Setting Up for Little Hands to Heaven

From Our House to Yours

Setting Up for Little Hands to Heaven

So, you’ve placed your children properly. You’ve had your ‘box day‘ after ordering from Heart of Dakota! But, what happens next? Well, you get ready for your homeschool year by setting up your guide! So, let’s do this together in this ‘From Our House to Yours’ series, starting with Little Hands to Heaven!

Start with the Nuts and Bolts of the Guide

To get where you want to go, you need to know how you are going to get there! So, when setting up for a guide, I always start by reading the nuts and bolts of the guide. For me, that is the Introduction, the Appendix, and the first week or month of the plans. I do this every year, even if I’ve done the guide previously. Why? Well, it sets the course for us for the year, and I can clearly see the purpose of each part of the plans. Each guide also includes options for ways of doing things (i.e. using one large binder or several smaller binders, using index cards or notebooks, etc.). I like to note the options I choose in the margin of the Introduction of the guide. That way, I can easily make my shopping list based on my notes for what options I preferred.

Setting Up the Front of My “Little Hands to Heaven” Binder

First, I photocopy the cover of my  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 of what the guide includes. If your state requires you to turn in your student’s completed portfolio, to meet with a principal, or to be under the guidance of an umbrella school, the Introduction and first week of plans give an excellent overview of what is covered in the guide.

Label Tab Dividers Inside My LHTH 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 “BIBLE.” Since the history chronologically covered in LHTH is Bible History, anything my child does in response to the Bible reading can be placed here. Usually, I put Bible Activities and Art Activities behind this tab. Next, I label my second tab “LETTERS.” Mostly, I put Letter Activity projects and Hide and Seek letter pages behind this tab. Then, I label my third tab “MATH.” Behind this tab, I put any completed Math Activities and Count on Me pages. (I know the Count on Me pages are in the Bible Activities box, but I feel they show my child’s math progress nicely.) Last, I label my fourth tab “COLORS”and put any completed Colors pages (i.e. the “Yellow is…” colors page).

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.” Behind this tab, you can place printed action photos of the Fingerplays, Active Exploration activities, Dramatic Play 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 or Devotional to your child. However, ask me how many times I have gotten that done in three trips through LHTH. 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!

Make Photocopies for the Year

I usually make all my photocopies at the start of the year. (Keep in mind, you can always skip this step and just make copies as they come up in the plans.) For LHTH, I first photocopy the Letter Flashcards from the Appendix. I cut them, fold them, and put them in order in a large ziplock bag. Next, I photocopy 35 “Count on Me” pages from the Appendix (33 copies are needed, but a few extra are always nice). Finally, I copy the “Hide and Seek,” “Number,” and “Color” pages.

I put these in order of use in 3 different manila file folders. If your copier leaves a slight gray edge on any copies, just trim the edge, if it bothers you. Please know, Carrie, HOD’s author, gives permission for these pages to be copied, as well as the Introduction and First Week of Plans. However, any other photocopies (i.e. of daily plans) would be a copyright infringement.

Label Sticky Tabs to Mark Places in the Guide

Next, I label sticky tabs to mark places in the LHTH guide. I label the first sticky tab “DAILY PLANS.” Then, I label the next tab “FINGERPLAYS.” If you decided to make your photocopies as you move through the plans rather than all at the start of the year, you may also want to labels in the Appendix for “COUNT ON ME” and “FLASHCARDS.” 

Shopping for Supplies

Since Carrie’s plans use readily available household supplies and many options are suggested, the guide does not have a supplies list. 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. Or, the plans may call for a scarf, a jump rope, or a long belt. Going out and buying bean bags, scarves, and jump ropes will not be necessary! So, embrace the beauty and savings of using what you have on hand on any given day instead of trying to make an exhaustive shopping list of supplies.

Instead, plan on stocking up on usual art supplies, such as colors, markers, glue, scissors, construction paper, tape, playdough, fingerpaints/paints/paintbrushes, cotton balls/yarn, etc. Also plan on stocking up on masking tape, index cards of different sizes, clear page protectors, and a few catalogs or magazines your child can cut pictures from.

In Christ,

Setting the Stage for Success with Shakespeare

More than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Setting the Stage: Charlotte Mason and Shakespeare

We probably read Shakespeare in the first place for his stories, afterwards for his characters… To become intimate with Shakespeare in this way is a great enrichment of mind and instruction of conscience. Then, by degrees, as we go on reading this world-teacher, lines of insight and beauty take possession of us, and unconsciously mould our judgments of men and things and of the great issues of life. (Charlotte Mason, Volume 4, Book 2, p. 72)

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.
(Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7)

‘Why read Shakespeare?’ by Carrie Austin, M. Ed., Author of Heart of Dakota Curricula

During the early years of educating our children, I struggled with Charlotte Mason’s recommendation that children study Shakespeare. I was sure that Shakespeare wasn’t worth studying by my children due to the inappropriate jokes, adult content, and references to love-making within his plays. However, as I continued to study his plays and ponder his influence, I realized that there would be something missing in my children’s understanding of the English-speaking world if I neglected to teach them about Shakespeare. Why? Well, partly for the reason that Shakespeare is responsible for contributing some 2000 words and phrases to the English language. Not to mention, those words are still in use today!

The Merit of Introducing Children to Shakespeare’s Plays in Story Form 

While Shakespeare’s plays were obviously not written for children, there is some merit in introducing children to his plays first in story form through Lamb’s Tales of Shakespeare. This aids students in their future understanding of his plays. So, later in high school, when students read Shakespeare’s unabridged plays in original form, they are ready. They do not find themselves floundering, but instead find themselves well-prepared.

The Benefits of Reading Shakespeare

In looking at the positive side of reading Shakespeare, his plays do look at both the virtues and vices of men. They show the consequences of sin, yet his characters often act mercifully. Shakespeare’s plays do refer to Christ and His teachings, and you can often see a resemblance in his plays to stories of other Biblical characters. Morals often play a decisive role in his plays, resulting in intricate plots that lead to consequences based on the character’s actions. The reader must work hard to follow the many plot twists and turns, which is great preparation for the reading of higher level books. Another benefit is that the tales are very entertaining and do much to stimulate the imagination.

A Difference in the Meaning of Words 

Shakespeare does include references to love-making. However, it’s important to note that the words ‘lovers’ and ‘love-making’ meant something different in Shakespeare’s day from the meaning of those same words today. During Elizabethan times, words such as ‘lover’ often meant sweetheart and ‘love-making’ meant an attraction between two people. This is different from the physical act of love that we associate with those same words today.

Heart of Dakota’s Charlotte Mason-Inspired Shakespeare Study

In our guide Resurrection to Reformation, parents have the choice of whether to include Lamb’s Tales of Shakespeare within their weekly schedule. Students read 18 of the 20 tales, omitting Macbeth and Measure for Measure due to mature content. We schedule readings once weekly, and we divide longer stories over two weeks. After each weekly reading, students color the accompanying black and white artwork within the Shakespeare Student Notebook pages. Students also copy a quote from each tale. Due to the length of each tale, and to allow students to better understand the various plot twists better, students are assigned to read the stories on their own.

The Purpose of the RTR Shakespeare Study

We do not attempt to analyze Shakespeare within the provided assignments, but rather to allow students to enjoy the readings and make their own natural connections. Often the moral connections that students make on their own are much stronger than those that would be made if we were to point out the “moral lessons” instead. While we do not wish to persuade you to pursue Shakespeare if it is not within your family’s goals, we do desire to explain our reasoning for including it as a choice within our Economy Package. As you ponder the best path for your family, we will link you to this article, which we found very interesting in our own ponderings about Shakespeare.

Shakespeare in Heart of Dakota’s High School World History Guide

In Heart of Dakota‘s high school World History guide, students enjoy reading Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar. Plays are best heard performed (and watched). Hence, HOD schedules this play to be read along with a fully dramatized, unabridged audio production of Julius Caesar. So as students listen to the recording, they follow along with the unabridged text in No Fear Shakespeare, reading the complete text of Julius Caesar on the left-hand page, while also referencing the side-by-side, line-by-line, easy-to-understand translation on the right. Furthermore, No Fear Shakespeare includes a complete list of characters with descriptions alongside plenty of helpful commentary. This 3-pronged approach helps students experience success with Shakespeare.

Shakespeare in Heart of Dakota’s High School U.S. History II Guide

In Heart of Dakota’s high school U.S. History II guide, Hamlet is read and enjoyed in a similar fashion. Students read Hamlet within Shakespeare Made Easy. This resource contains unabridged original text alongside a modern English version of the text. As students read Shakespeare Made Easy, they listen to Arkangel’s fully dramatized, unabridged audio recording. Furthermore, students enjoy the accompanying commentary included in Christian Guides to the Classics: Shakespeare’s Hamlet. We find students can truly be successful with Shakespeare with this balance.

Setting the Stage for Success with Shakespeare

So now you see how Heart of Dakota begins setting the stage for success with Shakespeare first in RTR‘s Lamb’s Tales of Shakespeare study. This non-threatening, enjoyable introduction to Shakespeare with abridged stories, beautiful notebooking pages, and copywork of some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines sets the stage for students to be successful. Then, after this stage has been so aptly set, the reading of unabridged Shakespeare in high school is not intimidating, but instead is rather like coming back to an old friend you were once introduced to, but are now ready to get to know better. I believe as you begin to study Shakespeare in this manner, you too will understand why Charlotte Mason believed in the merit of reading his works. In fact, you may just find you actually enjoy Shakespeare yourself!

In Christ,


Handwriting Help! How to Transition to Writing Smaller with Proper Spacing

From Our House to Yours

How to Transition Children to Writing Smaller with Proper Spacing

Heart of Dakota plans for children to incrementally improve their handwriting. Children begin with a formal handwriting book and with short early writing practice in Storytime in Little Hearts for His Glory. Next, they move to copywork of the Bible verse and classical poetry in Beyond. Then, they add notebooking for history and science in Bigger Hearts. They also begin to use wide-lined notebook paper for dictation and grammar. With each of our sons, I found it helpful to teach them how to transition to writing smaller with proper spacing. As I happened to take pictures of Riley’s handwriting progression, I’ll share his handwriting transition in this blog post.

A Jumble of Lines

When Riley began writing, he looked at the lines like they were all just one big jumble of lines. I helped him by hi-lighting the top and bottom of the lines yellow. I told him these lines were like “stop signs,” and he had to put on the brakes when he got to them. I’d sit by him and make ‘putting on the brakes noises’ as he neared the lines like, “Errrrrrrrr – stop!”  He’d laugh and stop. We talked about the dotted line being a stopping place as well. He had trouble remembering spaces too, so we colored those with pink hi-lighting. I told him he had to put a finger’s width between letters (when copying single letters) and between words when he started writing sentences. Eventually, he just needed the pink spacing. Here are some pictures of the hi-lighting that helped Riley so much:


A Transition to Handwritten Lines Without Dotted Lines

After awhile, like when he began the copywork of the Bible verse or the poem in Beyond, we actually used blank copy paper or a blank index card. I drew lines with a ruler quite far apart. I did this because it was actually too time consuming for him at that point to use handwriting paper with the dotted line. It took him forever, and he was ready to write smaller, but not yet able to write on wide-lined notebook paper. At this point, his writing looked like this:

A Transition to Wide-Lined Notebook Paper

After that, Riley made the transition to wide-lined notebook paper. It helped for me to write the beginning word of each line for the poem. This helped him see the size of the writing I wanted him to try to mimic. I also had Riley skip lines, as this spacing makes it easier to write, to fix errors, and to read aloud. Below, you can see his Unit 15 Beyond Little Heart’s poetry copywork of “The Cow.” Then, underneath you can see his transition to writing on wide-lined notebook paper more on his own in Unit 30 Beyond Little Heart’s poetry “Written in March.”

The Transition to Writing Well Both in Blank Spaces and on Wide-Lined Notebook Paper

With these few handwriting helps, Riley was able to transition into writing  well both in blank spaces and on wide-lined notebook paper. Below, you can see a sample of the wide-lined composition notebook he used for his dictation. You can also see how I still began Bigger Hearts first notebooking page by drawing lines for him. I did this so he could visualize the overall notebook assignment, as well as set aside space for his drawing portion of the assignment.  This was prior to Carrie creating new and lovely notebooking pages, but this tip can still work as a transition to writing within the defined space of the new notebook’s boxes.


In Closing

In closing, it really is amazing how children’s writing continues to improve over time with some guidance. I agree that letter formation is first and foremost, but once they have that down, the steps above helped all of our sons become neat, confident writers – with some patience on my end (not always a natural virtue of mine). I hope this helps as you assist your child in making the transition to writing smaller with proper spacing!

In Christ,



Five Ways to Celebrate Your Heart of Dakota Box Day

From Our House to Yours

Celebrate your very own Heart of Dakota box day!

When you order your homeschooling curricula from Heart of Dakota, you get to celebrate your very own ‘box day!’ Often times, by the time you order, our family has actually gotten to know you. Through helping on the phone, at conventions, through email or FB, on the blog or HOD Message Board, we often know you personally. As I see our sons and nephews picking your orders and packing your boxes, I envision your ‘box day!’ Through the past  decades, we’ve received pictures of families enjoying their ‘box day.’ We love these pictures! I’ve put them in our HOD Photobooks, on our message board, and even on my office wall.  We feel so blessed you are supporting our small family business by choosing to order from us. We thank God for you! That is why we take special joy in the emails, pictures, and phones calls we’ve received through the years capturing that brown HOD box day (or a white HOD box day, if you’ve been with us from the start).

Capture your box day in pictures!

I think the number one most celebrated way to remember box day is to capture it in pictures!  Of all the pictures we’ve received of box days, this is the one we see most often. Year after year, we see children growing up with Heart of Dakota celebrating their box days! Smiling for the camera, we see beautiful children full of joy posing with their HOD materials!  Often, they like to spread all of their books and CDs and things out in front of them like a buffet of living materials they can’t quite believe is all theirs! These pictures are precious to us. I often get to share them with our sons and nephews, as there is usually a brown HOD box and a massive pile of packing paper in the photo. These boxes and paper are special – our sons and nephews put their hands on them, and they packed them thinking of your children enjoying Heart of Dakota. We love it when families capture their box day in pictures!

Unpack, sort, and re-wrap your HOD things in gift wrap and bows!

If you have multiple children, each Heart of Dakota box will contain a mixture of your children’s things. Because of this, often times, moms will unpack the HOD boxes and separate each child’s things for the homeschool year. Then, moms will lovingly put them back into a box (or two – hey, we love books at HOD) for each child. Wrapping each box in gift wrap and bows, each child gets to open their box(es) and see what amazing books and resources he or she will enjoy for the year. The look on these children’s faces as they open their gift-wrapped boxes is priceless!  We love it when families gift wrap their HOD things for their children!

Hide and seek your HOD things for box day!

One of the more creative box days we have seen is the hide and seek box day! Often times moms do the sorting and piling of resources first. But then, they hide each child’s Heart of Dakota repacked box somewhere in the house. Let me tell you, we have some pretty creative moms!  I think if it were me looking for the box, I may not have found it. Of course, this appeals to the dads as well, which is probably why some of those boxes have been hidden in near-to-impossible places to find! We love it when families play hide and seek with their HOD things for box day!

Make a treasure hunt for your HOD things for box day!

Yet another fairly ‘out of the box’ idea (sorry, I couldn’t resist) for box day is to make a treasure hunt. With each clue, children come closer and closer to the treasure. Outdoors, indoors, at home, not at home – we’ve seen it all! Anywhere can be a good place for a treasure hunt for your HOD box day!  We love it when families make a treasure hunt for their HOD box day!

Sip your coffee, and quietly enjoy your own HOD box day as a homeschool mom!

Finally, one of the least captured on camera box days that is one of my favorites is simply opening your HOD boxes as a homeschool mom yourself! We don’t receive many pictures of this – any, actually. Homeschool moms are humble. They are focused on their children, not themselves. If someone makes it into the picture, it’s the children. But, I like to picture the box day I think many moms I get to know have. They are hardworking, humble, loving, amazing moms, who rarely take a moment to sit. I like to picture them receiving their HOD boxes and just sipping some good coffee, slowly unwrapping their boxes and dreaming of their year ahead. Lovingly fingering each book, unwrapping the beautiful notebook pages, smiling at picturing their children particularly loving this or that. It is a mental picture I have, and I love picturing moms quietly opening their HOD boxes and dreaming of their year ahead!

No matter how you enjoy your HOD box day, our family thanks you!  We know you have a choice in who to support when you order things. What a privilege it is to have you support HOD by ordering from us!  May the Lord richly bless your upcoming homeschool year, and may you have a wonderful box day, however you would most enjoy it!

Love in Christ,


Need a fresh start?

From Our House to Yours

Do you need a fresh start?

God created us to need new beginnings, to have the opportunity for fresh starts. As my Heart of Dakota homeschool year draws to a close and summer approaches, I always reflect on the year. I find things that went well, but I also always find things I want to go better.  Sometimes these things relate to homeschooling, and sometimes they relate to life in general. From this reflecting, I begin to plan for the summer and for my next homeschool year.

18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!…

Fresh Starts You Might Want to Make

To have a new beginning, you must make a decision to make some changes. If you keep going in the direction you have been going, you will not see any changes. As you reflect on your homeschooling, you might find you want to make some fresh starts. For example, maybe you combined two of your children in a guide that fit neither. A fresh start might be to separate them into their own guides. Or, maybe you started your child in too hard of a level of dictation passages, and she is missing every passage. A fresh start might be to go back one level or half a level. Or, maybe you didn’t spend the time you wanted to with your little one because you were focused on your older children. A fresh start might be to do Little Hands to Heaven with your little one, even just half-speed 15 minutes a day.

Heart of Dakota plans opportunities for fresh starts!

Blessedly, Heart of Dakota plans many opportunities for fresh starts! In fact, I think it is one of the few homeschool curricula that does. Carrie planned age ranges for the guides, so if you are realizing placement was off, make a fresh start and change it! Likewise, she included multiple levels of math, grammar, reading, and dictation within each guide. If you think the level you chose for your child is off, make a fresh start and change it! Similarly, Carrie planned for children to be combined or not to be combined. If you think combining didn’t go well, make a fresh start and separate! Carrie also planned many opportunities for pacing. If your child needs more time to grow into his guide, make a fresh start by going forward half-speed. Or, if your child didn’t finish his guide, make a fresh start by planning how to proceed with best placement in mind.

We’d love to help you make a fresh start!

Through the past 17 years of homeschooling, I’ve seen the need to make some fresh starts. A new beginning is within your reach!  But, you have to make a decision to make some changes for a fresh start to happen. If you want help with those pacing, placement, or level changes, call us or dialogue about this on our message board. Our family loves to help, and we believe in fresh starts and opportunities for change. We are here to help you talk through those decisions, and then we are here to help you order just what you need from Heart of Dakota to implement those decisions.  All you have to do is reach out.

In Christ,