Sharing from Different Guides with “5 Minute Fun Times”

A Heart of Dakota Life

How can children in different guides share experiences with one another without making their day too long?

My sons are each 3 to 4 years apart in age, and they have always each placed best in different Heart of Dakota guides. Having each of them properly placed these many years has been such a blessing! They each shine in their own guides. However, what do you do when one child sees what another child is doing and wants to do it too? Heart of Dakota is so much fun, it can be tempting for a child to want to do it all – even if it’s not part of the guide he/she is doing! However, it is not so fun when the school day goes way too long because of it, or when older children constantly upstage younger children because they’re just better at most things. Maintaining that balance is important. For these reasons, I started “5 Minute Fun Times.”

What are “5 Minute Fun Times?”

“5 Minute Fun Times” are simply fun times that can be shared with siblings in different guides within 5 minutes. Certain things lend themselves well to this. For example, if someone bakes something for a history project, everyone can take 5 minutes to eat it and compliment the baker.  Or, if it’s someone’s turn to share a poem, we can all take 5 minutes to sit on the couch, listen to the reader, and clap at the end. Likewise, if the 3 year-old’s guide calls for a re-enactment of the Red Sea parting and the Israelites crossing, I can quickly assign everyone a part, have them each throw on a quick costume, and take 5 minutes to act it out.

When are “5 Minute Fun Times” not a good idea?

If something takes more than 5 minutes, or if it is clearly an assignment for just that child to enjoy, then the “5 Minute Fun Time” is not a good idea. For example, even though my olders might enjoy doing my little one’s art projects, it is better they don’t stop their school to do so. First, because they will get behind in their own guides (which take longer, as they are older). And second, because my little one can enjoy showing off his art project later without thinking his art project is “less worthy” (as more than likely, his older siblings would have done his art project quicker and better).

“5 Minute Fun Times” usually take place at the culmination of something.

It is important to know at what point to have everyone join in. Usually, we join in for “5 Minute Fun Times” at the culmination of something. If it is a cooking project, the one child whose guide the project is in does the cooking. When it is time to eat the treat, everyone is part of that. If it is a science project, the child whose guide the experiment is in sets it all up, and maybe will demonstrate the outcome quickly for the rest. The rest are observers or assistants. If it is a poetry reading, only the child who is to share does so. The role of everyone else is to be the encouraging audience. If it is a re-enactment, the child whose guide it is in leads it and gets first pick at which role to play. The rest of the children are the subordinates.

Most of the time each child is enjoying his/her own guide.

So, overall, most of time each child is enjoying his/her own guide and joining in only now and then for a 5 minute thing that gears itself toward celebrating together with the others. Having children do the things in their own guides separately keeps their things special, and it cuts down on the comparing. There is just a lot more interest as they share with one another, if they didn’t all do each other’s things. Not to mention, we all like finishing on time, so we have time for things other than school the rest of the day. I find other informal sharing naturally takes place during meal times. It seems everyone enjoys showing off their things to each other around lunch or supper time. I love that they each did their own thing, and they were able to do it well.

Each child shines in his/her own guide, but “5 Minute Fun Times” and informal meal times provide wonderful times to share!

I wanted to post pictures of this and try to explain it, as I’ve had people ask me how my children are learning together if they are in separate guides. They are doing things together, but not all doing each other’s guides. That would be too much to do in a day! Yet, they are sharing through 5 minute fun type activities, as well as at meal times when they proudly show their work to one another and hang it on the fridge or set it on the counter to tell Dad about when he gets home. This is just one way of sharing, of course, and not everyone does it this way, but we’ve found each child really shines in his guide this way, and yet they are all enjoying hearing about and participating in bits and pieces of each other’s learning as well.

A Few Pictures of “5 Minute Fun Times” from the Past

Making music and marching to it, an activity from LHTH

LHTH activity of flying…

Re-enacting The Last Supper, a Bible activity from LHTH

A LHTH Bible story re-enacted…


Bigger Hearts testing of the planes lift, drag, etc…

The Gold Rush, a history activity from Bigger Hearts

‪ ‪ ‪

Bigger Hearts, sinking the Philadelphia (only Riley built the boat, and Wyatt only helped with the “bombing” )…

Drawn into the Heart of Reading re-enactment of battle for kickoff…

Bigger Hearts re-enactment of history story…‪ ‪

Find the camouflaged bug, a science activity from Bigger Hearts…

RTR, playing history game made from history project..

‪ ‪

Eating history project as Wyatt reads about the history event from his RTR notebook (but only Wyatt did the baking)…

RTR, going on the Crusades, Wyatt set it all up, and the rest of the children joined in only on the activity part, Wyatt directed it all…

Poetry Reading from RTR…

In Christ,



Editing Written Narrations Using the Sticky-Note Method

A Heart of Dakota Life

Editing Written Narrations Using the Sticky Note Method

When children write a written narration, they tell back in their own words what they have just read. This Charlotte Mason-style assessment helps children begin to develop their own writing style. We encourage individual personality, spirit, and originality. However, we also strive for accuracy, both in content and in editing. Children begin writing 1-3 sentences for their written narrations in Heart of Dakota‘s Preparing Hearts. However, by the time they graduate high school, they are writing 4-5 paragraphs. Obviously, the length increases through the years! No matter what the length may be, students should always read aloud their written narrations after writing them. With pencil in hand, they can self-edit as they read aloud to you. But, what’s next? For today, let’s chat about using the sticky note method to edit!

A Quick Reminder of the Importance of Using the Appendix 

In the Appendix of Heart of Dakota‘s guides, you will find Narration Tips for both the teacher and the student. These are super helpful for understanding the narration process from before, to during, to end! You will also find Written Narration Skills for both the teacher and the student. These are super helpful for understanding the editing process! In general, students work through these one at a time. Once they do the first thing (indent each paragraph), they move on to the second thing (make sure the first sentence is on the right topic). Once students have moved past these first few skills, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling are next. This next level of editing is the purpose of this blog post!

The Sticky Note Method

For younger students, for students new to narrating, and for students who make many mistakes, I like to use what I call the ‘sticky note method.’ Basically, this involves sticking sticky notes along the left margin of the written narration. While kiddos read aloud their narration, I just listen without interrupting. When they finish, I start with some positive comments. It is incredibly important to be encouraging! Then, I edit the narration with a pencil using the editing marks below. If something needs to be capitalized, I put 3 lines under it. If a capital letter needs to be made lowercase, I put a slash through it. Misspelled words have a circle around them with ‘sp’ above them. Then, on the sticky note, I write the proper spelling of the words they missed next to the line they are in. This helps them easily find the errors and fix them!

The Sticky Note Method for a More Advanced Writer

For a more advanced writer, I use the sticky note method, but in a slightly different way. After they have read aloud their narration, self-edited, and I’ve given some compliments, I put sticky notes down the left margin. But, instead of writing directly on their narration, I just make notes on the sticky notes. My  notes are all next to the line the error(s) are found in.

So, for example, if the word ‘you’ should have been capitalized in line 3, next to line 3 on the sticky note I write ‘you’ with 3 lines under the ‘y.’ Or, if ‘Versailles’ is misspelled in line 10, I put a circle with ‘sp’ next to line 10 and write ‘Versailles’ spelled correctly. If a comma or period is missing in line 15, I put a caret (the ‘add something’ editing mark) with a comma or period next to line 15. This way, they are taking their self-editing one step further because they have to locate where in each line to fix their errors.

In Closing

In closing, the sticky note method is just one way to edit written narrations. I will more than likely share other ways to edit in future blog posts. However, for beginning writers and for writers starting to be a bit more advanced, I have found the sticky note method works well.  Though there are many editing marks, I use the shorter list I shared above. I find using too many proofreading marks gets confusing. Likewise, I find too many editing changes gets depressing. So, while I always note errors in capitalization, spelling, and basic proper punctuation, I might not note every single comma, quotation mark, or apostrophe error at first. These can be added later, as children’s basic writing skills improve. Give this sticky note method a try! Who knows? You might like it!

In Christ,


How to Use a School Calendar to Plan Your Homeschool Year

A Heart of Dakota Life

How to Use a School Calendar to Plan Your Homeschool Year

Each year as I plan my homeschool year, I like to print a school calendar. I find it very helpful to have a one-page yearlong calendar that notes the holidays. This is so much easier than flipping through a monthly calendar or looking up dates of holidays on the Internet! Once I have printed the calendar, I look it over to mentally note the holidays. I total the number of days I am homeschooling with Heart of Dakota by multiplying the number of units in my guides by the number of days of plans each week. When my children were in younger Heart of Dakota guides, like Little Hands through Bigger Hearts, I had a total of 165-170 days. Once my children were in Preparing Hearts through U.S. II, I planned for a total of 140 days. This year my children are using Revival to Revolution and USII, so I planned for 140 days.

Start with the End in Mind

I like to start with the end in mind. Knowing when we want to be done with our homeschool year helps me determine when we need to start. We like to be done with our homeschool year in early May, and we like to take our summers off. Pulling out a notebook to make my first rough draft calendar, I make a quick list of the reasons we’d take off days from school. For us, that includes time off for hunting, fishing, traveling, holidays, and family visiting. I also like to take off Valentine’s Day and each person’s birthday. If someone’s birthday falls on a weekend, we choose a day during the homeschool week to take off instead. On birthdays, the person whose birthday it is gets to pick what to have for meals, for snacks, a movie to watch, a game to play, things to do, and even a place to go (i.e. Dairy Queen for blizzards).

Jot Down Days to Take Off and Days to Homeschool

Looking at my one-page calendar, I begin with the month we hope to start to homeschool. For us, that is September, usually after Labor Day. So, on my piece of paper, I jot down the month ‘September.’ I label the left margin “# of Days.” Then, I look at each week of September on my one-page calendar, noting days we would take off and days we’d homeschool. I write this down one week at a time. Then, I total the number of days we’d be doing school in September and put a square around it. I move on to October, and do the same. Working through the months, I continue until I reach 140 days. At the end, I add 6-7 days for make up days (i.e. sick days or days we sporadically take off). Likewise, I add a handful of days for standardized testing.

Making Adjustments 

Sometimes I do this, and after the 140 days, the 6-7 make-up days, and the 5 days for testing, I am past the end date I wanted. Then, I make some adjustments. This year, for example, I moved a trip my husband and I were taking to California one week earlier. I could then begin school earlier, which meant I would finish by early May. Sometimes I jot down several different start dates, end dates, or options of how many days to take off for something. For example, sometimes we start in August and sometimes in September. Or, sometimes we want to be done by the end of April and sometimes by mid-May. Or, sometimes we want a big break at Christmas, and other times we don’t. This is when I get everyone’s thoughts on the matter. This year I presented alternate start and end date options. Everyone picked to start after Labor Day and end by early May. Below is a picture of my rough draft calendar (and it is ‘rough’)…

Creating the Final Calendar to Be Hung for All to See

Finally, I create a final calendar to be hung for our whole family to see.  I color-code days we are homeschooling yellow. Then, I color-code the days we are taking off pink. I note on the left monthly listing side why we are taking the days off and highlight that pink too.  Then, I put a red box around the make-up days at the end. Finally, I put a green box around the testing days at the end. We all reference this calendar throughout the year many times! My husband can easily reference it as well. If we use a make-up day, I color one of the make-up days at the end (which are in the red box) yellow. This shows we used one of our free/make-up days. It is easy for everyone to see when we are taking days off. Likewise, everyone can see if we are progressing toward ending our school year on time!

In Christ,

A Practically Perfect Homeschool Life

A Heart of Dakota Life

A Perfect Homeschool Life

It’s that time of year again!  Time to start my homeschool year and to make the perfect plan that makes all my dreams come true!  I put on my rose-colored glasses and put pen to paper to plan all I hope my homeschool year will be. My year begins to unfold before my very eyes. I write lofty goals, as I envision my perfect homeschool year. In my mind, I wake up well-rested to sunshine and blue skies. I shut off my alarm before it even rings – I’m just that excited to start my day!  My Bible Quiet Time and prayer time come next, as I prepare my heart and mind for all the day may hold. Then, I wake my children cheerfully, throw open their curtains, and whip up a healthy, homemade breakfast they adore. While the breakfast is bubbling and baking away, I skip downstairs to run 4 miles on my treadmill. We all happily arrive at breakfast punctually at the same time, showered and looking just so, chores all complete, and ready to greet our day!

A Practically Perfect Homeschool Life

I love to dream of my ideal homeschool life, but there is only one problem! It’s just not practical. In fact, the perfect day is pretty rare, and lofty out-of- reach plans just leave me feeling like a failure. So, I have traded in my perfect homeschool life for a practically perfect homeschool life. And you know what? I’m a whole lot happier!  I put pen to paper with plans that are practical, yet full of most of what I really want them to be.

When I know I will be teaching the next morning, I try to get to bed on time. I pick a start time that is early but not so early I can never really start on time. My alarm must be set, or the reality is I might not wake up. I do wake my children, quickly, with a hug and a kiss, but then promptly head downstairs for a strong cup of coffee.  A quick Bible time, a 1 mile jog on the treadmill once and awhile, breakfasts that are sometimes homemade and sometimes healthy but probably not both, prayer in my shower, and all of us arriving at breakfast about the same time with most our chores done – that’s perfect for me in a practical way.

Enjoy Planning Your Practically Perfect Homeschool Life

Rather than planning your perfect homeschool life, why not enjoy planning your practically perfect homeschool life? Make goals, but try to be practical about them. Set a schedule, but be practical by including margin for unplanned interruptions. Try a routine, but be practical by adding some wiggle room in it knowing it probably won’t go just so. Include some healthy goals, like getting enough sleep, having some healthy meals, attempting to exercise, etc., but be practical!  These things probably won’t happen daily.  Do the same with your homeschool subjects and with your children. Plan practically rather than perfectly. Take 2 weeks to do 1 week of plans to give grace to both you and to your children as you figure out your new guides. Most of all, plan for God to ultimately make your plans each day – after all, His plans are best, and they ARE actually perfect! It just makes good practical sense to follow them.

In Christ,


Add Margin to Your Day to Receive New Mercy

A Heart of Dakota Life

Add Margin to Receive New Mercy 

Lamentations 3:22-24: It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him.

Does your homeschool day have margin? If something doesn’t go just right, does your routine or schedule allow for that? Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in having a plan for my homeschooling. Especially once I began homeschooling more than one child, a plan was simply a necessity.  However, my earlier homeschool schedules lacked margin. I found out the hard way, a schedule lacking margin lacks mercy. And if there is one thing we all need, it is mercy!

Add Margin to Receive New Mercy When Something Unexpected Happens

Have you ever spilled an entire cup of coffee all over your Heart of Dakota guide? Or have you ever had a contractor stop by with about a million questions about how you want to renovate your bathroom? Has your husband ever called for a model number he needs off your broken dishwasher? Have you ever had a child throw up in the middle of your homeschool day? Life is full of unexpected surprises – every day. In fact, it is the rarer thing to have a day with no surprises at all. By adding margin to your homeschool routine or schedule, you are planning for the unexpected. So when the unexpected happens, you are ready!  You have the margin to receive mercy in the event of an unexpected surprise.

Add Margin to Receive New Mercy When Correcting School Work

Do you have time planned to correct your children’s school work? When you look at Carrie’s suggested time allotments for each box of plans, do you add time to correct work? Even “I” independent boxes of plans require our attention as homeschool moms. By adding margin for correcting school work by making it a part of your overall plan for your day, you avoid having a pile up of correcting. So when your children finish their work, you are ready! You have the margin to receive mercy in the task of correcting your children’s work.

Add Margin to Receive New Mercy When You Have Appointments, Activities, or Errands

Do you have margin planned in your week for doctor appointments? How about margin for activities you plan to attend? Or how about margin for something you didn’t plan to attend but now want to? By adding margin for appointments, errands, and activities, you avoid getting behind in your schooling. So when your child has a cavity to be filled, your sister calls you for a play date with her kids, or you have to get groceries because there is nothing for dinner, you are ready!  You have the margin to receive mercy in the time it takes for appointments, errands, and activities.

So how do you plan for margin, so you can receive new mercy each day?

To plan margin when something unexpected happens, I add some cushion of time. So, for example, I might have my ‘teacher-directed’ block of time include ‘semi-independent’ work too. That way, I have extra time to walk away and deal with the unexpected. To plan margin when correcting school work, I add extra time throughout the day. By starting my teaching time by quickly correcting what’s already been completed, I plan margin for correcting. To plan margin for appointments, I set aside one afternoon each week. So, every Wed. afternoon, I know that is the day I will make appointments. Likewise, I plan for Saturdays to be my errand day. Every other Tuesday, I plan to have our children get together with my sister’s children. Finally, I plan for at least 2-3 weeks off each year for anything unplanned! Try planning for margin to receive new mercies this school year!  I think you may like it!

In Christ,