How Best to Use the BJU Teacher’s Guide in HOD’s World Geography

Dear Carrie,

How do I best use the BJU Teacher’s Guide in HOD’s World Geography year?

We have used Heart of Dakota for many years and enjoyed it very much. My son and I just started World Geography, and our start went so well!  However, I have a quick question about the BJU teacher’s guide for literature. There are so many facets to the BJU teaching guide. So, my question is, do I have my student only answer the questions after the story when HOD’s World Geography plans say to do so? I hope so!  But, I am just checking to be sure. Thanks in advance for your help!


“Please Help Me Know How to Best Use the BJU Teacher’s Guide”

Dear “Please Help Me Know How to Best Use the BJU Teacher’s Guide,”

I’d be happy to help you decide how to best use the BJU Teacher’s Guide!  I’ve had some practice figuring that out myself. We just completed the HOD World Geography guide this past year with our third son. So, I’ll share a few things we’ve discovered about the literature.

You can view the Student Reader as a series of living stories to be enjoyed.

As far as the BJU lit goes, it really helps if you can view the Student Reader as a series of living stories that we want the students to primarily enjoy as they read. We don’t want them to feel like they must also be dissecting as they read.  Likewise, we don’t want them to feel like they must elicit a whole host of specific responses. So, in order to allow them to enjoy the story, we must not get between the story and the reader. This means we need to let students just read the story from the reader without the aid of any Teacher’s Notes or without focusing on the end story questions the first trip through.

You can follow the HOD World Geography guide’s plans to know how to assign the questions in BJU.

Next, after reading the story, the HOD guide will assign the student questions from the end of the story. The World Geography plans will note when to answer in writing and when to meet with the teacher to discuss. Even at this point, it’s not advisable to be sharing all of the Teacher’s Notes for each question with the student. In fact, we don’t want to expect the student to answer even remotely as fully as the notes suggest. In my opinion, the notes are exhaustive and are meant to provide any and all possible answers that any student may share.

You can think of the Teacher’s Notes as Cliff Notes rather than as required answers.

I see the Teacher’s Notes as a Cliff’s Notes version meant to aid the teacher rather than as a grading rubric meant to show the ideal answer a student should give. Keep in mind that these notes were written for a classroom teacher. In a classroom, the discussion of a question would result in many varied responses. There would be a lengthy discussion from a whole group of students. This is a very different situation than we have in the homeschool setting with a single student being required to answer all the questions alone!

Students can read through the Teacher’s Notes just for the questions they are struggling to answer.

If the student is struggling with an answer to a question or has been especially short with an answer, then this is the time I’d have the student read through the Teacher’s Notes for only that question. The purpose of this is to simply give them a few more ideas of the direction he/she could have gone with his/her response. There is no need to have the student read the Teacher’s Notes for every question. This may result in the student feeling inferior and inadequate in his/her responses. We definitely don’t want the student thinking he/she can never come up with the breadth and insight the manual suggests for a response.

I learned a lot from using BJU American Lit along with full-length novels for my oldest son’s 11th grade year.

Before scheduling BJU lit for grade 9 in our World Geography guide, my oldest son and I went through BJU American Lit for his 11th grade year. The BJU American Lit is even fuller than the grade 9 lit! I also added a lot of full-length novels to my poor oldest son’s year. We learned a lot that year about what was too much for lit, about how many novels are appropriate to read,  and about what was really helpful or enjoyable overall.

So, as I began World Geography with my second son, I took a lower key approach to the BJU lit. I simply allowed him to read and do exactly what it says in the HOD World Geography guide’s plans.  Likewise, I did not delve so deeply into the BJU Teacher’s guide and all of its materials. We had a much better year, my son loved the stories, loved the boy set novels, and learned a lot!

You can use the manual more as a reference for your student’s answers.

So, I would encourage you to keep the manual only for reference for you as your student answers. Share the answers from the manual for only the questions that the student either misses entirely or answers very succinctly. Make sure you let your student know that the manual gives every answer you might encounter in a classroom of students. Be sure the student doesn’t feel like he never gets the answer “right.” So, by following the lit plans in the World Geography guide and by using the BJU Teacher’s Notes in this manner, your year in lit should be a terrific year!



P.S. If you are new to Heart of Dakota, check out our Top Ten Questions!

P.S.S. If you are wondering about placement in high school in Heart of Dakota, click here!


Does Heart of Dakota follow Charlotte Mason’s approach to learning?

Dear Carrie

Does Heart of Dakota follow Charlotte Mason’s approach to learning?

I have been researching Charlotte Mason’s approach to learning and find it intriguing. I have also been researching Heart of Dakota, and I love what I see!  So, my question is, do these programs follow a “Charlotte Mason” approach to learning? Thanks in advance for answering!


“Ms. Mason Meets Heart of Dakota”

Dear “Ms. Mason Meets Heart of Dakota,”

We love the Charlotte Mason philosophy of learning at our house. I’ve read so much about her philosophy and how to implement it. We followed CM principles almost completely with my oldest son. I do follow CM ideas as much as I can in the guides I’ve written as well.

Charlotte Mason-style curricula should include narration, copywork, dictation, short lessons, poetry, living books, and recitation.

Many claim to be Charlotte Mason-style curricula. But, they leave out her staples of oral and written narrations, copywork, dictation, short lessons, poetry, recitation/memory work and slow reading of excellent, living books. Without these things, there is almost no connection to the CM philosophy. You will find all of these things in our guides.

Living books are different than encyclopedia-like books, and Charlotte Mason intended the pace of reading living books to be slow.

The sheer volume and type of books consumed in most curricula strays far from Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. She believed in fewer, living books read slowly over time. She also believed only living books can be successfully narrated upon. This is because if you ask a child to narrate from an encyclopedia-type book such as many Usborne books with little to no storyline, the children will not be able to narrate well. All those little boxes and snippets of information in that style of book do not lend themselves to being retold easily, nor are they easily remembered. Those books are meant to be reference materials or browsing books. They are not stories to be read from cover to cover. We choose our history books so carefully, so we can make sure CM principles can actually be used with them. The same goes for our science books and read-aloud literature.

Heart of Dakota is not purely Charlotte Mason, but if you love Charlotte Mason, you will find much of her ideals in our guides!

Since we differ from Charlotte Mason in a few areas, we do not call ourselves a purely Charlotte Mason company. But, if you love the CM philosophy, you will find much in our programs that supports that style of learning. We even added her ideals of a Common Place Book, Book of Centuries, hymn study, nature study, classical music study, poetry study, picture study, and more to our guides through the years! So you will find much of Charlotte Mason alive and well in our guides!

The main area we differ from Charlotte Mason is when to introduce formal grammar instruction, so I’ll spend the most time explaining that.

The main area that we differ with CM is in the introduction of formal grammar instruction. We do delay it until Bigger Hearts, when we begin to schedule Rod and Staff English. Charlotte Mason did not advocate starting formal grammar instruction until age 10 or even later. She felt all grammar could be absorbed in a single year with review after that.

Formal instruction in grammar gives a way to communicate about how to improve writing.

Initially, I really wanted to go the Charlotte Mason route for delayed formal grammar. But, I found this left me without a way to communicate to my sons about how to improve their writing. For example, if I’d say, “You don’t have a complete sentence here, because you’re missing the subject,” they’d look at me without any comprehension. I couldn’t explain how to add more detail by using adjectives or adverbs or explain why something was a run-on sentence that needed punctuating.

Likewise, when we ask for written answers, it helps if our kiddos can compose their sentences in a way that makes sense (with parallel usage). When asking kiddos to fix sentences that aren’t grammatically correct, it helps if the kiddos know their basic parts of speech.  For all these reasons, I finally settled on the fact that for my family, I wanted grammar to be taught for the purpose of learning to write better.

Rod and Staff English provided a way to teach grammar for the purpose of improving writing.

When we discovered Rod and Staff English, it was as if a lightbulb finally went on with my oldest son. He finally understood why we were learning grammar. I loved the straight-forward, clear explanations. For me the Godly tone of the books was a huge added benefit. It gave an entirely different feel to our grammar lessons.

While I can see that Rod and Staff is not flashy and some kiddos may miss the “bells and whistles” of other grammar programs, since we’d already tried the bells and whistles with other programs, we found that instead we really needed the no-nonsense lessons that systematically built one upon the other. I also found I loved the no prep, open and go, short lessons with built-in review. One barrier we found to Rod and Staff was the amount of practice and writing (if you follow their plans). We modify this by doing much of each lesson orally and only writing one of the sets of exercises on paper.

One final reason I decided not to delay grammar was due to the upped requirements in state standardized assessments.

As many states require writing assessments, we found it necessary to do an earlier introduction to formal grammar. Also, for the mechanics and usage portion of standardized tests (Iowa Basics or SAT’s) kiddos need to understand the use of commas, end punctuation, and capitalization. So, even though it makes sense to delay formal grammar instruction, we are forced by the state to show progress in these areas by the way we report to them.

Another way we differ from Charlotte Mason is we add more hands-on activities to our guides.

We also add more hands-on activities than Charlotte Mason advocated, although she did do some. We do this for the very active boys in our household who thrive on getting up and moving.  Hands-on activities also give one more way to connect to learning in a bodily-kinesthetic way, as opposed to connection to learning  in a solely seatwork-type way.

Additionally, we like adding some elements of a unit study when connections make sense, as this often improves retention.

We also like some elements of a unit study and enjoy making connections among subjects as we can. The left Learning Through History side of the plans incorporates a unit study feel as much as possible. CM didn’t do much of this and was a strong believer in the children making their own connections (which we also agree with).

So, you can see many similarities and a few differences. But, Charlotte Mason is my favorite educator, and we hope you can see much of her in Heart of Dakota.



P.S. For 3 simple things that help oral narrations and 3 that don’t, click here!

P.S.S. For 3 ways to study for dictation passages, click here!

A streamlined lunch is a huge help in the homeschool day

Teaching Tip

A streamlined lunch is a huge help in the homeschool day.

As you plan for your school year, it is so helpful to have a streamlined lunch menu. The menu should include items that are quick to prepare. Having a set lunch menu makes the day run more smoothly.

Why is it good to post your lunch menu?

I post my lunch menu on the fridge. Then, if my kiddos are ahead in their schedule they can begin to prepare what is on the menu. This is a huge timesaver for me. It is something I started when the kiddos were little. Even the littlest ones can help get lunch ready if it is easy enough!

What are some tips for designing a lunch menu?

We have a 5-day easy lunch schedule that we use all school year. This means that the kiddos get really good at following it! I try not to rotate it too much, or the ease of preparation is quickly lost.

Lunch isn’t the time to be particularly creative.

Doing a huge lunch preparation takes valuable time away from school. So, we’ve always kept to quick lunches that are easy to prepare and to clean up. At our house, we have our larger meal in the evening and that is where the variety takes place.

What might a streamlined lunch menu look like?

In the past, our menu looked like this:

Monday: Ground beef, chips, salsa, cheese, corn, mandarin oranges

Tuesday: Ham n’ swiss panini, apples with peanut butter, yogurt

Wednesday: PBJ’s, red grapes, cheese stick

Thursday: Tuna sandwiches, peas, applesauce

Friday: Rotation of frozen pizza, hot dogs, pot pies, or mac n’ cheese and pears and gogurt

What might a quick menu with some dietary restrictions look like?

Our current menu reflects the changing needs at our house to grain-free, gluten-free, low dairy, low sugar. So, this unfortunately takes a bit more time as you can see below. Without these restrictions, your menu will be much quicker to prepare!
Monday: Tuna with lettuce salad, mandarin oranges, cut up cheddar cheese

Tuesday: Rotisserie chicken, cut up apples, green bean steamer

Wednesday: Hamburger patties with cheese, salad with dressing, pears, baby carrots

Thursday: Salmon patties, cooked peas, peaches

Friday: Applegate Farms hot dogs, cooked crinkle cut carrots, pineapple chunks, cut up Havarti cheese

Try streamlining your lunch menu.

Consider having a streamlined, standard lunch menu at your house. Find one that works for you! Practice this summer. Then, see how much it helps during the school year!


The way you handle breakfast sets the tone for your day

How do I prepare my dyslexic son who is an emerging reader for Preparing?

Dear Carrie,

My son is almost 9, and we are half-way through Bigger. We found out he was dyslexic about two years ago, and he STRUGGLES with reading. He did Beyond last year and loved it! The only thing we adjusted was the spelling. It was too much for him, so we didn’t do it. This year in Bigger, I have added the spelling, and he is doing better. He is doing the Emerging Readers Set in Bigger, and I have added All About Reading too. He does much better with the Emerging Reader’s Set because he is able to use the pictures to help decode.

That leads me to history. The history books in Beyond had a lot of pictures! The Bigger Hearts… history books don’t have many pictures. Having him rely solely on listening to the content has been difficult, as he’s dyslexic. So, I have been omitting much of the Bigger… history readings and supplementing with many picture books.

I have had to read everything out loud in Bigger. His favorite part In Bigger is the Storytime box. I got the Boy Interest set, and he has enjoyed them a great deal! However, Math is a struggle because he is dyslexic and cannot read his word problems. I started Heart of Dakota first with my daughter. I have already gone through Preparing with my daughter (and absolutely loved it!!) However, I don’t see my dyslexic son being able to do anything independently simply because he cannot read well. So, my question is how can I prepare my dyslexic son who is an emerging reader for Preparing?


“Please help me prepare my dyslexic son for Preparing”


Dear “Please help me prepare my dyslexic son for Preparing,”

Thanks so much for taking time to share about your son. It is so helpful to gain a better picture of what he is able to do!  I’d be happy to help answer your question about how your dyslexic son as an emerging reader can prepare for Preparing!  Reading issues aside, it isn’t uncommon for kiddos to find Bigger to be a step up in listening content and in writing. Bigger is purposefully meant to move kiddos toward listening to higher level books with fewer to no pictures. This is so they can practice the skills of comprehending without the aid of the illustrations.

Developing listening comprehension without the aid of illustrations is a skill that takes time.

Comprehending without the aid of illustrations is a process that takes time. Kiddos often are not good at this skill right away. Their attention can wander as listeners. Because of this, they may struggle in being able to remember much from the readings at first. However, as time passes, they get better and better at this important skill. It is encouraging that your son enjoys the Storytime read-alouds. This means he is headed in the right direction listening-wise! I also think you have your son accurately placed, and you have a good understanding of Heart of Dakota having used it with both your daughter and your son!

History read-alouds are more difficult than Storytime read-alouds.

As a general rule, history books that are more factual are more difficult than Storytime read alouds. So, I would encourage you at this point to move away from adding picture-style books to Bigger’s history.  Instead you can use the history read aloud books as scheduled… knowing this is another level of a skill that will take time to develop. Just keep in mind that it is a necessary stepping stone as he matures even further as a listener (and comprehension-wise), even though he is dyslexic and is an emerging reader.

Follow-up activities are specific to the history read-alouds, so changing the books makes it difficult to be successful with the assigned work.

The history readings in Bigger… have skill-based follow-up activities, timeline, vocabulary cards, art projects, poetry, etc. Since everything on the left side of the Bigger Hearts plans each day goes with the history reading, it is probably confusing not to have read the corresponding history reading which sets up the activities. So many skills are wound into the activities on the left side of the guide. Going forward it will be important to do what is in the plans so he gains the skills needed for Preparing Hearts. Many of the skills your son will be gaining are not reading-related. So, in spite of his reading difficulties, he will still need the skills wound within the Bigger plans. In fact, with dyslexic reading challenges, listening skills become all the more important!

Discontinuing supplementing will give your son time to focus on the skills in the guide, so he can keep progressing.

I would encourage you to stop the urge to supplement. This includes not doing 2 reading programs, which is more than likely fatiguing for him as he is dyslexic. Since he is having success with the Emerging Reader’s Set, I would continue with that.  Following the reading schedule and answering the oral comprehension questions will continue to move him along in both reading ability and comprehension. Give this at least 18 weeks to work on its own. Bigger is designed to build a huge array of skills that take time for kiddos to gain. Having done Bigger Hearts 4 times now with 4 very different sons, I can say that it is a slow burn that brings big results over time. You will see the fruit from Bigger in Preparing Hearts. It just takes time to reap what you sow.

Celebrate the progress your son is making in reading and try not to compare.

As far as your son’s emerging reading goes, it sounds like you are progressing in this area! It is not uncommon for kiddos to have difficulty when decoding multi-syllable words or for kiddos to struggle as they move to more words on a page and fewer pictures. So, take heart that your son is making good, steady progress. Often it is true that if you have an older sibling who was a natural reader first, then when a younger one struggles it seems all the more pronounced. We had this very scenario at our own house!! Also, remember that the difference between when boys and girls mature as readers and writers is also a factor. So, in looking at your son just try to focus on the forward motion he is making.

Make time for hearing and vision tests, and then encourage free reading time with easier picture books.

Be sure that both his hearing and his vision have been tested in the past year. That way you can rule out any concerns in either of those areas. Then, keep steadily plugging along with what is working for him in reading. For your son’s free reading time, be sure to allow him to read easier books with many pictures, comparable to the level of the Emerging readers. This will build his confidence and his enjoyment of reading. Kids often free read at a level or two below what they can really read, as they don’t want to work so hard to gain meaning.

It’s just fine for you to read aloud the math story problems for your son for now.

As far as the math story problems go, I would just read those aloud to your son. Since math is a time to be thinking about mathematical concepts, there is nothing wrong with reading the story problems aloud for him to aid in that process. I often read the math story problems aloud to my younger boys. That way they can focus on the math rather than on decoding the words before even getting to the problem.

Going half-speed in Bigger will give your son time to progress in all the skills needed to be ready for Preparing.

If you need to move to half-speed Bigger for awhile in order to do everything in the plans as written I would suggest that you do so. Just make it a goal not to move onto the next day of plans until you’ve done everything from the day before. Bigger is such a key teaching and learning year, it can be hard to make up for missing the rich set of skills wound within every box of plans if you fast forward past them.

It will also be important that your son does as much of the writing as he can that is in Bigger each day. So, if you have to slow down in order for him to do the written portions than I would definitely do so. Otherwise, if you rush forward without taking time for your son to gain needed skills, then each subsequent guide will have to be modified more and more until all you have left is a reading aloud program because the rest of the skills will all be too difficult.

Here are a few tips in regard to copywork, notebooking, and the reading of the books in Bigger!

As far as writing goes, you can write a sentence of the poetry copywork and have him write his own version right below yours. Then, you could do the rest of the copying for him with the goal of having him copy more as he is able. He can eventually move toward copying more as he is able. As far as the science lab and notebooking assignments, you could move toward having your son do a small portion of the writing in these areas and work up to eventually doing more. Just keep in mind that you are meant to be helping him with every part of Bigger and also that you are meant to be doing all the reading aloud. Then you can rest easier knowing you are doing exactly what you need to do by helping him along the way.

These few tweaks will help your son continue to move forward in Bigger so he can prepare for Preparing.

With just a couple of tweaks that I mentioned above, you can move forward in Bigger knowing you will be preparing your son for the next step up. One of our own sons struggled with reading too, and he has had slow but steady progress in this area. He is gaining every year! We did do Preparing at half-speed at first for awhile to help him grow into the guide before going full-speed with it. Remember that in Preparing, you are still reading aloud the history. It is just the Deluxe Package and science books that the child is reading. Slow and steady wins the race, so keep on with Bigger, and your son will be ready for Preparing!




The way you handle breakfast sets the tone for your day

Teaching Tip

The way you handle breakfast sets the tone for your day.

As the school year is approaching, it is good to consider how you are going to handle breakfast. Since breakfast is often the start of the school day, it can really affect how your day begins! We’ve tried a variety of things through the years for breakfast in hopes of a smooth start to our day.

What are some possible ways to do breakfast?

To get you thinking of possible options, I’ll share two very different ways that we have approached breakfast. One way is the simple, stagger-start breakfast. The other way is the more involved, family-style breakfast. We have used both ways through the years. Each has been successful in its season!

What is an example of a simple, stagger-start breakfast?

On this breakfast plan, we alternated oatmeal and scrambled eggs. These two simple options are easy to use when stagger-starting your eating times. While this is not rocket science, I will share why this works well.

First, oatmeal can be made and left on the stove on warm in a big kettle. It is quite forgiving as to when it is eaten. So, once it was made, my older kiddos could eat it when their day began bright and early. My younger kiddos could eat it when they wandered down later. We also had yogurt and fresh fruit on oatmeal days.

On scrambled egg day, we simply had each child crack one or two eggs in a cereal bowl. They stirred the eggs with a fork and placed them in the microwave. In our microwave, it took 45 seconds for 1 egg and 1 min. 15 seconds for two. Once the eggs were done, our kiddos added either a bit of cheese or salt. This was another easy hot breakfast that could be made individually as the kiddos were ready. We added toast with peanut butter and half a banana to the meal on egg day.

These simple breakfasts gave my older boys a hot meal right away. It also allowed them to get started on their work when the house was quiet. Last, it provided a hot breakfast right away for my little ones.

What is an example of a more involved, family-style breakfast?

The second way is a more involved, family-style breakfast. This is the way we do breakfast now. We returned to this type of breakfast after my husband took over breakfast preparation. He is a morning person, and I am not, so I was thrilled for him to do breakfast! With five “men” in our household, bigger breakfasts became a necessity.

Our breakfast also has the new feature of needing to be grain-free, gluten-free, low refined sugar, and restricted dairy. So now, we do the following:

Monday: almond flour pancakes and fruit

Tuesday: eggs and sausage patties

Wednesday: blueberry waffles with fruit

Thursday: eggs with bacon

Friday: smoothies with grain-free granola

My husband begins breakfast prep around 8:35. He actually sets up his breakfast equipment the night before. The boys all sit down together for breakfast at 9:00. The older boys have already gotten more than an hour of school in by then. Yet, they opt to wait to eat. They love eating together with the other boys and enjoy the bigger breakfast! My husband actually sets the timer, and breakfast is done in 20-25 minutes.

Consider how you could streamline your breakfasts.

While you may not love these particular choices, maybe they will get you thinking of how you could streamline your breakfast. How can you get your kiddos going in the morning without all of the production that breakfast can bring?

Think about whether you want to eat breakfast together or whether stagger-starting would work better.

Since we all sit down together for both lunch and our evening meal, these are our family together times. For me, this means breakfast can be either family-style or stagger-started. Ponder your breakfast, and consider how you could gain a good start to your day. See what works for you in the approaching school season!


Tired and Overwhelmed Young Homeschool Mom Asking for Help