young, you could move into the 4/5 Book Pack, but I would do that with some hesitation as you want to encourage her to feel good about her reading without overwhelming her.

I’d recommend R & S English 4 at half-speed, Level 3 dictation, and the narration and writing skills planned in Preparing.

I would have her move on into Rod and Staff English 4 at half-speed, spreading each lesson out over 2 days. Then, I’d move onto dictation Level 3 (which is in the Appendix of Preparing). I would move away from Writing with Ease, as you’ll have too much duplication between that program and the writing across the curriculum we do in Preparing Hearts (through guided written narration, oral narration, and dictation). I would make sure to do the writing lessons from the poetry as scheduled in Preparing Hearts to build those writing skills that are not covered elsewhere in our guide or in Rod and Staff. She will also be getting quite a bit of writing instruction through Rod and Staff.

I’d further recommend Singapore 4A, the Deluxe Package of Books for the Newly Independent Reader, and the Science.

She can also move easily into Singapore 4A as that is scheduled in the Preparing Appendix. I would have her do the Deluxe Package with Preparing and the science too. These will be her independent areas and will do a great job of building independence incrementally. In looking down the road at the level of reading, written work, and independence required in CTC and RTR on up, I would definitely encourage you to spend a year heading through Preparing first with your daughter. The leap from completing 2/3 of Bigger and then jumping to CTC would be very huge (without having Preparing in between first).


Help! Extra-Curricular Activities Overload!

Dear Carrie

Help! We are in extra-curricular activities overload! What ideas do you have for evaluating our priorities and changing this?

Dear Carrie,

Now that we’ve discovered HOD, my endless quest for the perfect curriculum is over! Now God has been leading me to evaluate other areas. I’ve read some books that have challenged my thinking about how we’re using our non-academic hours. We’ve fallen into the trap of extra-curricular activities overload. We do soccer twice a week, ballet twice a week, piano lessons, music/singing twice a week, and a Friday morning history/science co-op. My kids have been asking to stay home more. I’m more tired and edgy than I’d like to be. Dad is wondering why we’re eating out too much. I’d love to hear if you’ve evaluated priorities in a similar way, what resources were helpful, and what overarching goals you have for your family. And if we stay home in the afternoons more often, what are some ideas for things to do?


“Ms. Please Help Us with Our Extra-Curricular Activities Overload!”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Us with Our Extra-Curricular Activities Overload,”

My husband and I read “The Socialization Trap,” and it totally changed the path upon which we were headed activity-wise with our family. At the time  we read that book, we were involved in everything there was to be involved with at church (i.e. nursery, teaching Children’s Church, teaching Sunday School, youth group leaders, church deacon and later elder, spiritual gift teachers, men’s groups, women’s group, VBS, etc.) and doing outside sports as well (i.e. t-ball, softball, soccer, swimming, etc.). With 3 sons (aged 9, 6, 3, and a child on the way), plus a family business, homeschooling, and my husband working a full-time job, we knew things needed to change.

My husband and I were on extra-curricular activities overload!

Both my husband and I had always been very active in everything. We were high school sweethearts who dearly loved playing sports and being involved in all things musical (i.e. marching band, jazz band, choir, swing choir, music competitions, plays and musicals, etc.). Likewise, we were involved with everything you could possibly be involved with at church from youth group to Sunday School to catechism to choir and so on. We carried that enthusiasm into college and then later into our married life.

Reading “The Socialization Trap” and talking to my oldest sister helped us make a change.

By the time we read “The Socialization Trap,” we were weary and running out of steam. My older sister cautioned us to really think before beginning certain activities (as once they are begun they are hard to stop, and also what you do for one child you will feel you need to do for another). This was timely advice for us, as we were seeing our nights being filled with sitting by various ball diamonds in different towns (headed toward not even being together as a family at these events, as our boys would all be in differing leagues due to their age spread). We were already glimpsing it that summer, as we had one on the verge of beginning a traveling baseball team at age 9, and the other just out of t-ball, with our next child headed into t-ball (not to mention soccer or swimming)!

Instead of extra-curricular activities overload, we chose family activities to do together.

So, we made a major life decision that summer that we would be done with organized sports and activities. Our oldest son balked a bit. Our next two sons never did. For us, the sense of relief was huge. Our summers became less busy immediately. My sister and her sons and our boys played at the park twice a week. We started having picnics and nature walks. The boys played catch in the backyard, played soccer, threw the football, made up their own rules and had a blast! We got a blow up pool for the backyard and the boys swam and swam in it every day.

Our sons had free time and developed lifelong hobbies.

They had free time and developed hobbies. They began to learn to work out their disagreements rather than arguing, because they knew they only had each other. I used to tell my boys that my sisters and I were somewhat alike and somewhat different. Yet, our arguments were usually short-lived, because when you grow up on a farm 4 miles from town as we did, you quickly realize that to stay mad at your only playmates is very dull. So, we usually made up quickly when we argued (and we still do today)!

Today, our sons love to play sports, watch movies, play games, and more!

Fast-forward to today! Our boys school in the morning, work in the late afternoons, and still get together with their cousins. They’ve never been involved in organized sports, but they dearly love to play soccer, catch, football, basketball, and kickball. They are outside every day, often even on work days, as for their breaks they hustle out to play a quick game of backyard soccer or football. They ride bikes, swim in the pool, play basketball at the gym and the park, build snow forts, have movie nights, and play board games at the local coffee house.

We enjoy being home, having free time, and pursuing hobbies.

We are home most days. Within our home, we all live, school, eat, work, and play. Really, we are together continually! The boys have learned to get along with each other (and with my husband and me), to enjoy being home, to look forward to daily home-cooked meals (which at times are less wonderful than others), and to covet their free time to pursue their hobbies.  My oldest son recently told me, “I love my life!” This did my heart such good, as I often have wondered whether we are choosing the right path.

Though our sons and nephews are very different, they are still best friends – from the oldest down to the youngest.

I share all this not to have you think that I believe this is the “one right way” to approach activities. Instead, I share it to show a different way. The blessings to reap from this type of path are that our boys enjoy playing sports just for the fun of it and with whatever number of people are able to play. They are all very different from one another, yet they are best friends from the oldest down to the youngest. Of course they still argue and have their differences, but they have learned how to resolve their differences and how to respect the differences among them.

Free time is viewed as a privilege, and overall our boys are happy.

Our oldest son holds a tremendous amount of influence in the lives of our younger kiddos. This makes him an incredible mentor. School holds a special importance, and routine is a part of their lives. Our kiddos never complain of boredom as they view free time as a privilege. They do not spend their days waiting to go to the next activity. Sometimes there are feelings of isolation. Sometimes the boys have wished they played organized sports or were involved in more things. Yet, overall our boys are happy. In looking back, the change we made was necessary for us. We could not have continued with all we do within our home without the shift in thinking.

Life without extra-curricular activities can still be joyful and full.

For those of you who feel you are in a similar place, I want to encourage you that life without organized activities is still joyful and full. I believe the Lord’s best looks different for each family, which is something my sisters and I discuss regularly. I know there is uncertainty with any choice, and I pray the Lord’s wisdom and guidance for all of us as we seek His path for our unique families.