‘Living Over All Your Memories’ with Photo Books

From Our House to Yours

Memories That We Made

Each year I make a photo book and give it to my husband for Christmas. I began this tradition in 2008. Starting with January, I make my annual Shutterfly photo book, working my way through the year using the pictures we took. I love to look back on the year and reflect on all of the memories that we made. It truly is amazing to see all that can happen in one year! On the cover of each photo book is our family Christmas picture, which we take right where we live. I set these photo books out on our buffet. At Christmas, I put them in a basket on the dining room table with a note that says ‘Please have fun looking through the family memories we have made!’ I often see our sons or visiting family and friends with various photo books in their hands, happily reminiscing.

Take time to enjoy the homeschool journey, and take pictures along the way!

My homeschool journey began when Wyatt was 2 years old. He is now 20 years old! I am not sure where the time has gone, but I know it has gone fast. How I wish I had started making photo books sooner! Pictures of our homeschooling days with Heart of Dakota are always a special part of each photo book. The other day I sat down and paged through our photo books. I was lost down memory lane. Each page brought back precious memories, and each photo book showed our journey through this life we’ve built together. What a blessing! I began to think how different our life would be had we not homeschooled. How many memories would we have missed! Our 3 sons, each other’s best friends. Our very own home and God’s beautiful creation just outside, ours to explore. What a precious life!

There are still memories to be made.

Sometimes things feel heavy. It seems there are no small decisions to be made anymore. People freely (and often not very politely) question our decision to homeschool through high school. They question our decision to have our son continue to live at home and do online college. Homeschooling is not for the faint of heart. One must know why one is doing it. We believe the heart of the family is the home, and in that home there are still memories to be made. Our children are thriving. They are happy. Their hearts are full of love for each other and for the Lord. I love the memories we are making… still.

The Joy of “Living Over All Your Memories”

I can relate to Abbie Deal, from A Lantern in Her Hand, in so many ways. One of my favorite parts is when, at Abbie’s funeral, all of the family is talking about her. During this conversation, little 12 year-old granddaughter Laura Deal had this to say about her dear old Grandma Abbie:  One time Grandma told me she was the very happiest when she was living over all her memories. Maybe… she hesitated, a little shy at expressing the thought in her heart, Maybe, she was doing that… then.”  I do believe Abbie and I (and many homeschool mothers with children who are growing up way too fast and with years passing by way too quickly) are kindred spirits. Photo books are one way I live over all my memories. The ‘living over them’ is almost as good as the making them.

In Christ,


P.S. One more wonderful thing about making annual photo books is you can set them out as table decorations at your children’s high school graduation open house!


Dictation skills help in many areas of your child’s schooling!

Teaching Tip:

Dictation skills help in many areas of your child’s schooling!

One of my absolute favorite Charlotte Mason-style teaching strategies is the way she uses studied dictation. This is because studied dictation encompasses so many skills within a short session.

What skills are included within a studied dictation lesson?

Before the dictating begins, studying the passage first encourages students to picture correct spelling and punctuation on their mental blackboards. As the passage is dictated, students hone their auditory and verbal skills as they listen and repeat the passage before writing. Correcting their own passage by checking it against a correctly written model practices proofreading skills. Immediately fixing any mistakes means errors in spelling take less root in the child’s mind. Repeating a missed passage once daily until it is written correctly helps students replace an incorrect model with a correct model in their mind. Through the studied dictation process, your children are learning spelling, grammar, and punctuation skills too.

How can you help your children carry dictation skills over into their written work?

Once your children are making progress in dictation, it is time to begin helping them carry these skills over to their written work. One easy way to help students do this is to begin having them read aloud to you anything they write for school. As they read aloud what they have written, they will begin to catch some very noticeable mistakes. These obvious mistakes usually include missing words, double words, or very long run-on sentences with no punctuation. As students read aloud their written work, it is important that you are next to them with your pencil in hand. As they read, gently point out a few things to add. Often these things include missing words, periods, capital letters, commas, and question marks.

How can you address incorrect spelling in written work?

After your child has read aloud his written work, go back and write in pencil the correct spelling above any word that needs fixing. Then, have your child erase the incorrect word, copy your correct spelling in its place, and then erase your word (leaving a clean copy). If you do this regularly, your child will start to notice errors more and more on his own.

Proofreading takes training.

Proofreading takes training, just like anything else. It doesn’t happen naturally. One side note of this process is that you may see the volume of your child’s writing decline for awhile. This is alright, as it is honestly better to produce less quantity that is well-done than volumes written poorly. So, try having your child read aloud his writing today, and let the training begin!



November Library Builder: Save 10% on the Drawn into the Heart Level 2 Book Pack!

Library Builder

Use coupon code NOVEMBER-LIBRARY for 10% on the Level 2 Book Pack for Drawn into the Heart of Reading!

We are excited to continue our Heart of Dakota Library Builder book set promotion! On the 1st Wednesday of each month we will be promoting one of our book sets with a 10% coupon code. For this month’s special, use coupon code NOVEMBER-LIBRARY on our website for the entire month of November to save 10% on Drawn into the Heart of Reading Level 2 book pack. To view all of the books in this set, just click here!

How is the Level 2 Book Pack used in Drawn into the Heart of Reading?

(From the package description in our online store):

“These optional book packs are to be used after the ‘Emerging Reader Set’. They are for use with children who are ready for chapter books with fewer pictures and are ready for more advanced reading material. Average second graders should follow the Emerging Reader’s Schedule. The Level 2 book pack is for use with Level 2 of Drawn into the Heart of Reading. These books are for advanced Level 2 readers.

In these levels, your child will read the chosen books out loud to you for a total of 15 days for each genre.  Each book in the package has an approximate reading level noting the grade and month next to it.  Use this information to choose the set that best suits your child’s reading level. Please keep in mind, these specific titles are not needed, but each book was very carefully chosen as an excellent reading selection for the noted reading level.

Our book sets were created to save you time and to help you find quality books at the right reading level. This is one of the keys to a successful reading experience for your child. You are welcome to use your own book selections if you prefer. Drawn into the Heart of Reading truly works with any books you choose.”

Use coupon code NOVEMBER-LIBRARY to save!

To apply this month’s savings, just enter coupon code NOVEMBER-LIBRARY on our website when you check out! We hope these books will be as treasured to you as they are to us!

Have a great rest of the week!
Heart of Dakota

PS: If you’d like a more in-depth look at what using Drawn into the Heart of Reading looks like in your home, have a look at this article!

Questions About Using Original Thought in CM-Style Narrations and Placement

Dear Carrie

Would you recommend PHFHG or CTC for my son who struggles with using original thought in his narrations?

My 6th grade dyslexic son has overcome his reading difficulties and is now an excellent reader. However, he has trouble with verbal expression. When we read a passage and I ask him to narrate, he gets a deer in the headlights look. We did WWE for 2 years, and it led us through a guided narration with shorter passages. At first, he only had to write 1-2 sentences. He did alright until the passages became longer. It is the original thought that is difficult for him. I really want to switch to Heart of Dakota, but would Preparing be too easy? He can handle all the reading in CTC or RTR. But, I worry about the narration and writing. He just has to put A LOT of effort into writing anything. It seems like CM-style narration is different than classical narration, and I’m not sure how that impacts placement.


“Ms. Please Help Me Understand Original Thought in Written Narrations and How That Impacts Placement”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Understand Original Thought in Written Narrations and How That Impacts Placement,”

I just want to encourage you that Charlotte Mason-style narration is a skill that takes time to hone. It is not a skill that is developed overnight or even in a single year. Think of it as a slow burn that takes time to build but does eventually become a raging fire! Even if you’ve had practice in the past with a classical-style of narration, it will take to transition to a CM-style of narration. As you’ve already realized, CM-style narration does incorporate original thought. So, first I’ll explain how original thought is part of CM narrations. Second, I’ll share some placement suggestions for your son.

How CM-Style Narrations Encourage Original Thought

One way we assess kiddos through HOD is with CM-style oral and written narrations. Written and oral narrations CM-style look very different from child to child. This is different than written narrations done classical style, which result in more of a summary (meaning most kiddos’ narrations will look very similar when done summary-style). These are two different types of narrations. One is a summary, with certain key points being required. The other is a true written narration CM-style, where the child sifts and sorts through information, choosing what to write about and borrowing words and phrases from the author to write in the author’s style (without having certain key points that MUST be included for the narrations to be “correct”).

The sifting and sorting of what to include in CM-style written narrations is left to the child.

In this way, a classical style summary can have a specific answer key. A CM-style written narration wouldn’t even know where to begin with an “answer key.” Instead, each child is to draw out or seize upon different points to express. This is why in HOD’s guides, we may ask leading questions to get the child thinking about what he/she read. However, we leave the sifting and sorting up to the child, as far as what to write and how to write it. The key idea within our guides on written narration days will provide you as the parent with a summary of the reading. This is so you can see if your child is on-topic in his/her narration. However, it is not intended that the child include all those points in the key idea within the narration.

A balance of summary and descriptive styles of narration is important. But, it is also important to understand the difference between simply summarizing and narrating.

We do have children practice orally narrating in both summary style and descriptive style in our upper HOD guides. We consider it important to have a balance of both styles of narrating. However, we also consider it important to understand the two different styles of narrating. There is much more to narrating than simply summarizing what was read. Otherwise narrating in general can quickly become an exercise in outlining key points and can completely lose much of what makes CM-style narrating meaningful.

We tend to use ongoing books for written narration practice and R & S English for summarizing practice.

Since summarizing lends itself well to outlining, and these skills are both important, we teach these areas through Rod and Staff English in conjunction with science or history passages that are more factual. This is because a summary lends itself well to being written from just a portion of a book. In contrast, a written narration is instead intended to pull from a more continuous ongoing story, rather than just an excerpt. So, we tend to use ongoing books for written narration. Knowledge gained as the child continues reading the same book provides insights that can then be drawn upon and pulled together as connections when writing the narration. This process requires a different set of skills than those required to write a summary from a passage plucked from a source, where the goal is a summation of the key points in the particular excerpt or passage instead.

We see narrating CM-style as being very different from summarizing and outlining.

We delineate that summarizing and narrating are two different skills with two different styles. It is important to note that narrating CM-style is a very different skill from summarizing or outlining. I do skim the text as my child is orally narrating to me, holding the book in hand. This helps me see if the child is including ideas, names, places, etc. from the text, but it also shows me that the connections are those which the child has made! I hope this helps as you ponder how oral and written narrations are handled within the HOD guides.

As far as placement, I would lean toward Preparing Hearts for your son.

As far as your placement questions go, with the thoughts you’ve shared so far about your son’s writing especially, I would lean toward Preparing Hearts as being a good placement. While it is possible that your son could handle the reading and the independence of CTC, my concern lies in the amount of written work and writing instruction. With all children, but even more so with those who have learning challenges, it is so important to challenge them without challenging them to the point of frustration. This is the balance we are seeking for your son. Plus, the switch to a more CM-style curriculum can take a bit of getting used to as well, so we want to give him every opportunity to thrive. I think that Preparing Hearts would do this, and there are many important skills in Preparing that will literally prepare him for the rigors of CTC.

I would recommend the Extension Package and the studied dictation in Preparing.

With this thought in mind, I would recommend the Extension Package of Preparing rather than the Deluxe Package (because your son is a strong reader). I would also recommend that he do the studied dictation in Preparing to help with his lack of proofreading skills and to help him pay attention to including punctuation in his writing. The exercises in studied dictation do eventually carryover into the child’s writing. Again, this takes time (at least a full year) to see results.

I’d also recommend DITHR for help with analyzing various story elements and with digging deeply into literature.

I would also definitely add DITHR for literature study for your son, doing either Level 4/5 (if he has not had much in the way of formal literature instruction) or Level 6/7/8 if he has had quite a bit of formal study in analyzing literature. You could then add the appropriate level book pack to suit his reading level. I would lean toward either the Level 5/6 Boy Set or the Level 6/7 set. You will see wonderful graphic organizers all throughout DITHR, which really do help with analyzing various story elements and with digging deeply into literature. However, these organizers are not to be narration helpers, and literary analysis and narration are two different skills. Instead, to help with narrating, we have step-by-step directions and guided questions to set the stage for a narration and get it started on the right foot. This method is very CM-oriented.

I’d recommend Rod and Staff English 4 or 5, as well as an upped level of math.

For grammar, I would lean toward either Rod and Staff English 4 or English 5. You will be completing an entire level of Rod and Staff through Preparing, so there will be plenty of grammar and writing instruction there. You will also have a once weekly writing lesson through the poetry of Preparing Hearts. Last, you’d need an upped level of math. Preparing does schedule Singapore 2A/2B, 3A/3B, and 4A/4B, or you can use your own math.

Your son could do his own history and science readings, based on his age.

You could also have your son do his own history and science readings, based on his age. Take care not to allow him to read ahead though, even if he wants to, as you will get better narrations with slower more thoughtful reading (of a higher level). This is the approach we take to reading in all areas and is definitely a trait of a CM-style education. You can see as you look at this plan that there will be plenty of writing and steady challenge across the guide, rather than making it too heavy for your son and ending up dropping needed things (which is often what happens when we get too much rigor or change all at once).


Editing Using the Marker Board Method

From Our House to Yours

Editing Using the Marker Board Method

In last week’s From Our House to Yours post, I shared the ‘sticky note method of editing.’ I like to use the sticky note method of editing written narrations before using the marker board method of editing. The sticky note method works well because errors can be noted directly next to the line in which they occur. Using the sticky note method also helps me train our kiddos to follow basic proofreading marks to make corrections. Finally, the sticky note method makes it easy to see if needed corrections have been made. I just look at the sticky note to check if each correction has been made within each noted line of the narration. I love using the sticky note method of editing! However, I also enjoy using what I’ll call the ‘marker board method of editing.’

Try the marker board method of editing with children who are older, who make fewer mistakes, and who write longer narrations.

The marker board method of editing works well with children who are older, who make fewer mistakes, and who are writing longer narrations. As my children grow, so do their narrations! The longer and longer their narrations grow, the smaller and smaller their writing gets. I love Heart of Dakota‘s recommendation to have students read aloud their written narrations with pencil in hand. As they read, students make any corrections they realize they need to make. This encourages self editing, which is one of the end goals of writing as students mature! It also encourages legibility. If they can’t read their own writing, they immediately realize they need to correct it without me even having to say it!

There is one drawback to using the sticky note method of editing that causes me to switch to the marker board method of editing.

As my children’s written narrations get longer and their writing gets smaller, I find one drawback to using the sticky note method. I find I want to edit as they read aloud their narration. However, this is not possible with the sticky note method, as it is cumbersome to keep stopping them for me to lean in and jot the errors on the sticky note. I also find it difficult to edit directly within the written narrations in the notebook. As children mature, their fine motor skills improve, which means their writing (as it should) naturally shrinks. They write so small there just isn’t space for proofreading marks. So, because I wanted to edit as they read aloud rather than me having to reread the written narrations to edit them later, I began using the ‘marker board method of editing.’

How to Use the Marker Board Method of Editing

To use the marker board method of editing, I put small pencil marks along the left margin of their written narration. Directly on the notebooking page’s box, I put a small mark/dot dividing the box into fourths. This sections the narration into 4 parts. Then, I use my dry erase marker to divide a handheld marker board into 4 parts. As my children read aloud their narrations, I either sit next to them or peer over their shoulder, so I can clearly see their written narration at they read it. Then, as they read, I jot the needed changes in the right section of the marker board. I use the same basic proofreading marks from the sticky note method.

For example, let’s say they need to capitalize ‘Federalist Papers’ in the first 1/4 section of the written narration. As they are reading, in the first 1/4 section of my marker board, I write Federalist Papers with a capital ‘F’ and ‘P’ with 3 lines under the letters. Or, let’s say they misspelled ‘campaign’ in the next 1/4 section. In the next 1/4 section on my marker board, I write ‘campaign’ spelled properly with a circled ‘sp’ next to it. Or, let’s say in the bottom 1/4 of the written narration they missed a comma before the conjunction ‘and.’ On the bottom 1/4 of my marker board, I write a comma with a circle around it and a carot mark under it with the word ‘and’ after it. Then, after sharing what I loved about their narration, they use the marker board to make corrections.

Phasing Out the Marker Board Method of Editing

As my children become better and better writers and make fewer and fewer mistakes, I divide the written narration and the marker board into just 2 sections. So, there is just a top half and bottom half. As there are fewer errors, it is easier for them to find them in bigger sections. Then, after awhile, I don’t divide the written narration or marker board at all, so they are each just one big section. Finally, I move to just editing directly in the written narration. If a word is misspelled, I just underline it. It is now their job to look it up and fix it using the (history, science, etc.) book they read for help. If a punctuation mark is missing, I just put a carot with the mark. This is easy, as there are only a few mistakes!

In Closing

So, in closing, editing written narrations can be done in many different ways. When children are young and are writing short narrations, it is easiest just to edit directly within the written narration. However, as children grow older, write longer narrations, and write smaller, you may want to try either the sticky note method or the marker board method of editing.  See if you like either one or even both! Then, editing can come full circle, and you can return to just editing directly in your high school student’s written narration again!

In Christ,