Finding Joy in the Journey

From Our House to Yours

Finding Joy in the Journey

About two decades ago, I began my homeschool journey. My nephew, Cole, was actually my first homeschool ‘student.’ Several days a week, Cole would come to “Aunt Julie’s” house while my little son, Wyatt, was napping. Oh the fun Cole and I had! His bright little eyes were full of wonder, and he was just so excited to learn! I looked forward to those times so much. There was much joy in the start of my homeschool journey.

Finding Joy in the Journey with My Own Little One

Fast forward a few years later, and I began homeschooling my own son, Wyatt. He was full of energy and smart as a whip! I loved homeschooling him! The only difference was, well, I was harder on him. We’d have such fun doing Heart of Dakota‘s Little Hands to Heaven together. There was joy in that part of the journey. But, the rest? Well, I just made it way too hard for my little guy. If we went on a nature walk, I wanted to ‘help’ him draw a perfect replica of the flower or frog we’d found. When he learned his letter sounds, I made him write all the letters – every time. I had him sing the alphabet pointing to the alphabet mat. If he forgot one, we started over! Oh my. Poor child!

Losing the Joy in the Journey

Fast forward several more years, and Wyatt was on to Bigger Hearts for His Glory. Riley was doing Little Hands to Heaven, and Emmett was a baby. One day, Wyatt began dragging his feet, doing his lessons super slowly. The day was getting long, and I couldn’t figure out what was happening. In exasperation, I asked him why he was taking so long. What he said I still remember to this day… “Mom, if I finish early, you just give me more work. So, I figure, why work quickly? I just get more work, so I’m just going to take my time – no reason to hurry – just makes my day longer.” Oooh, that hurt. But he was right. Where had my joy in the journey gone? I told him from then on, we’d enjoy Bigger Hearts, and when that was done, we’d be done. Totally. He was all smiles!

Be careful of joy stealers!

There is much joy to be had in homeschooling, but there is also much that can steal that joy. Be careful of joy stealers! Adding, adding, adding more to the homeschool day is a joy stealer. There is much joy for both child and parent in knowing that when the plans in the HOD guide are done, the homeschool day is done. Rushing, rushing, rushing from one outside activity/errand/appointment/co-op to another, so that there is really no time to be home and homeschool is a joy stealer. There is much joy in having the time needed to truly do school happily each day. Questioning, quizzing, and searching to see if kiddos really ‘learned’ the lessons by asking incessant questions and requiring more and more ‘proof’ learning occurred is a joy stealer. There is much joy knowing the work children do in each guide is ‘proof’ enough they ‘got it.’

Back on the Road to Finding Joy in the Journey

Today I am back on the road to finding joy in the journey. I’d love to say that moment with Wyatt so many years ago was the only joy stealer I’ve had. But, that wouldn’t be true. The difference is I’m on guard for joy stealers, and I put an end to them when I discover them. The other day I found Wyatt’s first nature journal. I saw a frog I’d drawn perfectly with labeled body parts spelled perfectly. I also saw his little frog erased in the background. And his big letters erased and written over with little letters I’d written and had him trace. There were only a few journal entries and then a lot of blank pages. It made me cry. Definitely a joy stealer. Praise God He showed me it was time to change!

Are you a joy stealer? Take heart. Today can be the day you put joy back in the journey! Change is always possible. There’s no need to add, add, add. Heart of Dakota is enough. There’s no need to rush, rush, rush. Each day can have time enough for homeschooling if you make it a priority. There’s no need to quiz, quiz, quiz. The follow-ups in the plans are enough. Let us find joy in the journey! It is well within our reach.

In Christ,


Quick Tricks to Work on Common Problem Areas

From Our House to Yours

Quick Tricks to Work on Common Problem Areas

Have you discovered a problem area you want to work on with your child? Maybe you’ve realized your child struggles with spelling? Or, maybe your child just can’t seem to progress to the next reading level? Maybe you’ve discovered your child doesn’t have his/her math facts down? Or, maybe your child just can’t write or read cursive and ought to be able to by now? Well, here are some quick tricks to work on these common problem areas that will keep your child progressing normally within Heart of Dakota’s guides!

Quick Trick #1: Solving Spelling Struggles

Young children are often not the greatest of spellers. Copywork alongside the spelling lists and exercises assigned in the younger guides often iron this problem area out. However, if you have on older child using Bigger Hearts for His Glory or above, dictation is truly your best ally to improve spelling. So, what’s the quick trick? Well, dictation is only assigned 3 days a week. So, to improve spelling simply do dictation daily, either 4 or 5 times a week!  We did this with one of my sons who struggled with spelling, and little by little he improved until one day I realized he rarely made spelling mistakes at all anymore!  Did this happen overnight? No, but it was super easy to do, it took little to no time, and it kept us moving forward nicely in the guides. If you have a struggling speller, give this quick trick a try!

Quick Trick #2: Getting Over the Hump of Being Stuck at a Certain Reading Level 

Young children progress at different reading paces – that is just normal! However, if you have a beginning reader doing the Emerging Reader’s Set (ERS) that seems to just be unable to read the next book, this quick trick is for you! Carrie has extra supplemental books 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. Read through them slowly, and before you know it, this quick trick will have your kiddo over the hump and onto the next ERS book!

Quick Trick #3: Helping Older Children Who Learned to Read on Their Own Progress to the Next Reading Level

Sometimes younger children just seem to learn to read on their own. Phonics didn’t seem necessary. They just knew how to read naturally! The only problem is, now that they are reading chapter books, they are stuck. They come to harder words, and they have no idea how to sound them out. You try to coach them on word attack skills, but they have none. Why? Well, often these smart little cookies are excellent memorizers. You read a book once or twice to them when they were little, and voila! They could read the book on their own! Or, these little smarties are excellent guessers. They looked at the pictures, followed the storyline, and guessed quite well earlier on in those easier, predictable books. But now, the books are harder, the words are longer, the storylines are less predictable, and they’re stuck. What to do? Well, just take a break and do Sound Bytes Reading. This more grown-up take on phonics is just the quick trick they need!

Quick Trick #4: Helping an Older Child Learn Their Math Facts or Cursive

Maybe you have an older child who just can’t do large number multiplication or long division. Often times, the root of this problem is the child just really still doesn’t know his/her facts. A quick trick to help is to slow their daily math program to half-speed and add some skip counting math songs to it! Try doing the 6’s on Mondays, the 7’s on Tuesdays, the 8’s on Wednesdays, the 9’s on Thursdays, and whatever the hardest facts are for them on Fridays. Soon, they will be on their way to having these tough facts memorized! Or, maybe you have an older child who just can’t read or write anything in cursive. No worries! Have that child print everything assigned in the HOD guide, but do one page of Italic D or Cheerful Cursive each day. One year later, this quick trick will have your kiddo writing cursive fairly well and reading it too!

In Christ,


Building better writing habits… one step at a time!

Heart of Dakota Life

Building better writing habits… one step at a time!

Red pens can make people shudder. Why? Well, red pens used to be a teacher’s weapon of choice for tearing a written paper to shreds – all in the name of ‘correcting’ or ‘editing.’ I always enjoyed writing, but I had a friend who didn’t. He tried so hard, but writing was just not his thing. I remember him getting a paper he’d written back from the teacher with more red on it than any color. He was embarrassed and devastated. He also didn’t know where to begin to be a better writer. I wanted to help him but felt pretty defeated too. Where do you begin when everything is wrong? Well, you build better writing habits just like you build any structure you want to be solid…  one step at a time.

Choose the first step carefully – success is a must!

For kiddos to feel confident in building their writing skills, it is important to focus on improving one skill at a time. I choose the first step to building a better writer carefully. Children need to experience success. For little ones, proper formation of letters is important. Spending time by their side to encourage and gently correct mistakes helps prevent poor habits. Heart of Dakota’s handwriting programs in Little Hearts for His Glory can help instill these good habits. Once students move past writing letters well, the next concern is often spacing issues. Their words might all run together. Or, they may not use the top, dotted, and bottom lines as stopping places. Building a better writer begins with the step of helping them recognize how to correct spacing issues. Below, you can see some ways I addressed this with our sons.

Other Steps to Building a Better Writer

Once children have learned proper letter formation and spacing, often the next step to building a better writer is simply shrinking their writing. Moving from handwriting paper to wide-lined notebook paper is a step that takes much encouragement. As students shrink their writing, often times legibility and spacing becomes an issue again. One of my sons began making the letter “s” with no curve – essentially, every letter “s” looked like the letter “l”. Another son didn’t close his vowels. Basically every letter “a” and every letter “o” looked like the letter “u”.  My nephew wrote every lowercase “r” as a giant “r,” as tall as a capital letter. Another nephew wrote microscopically small. One of my sons put large spaces in the middle of bigger words, making them look like two words. Each of these steps were patiently tackled, one at a time.

Further Steps to Building a Better Writer

Once letter formation, spacing, shrinking, and legibility have been tackled, often times spelling is next. There are many steps to building a better speller. Blessedly, Heart of Dakota makes this maze of how to begin to build a better speller easier. Spelling tips in the Appendix include a hierarchy of steps to work through. Beginning steps involve more parent help. Ending steps promote more independent spelling helps. More mature steps to build a better writer come next. Maybe students need to use better transition words. Or, maybe they need to vary the length of their sentences. It could be they need to use more descriptive words. Or, maybe they need to do a better job of choosing their topic. Heart of Dakota’s editing list, R & S English’s lessons, and formal writing programs’ instructions in each guide help each step of the way. So, here’s to building better writers – one step at a time!

In Christ,





On the brink of high school? Check out these benefits of homeschooling with HOD!

From Our House to Yours

The Benefits of Homeschooling Through High School with Heart of Dakota

Do you love homeschooling, but find yourself unsure about continuing through high school? Well, if you do, I understand! As my oldest son was on the brink of beginning high school, I remember questioning what to do next. Blessedly, that was when Carrie decided to write guides for high school for Heart of Dakota, which made my decision much easier. But, still, even then, it was honestly a leap of faith! Shortly after our first years of homeschooling high school, I was asked the benefits I saw from it. I responded with a post on our message board. Nearly 7 years later, I am just about ready to graduate a second son. I still see the same amazing benefits I posted so many years ago! For those of you on the fence about this, I hope this post convinces you to give high school (with Heart of Dakota) a try!

First Benefit: Strong Academics That Go Deeper Than the Surface

I do care about strong academics. I grew up in a family of educators, and I paid a pretty penny to get my master’s degree in education. It is just in my blood to care deeply about strong academics. Not in the sense that my son needs to have an off-the-charts SAT/ACT score, mind you, but in the sense that I want him to be intelligent in a well-rounded sort of way.

I want him to be able to walk into an art museum and know something about art when he’s looking at the paintings on the wall. Furthermore, I want him to hear a stirring speech where someone quotes George Washington and have the essence of who the man George Washington was rather than be able to join in on the rattling off of the quote. I want him to hear about a science breakthrough and weigh if it’s in line with what God says about that. Finally, I want him to love America not because it’s perfect but because he knows what men and women did so we can be free.

Second Benefit: Personal Connections, Rather Than Robot-Like Answers

I want him to be able to read something and remember what struck him about it – not to remember what struck me about it, and not to remember what a textbook writer wants him to remember about it, and not to quote it back encyclopedia-like to me as if memorizing dates or events makes you get what those incredible moments were about. No, I want him to weigh his own opinions in light of what we he has learned reading about history, science, Bible, etc. in a Charlotte Mason-connected way, rather than in a searching for the one-right answer way he thinks somebody else wants him to say. HOD has strong academics, but the kind that I want, not the kind that will have my son robot-like spitting out answers.

Third Benefit: Build Relationships and Make Sense of Hard-to-Understand Things

I care about the relationship I have with my son, so I want time to talk to him about what my husband and I stand for. Likewise, I want time to instill in him the qualities and habits we find to be most important. I want him to be able to talk to little kids and grandpas, and I want him to want to talk to ME. The discussions we have in HOD are not throw-away ones. They are the ones that matter. They are of the kind that make me think of things my parents have said that stuck in my head for years.

Books like Practical Happiness, studies like World Religions and Cultures, Total Health or Pilgrim’s Progress… these discussions are important. They are helping us make sense of hard to understand things around us – the tough stuff. Wyatt and I don’t have the perfect relationship, but we sure love each other a lot, and we can talk about anything thanks to the HOD discussions that have opened that door that teenagers tend to slam shut about now.

Fourth Benefit: Knowing the Lord Personally

I want my son to know the Lord personally – not just to be able to quote this or that, not just be able to regurgitate facts. I am talking about REALLY knowing God. Getting up with Him every day to do a Bible Quiet Time, singing hymns of praise together to Him, crying out to Him in prayer, talking through decisions with what He wants in mind.

I want my son to see the Bible as the end all – the alpha and omega – the sole standard he can depend upon to lead him in the right direction all of the time. Not separating Him out or putting Him in one little part of our day, but including Him in everything – science, history, even grammar! And the list goes on. God is everywhere in HOD. You couldn’t get away from Him if you tried. He becomes our Way of Life. There’s no point in trying to come to school without your Bible or go through one school day without Him in HOD. He’s ever-present.

Fifth Benefit: Maintain a Healthy Balance of Using Time Wisely

Balance – I care about this, and so does my son. He wants to know what he is going to have to do each day and about how long it’s going to take him, and he doesn’t appreciate it being off-kilter. We only have so much time in the day. So, we can’t spend 2 hours on history one day and 30 minutes the next. We don’t want to have days we do nothing creative or hands-on, and we don’t want to have days we do nothing sit-down.

Routine. Habits. Very Charlotte Mason-like, and very reassuring and confidence building. This is what you’ll do this year, and you can count on it being balanced with no big ‘oh no this 5 minute thing is going to now take 2 hours’ type doomsday feeling. We love school, but we have other things to do too, and knowing what we need to do to get school done each day routinely makes the rest of our life work.

Sixth Benefit: Don’t Forget the Fun Stuff

Don’t forget the fun stuff! Charlotte Mason bought rubber boots for her students so they could walk outdoors every day, even if it was raining. Reading devotionals together, studying art and doing projects with it in a fun way, keeping a Common Place Book, looking at God’s creation and marveling at what we see, doing experiments, a real education doesn’t happen if you are only sitting down in a chair with a pencil or a book in hand hours on end.

Seventh Benefit: Language Arts Done Right

Language Arts done right – Charlotte Mason just got it. She knew how to teach children to THINK about what they read, and then to put into WORDs what they learned personally. No one right answer. That is a toughie when first getting to know Charlotte Mason. We do all long for that one right answer, that elusive answer key that we can gaze at and say, “Yes. Correct.” And there is a place for that. Just not in response to living books. The way Heart of Dakota teaches language arts using Charlotte Mason ideals – they keep our children LOVING books.

At one point in my life, I did not want to read even just one more book. Ironically, I was at the point in my life where I had 4.0 GPA in college. I was graduating at the height of my education in my masters, and all I could think was, “Please don’t make me read another book.” Tests. Quizzes. Papers. Essays. Never any heart in any of it. Never the chance to really say what I thought or get passionate about what I was reading. Just figuring out what my professor wanted me to say or how he/she wanted me to respond to receive the proverbial “A.”

Were it not for HOD, I myself might not have become interested in reading again. My son always has his head in a book. Always. He LOVES to read, and even out of school, the books he loves all get orally narrated to me or anyone who will listen. And he’s not a big talker normally either. HOD just makes a kid love books.

In Closing

I know there are more reasons, but these are the big ones. It all boils down to me feeling like there is no way Wyatt would ever get this kind of ‘education’ anywhere else. I care about the mind, but I also care so very much about the heart, and the soul of my son. And I think this is going to be probably the best thing I’ve done with my life. My greatest contribution on this earth will probably be the ones I leave behind, and that is going to be due in part, to the way I am blessed to be homeschooling them. I’m glad you asked this. It made me think, and when I am weary or discouraged, I will return to this post time and time again. May you find your peace and inspiration moving forward to high school with your own sons and daughters.

In Christ,


A Little Positivity Please!

From Our House to Yours

A Little Positivity Please!

We are about two-thirds of the way through our Heart of Dakota guides. Each of the boys have grown so much since the start of the year. They know what to do, and they are doing it well. Ahhh – what a good place to be!  The only problem is we are also probably only about two-thirds through winter. Sure, spring is supposed to come in March, but it usually doesn’t. Hmmm. Days are cold. Skies are grey. Trees are bare. The wind blows and blows… Whew! Now doesn’t that line of thinking sound depressing?!? Do you ever catch your thinking running away from you down a negative path? I do. In fact, last week, I was thinking these very things. Oh my! When this happens, the Lord gently reminds me this kind of thinking is not okay. So, I trudge back around to striving for “A little positivity please!!!”

Adding a Little Positivity to My Correcting

I am our sons’ only teacher, so what I say of them they believe. Well, about this time of year I am just quickly correcting their schoolwork. I’m sure it is not very fun to get a checked off guide or hastily starred paper back day after day. Actually, usually I don’t think my sons care. However, about this time of year, we all need a little more positivity. So, this week I pulled out the stickers. Yes, stickers, for middle school and high school students. Stickers are STILL fun! Fun to give, and fun to receive. I’ve been slapping little stickers all over the place this week. I also found my colored pens. Across the tops of my sons’ papers, I’ve been writing EXCELLENT with a flourish… WONDERFUL in massive letters… MAGNIFICENT in my best cursive…  FABULOUS in bubble letters! I like to use a different word each time.

Adding a Little Positivity to What We Eat

We have a fairly set breakfast, lunch, and snack menu. I really do feel this is a must for busy homeschool mamas! However, we are growing weary of some of the menu. Just the other day, the boys told me they are sick of mac and cheese. (I know. Not healthy, but I need a  FEW quick, cheap meals. You get it – right?) Anyway, I spent an hour online looking for new ideas. I can’t wait to try banana halves rolled in peanut butter and rice krispies! Cubed cheese, ham, and bread on kabobs looks fun too! This morning I experimented with my muffin pans to make ham, egg, and cheese biscuits. They were a hit!  I flew through Target and found jalapeno cheese sticks, circle shaped cheese for Ritz crackers, strawberry cream cheese for bagels, and Thomas English muffins. The boys can’t wait to try them!

Adding a Little Positivity to Our Work Areas

Each of our sons have their own work areas. Wyatt is in the addition at the table. Riley is at the dining room table, and Emmett is at the table in the living room. About now, these areas could use a facelift. Whenever I have this thought, my go-to place for a little positivity is the dollar store. I can usually find three special candles, coasters, picture frames, etc. Well, today I found three mini terra cotta pots. They come with all that is needed to grow a tiny flower. Aha!  Spring may come on time after all here – it just might be inside our house in these little terra cotta pots!

Adding a Little Positivity to Our Playlists

On a beautiful summer day, I have been known to roll down the car window and turn up the music and sing… LOUDLY. Not so much in the winter. In fact, any loud noise in the winter feels jarring to me. I like to quietly move from thing to thing, in the near darkness, conserving energy, hibernating. Well, enough of THAT!  On my way to an appointment I flipped on our Christian radio station. I listened for some new favorites and added them to a playlist. To start our school day, I always play our Christian playlists. What fun it was to shout out to the boys today I had some new awesome songs for them while they did their chores! Of course, I played them… LOUDLY. New, special things are meant to make some noise, right? And just like that, I added a little positivity to the start of our day!

A little positivity goes a long way!

These are little things, really. They don’t cost much, and they don’t take much time. In fact, they are a little silly. However, I have found when we are prone to getting down in the doldrums, a little positivity goes a long way!  If your thoughts are wandering down dreary lane, kick them to the curb by changing things up a little.  Maybe, like me, you’ll find a little positivity can shine some pretty bright light on your days!

In Christ,