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,
Julie

 

 

 

 

Raising Siblings to Be Best Friends

A Heart of Dakota Life

Raising Siblings to Be Best Friends

When I first began homeschooling with Heart of Dakota, I made a list of reasons why I wanted to homeschool. I have referred to that list often this past 17 years of homeschooling! Especially if I am having a tougher day, I go back to that list and find inspiration to press on.  One thing I listed was that I wanted our sons to be each other’s best friends. I consider my siblings to be my best friends, and I credit that to my parents. They raised us in a country home that was miles from town and friends. We three girls often only had each other as playmates and confidants, and we became so close. Still today, we sisters consider each other as best friends! As we raise our own sons, I see them becoming best friends as well – what a blessing!

Siblings As Best Friends As They Mature

My oldest son is now in college. However, we are still blessed to have him living with us, as he is doing an online business finance degree at Liberty University.  Like most 20 year-olds, he is crazy busy!  Playing basketball, attending Bible studies, homeschool dances, college/career Sunday School classes, coffee shop board games, church, work, etc., keeps him busy.  However, we still are thrilled Wyatt is home most mornings and early afternoons. When Wyatt began college, I knew we were in a new chapter of life. Wyatt works on college independently, and I don’t manage his time. However, he still wanted to have a mid-morning break from work to meet with his siblings. Even though he has matured into a young man, he considers his younger brothers as best friends worthy of his time, which I love!

A Boys-Only Club Meeting

Just today, I snapped a picture of our sons having their “Boys-Only Club Meeting.” I had to be quick!  I’m not allowed to attend. Neither is my husband, though they make an exception if something must be decided. This sibling private get-together started when Wyatt started college. At about 11 AM every school day, Emmett makes homemade hot cocoa for himself and his siblings. He jazzes the cocoa up with different kinds of creamers, marshmallows, sprinkles, or whipped cream. Then, he grandly announces that is it time for the ‘private delegation to meet.’ Behind closed doors, the three siblings meet, make plans, and laugh together. I’ve attempted a few times to come in with a note that say ‘Julie Grosz has hereby been granted permission to attend the private delegation today.’ However, I’m quickly ushered out by ‘security.’ Too funny! I love it!

Successfully raising siblings to be best friends means they must have time to be together!

I’d say we are successfully raising our sons to be each other’s best friends!  Hooray! One thing I can happily check off the list.  Growing lasting friendships like this takes time though. In the hustle and bustle of life, we have to make sure we really do set aside time for them to just be together. I have to be okay stepping out of the room and letting them enjoy time alone. Like all of you, I have more than enough things to get done anyway. I don’t mind one bit when our sons meet for their “Boys-Only Club Meeting.” In fact, I’ve rather grown to love it! Oh, there will always be occasional squabbling or less-than-perfect behavior, but after all, if you can’t be yourself with your best friends, who can you be?!? I hope, given time, your children can find their way to becoming each other’s best friends too!

In Christ,

Julie

Don’t overthink it! Just dive into Little Hands to Heaven!

Heart of Dakota Life

Don’t overthink it!  Just dive into Little Hands to Heaven!

I started Little Hands to Heaven (LHTH) when my boys were 3 1/2 years old. I homeschooled 4 days a week, and this worked so well, I planned on doing the same with my youngest son, Emmett. However, the dynamics had changed in our homeschooling. Though only 2 1/2, little Emmett was well aware I was homeschooling his two older brothers. They each had me to themselves and were having such fun. No surprise Emmett wanted that too! Oh, it wasn’t like I forgot Emmett! (Who can EVER forget a 2-year-old?!?) I had lists of ideas! Read his Bible. Do a puzzle. Color something. Throw a ball. Sing the alphabet. However, the end of the day came, and somehow I’d failed to do ANY of those things. I felt so guilty! Over 10 years ago, I realized I needed to stop overthinking it and just dive into LHTH!

My “Dive-In” Moment with LHTH Over 10 Years Ago

From a post I wrote on October 5, 2009:  I was overseeing the semi-independent parts of Beyond and CTC today, and my little one was hopping all over wanting my attention. He was doing his “patty-cake” and “head and shoulders” rhymes (getting about every other word right), and I thought, “What am I waiting for? He’s dying to do LHTH. Why not dive in and do it?

A Happy “Dive-In” Day with My Little Emmett

So, I pulled LHTH out and did half of Day 1. He LOVED it! Before I knew it, he was strutting around shouting, “A, A, Adam” and doing all of the animals from the fingerplay, having a great time. He kept shouting, “Emmie do more school, mom!!!!” It was just too cute. I was going to start when he was 3 1/2, but I don’t think either of us can wait that long. Why oh why have I been overthinking this? I just needed to dive in and begin!

A Half-Speed Plan to Try

I think I’ll go half-speed. I have both Bibles, so I think I’ll read from the easier Bible first, do the Fingerplay, the letter activity, and the Bible activity the first day (that’s what we did today). Then the second day, I’ll read from the harder Bible, repeat the Fingerplay and review the letter flashcard, and then do the remaining boxes (music and rotating box) I haven’t done yet. I can tell this is going to fill a need I’m having right now. I’ll still have him do the Lakeshore boxes and Kumon books for fun the other mommy time I have planned, but I can see he’s going to flourish with LHTH. It was just such a great day – I had to share it with you all!

In Closing

I know lots of you are moms of many. You might be feeling the same way I as feeling 10 years ago. If so, I just want to encourage you, dive in! Give LHTH a try, even if it’s just half-speed. Don’t overthink it! Just begin. LHTH is easy to add to your day. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say adding LHTH for your little one(s) makes your day easier. Little ones demand attention, and we know they deserve it. However, we are pulled many ways as moms of multiple children. Simply doing LHTH with little ones helps them be happier, helps us feel better as moms, and teaches them some important skills along the way.  If you are on the fence, dive in! Your little ones will thank you.

In Christ,
Julie

 

 

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

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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..

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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,

Julie

 

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,

Julie