Writing Preferences for Keepsake Notebooks

From Our House to Yours

Keepsake Notebooks to Treasure

We have loved using Heart of Dakota’s (HOD’s) notebook pages through the years!  Our bookshelves are lined with notebooking keepsakes, beautiful memories of our time spent in each HOD guide. Each son’s notebooks are kept safe in 3-ring binders lined up neatly in a row, from start to finish. From time to time, we take them out. We are amazed at the visual record of progress in so many skills! Writing, drawing, research, outlines, bulleted notes, timeline entries, geography mapwork, written narrations, history projects, summaries, and the list goes on.  My sons can hardly believe the progress they’ve made! They also love remembering the living books they’ve read. Their responses to those books are on page after page of their notebooks. Each of their notebooks are the same, but each are different. I love that!

Writing Preferences

My oldest son preferred to use good, old Ticonderoga pencils in his notebooks. He loved how sturdy they are because he likes to press hard when he writes. My middle son loved clicky pencils. He preferred the clicky pencils with heavier lead. He loved their precision, and I must say he especially loved clicking them, often. My youngest son first loved Ticonderoga pencils, largely because I bought an electric pencil sharpener. This was new, fun, and he spent long periods of time enjoying sharpening his pencils. Then, however, he decided he’d switch to clicky pencils. He liked certain colors and special erasers. Recently, he wanted to switch to pens. As we were making this switch, I spoke with a wonderful fellow HOD mom on the phone. She mentioned her kiddos enjoying using electric erasers. Well, THAT sounded FUN!

A Valentine’s Day Gift That Was a Hit

That very evening I went home and searched for electric erasers. I knew my gadget-loving youngest son would LOVE these! Valentine’s Day was also coming. Along with the chocolate, I like to give some new fun school supplies. The electric eraser along with uniball pens (and new clicky pencils for my middle and oldest sons) were perfect! Just a few AA batteries, and my son was happily using his electric eraser along with his uniball pens! The electric eraser is precise and easily erases any errors he makes on his notebooking pages. In fact, he can even erase colored pencils and markers! Today, I saw him erasing part of his printed school schedule. (Very funny, Emmett. The school schedule still stands.) There are LOTS of electric erasers, but here is the one we got. Anyway, this was such a wonderful idea from a fellow homeschool mom that I thought I’d pass it on to you in case you have a gadget, pen-loving kiddo!

In Christ,


Does your child have an easy-to-follow schedule that can be seen at a glance?

Teaching Tip 

Does your child have an easy-to-follow schedule that can be seen at a glance?

Do you love schedules or loathe them?  Either way, there is one helpful item that we have found our students need.  It is a list of subjects in the order the subjects “ideally” should be completed each day.  Without such a schedule, the child remains completely dependent on you to dictate the day.

A schedule doesn’t need to be fancy.

This listing of subjects can be hand-written or typed.  It is helpful to use the subject names from the boxes in the Heart of Dakota guide.  It also helps to note a time allotment behind each subject.  This way the students have some idea of how long the subject is expected to take.  On our schedule I also include the room of our house where I expect the child to complete the subject. I write start and end times next to each subject (but this part of the list is purely optional).

You can use the same list all year!

We use the same list all year. We place the schedule in a plastic page protector.  Each day our students check off each subject with a dry erase marker.  At day’s end, they use a dry eraser to clear the schedule for use again the next day.

Freedom comes when the order of subjects remains basically the same.

Keeping the subjects in the same basic order each day really pays off in setting a routine. Your student will come to expect which subject comes next, saving both of you time.  The actual time on the clock when each subject occurs is less important than the routine.  Even if the time of day at which you complete those subjects varies from day-to-day… the order remains the same. Try making a simple, easy-to-follow schedule for your child and see what you think!


Benefitting from the Level of Independence Planned in the Guides

A Heart of Dakota Life

Benefitting from the Level of Independence Planned in the Guides

Beginning in Preparing Hearts for His Glory, Heart of Dakota’s (HOD’s) guides plan for students to become more independent. As I see my sons who are now 21, 17, and 13  years old at various levels of successfully working independently, the benefits are obvious. Their joy and success in working on things independently is such a blessing! This is also a blessing for me as their homeschool parent. So, are you reaping the benefits of the guides’ plans for gradual, successful levels of independence? Are you making sure in the guides from Preparing on up to follow the suggested levels of independence for each box in the guide?  If not, you should give it a try!

Teacher-Directed and Semi-Independent Boxes of Plans

If your child is doing the ‘S’ (Semi-Independent) or the ‘T’ (Teacher-Directed) levels of boxes without you, your day will be longer. You will either be checking work later, solving problems during the work time, or fixing mistakes later that were not caught. ‘S’ and ‘T’ boxes are harder and require more parent help. I compensate for these by sticking close to my kiddos during ‘S’ boxes. I pop in at the beginning or middle to check progress. For the ‘T’ levels of boxes, I am always present as many of these boxes are discussion-based.

Independent Level of Boxes of Plans

On the other hand, if you are thinking that the ‘I’ level of boxes mean that the child is totally independent and you have no role in the box, this is a misunderstanding.  ‘I’ means the child can complete the box ‘Independently”, but independent work also needs to be checked. So, I always go over all of the ‘I’ boxes with my child. We discuss what is in the box and check any work done independently. This is a similar situation to when a classroom teacher assigns homework to be done independently at home. Can you imagine how quickly a child would quit doing homework well, or doing it all, if it were never checked! So it is worth checking the way you are handling each box in your HOD guide in order to be more effective.

Training Children to Follow the Directions in the Guide

Have you trained your children in Preparing on up (and even possibly near the end of Bigger Hearts) to read right from the HOD guide?  Do you allow your children to have the guide in hand as they work? These two steps are crucial for a child to be able to do the ‘S’ and ‘I’ boxes in the guide. Working without a guide in hand is very difficult. The child ends up running back to the guide as he/she works, striving to remember a lengthy list of directions. In addition, if you are still needing to read aloud all directions to a child even from the ‘S’ and ‘I’ boxes, this will add significant time to your day. So, train your kiddos to read from the guide early and often. It is a skill that pays big dividends not just within HOD, but all throughout life.

In Christ,



What factors helped you decide to use Singapore Math as the math option?

Dear Carrie

What factors helped you decide to use Singapore Math as the math option?

I am curious what factors helped you decide to use Singapore Math as the math option for the curriculum packages. I do realize with Heart of Dakota we may decide to use a program of our own. However, I am simply curious what drew you to choose Singapore over other programs. What factors helped you decide Singapore would be the one? Thank you!


“Ms. Please Share What Factors Helped Decide to Use Singapore”

Dear “Ms. Please Share What Factors Helped You Decide to Use Singapore,”

You may be sorry you asked what made me decide to use Singapore Math! Here’s a long reply to a tough question. As you mentioned, you are more than welcome to decide to use your own math curriculum with any of our programs (and we do realize that there are many excellent math programs to use). However, we have tried many of the big-name, and not so big-name, math programs for at least a year each and found many of them didn’t fit our family well for a variety of reasons.

Singapore Math is time-conscious instead of time-consuming.

Many of the programs were just too time-consuming in the amount of teacher presentation required. As we added more children to our homeschool, I realized a 30 minute math presentation for one kiddo would quickly turn into 2 hours of math presentation when multiplied times my 4 boys. That would leave precious little time for the many other necessary school subjects. Singapore Math doesn’t waste any time. It is time-conscious, instead of time-consuming. This is one reason that made me decide to use Singapore Math.

Singapore Math requires almost no preparation.

Some of the programs required too much preparation or planning ahead of time prior to teaching. When I wasn’t prepared, my students were wasting time waiting on me. Other programs had way too much drill or too many problems daily for my non-math loving oldest son. So, I found I was tweaking which problems to do daily and eventually the programs hardly resembled the original program anymore. Singapore math is open-and-go. It requires almost no preparation. This is another reason that made me decide to use Singapore Math.

Singapore Math is in keeping with the Charlotte Mason philosophy of math.

In keeping with the Charlotte Mason philosophy for math, I wanted a program with short lessons and some hands-on component. I also wanted  little to no preparation, as well as a workbook form (to cut down on time spent copying problems). Likewise, I wanted a math program that emphasized higher-level thinking and reasoning along with computation. Finally, I wanted it to be economical if possible. So when we began with Singapore Math, we knew we’d found the fit for us. These are still more reasons that made me decide to use Singapore Math.

I created hands-on lessons in the early years and wrote easy-to-follow schedules.

Where the program lacked hands-on in the early years, I decides to add in lessons to include that. The one problem we have found with Singapore is that the clean page layout and the few problems on each page makes it easy to assign too much daily, thus complicating what should be a short and sweet program. We compensate for that by including schedules in our guides that follow the original Singapore pacing, completing two workbooks in one school year. We phase out the hands-on teacher lessons starting with 3A/3B and move toward the textbook/workbook schedule only at that point. With a strong hands-on background from the previous Singapore years, kiddos are ready for that change.

We endorse Singapore Math through 6A and 6B. It gets more teacher-intensive after that point, so we suggest alternatives prior to continuing on to the math that comes after 6A/6B. Since Singapore has such a solid base in problem-solving and reasoning, and an advanced scope and sequence, the switch to almost any other program should be a fairly painless one. So, to make a long story short, all kids are different, and we know one math program will not fit them all. But, we do want to share what we’ve found with others in the hope that Singapore Math may be a fit for some of you as well. At least now you know the reasons that made me decide to use Singapore Math!


Help for Struggling Emerging Readers

From Our House to Yours

Help for Struggling Emerging Readers

Do you have an emerging reader who is struggling? If so, take heart!  There are some simple things you can do to help your struggling emerging reader! Before we get to a few practical reading helps, you should rule out a few common causes for early reading struggles. First, if your child hasn’t had a vision test recently, now would be a good time to schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist. One of our sons was quite far-sighted in one eye and near-sighted in the other. So, glasses made all the difference in his reading!

Second, if your child hasn’t had a hearing test recently, now would be a good time to schedule a hearing exam. A tympanogram can identify hearing concerns that a normal doctor’s checkup might miss. Tympanograms are quick, easy, and accurate. A tympanogram identified mild hearing concerns in one ear and severe in the other ear for one of my sons. Fluid in his ears was the problem. Likewise, my nephew had the same results. Both were able to take antibiotic to get rid of the fluid in their ears. Both were also on to reading better in no time!

Brush up on phonics to help struggling emerging readers.

If your child is struggling sounding out words while reading the Emerging Reader’s Set books, you may just need to brush up on phonics! Explode the Code workbooks are inexpensive, fun, and easy to add to your child’s homeschool day. Your child can start with Level 2 or 3, doing 1-3 pages a day. These workbooks are witty and take just 5 minutes a page to do. They are a great way to brush up on phonics while still continuing to read the real books in Heart of Dakota’s Emerging Reader’s Set! Heart of Dakota recommends the workbooks rather than the online version. The mind/body connection of writing in the workbook supports better retention than answering online via a keyboard or touch screen.

If your child never completed a formal phonics program from start to finish, you may need to set aside the Emerging Reader’s Set and work through Sound Bytes phonics. This phonics program is more ‘grown-up’ and is intended for older children. It targets higher level skills and doesn’t feel babyish. Furthermore, it fills in any gaps a child who has not been through an entire phonics program may have.

Have your child trail his/her finger under each sentence while reading.

When children first begin reading, there is only one word or one sentence on a page. As children begin to read emerging reader level books, there are more sentences on a page and pictures too. Sometimes children simply lose their place when reading. They look at the picture, and they are lost. Where were they? Now the page is just a sea of words. For this reason, having children trail their finger under each sentence as they read along works well. Eventually, they’ll stop this. However, if they are losing their place while reading, it is a quick transitional tip that works wonders!

Use the supplemental emerging reader options.

If you have a beginning reader doing the Emerging Reader’s Set (ERS) who seems to just be unable to read the next book, this tip for you! Carrie has extra supplemental books, and they are 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. Then, just read through them slowly. Before you know it, your child will be over the hump and onto the next ERS book!

In Christ,