Recovering from the holiday season? Consider starting school half-speed!

Teaching Tip:

Are you still recovering from the busy holiday season?

As the new year is underway, are you still recovering from the busy holiday season? If so, it can feel daunting to launch back into school again. Yet, often the routine of school is just what is needed to get your days back to normal.

You could consider starting school half-speed.

To help you get back into the routine of school, you could consider starting half-speed. Easing into school this way is easier than starting full-speed, yet it starts the process of getting back into the school mindset.

There are several easy ways to go half-speed.

Through the years, we have gone half-speed with our guides in many different ways. Going half-speed can be as easy as doing the left page of plans one day and the right page the next day. Another way to go half-speed is to count the number of boxes on your two-page spread and divide by two. Then, choose half of the boxes to do one day and half of the boxes to do the next day. Other options for going half-speed will work too. Just be sure to finish an entire day of plans before moving on to the next day. Simply check off the boxes as you complete them, so there is no confusion as to which boxes remain.

How long can you go half-speed?

Typically, going half-speed with a guide is not a permanent solution. At our house, we have downshifted to half-speed in times of illness, stress, holiday breaks, busy work schedules, days with therapy or doctor’s appointments, or when we are first beginning a new guide. Usually, after a time half-speed no longer feels like enough.

How can you move up to full-speed gradually?

If we did stay at half-speed for an extended time, we tried to add one box each week until we were at full-speed. This meant we were sometimes finishing up one day of plans and starting on a new day of plans in the same day. While not ideal, it did work. Getting up to full-speed is always our end-goal.

How can schooling continue when you or your child is very sick?

With our son Greyson’s multiple hospitalizations last year, we had to downshift to what he was able to do. This means we did only one or two boxes in the plans for many days. Other days he was too sick to do any school. When he got some better, we tried slowly adding one more box of plans as he seemed able. At the time, it seemed like we were barely progressing. Yet, in looking back we only lost half a year of school instead of the whole year. During the summer, he did his guide half-speed four days a week. He didn’t mind, since he was finally starting to feel better. Doing even a little when you can is still progress!

When life is busy, half-speed works.

Maybe you are at a place in your life right now where full-speed is working great. If so, keep going! Just remember that when life is busy, half-speed works.



A Literature-Rich Education Motto: Fewer Books Done Better

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

A Literature-Rich Education Motto: Fewer Books Done Better

Charlotte Mason’s slower, more thoughtful reading process encourages deeper thinking about what is read. Fewer books done better was her motto, and it has become my motto as well. A literature-rich education stretches students in many positive ways. It makes them readily able to read, appreciate, and take away something from almost any kind of reading material. This is because they have learned to appreciate a wide variety of authors with a wide variety of styles. Consequently, they often find delight in a wide variety of reading materials.

Would you like to lovingly reread your middle school textbooks?  Your answer shows why a literature-rich education is different!

My older boys choose to read everything from classic literature to magazine articles, to theology books to light reading – just for fun. When my younger sons move on to a new year of Heart of Dakota, my older boys jump right in with a desire to reread their favorite books from long ago just one more time. While my four sons are all very different from one another and all have very different strengths and weaknesses, the more years we travel down this literature-rich path the more convinced I become of its merit. If you ask yourself whether you would ever lovingly choose to reread your middle school textbooks, you will know why a literature-rich education is different.

In a literature-rich education, students learn to respond to their reading in a wide variety of formats.

A literature-rich education also makes students readily able to respond in a wide variety of formats to what they’ve read. This is because they have been exposed to so many good writers over time that good writing eventually pours out of their own pens. To begin with, the students mimic other writers. However, eventually, they develop their own style. Students might be moving through this process for years. However, it is a process you will see as being worthy when it comes to fruition!

My Oldest Son’s Experience with a Literature-Rich Education

My oldest son as a preschooler used to cry if he had to write more than one ‘A.’ In middle school, he always wanted to orally tell me answers rather than write them down. Only in his last years of high school did he actually turn into a writer. In college, this same son is majoring in history with emphasis in literature and leadership. He actually loves courses now that require a lot of written output. His Heart of Dakota literature-rich education has had such a good impact on him!

My Other Sons’ Experiences with a Literature-Rich Education

My next son who graduated is majoring in graphic design/digital media/web design. He has always loved to write. In fact, he used to copy a poem a day for fun when he was only 5. When my third son was 14, he was truly allergic to all things related to a pencil. Yet, now as a 17 year-old, he is growing and gaining so very much too, as he journeys through the guides. My fourth son loves all things logical, especially math and science. As he is nearing high school, I am taking deep breaths and trusting the process because I have already seen him make great gains in writing too. I can see a literature-rich education is having a good impact on all of my sons.

We especially saw the seeds sown in our sons’ literature-rich education come to fruition in their senior year of high school.

By the time a student graduates high school, the seeds that have been sown through years of an HOD literature-rich education come to fruition. For me, with each of my older two sons, the senior year of high school was a time of pure joy in this capacity. Meeting with the boys during their senior year, as they shared their thoughts, reflections, and narrations was just plain fun! During the senior year of each of our oldest boys, my husband and I got an opportunity to see how much each son had grown. As they animatedly shared with us, we got a chance to see the books that spoke to their hearts the most.

Students in their last year of high school often complete their work quickly and concisely, being able to do anything their HOD guide asks of them.

Honestly, by their final year of high school our boys were able to move through their work much more quickly and concisely and had become able to do almost anything that the guide asked of them. This made their senior year an easy one compared to previous years! Lest you think that it is only my own “brilliant” students of whom this is true, I will share that it is also true of so many of the families that we have talked to who are graduating their students through HOD this year. Their students have grown and changed so much! It is simply a product of years of a literature-rich education.

In Closing

So, in closing, I would encourage you to persevere with a literature-rich education. While students will have special strengths of their own (and areas of weakness too), their experience will be richer for the books they have read and the ways they have been asked to respond. Their education will also be deeper for the variety of authors they have pondered. When in doubt, compare your education with the one that your students are receiving, and you will often see a marked difference. While not easy, a literature-rich education is worth pursuing. I hope this encourages you as you journey. We only get this one chance to educate our kiddos!



Help with Spelling Rules and Writing Errors

Dear Carrie

Help with Spelling Rules and Writing Errors

Today was my son’s first day doing Bigger Hearts. He loved it, and so did I! He prayed prayers of thanksgiving to God at snack time and thanked me several times for homeschooling him. What a blessing!!! So, my question is about spelling errors. We did dictation, and he capitalizes letters that should be lowercase. Also, he writes letters backwards and forms them from the “bottom up.” Does he need to memorize spelling rules? He did that in the past, but it hasn’t really helped. Also, for any notebooking, Bible verse writing, etc. I was intending on making him do his “best” writing – correct capitalization, punctuation, neat handwriting. Today, when I did that, he almost cried! He said his teacher at school just let him write it his way. What do you recommend? Always their “best” work except journaling, or only the very best for certain things?

“Ms. Please Help with Spelling Rules and Writing Errors”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with Spelling Rules and Writing Errors,”

I’m so glad that you had a good first day with Bigger Hearts. What a sweet story about your son’s prayer at snack time. That just blesses a mother’s heart, doesn’t it?!? As far as your question about spelling rules and errors, the spelling lists in Bigger Hearts are each designed around a word pattern (short ‘a’, short ‘e’, short ‘i’, etc.) Then, as you go along the patterns get into long vowels, vowel digraphs, etc. This is the way almost all spelling texts, public school or homeschool, are set up. We made our word lists from the Dolch and a large combination of other high frequency word lists. The goal in Bigger Hearts is to get kids to visualize the correct spelling and formation of letters in their mind.

Choosing Between Spelling Lists and Dictation Passages

If your little guy is still making errors like capitalizing letters in the middle of words and reversing letters, then he won’t be ready for studied dictation. Even if he can spell the words on the spelling lists with the right letters, if the letters aren’t written correctly (lowercase and facing the right direction), then he needs more practice with the spelling lists. He also needs to experience success!

What Charlotte Mason Has to Say About Spelling and Writing Errors

Charlotte Mason says one letter written correctly is better than a whole line of letters done incorrectly. So, I would go systematically through the spelling as it is set up in Bigger. I would do each of the cards and activities in the spelling box daily, taking a year to go through them all. Then, I would start dictation next year. The error of habitually forming the letters incorrectly takes time to undo, and if there are other learning issues there, it may never go away completely. But, you may surprised by his progress over time of following Bigger’s spelling lessons. I would encourage you to give it a try this year and see.

Inventive Spelling in Public Schools

As hard as it may seem, there are many public school teachers who don’t require the right spelling or correct copying of words by their students (often because they have too many kiddos in the class, or they have been taught that inventive spelling errors are okay). Either way, because of this, there are many children who are still using inventive spelling in middle school and high school! Inventive spelling has its place with little ones, but it is not meant to go on and on, or it will be habit forming. It does sound like this is part of the problem with your little honey.

What is the purpose for learning spelling words?

To me, it was a dawning to realize that many spelling programs or exercises where children are allowed to use inventive spelling, result in helping the child visualize the incorrect spelling! Eventually, the mind has seen words spelled wrong so many times that the wrong spelling looks right! Spelling is not as much of a “knowing how to spell difficult words” exercise as it is a “learning to see the word correctly in your mind and transfer it correctly to paper” type of exercise. Ask yourself, “What is the purpose for learning spelling words?” If kiddos can’t write them correctly on paper, does it matter that they can spell them orally? In life we are not called to orally spell words very often.

You can improve this pattern of spelling by consistently requiring correct copywork.

So, the best way to start correcting this pattern is by requiring slow, steady copywork from a model that is written correctly. You may need to write what he is to copy right on the paper and leave space underneath each line for him to copy directly beneath your text (matching it letter for letter). If your little guy is in tears over the amount of writing, then only have him copy the beginning portion of the text correctly, and then you can write the rest of it for him. A little bit done correctly is better than a whole lot done incorrectly. Over time, gradually increase the portion of the copying that he does, and decrease the part you do! You will see fewer and fewer errors!

Over time, steady practice with copywork will help your son visualize the correct spelling of words.

I would encourage you to see if you agree with what I’ve shared above. I know it was a “lightbulb” moment for me to read about the Charlotte Mason philosophy of spelling and copywork. It made much sense to me, as all of the students I’d had in school who didn’t spell well had trouble seeing the correct spelling. They couldn’t tell the correctly spelled words from the incorrectly spelled ones. Copywork and steady practice in visualizing correct spellings will help over time, but you will need to give it a year to really make a significant difference.


Checking Middle School Work in a Quick and Efficient Way

From Our House to Yours

Checking Middle School Work in a Quick, Efficient Way

Emmett, my 12-year-old seventh grader, is using Heart of Dakota‘s Revival to Revolution curriculum this school year. He is in Unit 18 now, which is halfway through the guide. By now, we have really hit our stride in checking his work in a quick and efficient way. As more boxes of plans become “I” independent, we as homeschool moms still need to check to make sure the work is complete. However, checking work need not take forever! A homeschool mom I helped on the phone asked this very question. After I’d shared some ways I correct Emmett’s “I” independent work, she told me this would be a great blog post for me to write. What a good idea! Here goes!

First Teaching Block: Efficiently Checking Bible Quiet Time and State Study/Research

I find I can check work quickly and efficiently during my teaching blocks of time. By my first teaching time, Emmett has completed his independent Bible Quiet Time and State Study boxes. To check Bible Quiet Time I correct his Hidden Treasures, circling incorrect answers, underlining any misspelled words, and writing their correct spelling in the margin. I do the same with his Common Place Book, when it is assigned. He makes any needed changes, and I make sure they are fixed. Next, I ask him if he prayed using his Prayer Starters and if he practiced his Scripture verses. (Simply asking makes him accountable.) On Day 4, he says his verses for me with the Bible open between us (so I can see it and he can refer to it if he gets stuck).

Next, I check his State Study, which is super easy. Using the answer key, I circle any incorrect answers. I don’t write the correct answers in the margin for him. Instead, he uses his State Study resource to fix them. One day a week he does Research instead of State Study. To check his Research, I have him read aloud his bulleted notes on the back of his signer cards. (I find he writes more neatly knowing he will be reading aloud his answers to me.)  I then underline any misspelled words or misinformation; he can usually fix them on his own. (If he can’t, I have him look at The Signers book for help or jot the correct spelling on a sticky note or markerboard for him.) And just that quick, two “I” boxes are corrected efficiently already!

Second Teaching Block: Efficiently Checking Reading About History and Independent History Study

By my second teaching block, Emmett has completed Reading About History and Independent History Study. For Reading About History, assignments rotate. To efficiently check his written narration, I have him read it aloud to me. I either use the sticky note method or the markerboard method to edit it. He makes any corrections right away. If it is an oral narration day, I listen to his narration using Appendix guidelines. On the period artwork day, I underline any capitalization/spelling mistakes in his caption in his notebook. As the caption is copywork from his guide, I have him use his guide to fix any errors. Then, I ask him the questions from the guide. For the U.S History Atlas/globe assignment, I ask him the questions in the guide. Or, if we are short on time, I might just ask him if he did it. (Simply asking makes him accountable.)

For the Independent History Study box, assignments rotate. For copywork, I underline misspelled words and have him look up the spelling in the resource he copied from to fix it. Or, if it is a drawing/coloring day, I make sure he did what was assigned. (Note: This is not an art assignment. It is a response to history. So, if you have a less than perfect artist, as long as he/she did the work as neatly as possible and it is complete, that is ‘good enough!’) If it is an audio day or a ‘read the timeline’ day, I ask him to share a few of his favorite or most interesting things he heard or read. Or, if we are short on time, I might just ask him if he listened to his audio or read his timeline. (Simply asking makes him accountable.)

Third Teaching Block: Efficiently Checking Rotating History and Storytime

The rotating history box includes four different assignments. To efficiently check the Timeline, I make sure he drew and colored each entry. I also underline misspelled words and mark missing capitalization or punctuation. Emmett uses his guide to fix any errors. For Poetry, I ask if he read his poem. Then, I check his copywork of the poem. I underline/mark any spelling or capitalization/punctuation errors. Emmett uses the poem in his guide to fix any errors. For Geography, I use the teacher’s answer map to correct his student map. I ask any questions in the guide about the map or the atlas. For Worthy Words, I ask if Emmett read it. Then, I ask the follow-up questions in the guide. For Storytime, I still enjoy reading aloud to Emmett. So, after reading it, I ask the questions or listen to the narration. Two more boxes quickly and efficiently checked!

Fourth Teaching Block: Efficiently Checking Science Exploration and Inventor Study

Science Exploration Education has an answer key, so I just use the key to correct the Logbook. I circle any wrong answers, and Emmett fixes them. If I am not there to see the experiment, Emmett takes a few pictures of it and texts them to me. To check the Inventor Study, I ask if he read the assigned book. Then, I check his Inventor Student Notebook. I underline any misspelled words and mark any capitalization/punctuation errors. He uses his book/guide to fix them. If it is an oral narration day, I either listen to his oral narration or have him record it and text it to me. If it is a ‘review the timeline’ day, I ask him to share a few interesting things he remembers. And just that easy, voila! The last two “I” boxes are quickly and efficiently checked!

In Closing

In closing, I find it important I check each “I” independent box somehow. If I don’t, their work suffers. Either they start omitting things, or they don’t do their work as well. I find simply asking if they read the assigned pages helps with accountability. When asked, it is difficult for students to say they read the pages when they didn’t. They would actually then be lying, and they don’t want to do that. Likewise, checking the written “I” independent work for errors helps students learn to write more carefully. Fixing marked errors in copywork by using the book/guide helps them learn to to be more accurate. Students realize they might as well take care to copy things right the first time this way, rather than copy them wrong and have to redo it. I hope these few simple tips can help with checking independent work quickly and efficiently!

In Christ,


January Library Builder: Save 10% on both variants of the Drawn into the Heart Level 4/5 Book Pack!

Library Builder

Use coupon code JANUARY-LIBRARY for 10% off both variants of the Level 4/5 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 JANUARY-LIBRARY on our website for the entire month of January to save 10% on both variants of the Drawn into the Heart of Reading Level 4/5 book pack. To view all of the books in these sets, just click here!

How are the Level 4/5 Book Packs used in Drawn into the Heart of Reading?

(From the package description in our online store):

“These optional book packs are for use with Level 4/5 of Drawn into the Heart of Reading. In these levels, your child will read the chosen books mainly independently for a total of 15 days for each genre. Each book on the list below 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. If these books seem too difficult, we also have book packs for Level 2 and Level 3. 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 JANUARY-LIBRARY to save!

To apply this month’s savings, just enter coupon code JANUARY-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!