Written Narrations As a Homeschool Form of Assessment

From Our House To Yours

What is a written narration?

I thought I’d make the focus of this weekly check-in written narrations.  So, just what is a written narration, you might ask? Well, a written narration is an assessment requiring students to use writing to tell back what they’ve just read or heard. Students use this Charlotte Mason inspired written skill in response to the reading of living books. Authors of living books write in a narrative style and are passionate about what they are writing about.  Heart of Dakota uses living books as the primary reading material for virtually every school subject in homeschooling. Therefore, it makes sense that a common form of assessment in Heart of Dakota’s plans is the written narration.

What makes written narrations a good form of assessment?

Using written narrations as an assessment encourages children to share what they have read with accuracy, personality, originality, and spirit. This is the opposite of using worksheets, quizzes, and tests as a form of assessment. Students often find  writing a narration to be the harder of the two assessments.  Why? Probably because the student does not have any aid in writing a narration. Multiple choice answers, true or false questions, or fill-in-the-blank quizzes aid the student in giving (or guessing) the proper response. In contrast, students rely wholly on their own memory and knowledge of the topic in written narrations. There is certainly a place for both forms of assessment!  Heart of Dakota does use both. However,  when students retell what they are reading, they better remember what they have read. So, this is the preferred method of assessment whenever possible.

What do written narrations look like at various ages?

Heart of Dakota’s plans take away the guesswork for what kinds of narrations we as teachers of our children should expect. First, students follow clear step-by-step instructions in each Heart of Dakota guide. Students carefully follow the noted parameters particular to each written narration assessment. Second, students always write narrations in response to reading a living book. However, the subject they write about may vary.  Students often write narrations in response to history readings, but they can write them in response to science, literature, etc. Finally, whatever the subject matter, students always write narrations in response to reading outstanding books! So, to show what written narrations look like at various ages, I’ve included one from each of my kiddos below…

Creation to Christ Written Narration
World Geography Written Narration
U.S. History II Written Narration
What improvements in written narrations should be expected?

Incrementally, the parameters of written narrations get harder as students age and mature. Some improvements can definitely be expected! But, what are they?

Expect an increase in the reading level and maturity level of books. 

To begin with, you can expect an increase in the reading level of living books in which written narrations are given as an assessment.  The Creation to Christ reading was Streams of History: Ancient Rome.  In World Geography, students read  A Book of Discovery, and in U.S. History II students read America: The Last Best Hope Volume II.

Plan for the length of the written narrations to increase each year.

In addition, you can expect an increase in length of the written narrations.  Students write 5-8 sentences in Creation to Christ. In World Geography, students write a length of 3-4 paragraphs. By U.S. History II, students write a length of 5 paragraphs.

Anticipate editing abilities to gradually improve as students move down the Written Narrations Skills checklist.

Furthermore, you can expect an increase in a student’s ability to edit using Heart of Dakota’s Written Narration Skills checklist.  I still do the editing in Creation to Christ.  We do not address every skill on the Written Narration Skills checklist. In World Geography, we share the editing process and most skills on the Written Narration Skills checklist are addressed.  By U.S. History II, the student edits his own written narration, and the entire Written Narration Skills checklist is usually addressed.

Plan for more difficult and varied types of written narration assessments as students mature.

Last, you can expect an increase in difficulty and variety of types of written narrations. In Creation to Christ, students use guided questions to help aid their writing of a general written narration. Students in World Geography must include the main topic, main ideas with supporting details, author’s style, and a strong opening and closing sentence. U.S. History II students must include all of these elements.  But, they must also list 5 topics from the given options in the guide.  They must also include names, dates, and events pertinent to the reading.

Finally, to conclude this written narration From Our House to Yours…

Many of us homeschool moms did not grow up in schools that used written narrations as a form of assessment. Hopefully, this shows what written narrations are, what written narrations look like at different ages, and what improvements to expect!

In Christ,


Sharing Time of Favorite Homeschool Assignments at the Kitchen Table

From Our House to Yours

Sharing Favorite Homeschool Assignments Around the Kitchen Table

Our children often naturally share what they are learning in their homeschool Heart of Dakota guides with each other. With a literature-based homeschool curriculum, the books are so engaging that conversation about them just happens. With Heart of Dakota, every subject is taught by reading excellent literature. So, with each retelling, students better retain happenings in history, science, literature, etc.  As we eat virtually every meal together, a common sharing place of what’s been learned is around our kitchen table.

Encouraging Discussions by Asking What Children Are Reading or Learning Lately

Lively discussions about books, authors, poets, history events, scientists’ discoveries, etc., are common and need no facilitation on my part. To encourage this type of conversation, I often ask what interesting things they’ve been learning lately. Of course I know what they’ve been learning, because I am the teacher of them all. But, it gives them a chance to informally share with one another what they remember most about what they’ve learned. That’s always interesting for me to hear!

Taking a Few Minutes to Share Favorite Assignments from the Day

One day this week, I asked each of them to share their favorite assignment they did for homeschool for the day. I also asked them to give a few reasons why it was their favorite. This was such fun for me to hear! Below are pictures of what they each shared, along with the reasons why they chose each of these as their favorites.

Wyatt: U.S. History II’s British Literature Prisoner of Zenda
This is my favorite U.S. History II assignment today because I…
  • love the book; the plot is amazing
  • like to give my opinion in my literature journal in response to questions, rather than fill in answers to questions
  • easy to do the night before school, as I love reading good books in my room before bed anyway
Riley: World Geography’s Book of Centuries Timeline Entries
This is my favorite World Geography assignment today because I…
  • love to color each of the pictures
  • like the idea of keeping this same book of timeline entries all through high school
  • enjoy reading the captions under the pictures
Emmett: Creation to Christ’s History Project Making of a Mezuzah
This is my favorite Creation to Christ assignment today because I…
  • like to make it, bake it, and add decorations to it
  • love to pull out my secret Scripture message as a big reveal when I show people
  • think it’s neat the Scripture message talks about Jesus’ resurrection because we just had Easter
Try a sharing time at your next lunch or dinner!

Conversation about Heart of Dakota’s learning requires little prompting. Once and awhile when you are together for a meal, consider having each of your children share their “favorite” of the day. There’s no judgment here. Anything can be a favorite! Also, no need to draw it out. A few minutes for each child is more than enough. The children enjoy it when I share my ‘favorites’ I had with each of them as well. I think because I’ve always been willing to do this, they don’t feel put on the spotlight and easily share.  We find lunch is a great time to facilitate sharing. However, dinner time is another wonderful time to share, as often times fathers are at this meal. I hope this helps you stop to enjoy sharing some favorites of Heart of Dakota once and awhile! Try it a few times, and you might be surprised how often it just begins to happen on its own!


In Christ,


Celebrate Students’ Progress by Comparing Work from Start to Finish

From Our House to Yours

Heart of Dakota’s guides include front-loaded plans for the intentional building of skills from start to finish!

Students soon discover that Heart of Dakota’s guides are front-loaded with skills. All year long, students strive to show progress in these skills from unit to unit.  Students find some of the skills to be totally new, and these are the most challenging.  They find other skills were introduced previously in an earlier guide but have another level of difficulty added.  Finally, students recognize other skills were previously introduced and are being maintained with continued practice.  One of my favorite things to do is to celebrate progress by comparing our children’s work from start to finish!

Celebrating Progress in Creation to Christ’s Prophecy Chart from Start to Finish 

The Skills Taught

Creation to Christ‘s prophecy chart assignment includes many skills. First, students find and read Old Testament verses.  Then, students find and read New Testament verses.  Finally, students compare them to show how God has had a plan for “His-story” since the beginning of time.  

From Start to Finish

When this skill was first introduced, Emmett wrote a few phrases that stood out to him.  Gradually, Emmett progressed in this skill and found the most important words to show the fulfillment of the prophecy.  Finally, he wrote lengthier more inspirational portions of the Scripture, and this is where it gets exciting!  This is when he truly made the connection how amazing it is that God plans THAT FAR in advance!  He made an incredible connection here! I cannot imagine studying the ancients and missing that connection.  Christ is the fulfillment of the prophecies, and because of Him our future is bright!  

Celebrating Progress in Creation to Christ Notebooking Pages from Start to Finish

The Skills Taught

Students follow directions to organize their work in full-color notebooking pages for the first time in CTC .  With guide in hand, they need to carefully read step-by-step directions to complete each unit in their notebook.  Teacher and student share the CTC guide at this point, as it’s used as teacher’s guide and a student planner.  Students must locate box numbers within the pages and follow directions to complete each assignment.  They must note whether the plans say to write in cursive or print, as both skills are practiced in CTC.  Finally, each box of plans is linked to a different connection to the history theme.

From Start to Finish

When Emmett first began writing in his notebook, he had trouble carefully following directions.  He sometimes wrote in the wrong boxes, wrote outside the boxes, forgot steps, wrote in cursive instead of print, etc.  Now, he has learned to read directions carefully, to follow them in order, and to check his spelling.  What progress!

Celebrating Progress in Creation to Christ’s History Projects from Start to Finish

The Skills Taught

Three days of each unit are devoted to completing a history project in connection with the  history theme.  Students follow step-by-step directions for the history project that are given directly in the guide.  About 20 minutes each of the 3 days is devoted to the completion of one history project.  The skills needed to complete a project from start to finish take time to develop.  Students quickly learn that a missed step equals lost time and a project that may not turn out.  These skills are invaluable.  Many future high school and college courses include the completion of projects as a large portion of the final grade.  Portfolio-based assessments are a part of many syllabi.

From Start to Finish

Emmet completed the project he is holding 100% on his own, as I was sick with the flu.  It has many steps, and he followed them all.  His coloring isn’t perfect, but he did master the skill of following steps to complete a project over multiple days.  He was so proud of his history project!  There is much satisfaction in independently completing a project well from start to finish.  It is something to be celebrated!

Take Time to Celebrate 

I hope this encourages you to take a moment to reflect on the progress you’ve seen in Heart of Dakota!  Try comparing assessments at the start of your student’s portfolio to assessments near the end of your student’s portfolio.  I bet it will give you both cause to celebrate!  We need to do this from time to time because progress on this homeschool journey deserves attention.  We needn’t wait for the end of the journey to celebrate! Steps along the way are worthy of celebration too, so why wait?

In Christ,


5 Simple Tips to Fully Enjoy Heart of Dakota’s Creation to Christ Notebooking Pages

From Our House to Yours

Creating a “Beautiful” Notebook

Heart of Dakota’s Creation to Christ is the first year kiddos get to write in those beautiful full-color notebooks! As HOD moms, we eagerly await this rite of passage, and we just can’t wait to begin a special keepsake of the year using those lovely notebooking pages! And they ARE lovely. But, the writing and pictures and entries kiddos make on those lovely pages can be… well, lovely and not-so-lovely. So what should we expect as moms for first-time notebook users?

Expect the Plans to Be Done

#1 – Expect the plans to be done, but give extra ‘grace’ as this is a training year!

Heart of Dakota Creation to Christ Notebooking Pages
Creation to Christ Notebook Timeline pictures

So, when the Creation to Christ plans say for kiddos to draw, color, and label 3 timeline pictures; they need to strive to do that. When the plans say a certain number of sentences for their written narration; they need to strive to write that number of sentences. When the plans say for a certain passage to be copied in cursive; they need to strive to do that. However, progress should be evident! In other words, improvement from the start to the finish of the notebook should be visually obvious. The first entries being less ‘lovely’ or ‘complete’ than the last. Remember to give grace, especially at the start of the year, knowing this is a training year for learning how to use the notebooks.

Encourage Writing Within the Boxes

#2 – Encourage writing within the boxes, but understand this may be hard at first!

Learning to write inside the boxes is a skill in itself. Often students just don’t notice the edges of the boxes, and they could just write outside of them not knowing the goal is to try to stay inside them. So, just pointing out the goal is to stay inside the boxes and the frames of the boxes are the stopping places is very helpful! Students’ writing is also often larger, especially if they are on the younger side of the target age range of CTC. Learning to ‘shrink’ their writing is also a skill in itself. It takes time, but little by little encouraging students to develop fine motor skills to write smaller within a defined area is well worth it!

Know When the Goal Is Met

#3 – Know when the goal is met and call it ‘good enough’ then!

Carrie makes clear in the guides the goals for each part of the plans. The Introduction, the Appendix, and the daily plans of each guide help us know when a ‘goal’ is met. So, for example, the goal of the timeline is to keep a chronological record of what has been studied. It is not to have a beautiful artistic drawing – though some kiddos will be able to do that too! The goal of the written narration is to retell the history reading using guided questions. It is not to answer every question perfectly, as if it was a quiz to be mastered – creativity is allowed! So, if the student wrote the designated number of sentences (even if it was the minimum suggested), if the student answered some/most of the questions, and if the answers make quite good sense… the goal is met, and it can be deemed ‘good enough’!

Writing Must Be Legible

#4 – Writing must be legible, but not perfect!

Heart of Dakota Creation to Christ Notebooking Pages
Writing must be legible . . . but not perfect!

The ‘loveliness’ of students’ writing will vary greatly, and that is alright. What is not alright is if it just cannot be read at all! One sure-fire way to help kiddos understand this is to have them read aloud their written narrations with pencil in hand. As they read aloud to us, they can be encouraged to make changes they need to as they read. Often times, they will catch missing words, misspelled words, missing punctuation, etc. themselves. That only serves to help us have less to edit later with them!

If they cannot read their own writing, they will begin to understand that no one else will be able to read it either… and the real shame here is NOT that their writing is not perfect… it is that their ideas, their responses, their thoughts will not be able to be shared with others – and their ideas are what we LOVE… so writing must be legible, but it need not be perfect.

Editing Is a Skill to Be Learned

#5 – Editing is a skill to be learned one step at a time!

Editing is a process, and slow but steady progress is the goal. The best thing to do is to use the Written Narration Skills: Teacher’s List and the Written Narration Skills: Student’s List in the Appendix of CTC. Step 1 should be taught first; then, move on to Step 2, and so forth.

Focusing on teaching ONE skill at a time in the order it is listed will help you avoid overwhelming your child with too many skills at once, and will give your child a manageable plan for editing writing. This slow and steady process helps students improve one step at a time, and ensures we as moms do not to tip over to expecting perfection by making a student erase and rewrite everything; or by making them write everything twice. Written narrations are not to have a first, second, third draft. Making students do so will only cause them to dislike written narrations… intensely!

Heart of Dakota Creation to Christ Notebooking Page
Creation to Christ Unit 19 Notebooking Page

So, here you will see my son’s CTC Student Notebook… and this is the halfway mark, as he is in Units 18-19! Progress in many areas is evident, but more progress is expected as we move forward! It is LOVELY in its own way, and I look forward to it becoming more and more so as he becomes better and better at each of these amazing skills, step-by-step!!!

The next time your child works on a notebook entry for his/her Heart of Dakota guide, keep these tips in mind and see what you think!

In Christ,

Hands-on Learning Projects Engage All Types of Students

From Our House to Yours

Hands-on projects in Creation to Christ bring history to life!
Hands-on Project of Roman Soldier
“R” Stands for “Roman” Soldier

Three days each week in Creation to Christ Emmett progressively works on a hands-on history project.  Projects closely correspond with the weekly history theme and give a creative outlet for him to express what he’s learned.  They use items I readily have on hand, and they are never the same from week to week.  Emmett adores his history projects!  In fact, he took these pictures himself this week.  He was so proud of his Roman decked out ‘soldier!’  His Roman soldier has a helmet, tunic, armour, belt, sandals, and travel pack equipment.  Emmett will not soon forget how a soldier in the Roman Empire was at all times ready for battle!

Hands-on projects engage every kind of learner!

It’s obvious hands-on projects engage children who are kinesthetic or tactile learners, who enjoy movement while learning.  But, did you know they also engage auditory learners, who enjoy talking about what they are learning?  They even engage visual learners, as they see what they create come to life!  Finally, social learners naturally enjoy getting to share their projects with us as moms.  So, every kind of learner benefits from hands-on projects!

Hands-on map drawings in World Geography bring history to life!
Hands-on Map Drawing in WG

World Geography provides a chronological approach to geography that is based on the history of exploration, discovery, and mapmaking.  It starts with the ancient cultures and ends with polar region exploration.  Ellen McHenry’s Mapping the World with Art gives step-by-step DVD instructions to help students make their own world map.  This is only one part of earning World Geography credit, however, it is one of Riley’s favorites!

Hands-on drawing of maps engages learners in a more memorable way!

As students study cartography and mapping through history, they connect in a more memorable way by making their own maps.  Riley understands first-hand how difficult it is to make maps.  This is something that cannot be learned from simply studying others’ maps!  As he reads about the struggles cartographers faced making maps, he can empathize with them.  It’s not easy to visualize that which you cannot aerially see.  Hands-on drawing helps him commit to memory what he is learning!

Hands-on Book of Centuries entries in U.S. History II bring history to life!
Hands-on Book of Centuries in U.S. II

U.S. History II marks the end of a 4-year journey of keeping a Book of Centuries.  Keeping a Book of Centuries is a Charlotte Mason hands-on skill that pairs well with high school students.  Printing, cutting, coloring, and gluing timeline entries helps students gain a  mental picture of individuals and events within a century.  Wyatt wanted me to snap a picture of this today because he ‘had an entire 2-page spread’ completed!

Hands-on compilation of a Book of Centuries gives high school students a keepsake of the history studied in high school!

Compiling this Book of Centuries provides a hands-on way to create a keepsake of history that has been studied.  This helps students commit to memory the overall flow of history, rather than memorize individual unconnected facts.  I like how the Book of Centuries is handmade and not just a preprinted timeline chart someone else made professionally.  Wyatt has made reference to keeping his Book of Centuries handy after graduating, just as a chronological resource.  Now that is truly a special high school keepsake from his time spent studying history!  My quizzes I took in history never made their way into my ‘have to have reference resources’ post high school.  I’m so glad Wyatt has something to show for his years of high school history he cares enough to keep.  This is just more reason to keep meaningful hands-on learning a part of Heart of Dakota from start to finish!

In Christ,


P.S. To read more about what other homeschool moms are saying about our hands-on history projects, click here!