My “Go-To Recipe” for Homeschool Success

From Our House to Yours

My “Go-To Recipe” for Homeschool Success

Do you have a “Go-To Recipe” you use again and again? A “Go-to recipe” is a recipe you pull out for meals again and again. A go-to recipe is a favorite because of its simplicity and its success rate. It is tried and true, and it always works. Well, just like my cooking binder has some well-loved go-to recipes, so does my homeschool binder. The formula is basic, but it always works. So, here is my go-to recipe for homeschool success!

Go-To Recipe for Homeschool Success

Set a start time and stick to it.

Alternate teaching times with independent times.

Set times to meet with each student and stick to them.

During teaching times correct work competed, teach teacher-directed boxes, and end with giving directions for semi-independent or independent work.

Mix in joint playtimes for youngers, add snack breaks, and season with love!

Oh, and make sure everyone has their own copy of your ‘Go-To Recipe’ for homeschooling!

Now, that’s a recipe for success!

Sample Go-To Recipe for Three Children Ranging Ages 4 to 10

Let’s just say you have a 4 year-old doing Little Hands to Heaven (LHTH), a 7 year-old doing Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory (Beyond), and a 10 year-old doing Creation to Christ (CTC). Here’s a sample go-to recipe:

Start time: 8:30 AM

8:30 to 9:30 AM:  Teaching time with 10 yo CTC student; Playtime together for 4 yo LHTH student and 7 yo Beyond student.

9:30 to 10 AM: Breakfast and Chores

10 -11 AM: Teaching time with 7 yo Beyond student. Independent work time for 10 yo CTC student. Independent playtime 30 minutes and audio book 30 minutes for 4 yo LHTH student.

10 to 10:30 AM: Teaching time with 10 yo CTC student with snack; 7 yo Beyond student helps 4 yo pick up from playtime then they have a snack together at kitchen table.

10:30 to 11:15 AM: Teaching time with 7 yo Beyond student; Independent work time for 10 yo CTC student; Independent playtime of learning stations for 4 yo LHTH student.

11:15 to 11:45 AM:  Teaching time with 4 yo LHTH student; Independent work time for 10 yo CTC student; Independent work time for 7 yo Beyond student (playtime if independent work is done before time is up).

11:45 – 12:15 PM: Teaching time with 7 yo Beyond student; Playtime together for 4 yo LHTH and 10 yo CTC students. (Tip: If running behind, have 10 yo finish LHTH with 4 yo.)  At this point, 4 yo LHTH student and 7 yo Beyond student are done with school.

12:15 – 1 PM: Teaching time and final correcting time with 10 yo CTC student. Exercise video or playtime with toys together for 4 yo LHTH student and 7 yo Beyond student.

DONE! 1 PM Lunch and then Free Time! A recipe for success!

In Christ,


Straight Talk About Little Decisions That Have a Big Impact

Heart of Dakota Life

Straight Talk About Little Decisions That Have a Big Impact

It is 9 AM, and you just finished reading about the Wright brothers in Bigger Hearts. You read the book, did the history activity, but you’re so inspired – you want more. So, you hop on the Internet and read an encyclopedia article detailing the Wright brothers’ lives from start to finish. You do a paper airplane project. Another Internet search brings up a box kite project. You all begin the project but it’s pretty involved, and you are missing some key supplies. The box kites can’t be finished, so you set them aside. Everyone is a little less inspired but you want to end on a high. So, you find a free video showing the Wright brothers’ triumphant flight at Kitty Hawk. You all cheer! It is now time for lunch. What’s the big deal about all of this? Well, let’s have a little straight talk to see!

Straight Talk About What Happens Next

It is 1 PM, and you just finished cleaning up lunch. You like to be done with homeschooling by 3 PM. The problem is the only things your Bigger Hearts child completed were Reading About History and the History Activity. You have some making up to do. Not to mention, your CTC child thought the box kite was fun and didn’t want to miss the Kitty Hawk video. So, that child is really behind. Usually you would have done LHTH with your 4 year-old by now too. You begin trying to make up time by talking fast, hurrying everyone along, rearranging your routine, but time marches on. It is now 4:30 PM. Everyone is weary and ready to be done. You’ve done nothing with your 4 year-old, and she is sad. Your CTC child only has his “T” teacher-directed boxes left. Your Bigger Hearts child is done.

Straight Talk About What Happens the Next Day

Last night you went to the store and picked up the supplies to finish the box kites. It was an unexpected expense, but all those half-finished box kites were just staring back at you. It is 9 AM, and you just finished reading the next chapter about the Wright brothers in Bigger Hearts. You read the book, did the oral narration, but you’re inspired again (albeit a little less inspired than yesterday). You pull out the unfinished box kites and the supplies you bought. The CTC child digs in, and his box kite is really turning out well. Your Bigger Hearts child has to restart his box kite. The measurements were off. Your 4 year-old can’t do the box kite, but you give her an extra snack and video time, so she’s happy.

It is now 11:30 AM. You’ve sent the Bigger Hearts child to play with the 4 year-old. You try to finish the Bigger Hearts child’s box kite on your own. His second kite is better than his first, but it’s still just off balance. There’s no time to paint it. Your CTC child’s box kite is done, the paint has finally dried with a little help from a blow dryer, and it looks awesome! Lunch is looming. So, you call the kids together and go outside to watch your CTC child successfully fly his box kite. You all clap. Your Bigger Heart’s child tries to fly his kite, but it plummets to the ground. Your 4 year-old has no kite. Time to head back in and try to make up some time.

Straight Talk About What Happens in the Next Weeks and the Next Years

It is 9 AM. You just finished reading about the Wright brothers. The follow-up activity is to make a box kite. Your Bigger Hearts child bursts into tears and begs not to have to build another box kite. He’s sure his box kite won’t fly. You can see this box kite would be easy to build. He would have loved building this! However, he is having none of it. He already knows his box kite will never measure up to big brother’s. So, you skip it. You are several days behind in most your teaching for CTC. Your 4 year-old forgot her letter sounds and begs for another snack and an extra video. Everything is off, but you must catch up. School ends at 6 PM. Everyone is tired and upset.

Several years have passed. Your youngest is now doing Bigger Hearts. She is less than inspired to hear about the Wright brothers. She definitely does not want to build the box kite. Your middle child is in Missions to Modern Marvels. He is less than inspired about his reading about the Wright brothers, but at least he doesn’t have to build a box kite. Your oldest should be in USII enjoying learning more in-depth mature complexities about the Wright brothers and the history of flight. However, he is more than a guide behind and trying to double up on everything to finish. He excelled at doing much of his younger siblings’ projects, but not so much at his own more age appropriate guides’ plans.

Straight Talk About Veering Away from the Plans Due to Being Inspired

Every Heart of Dakota guide is full of inspirational books. Living books are naturally inspiring! Many of us did not have such inspiring books back when we were growing up in school. As we read inspiring living books to our children, it is often tempting to veer far away from guide’s plans and just enjoy digging more into a topic. This seems like a wonderful idea, and once in awhile, it is! However, when choosing to hop on the type of bunny trail freight train I described above, one must remember the natural consequences.  The homeschool day will end much later. Subjects and skills will be skipped. One or more children will not be able to perform well or enjoy the bunny trail as well as the other(s). The topic will not be inspiring when you get to it again later, as it’s been exhausted by the bunny trails already.

Straight Talk About the Little Decisions We Make

Are you working against yourself by making a bunch of little decisions that sabotage your homeschooling? If you are prone to be a frequent inspired bunny trail freight train rider, try to weigh the natural consequences before you hop on the train. Straight talk yourself into really knowing what you’re probably choosing – some potentially amazing moments of inspiration – but also some potentially longer days, skipped subjects/skills, delayed completion of guides, competition and unhealthy comparison among children, and a reduction in inspiration when the subject rolls around again.

For these reasons, I recommend some healthy straight talk in the day to day little decisions. Know what you are choosing, so you can weigh if it’s worth it.  We usually stick to the guide and take bunny trails (if we still feel like it) after school is done. Those bunny trails end up being a lot more fun! Moreover, everyone sure does love to be on track in their guides and finish on time. Free time is pretty inspiring too.

In Christ,



Face to Face Communication with Eye Contact

From Our House to Yours

Face to Face Communication with Eye Contact

My husband and I go on a date each week, and we usually end up at a restaurant. Socially distanced, we were still close enough to a young couple to realize they were on their first date. They had some awkward moments, which one can expect on a first date. However, what made things really awkward was their devout attention to their phones. For the entire date, they were talking, texting, and watching YouTube on their phones, separately. They almost missed the waitress stopping by to take their order. The whole date, they looked down… at their phones, at their food, at their napkins on their laps. The only time they made eye contact was when the waitress brought the bill. Both glanced up from their phones and quickly settled the bill. Awkward. Face to face communication with eye contact cannot be overrated.

Using Face to Face Communication with Eye Contact in Homeschooling

I recently was visiting with another homeschool mom who said her son disliked “Talking Points” oral narrations. When I asked why, her answer surprised me! She said he disliked looking at her. In World History the Talking Points directions say to Meet with an adult to share your talking points. Sit facing the adult and informally share your points. The adult should actively listen and withhold questions and comments until the end. Her son didn’t want to sit facing her. In fact, he preferred looking down and sitting far apart. This student had no special needs, but rather just disliked communicating face to face. She blamed gaming, and I agreed. However, we also both agreed her son would need to acquire these skills, and she made a great plan to help him start doing so the very next Talking Points narration. I can’t wait to hear about his progress!

Taking Advantage of Face to Face Communication with Eye Contact Opportunities in Heart of Dakota

Heart of Dakota offers ample opportunities for students to use face to face communication with eye contact. Oral narrations begin in Little Hearts for His Glory and continue all the way through high school’s U.S. History II. Younger children or older children who are new to narrating may need more practice before making eye contact. However, the more children narrate, the more comfortable they should become at making eye contact. Eye contact need not be constant, but it should be a natural part of narrating. Likewise, Socratic Worthy Words discussions, DITHOR project presentations, Speech presentations, parent/student discussions, etc. all offer opportunities for students to hone their face to face communication skills. As homeschool parents, we can help by actively listening, by not interrupting, and by being encouraging. We can also help simply by expecting them to work on this skill.

Using Face to Face Communication with Eye Contact at Restaurants

Once or twice a month, we try to treat our sons to a meal out. We have done this from the time our children were little. Through the past 20 years, we have noticed a change in the children we see eating out at restaurants. There is less and less face to face communication. In fact, many children’s eyes are glued to their media devices the entire time. Parents even order their food for them. I am not passing judgment on children who use media devices nor on parents who allow them to! Rather, I am saying that there are times outside of homeschooling I believe our children need to be expected to use face to face communication. This is just practicing good manners.

When waitresses come to our table, we tell our sons to look them in the eye and speak clearly. They are responsible for ordering their own meals and for making their own requests. We also tell them to be polite – to say “please” and “thank you.” We expect them to talk face to face with one another and with us. If they do pull out their phones, it is just to show something quickly to each other. We then expect them to put their phones away.

We’ve come a long way in being successful with making eye contact and using face to face communication!

Today, our sons readily make eye contact and use face to face communication inside and outside of homeschooling. I remember talking with each of our sons about the importance of eye contact. Likewise, I remember fledgling, hesitant oral narrations that have now blossomed into purposeful, confident oral narrations. We’ve come a long way!

I remember my husband telling my sons when they were little that one of them would have to ask the waitress for the free refill the restaurant provided of cotton candy. None of our sons would ask. They begged us to ask. We wouldn’t. Near the end of the meal, one of them worked up the courage to ask. Boy was he the hero!

Last month, due to social distancing, our sons had to sit separately from us at a restaurant. As my husband and I were paying the bill, the waitress told us how nice it was to wait on our sons’ table. She couldn’t believe they looked her in the eye, used their manners, and stayed off their phones – all without us as parents even being at the table with them. Yes, we’ve come a long way! Praise God for progress!

In Closing

My husband’s employer was recently conducting interviews. He told my husband he chose to hire the person who dared to look him in the eye! The other interviewers stared down at their hands, off out the windows, or even worse – they actually answered texts on their phones – during the interview! Oh my. Dare to be different! I want to encourage you to expect your children to develop skills in face to face communication and in making eye contact. Just by using Heart of Dakota’s plans, your children will be well on their way to success! This is not a homeschool problem; this is a problem all children are facing today. The extinction of face to face communication skills is at hand. Let’s do our part to ensure they live on – at least in our own children!

In Christ,

Keeping Balance in Homeschooling

From Our House to Yours

Keeping Balance in Homeschooling

We all recognize keeping balance in life is just a good way to try to be healthy. Things taken to the extreme are apt to become unhealthy over time. Just because you love chocolate, that doesn’t mean you can eat it throughout the entire day. Or, just because you love that show on Netflix, that doesn’t mean you can watch it most the day. Or, just because you love to drink coffee – ooh, this one is tough for me – that doesn’t mean you can drink it all day. (Noon. That has to be my cutoff, or I won’t sleep a wink!) Well, homeschooling is the same way. When something is out of balance and taken to the extreme, it can become unhealthy – even if it was initially a good thing!  Keeping balance in homeschooling keeps your homeschooling ‘healthy!’ Let’s see how!

Balance in Subjects

I once received a phone call from a mom who was using Saxon math with her four children. She said she needed help picking a new math program. When I asked what she didn’t like about Saxon, she told me she loved it! Really loved it! In fact, she was having a hard time giving it up. However, she said she was teaching 4 different Saxon math levels. Each lesson was taking her over an hour, and that was with skipping some things and only doing the odds and evens. She said she’d told her husband that if she didn’t make a change, her children were only going to remember her as the math teacher. All she did was teach math! There was no time for anything else. Maintaining balance in subjects, for both mom and children, is important. Keeping balance in subjects keeps your homeschooling ‘healthy!’

Balance in Time

I once talked with a mom whose daughter loved drawing. Any history project, science lab form, poetry assignment, timeline entry, geography map, or independent history activity that involved drawing was d-r-a-w-n out. In fact, her daughter drew out these assignments so much that she didn’t have time for grammar, math, and dictation. Furthermore, her homeschool day was incredibly d-r-a-w-n out too. She often schooled from morning to evening, yet still was unable to complete all her school subjects. Though both daughter and mother loved the beautiful drawings, both were weary and irritable at the end of most days. At the end of our conversation, they’d made a plan they were both excited to try! They simply scheduled an extra 45 minutes of ‘creative drawing time’ in the school day. During this time, daughter could d-r-a-w out any part of her HOD day’s work that inspired her. Balance in time was restored, and everyone was happier!

Balance in the Day

A few years ago I spoke with a homeschool mom in tears who told me she’d made a mess of things. When I asked what had happened, she said she’d let her daughter just pick whatever she felt like doing in the guide. At first it was great! Her daughter loved history, so she forged ahead in the Reading About History and Storytime. She also loved the Nature Journal. Even though this was planned 2 days a week, she’d done it every day. She loved the Hymn Study part of the Bible Quiet Time and had memorized almost half of them already. The President Study was another favorite. History projects were fun at the start, but harder to finish. Science experiments were hit and miss. Math and dictation were not favorites. The mom had sticky note bookmarks all over her Heart of Dakota guide. It was a mess!

Fixing the Mess 

Well, blessedly her daughter was only about 8 weeks into her homeschool year. Together we made a plan for her daughter each day to do two days’ worth of lessons of her most behind subjects, one day’s worth of her lesser behind subjects, and none of her far ahead subjects. She would do school for the same amount of hours they’d planned until all the sticky notes caught up to the farthest ahead one (which was Reading About History and Storytime). I told her to call me when all her sticky notes ‘met!’ She called me in about a month. Both daughter and mother were ecstatic! They were thrilled to be doing a day of plans within a day. Balance turned out to be more fun than they thought it would be!

I recently talked with this same mom. She asked me if I remembered helping her out of her ‘sticky note mess.’ I did, and I asked her how things were going. She laughed and said, “Well, we only need ONE sticky note for our daily plans now. And trust me, we will never go back to that mess again!”

So, every once and awhile, do a mental check! Is there balance in your homeschooling? In your subjects, your time, your day? If not, try restoring balance, and see if your homeschooling feels ‘healthier!’ Finding balance is worth it.

In Christ,


A Living Book – More Than Just a Pretty Cover!

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

A Living Book – More Than Just a Pretty Cover!

Charlotte Mason believed “living” books make learning ‘come alive.’ Living books pull you in and make you want to read more. Each page you turn, you find yourself more and more invested in the book you are reading. You begin to know the characters, inside and out. Your emotions rise and fall as you weather the storms and ride the waves with them. You can begin to predict how they’ll react to situations before they even make a move. By the time you read the last page, you know you’ve met some characters you’ll never forget. They will go with you through life and live on in your memory. That’s what living books can do, and they are so much more than just pretty covers!

Not all living books have pretty covers!

Carrie, the author of Heart of Dakota and my amazing sister, has an incredible knack for finding the absolute best living books! Through the past 20 years of Heart of Dakota’s existence, Carrie has been on an unending search for the very best of the best living books. I cannot tell you how many times I have stopped by my sister’s house to find her reading for hours on end, with piles and piles of books surrounding her to be read next. She has tirelessly dedicated herself to finding the diamonds in the rough. Sure, there are timeless, well-known living books that have won ample awards that Carrie has chosen to include in Heart of Dakota. However, there are also the less known needle-in-the-haystack finds that Carrie has lovingly chosen – and I will say, not all of them have pretty covers.

A pretty cover is sometimes just a pretty cover!

I remember Carrie showing me some of the books’ covers she was choosing between. She would ask my opinion, and sometimes, I’d look at the covers and be swayed this way or that. Then, she’d sometimes plead the case for the less than pretty cover and have me read a chapter of both books in the running. As I finished reading each, she’d have that look on her face like, “Gotcha! Didn’t I?!?”  Yes. Hands down, one book would be the obvious living books’ award-winner. Often times, it was not the book with the pretty cover.

The longer children use Heart of Dakota, the less they seem to care about the pretty covers!

The longer my children have used Heart of Dakota, the less they seem to care about the pretty covers. After my oldest son read Heart of Dakota’s Cat of Bubastes and Boy Knight, he became an avid fan of the author G.A. Henty. His Christmas list that year included ‘anything by G.A. Henty.’ Old G.A. Henty books with less than pretty covers were much cheaper. Still, I was reluctant to buy them. They REALLY did NOT have pretty covers. I wasn’t sure what he’d think about that, so I asked him. I said I could either get him a lot of G.A. Henty books with less than pretty covers, or a few G.A. Henty books with nicer covers that were more recently published. He didn’t skip a beat! He grinned and said, “Uhhh, MORE please – it’s what’s inside that counts, right Mom?” Well said, son.

Veteran Heart of Dakota users are often the best defenders of the books with less than pretty covers!

Often when I am helping someone on the phone at Heart of Dakota, we are both online or in catalogs peering at the covers of books. The same is true when I am helping someone at a convention. I have noticed with families newer to Heart of Dakota, there are often comments about the covers of the books. Newer books with shiny covers and beautiful artwork often grab their attention first. In contrast, older books with covers that may not have been updated for awhile get comments like, My daughter just wouldn’t open this book and read it on her own. Or, My son wouldn’t like this book because of the cover; it’s just not that exciting. 

This is when I find myself beginning to defend these books with less than pretty covers! I often end up launching into an oral narration of sorts. (By the way, thank you Charlotte Mason and Heart of Dakota for that wise instruction too!) If I am in this situation at a homeschool convention, I often don’t have to say a word. A nearby Heart of Dakota homeschool mom or homeschool student listening in does the defending for me. Oh, that was our favorite book!  The cover doesn’t do it justice! Or, Just wait ’til you get into that book – it’s awesome! You won’t be able to put it down!

I urge you, take time to look within, rather than hastily judging a book by its cover!

I want to be clear, Heart of Dakota has many, many books with vibrant, breathtakingly beautiful covers! In fact, most of the covers of the living books we carry draw kiddos in from the moment they lay their eyes on them. However, I urge you, for the love of living books, take time to look within them, rather than hastily judging them by their covers. Some of the very best books that are real gems happen to have less than pretty covers. Remember, as a wise son of mine once said, “It’s what’s inside that counts, right?” Yes, well said! Now, let’s open that book and read to discover its real merit. It might have much more to offer than that shiny new book somebody is selling next door that really has, well, just a pretty cover.

In Christ,