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,


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,



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,


Drawn into the Heart of Reading Vocabulary Assignments

From Our House to Yours:

Drawn into the Heart of Reading Vocabulary Work 

Heart of Dakota’s (HOD’s) Drawn into the Heart of Reading (DITHOR) program includes vocabulary assignments. You can find these vocabulary assignments in the DITHOR Teacher’s Guide Appendix. As you are teaching your way through DITHOR, you may have noticed vocabulary assignments are sometimes noted as ‘optional.’ For example, on days 2, 7, and 12 of each genre in Level 2/3, vocabulary is optional. Likewise, on days 3, 8, and 13 of each genre in Level 4/5, it is optional. However, on days 2, 7, and 12 of each genre in Level 6/7/8, vocabulary is not optional. At this level, vocabulary assignments are not in the Appendix. Rather, they are part of the daily plans in DITHOR 6/7/8’s Student Book. So, why are they optional in levels 2/3 and 4/5?

Heart of Dakota’s guides include vocabulary assignments already.

The vocabulary assignments within DITHOR is generally intended for students who are not using HOD’s core guides alongside DITHOR.  Bigger Hearts for His Glory (BHFHG) includes vocabulary work each week. Preparing Hearts for His Glory and Creation to Christ do as well.  So, unless you would like to add more vocabulary work to your student’s day, you would omit the vocabulary activities in DITHOR while doing these guides. Of course, if you do want extra vocabulary work, the vocabulary activities in DITHOR can be used in any order during any year of DITHOR. Once students reach level 6/7/8, vocabulary work specific to DITHOR instruction is excellent preparation for high school level literature work.

So, if you are doing a core HOD guide, there is no need to do the optional DITHOR vocabulary assignments! Just one more reason to use all of HOD! It makes your days easier by making sure there’s no doubling up!

In Christ,


Samples of Oral Narrations in Younger Guides

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Samples of Oral Narrations in Younger Guides

Narrating is a process that changes the narrator over time, so children should not feel bad in any way about their narrations. There is not a wrong way, rather more of a progression in narration. I am a summary type person too, and it has stretched me immensely to have to model narrations for my children. I think I have grown as a narrator through the years too, and it has been a journey!

Charlotte Mason’s References to Narrations

If you do have Charlotte Mason’s (CM’s) original volumes, you may wish to read the following sample sections as time allows. There are many more references related to narration, but these are great ones to begin pondering. I must share that I do deviate from CM’s philosophy in the area of grammar instruction. We do also schedule more formal writing outside of written narrations too than she advocated, so I am not a CM purist. But, she has so much that is good to say that I deeply love her philosophy and enjoy the wisdom she shares.:

  • Home Education Volume 1: p. 231-233 (on oral narrations)
  • School Education Volume 3: p. 178-181
  • A Philosophy of Education Volume 6: p. 16-18; p. 171- top of p. 174, p. 185 (top), p.260-261
Sample Storytime Narration from the Beginning of Beyond Little Hearts 

Oral Narration Sample by Riley
Feb. 3, 2009
A Lion to Guard Us, Chapter 3

Mistress Trippet came to check the kitchen, and she looked everywhere that she usually did. She looked in the room and she said, “How old are these kids? How old is the boy?”


“How old is the girl?”

“Only 5.”

And when Mistress Trippet went upstairs, the doctor came in. The cook said, “Amanda, go and get a pail of water!” That wasn’t very nice, was it?

The doctor came in and then he said, “Come with me, Amanda.” And she did, and then went dark into the hall. And he said, “Your mother has died.”

Sample Storytime Narration from the Middle of Beyond Little Hearts 

Oral Narration Sample by Riley
Mr. Popper’s Penguins

The crowds were standing in line for 1 or 2 miles long, just to get tickets to see the Popper’s Performing Penguins! Now when the piano player, the girl, didn’t want the penguins up on the stage while she played the piano, but then they discovered a different way to the stage. And Mr. Popper said, “I’m not going up there to get those penguins!”

Bill said, “We’d better catch them before they go up there and chew all of the strings off the guitars.”

So, Mrs. Popper said, “I’ll go up.” And then the penguins hid under the girl piano player’s skirts, and then she shrieked! And that was NOT part of the note written in the music.

And then they were on their way to Boston. They went to Mexico and Minneapolis, and Stillwater. Now they are going to Boston. Now the penguins are getting a little crabby, so they now ordered shrimp again because fish was too expensive. They ordered canned shrimp, and Mr. Popper said, “We only allow canned shrimp for these penguins.”

The president said that any store wherever they were staying would give them free shrimp, so now they are going to Boston, and the crowd was 1 mile long, just waiting for tickets.

Sample Storytime Narration from Near the End of Beyond Little Hearts

 Riley’s Sample Narration
Mountain Born
Jan. 13, 2010

The weather was brooding, and Peter was at Granny’s house working for his coat and his new vest. And the wind started blowing, and it was sharp and cold from the southeast. And then Granny said, “Peter! You’d better go home. The wind’s picking up!”

And Mary and Peter had planned to do a game night tonight, but the wind was just picking up too much. They were going to play checkers and some other kinds of games, and Granny was going to read them a letter.

So Peter went in, got his vest and his coat on, and he said, “Goodbye, Mary! I’ll have some nice wool for you, and I’ll take extra care of the lamb, so that the wool will be strong.”

“And after a few years,” Granny said, “you’ll be in manhood. You’ll have to give me white wool, and I’ll have to dye it dark blue. It’ll take you to manhood, but then you’ll need a new coat.”

Then Peter said, “Bye, Granny! Bye, Mary!”

Granny gave him a slice of bread and his milk, and then he started on his journey home.

Sample Storytime Narration from the End of Beyond Little Hearts

Riley’s Sample Oral Narration
The Apple and the Arrow
p. 48-50

All of the friends were in their house, and then he said, “Everyone, be quiet! I know you want to know what happened.” And Wolfgang said that the great Gessler had drowned.

And everybody shouted, “Hooray!”

And then Grandfather said, ”Everyone please be quiet and please go back to your own homes. Hedwig needs some time alone.”

So everybody went out, and then it started to rain again. When the rain hit the chimney, it sounded like a clock going tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.

And then the rain stopped, and then soon all went to bed. Hedwig let Prinz sleep on the rug beside the fireplace, just this once. And in the morning, they got up, had a great breakfast, and at noon they heard a hard knocking on the door. Walter jumped up from his bed! And saw his father burst into the door! They ran to him saying, “Father, father, father, how did you get out?”

Then Hedwig said, “Don’t you see your father needs some rest! He will talk to you later and tell you later.”

Sample Science Narration from the Beginning of Bigger Hearts

Greyson’s Sample Narration
Unit 3 Science, Bigger Hearts for His Glory
Jan. 19, 2011

When the tide comes in, it covers up the animals. First of all, take a mussel for instance, he gulps up water so his shell is full of it so that he can breathe and stay moist. Shrimps capture little worms underwater, and then they eat the worms. When the tide goes out then, the mussel glues himself to the ground. Take a limpet… they float back to their resting place and glue themselves to the ground too. Try moving one of those! Only in really big storms can you move the mussels and limpets. Crabs hide under rocks when the tide goes out. Day after the day, the tide goes in and the tide goes out, and repeats. And so the animals follow that cycle of float around, get food, and get back on the ground before you’re washed out to sea.

In Closing

I know when I first started learning about narrations, all I wanted was to read some samples. Hopefully these samples from our own children’s narrations when they were younger will be helpful in some way to you!

In Christ,