Does my son need to know the letter names to be able to read?

Dear Carrie

Does my son need to know the letter names and sounds to be able to read? 

I have a son who will be 7 soon. We have been working on letters and their sounds since he was 3 years old. We have used Leap Frog videos, Reading Eggs, Star Fall, online games – but he doesn’t retain them at all. He knows how to spell his name which has two E’s and two T’s.  However, if I ask him to write those letters, he doesn’t remember them. This is true for most letter names. Last night I was pointing to letters on the keyboard and asking him what they were. I would point to the T, and he would say “E”.  So, then I would point to the E, and he would say “E”. It was this way with most of the letters. At this point, I have no idea how to help. He knows his letter sounds. But, what if he doesn’t know his letter names? I guess my question is, does my son need to know the letter names and sounds to be able to read?


“Ms. Stumped on Letter Names and Sounds”

Dear “Ms. Stumped on Letter Names and Sounds,”

Children do not need to know letter names in order to read. So, I would focus more on learning the letter sounds instead of the letter names and letter sounds both. Learning both names and sounds can be a challenge to keep straight! Of course, later it helps to know the letter names in order to spell, to copy, to alphabetize, and to use the dictionary. However, to read only the sounds are needed.

Using a formal curriculum will help systematically teach letter sounds.

Next, I am wondering if your child has had any formal curriculum that actually teaches the letter sounds and reviews them on a daily basis? The reason I ask is that all of the online options and videos you mentioned are great, but in order for the sounds to really stick (for quite a few kiddos), many different senses are needed to be employed and much practice is needed. This doesn’t mean that drill, drill, drill is the needed method. It just means that regular practice with the sounds in a variety of ways will make all the difference.

Once you begin phonics, keep going and don’t take breaks.

Once your kiddo starts to pick up the sounds you keep on going, making sure you are not pausing and taking breaks. Phonics is one of those things that once you begin, it helps to keep some steady practice going until kids really grab on. We took the last three summers off with my last little guy during the process of teaching him phonics. I cannot tell you how much I regret that! It was at a time when he really needed to keep on going, but I was just so busy writing that I lost steam with the phonics.

Commit to working on phonics 10-15 minutes daily for five times a week.

So, one thing that I would encourage you to do is either commit to really beginning phonics (and learning letter sounds) formally. Then, know you’re in it for the two-year haul until most of the phonics is learned. Or, wait until you are ready to be more committed. I am not saying that you need to commit vast quantities of time to phonics daily, but I am saying that 10-15 minutes daily (5 times a week) is needed on a regular basis to truly see progress.

Phonics instruction requires teaching and interaction.

Phonics is one of those areas that also requires a teacher. It requires interaction and the teacher and child sitting together and sharing the words, books, letter sounds. It is work, but it pays off. We did The Reading Lesson here in a stop and start fashion that really set us back. After we finished it completely, I had to pull out an old phonics program I had here and go almost completely through that simply to build fluency and to review (because we had stopped The Reading Lesson over two different summer breaks on two different years, which made remembering everything really tough for my little one).

Consistency is key!

I could have probably gone back through The Reading Lesson all over again. However, I just didn’t want to redo it all again. So, I share this to let you know that amount of teacher time spent steadily teaching phonics can make a big difference. I am convicted of that anew, and I did not take phonics off off ever again with my youngest! He progressed, but I could see that if I’d taken another summer off all of his slow but steady progress would have been lost…again. With my older three, I was much more consistent early on in teaching them phonics. What a difference that made!

It is also possible that your son has this as an area of struggle for other reasons. We won’t know that for sure right now unless you have already devoted several years steadily teaching him phonics five times a week with no progress made. So, I would recommend choosing a phonics program and sticking with it! Then, let’s see what happens next!


Drawn into the Heart of Reading Vocabulary Assignments

From Our House to Yours:

Drawn into the Heart of Reading Vocabulary Work 

Heart of Dakota’s (HOD’s) Drawn into the Heart of Reading (DITHOR) program includes vocabulary assignments. You can find these vocabulary assignments in the DITHOR Teacher’s Guide Appendix. As you are teaching your way through DITHOR, you may have noticed vocabulary assignments are sometimes noted as ‘optional.’ For example, on days 2, 7, and 12 of each genre in Level 2/3, vocabulary is optional. Likewise, on days 3, 8, and 13 of each genre in Level 4/5, it is optional. However, on days 2, 7, and 12 of each genre in Level 6/7/8, vocabulary is not optional. At this level, vocabulary assignments are not in the Appendix. Rather, they are part of the daily plans in DITHOR 6/7/8’s Student Book. So, why are they optional in levels 2/3 and 4/5?

Heart of Dakota’s guides include vocabulary assignments already.

The vocabulary assignments within DITHOR is generally intended for students who are not using HOD’s core guides alongside DITHOR.  Bigger Hearts for His Glory (BHFHG) includes vocabulary work each week. Preparing Hearts for His Glory and Creation to Christ do as well.  So, unless you would like to add more vocabulary work to your student’s day, you would omit the vocabulary activities in DITHOR while doing these guides. Of course, if you do want extra vocabulary work, the vocabulary activities in DITHOR can be used in any order during any year of DITHOR. Once students reach level 6/7/8, vocabulary work specific to DITHOR instruction is excellent preparation for high school level literature work.

So, if you are doing a core HOD guide, there is no need to do the optional DITHOR vocabulary assignments! Just one more reason to use all of HOD! It makes your days easier by making sure there’s no doubling up!

In Christ,


Is your child placed in the right guide?

Teaching Tip

Is your child placed in the right guide?

At Heart of Dakota, correct guide placement is so important! This is because we do not have one-size fits all placement advice. Instead, we look at each child as an individual to determine his/her best placement. One of the gifts of homeschooling is being able to meet our children where they are and teach from there. So, correct placement makes a huge difference in how successful your child is in school. It also makes a huge difference in how much time a guide will take each day.

Wise counsel will help you determine your child’s best placement.

This is where wise counsel comes in to charting a good path. Surround yourself with wise counsel on this important decision from those who have used Heart of Dakota with their children. These wise advisers can help you talk through an accurate placement plan for your child. Remember that each child is a unique individual with unique needs. This means that placement may look different for same-aged students. By following the age line on our program selection chart, you can see several possible options for each age.

Editor’s note: If you’re looking for wise counsel, our Message Board is a great place to look! In addition to our wonderful community, Carrie and Julie also have a combined 18,000 personal responses to our users there. It’s a wonderful place to engage and learn with other homeschool moms!

Different family dynamics may result in differing guide placements.

Another factor in guide placement is family dynamics. Whether you desire to combine a student with another sibling is a factor in guide placement. Using our placement chart will help you determine whether children in your family could possibly be combined. Due to skill level some combinations work while others do not.

Different children in a family may have a different path.

Looking at each child as an individual means that different children in a family may have a different path. For example, one child may do Creation to Christ at age 9. Another may do the same guide at age 10. A third child may do the guide at age 11 or 12. Each of these placements will work, as long as the child is well-placed according to skill and family dynamics.

If a child is routinely struggling in a guide, it’s wise to check for correct placement.

If you find a child is routinely struggling with a guide, your child may be incorrectly placed. Or, if a guide seems way too easy, perhaps a move forward is needed. Sometimes changing guides is easier than tweaking guides for years to come. We are here to help with placement questions. To discuss your child’s placement, feel free to call us at 605-428-4068. Or, ask questions on the Message Board. As you ponder ask the Lord for discernment, and I know He will answer!


Samples of Oral Narrations in Younger Guides

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Samples of Oral Narrations in Younger Guides

Narrating is a process that changes the narrator over time, so children should not feel bad in any way about their narrations. There is not a wrong way, rather more of a progression in narration. I am a summary type person too, and it has stretched me immensely to have to model narrations for my children. I think I have grown as a narrator through the years too, and it has been a journey!

Charlotte Mason’s References to Narrations

If you do have Charlotte Mason’s (CM’s) original volumes, you may wish to read the following sample sections as time allows. There are many more references related to narration, but these are great ones to begin pondering. I must share that I do deviate from CM’s philosophy in the area of grammar instruction. We do also schedule more formal writing outside of written narrations too than she advocated, so I am not a CM purist. But, she has so much that is good to say that I deeply love her philosophy and enjoy the wisdom she shares.:

  • Home Education Volume 1: p. 231-233 (on oral narrations)
  • School Education Volume 3: p. 178-181
  • A Philosophy of Education Volume 6: p. 16-18; p. 171- top of p. 174, p. 185 (top), p.260-261
Sample Storytime Narration from the Beginning of Beyond Little Hearts 

Oral Narration Sample by Riley
Feb. 3, 2009
A Lion to Guard Us, Chapter 3

Mistress Trippet came to check the kitchen, and she looked everywhere that she usually did. She looked in the room and she said, “How old are these kids? How old is the boy?”


“How old is the girl?”

“Only 5.”

And when Mistress Trippet went upstairs, the doctor came in. The cook said, “Amanda, go and get a pail of water!” That wasn’t very nice, was it?

The doctor came in and then he said, “Come with me, Amanda.” And she did, and then went dark into the hall. And he said, “Your mother has died.”

Sample Storytime Narration from the Middle of Beyond Little Hearts 

Oral Narration Sample by Riley
Mr. Popper’s Penguins

The crowds were standing in line for 1 or 2 miles long, just to get tickets to see the Popper’s Performing Penguins! Now when the piano player, the girl, didn’t want the penguins up on the stage while she played the piano, but then they discovered a different way to the stage. And Mr. Popper said, “I’m not going up there to get those penguins!”

Bill said, “We’d better catch them before they go up there and chew all of the strings off the guitars.”

So, Mrs. Popper said, “I’ll go up.” And then the penguins hid under the girl piano player’s skirts, and then she shrieked! And that was NOT part of the note written in the music.

And then they were on their way to Boston. They went to Mexico and Minneapolis, and Stillwater. Now they are going to Boston. Now the penguins are getting a little crabby, so they now ordered shrimp again because fish was too expensive. They ordered canned shrimp, and Mr. Popper said, “We only allow canned shrimp for these penguins.”

The president said that any store wherever they were staying would give them free shrimp, so now they are going to Boston, and the crowd was 1 mile long, just waiting for tickets.

Sample Storytime Narration from Near the End of Beyond Little Hearts

 Riley’s Sample Narration
Mountain Born
Jan. 13, 2010

The weather was brooding, and Peter was at Granny’s house working for his coat and his new vest. And the wind started blowing, and it was sharp and cold from the southeast. And then Granny said, “Peter! You’d better go home. The wind’s picking up!”

And Mary and Peter had planned to do a game night tonight, but the wind was just picking up too much. They were going to play checkers and some other kinds of games, and Granny was going to read them a letter.

So Peter went in, got his vest and his coat on, and he said, “Goodbye, Mary! I’ll have some nice wool for you, and I’ll take extra care of the lamb, so that the wool will be strong.”

“And after a few years,” Granny said, “you’ll be in manhood. You’ll have to give me white wool, and I’ll have to dye it dark blue. It’ll take you to manhood, but then you’ll need a new coat.”

Then Peter said, “Bye, Granny! Bye, Mary!”

Granny gave him a slice of bread and his milk, and then he started on his journey home.

Sample Storytime Narration from the End of Beyond Little Hearts

Riley’s Sample Oral Narration
The Apple and the Arrow
p. 48-50

All of the friends were in their house, and then he said, “Everyone, be quiet! I know you want to know what happened.” And Wolfgang said that the great Gessler had drowned.

And everybody shouted, “Hooray!”

And then Grandfather said, ”Everyone please be quiet and please go back to your own homes. Hedwig needs some time alone.”

So everybody went out, and then it started to rain again. When the rain hit the chimney, it sounded like a clock going tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.

And then the rain stopped, and then soon all went to bed. Hedwig let Prinz sleep on the rug beside the fireplace, just this once. And in the morning, they got up, had a great breakfast, and at noon they heard a hard knocking on the door. Walter jumped up from his bed! And saw his father burst into the door! They ran to him saying, “Father, father, father, how did you get out?”

Then Hedwig said, “Don’t you see your father needs some rest! He will talk to you later and tell you later.”

Sample Science Narration from the Beginning of Bigger Hearts

Greyson’s Sample Narration
Unit 3 Science, Bigger Hearts for His Glory
Jan. 19, 2011

When the tide comes in, it covers up the animals. First of all, take a mussel for instance, he gulps up water so his shell is full of it so that he can breathe and stay moist. Shrimps capture little worms underwater, and then they eat the worms. When the tide goes out then, the mussel glues himself to the ground. Take a limpet… they float back to their resting place and glue themselves to the ground too. Try moving one of those! Only in really big storms can you move the mussels and limpets. Crabs hide under rocks when the tide goes out. Day after the day, the tide goes in and the tide goes out, and repeats. And so the animals follow that cycle of float around, get food, and get back on the ground before you’re washed out to sea.

In Closing

I know when I first started learning about narrations, all I wanted was to read some samples. Hopefully these samples from our own children’s narrations when they were younger will be helpful in some way to you!

In Christ,



Can you help me get over my guilt of not prereading my son’s books?

Dear Carrie

Can you help me get over my guilt over not prereading my son’s books?

My son is starting World History next week. I ordered his things from Heart of Dakota last summer. I really meant to pre-read his books, but I haven’t been able to. Life has been so busy! We enjoy five Heart of Dakota guides in our home. I find it very manageable overall – having eight children is busy no matter what. However, I’ve always pre-read all of the books in the past. I’m feeling guilty. Not to mention, I truly LOVE reading all the books usually! They are excellent, and I enjoy the reading for ME. I just can’t seem to find the time this year. I thought about starting my son later, just so I can pre-read the books, but he’s ready to start and not willing to wait. He thinks the books look amazing too. Can you help me get over my guilt at not prereading the books? A strange question, I know, but it’s the one I have.


“Please Help Me Not to Feel Guilty About Not Prereading My Son’s Books”

Dear “Please Help Me Not to Feel Guilty About Not Prereading My Son’s Books,”

I believe that there are seasons in life and that each season has its own areas of focus. I didn’t have Heart of Dakota’s guides written for my oldest son. He was always ahead of my writing. As my oldest son was going through his homeschool years, I was too busy with babies, toddlers, work, church activities, meals, laundry, and the rigors of writing guides, etc. to have time to pre-read my oldest son’s books. I had to rely on others to do this for me, and I had to heed any warnings I found anywhere to help me. I skimmed the books as we did our lessons, but I quickly realized I could either teach or read, but I didn’t have time for both. You may be in a season like this now.   I see that you have a very full house with much on your plate. Prereading may be impossible.

Guilt is a joy-stealer.

As moms, we are so quick to bear the burden of guilt if we aren’t doing things to their fullest potential. I just wanted to encourage you today that guilt is a joy-stealer. I know, because I let it steal my joy many times. Still today, I continue to have to let things go in order to do the most important things. Just remember that as long as you lean on The Lord, He will fill-in our gaps. My oldest son is a very mature, thoughtful, steady, discerning, hard-working young man. He has grown so much in his faith simply by using much of what we’ve written, or testing much of it for us. He had a less than perfectly planned education with resources I was not able to pre-read thoroughly and still has thrived in spite of me!

Children need to be surrounded by excellent material that points them toward the Lord.

I believe that children need to be surrounded by excellent material that points them toward The Lord on a regular basis. The interaction with good material and God’s Word keeps their minds filled with those thoughts for much of the day. I believe that as homeschool parents we have time on our side, meaning that the sheer amount of time we spend together affords us opportunities all along the way to discuss and mentor our kids. This means that not every moment has to be spent in training and teaching every lesson to the fullest, because the moments through the years added all together will provide that needed time opportunity. As we move through our days I try to be aware of who needs what from me the most. This helps me stay focused.

Looking back to when my children were your children’s ages, I found a previous post of mine I will share a portion of here…

…This year my youngest really needs my time for phonics instruction. He also needs to learn to be kinder to his brother. I can see his heart is also tender toward The Lord. So, he needs encouragement to continue understanding The Lord as his Savior. I can see my next son needs my time for writing and proofreading what he writes. He also is coming into puberty and needs my time to understand his changing emotions and body. He is my sensitive child, so Resurrection to Reformation will need more monitoring for the warnings as he reads. Yet, I know from those tough readings fruitful discussions will come.

My next son is my creative child. He works very independently, so I need to make sure to draw him out. Our health discussions this year will be a priority for me to keep us close. Pilgrim’s Progress will be another area I really want to oversee. He is grappling with a deeper faith, and I want to encourage that. My oldest is ready to start online college classes. I know one-on-one discussions at opportune moments are necessary for him as he makes life-changing choices. So, those are my goals for my boys this year. Prereading their material, while a worthwhile goal, falls behind these focal points for me. I do realize my situation is different, because I have read the materials as I’ve planned the guides, however for my oldest son’s education that wasn’t the case…

As you can see from my past post, keeping goals for each child in mind diminishes guilt.

Keeping my most important goals for each child in mind when I begin a homeschool year helps me feel less guilty when I can’t do everything I personally want to do. I just keep my eyes on the most important things and steadily move forward. The guides contain warnings for anything I need to know about for the day, and I take heart in that. I try to remember that the plans are designed for the child to interact and think about things that point them toward The Lord and to give them a solid, academic education. If I just do what is planned in the guides each day, I feel good about completing that. I focus on the fact that time is on our side in the years ahead as we travel the homeschool path. Someday there will be another season, with different goals. For now, I am learning each day to be as content as possible in the season that I am undoubtedly in!