Scheduled breaks are important!

Teaching Tip: 

Scheduled breaks are important!

As we are in the midst of summer in South Dakota, I am reminded of the importance of taking a break from school. Scheduled time off is important for both parent and child. It is a time to rest, rejuvenate, ponder, and do projects.  Breaks lend themselves to a different kind of schedule.  The freedom of a break is good for the soul.  Often, if you don’t take time off, you will eventually lose steam and end up taking an unscheduled break anyway.

Should you take a break if you already missed more school than you would like?

Even if your school year was not as successful as you desired, it is still important to take a break! In 2018-2019, we had 160 days with our son Greyson away in the hospital, but our boys at home kept moving forward.  They were in need of a break that summer.  Even though my husband and I were gone a lot, we needed a break too. Taking a scheduled break is different than taking a break due to life’s circumstances.  So, if you can take a scheduled break for a few weeks or a month, I encourage you to do so!

Why is is important to take a scheduled break?

Scheduled breaks are something both you and your child can look forward to with anticipation.  The break time can be wisely spent if you know it is coming.  It can be a time to organize, read, travel, plan, catch up on needed rest, or work on character training. The break can be time for your children to rest their minds and pursue their hobbies and interests. A scheduled break can be a time of refreshment and rejuvenation.  When it is over, often both you and your child will feel more ready to return to the routine of school.

What is a good amount of time for a break?

Each family will differ in the amount of time they feel is right for their break.  I typically like to have at least one month off from school.  A couple of weeks just doesn’t feel like a true break to me! If we’ve had a good school year with few interruptions, I will take the whole summer off from school. For our son Greyson, we had a different schedule the summer of 2019.  Since he missed so much school that year, he did half-days of school four days a week during the summer.  He schooled on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. We checked his school twice a week, but my husband did the checking, so I got a break!

Plan to take a scheduled break.

If you haven’t already done so, take time to plan a scheduled break soon!  Use your break time in a way that helps you and your children rejuvenate.  Then, see if you feel more ready to begin school after your break.  We all need time to step back and refresh from life’s challenges.  Otherwise, we will just wear out! Plan for your next scheduled break today.



Use coupon code JULY-LIBRARY for 10% off both variants of the Beyond Little Hearts Deluxe Set!

Library Builder

Use coupon code JULY-LIBRARY for 10% off both variants of the Beyond Little Hearts Deluxe Set!

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 JULY-LIBRARY on our website for the entire month of July to save 10% on the Beyond Little Hearts Deluxe Set. To view all the books in the boy set, click here. To view all the books in the girl set, click here.

This set of books contains nine read-aloud titles, one for each genre of literature that is scheduled in the storytime part of the plans in  Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory. Each book is used for 20 days of the plans.

How is the Storytime part of the plans in Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory used throughout the year?

(From the Introduction of Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory):

Daily storytime sessions are based on literature that is read aloud from the
following nine genres: Biography, Adventure, Historical Fiction, Fantasy,
Mystery, Nonfiction, Humor, Realistic Fiction, and Folk Tale. Each type of
literature is read aloud for 20 days, except for Folk Tale which is read aloud
for 10 days.

The instructions and activities are written to be used with any literature.
This flexibility allows you to use your own discretion in selecting literature to read aloud to your students. The structure also allows you to select the
pace at which you’ll complete your read aloud selection.

Each 5 day unit in the guide includes the following reading activities in coordination with the read-aloud assignments:
*1st Day: introduce and study different types of literature
*2nd Day: model narration to foster comprehension
*3rd Day: identify and analyze a different story element for each genre
*4th Day: relate personally to one Godly character trait, compare
Biblical and book characters, and select one area to improve
*5th Day: practice narration by retelling the story in a variety of ways

Use coupon code JULY-LIBRARY to save!

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

How can my high school daughter earn her Fine Arts credit?

Dear Carrie

How can my high school daughter earn her Fine Arts credit?

For high school, my daughter will be doing Heart of Dakota’s Missions to Modern Marvels (MTMM), World Geography (WG), World History (WH), and U.S. History I (USI). My question is about an art/music credit. So far, the guides have all had an art or music study. We have loved this! In MTMM, we will have the nature journal. However, I don’t see any art in the WG guide, I don’t know about the WH guide either. Will my daughter be able to earn a credit in art/music in high school if she’s doing MTMM through USI? Thanks!


“Ms. Please Help My High School Daughter Earn Her Art/Music Credit”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My High School Daughter Earn Her Art/Music Credit,”

Just like you, I have been very pleased by the various areas of fine arts emphasized throughout our guides. I enjoyed the watercolor painting lessons my boys did in Creation to Christ (CTC). Then, I loved the Charlotte Mason-style picture study and art appreciation sessions in Resurrection to Reformation (RTR). Next, my boys and I enjoyed the music appreciation and composer study in Revival to Revolution (RevtoRev). After that, we loved the nature journal and related art-lessons in MTMM. We’ve happily read, written, and discussed poetry all throughout every guide from Beyond on up! To top it off, my boys have all become better drawers through the years as we’ve done Draw and Write Through History!

Making Art Appreciation a Part of the Fine Arts Credit

When we arrived at the high school years, and the Fine Arts credit loomed, it was hard to decide in what direction to go in pursuit of that credit. I must admit that with my oldest son (who didn’t have the benefit of having the HOD guides already written), I floundered a bit in how to pursue this credit in a way that would be interesting to him. So, we tried two different music- related approaches, and one was more successful than the other. Yet, as I looked at my next son coming up, I really wanted to focus more deeply on art appreciation. This made sense because he had more recently (and thoroughly) covered music and the composers already through Revival to Revolution.

Having a Hands-On Component, Narrative Readings, Picture Study, and a Christian Influence Within Our Fine Arts Credit

I also really wanted to have the Christian influence wound within our Fine Arts credit, as well as having a hands-on component to the program too. As part of the study, I wanted some living, narrative textual information about the artists along with some follow-up assessments. I desired for this to be combined with some beautiful picture study/viewing. Last, I wanted students of all levels of artistry to be able to enjoy the program and learn to appreciate art. It was a tall order, and one that I wasn’t able to succeed in finding until I wrote the World History guide. I looked a long time (years in fact) before coming to the combination of resources that I will share below. I am excited and happy with the combination, and I pray your daughter enjoys earning her Fine Arts credit in World History too!

God and the History of Art

The first resource in our Fine Arts: Art History/Appreciation course is the 3-part DVD series God and the History of Art. This DVD series is divided into 12 parts, during which Barry Stebbing journeys through the centuries offering Biblical insights into the great art and artists of the ages. This DVD set features beautiful colors, paintings, and classical music. God and the History of Art provides a unique view into many of the great works of art in Western culture. We integrate this series throughout our chronological study of art history. Lessons include the following:

  • What is Art?
  • The Second Commandment
  • Early Christian Art
  • Godly Periods of Art/Byzantine
  • Christian Artists
  • The Dark Ages/Monasteries
  • The Gothic Period
  • The Renaissance
  • The Reformation
  • French Neo-Classical Art
  • American Artist and Other Artists and Styles
Short Lessons in Art History

The next resource in our Fine Arts program is Short Lessons in Art History by Phyllis Clausen Barker. This book includes narrative biographical readings about 37 artists and/or sculptors beginning with “Artists of the Italian Renaissance” and ending with “Contemporary Sculptors.” Short Lessons in Art History brings art to life with lessons that showcase the successes and struggles of legendary artists. The readings build an appreciation for major artists and art movements from the Italian Renaissance to current times. Students are captivated by the high-interest readings on artists and the cultural and personal forces that shaped their work. A full-color insert highlights timeless works of art. Click here to see inside!

Exercises and Activities for Short Lessons in Art History

Exercises and Activities for Short Lessons in Art History is designed as a companion to Short Lessons in Art History. It includes activities that move from basic comprehension (through fill-in-the-blank, word puzzles, crosswords, and matching) to synthesis (through short answer questions) to deeper insight (through independent writing or research topics). Used in combination with the Short Lessons for Art History text, students increase their awareness of various artists and their work and draw their own conclusions about what makes the work of certain artists timeless. Note: Since the art projects within these lessons are not described or laid out very clearly, and often are overwhelming to perform without more instruction, we omit the “Art Projects” part of the activities and cover this area in a more manageable way. Click here to see inside!

Our Charlotte Mason-Inspired Art Gallery Student Notebook

As narrative as the Short Lessons in Art History text is, it does not shine in the area of full color artwork. While it would seem easy to add to a book of art prints to accompany the text, this route had many barriers. First, many of these types of full-color art print books are very expensive. Next, the prints often contain multiple images with nudity. Last, even after overlooking cost and the lack of clothing issues, many books didn’t contain prints of all of the artists the students were studying. To remedy these problems, we designed an Art Gallery Student Notebook that contains at least one full-color print for each artist. The Art Gallery Notebook is used in conjunction with the Short Lessons in Art History readings and provides a beautiful collection of paintings by famous artists throughout history. It is a very CM-inspired part of the program!

Pat Knepley’s Art Projects DVD Set

The final component of our Fine Arts program is the Art Projects DVD Set from See the Light. When I found this set, I knew the final piece of our Fine Arts program had (at long last) fallen into place! This is a 9 DVD Set of art projects designed to be completed at home. The projects on each DVD are narrated, modeled, and taught with a Christian emphasis by master artist Pat Knepley. Each DVD focuses on a different artist and a different type of art project. Projects are divided into 4 separate sessions, and Pat takes you through each step of the lesson on the DVD.

Pacing and Details About the Art Projects Portion of the Fine Arts Credit

We have students do one art project session each week, completing an art project every 4 weeks. The design of the projects makes this an art class that your students can enjoy and excel at in the comfort of your own home. We plan for sessions to last about an hour with the DVD running about 30 minutes. This allows time for students to pause and work along with Pat and take their time to be creative and do the project well. Some students may take longer to work.

Each DVD includes art history, art elements, art principles, step-by-step tutoring, and integrated Biblical truths. At the end, students have created a portfolio of 9 completed projects as part of their Fine Arts study. Artists and corresponding projects are the following (the art history style and medium are listed in parentheses):

  • Tiffany Window in the style of Louis Comfort Tiffany (Tiffany Windows: Marker)
  • Repeated Sweets in the style of Wayne Thiebaud (Pop Art: Watercolor)
  • Paper Jungle in the style Henri Rousseau (Naive Art, Collage: Paper Collage)
  • Pointillism Fruit in the style of Georges Seurat (Pointillism, Impressionism: Still Life)
  • Poppy Collage in the style of Georgia O’Keefe (Realism, Abstraction: Tissue Paper Collage)
  • Dreams of Joseph in the style of Marc Chagall (Surrealism, Symbolism, Fauvism: Wet-on-Wet Painting)
  • Horsing Around in the style of Edgar Degas (Impressionism: Chalk Pastel)
  • Peaceful Seas in the style of Winslow Homer (Realism: Mixed Media)
  • Sunflowers in the style of Vincent Van Gogh (Post-Impressionism: Oil Pastel)
Two Options for Earning Credit 

The last benefit to the Fine Arts program that I’ve outlined is that there will be two options for credit with this program. The first option (and the recommended option) will be to earn one-full credit in Fine Arts: Art History/Appreciation by using all of the resources outlined above and scheduled in our guide.

The second option will be to earn 1/2 credit in Fine Arts: Art History/Appreciation by omitting the Art Projects DVD Set. This option will utilize all of the remaining art resources outlined above, but will omit the once weekly art project session. This option is only recommended if you have already met part of your Fine Arts requirement some other way, or if your state only requires 1/2 credit in Fine Arts.


Criteria to Choose Half-Speed in a Higher Guide, or Full-Speed in a Lower Guide

From Our House to Yours

Hello fellow homeschool moms! If you’d enjoy it, try listening to the audio version of this post by clicking on the link at the bottom!

Criteria to Choose Between Going Half-Speed in a Higher Guide, or Full-Speed in a Lower Guide

On the phone for Heart of Dakota, I am often asked what a good criteria is for determining whether it is better to go half-speed with a higher guide, or full-speed with a lower guide. I have used half-speed pacing and full-speed pacing throughout the past 17 homeschooling years with my sons. My criteria isn’t a set list necessarily, but I will try to describe it here as best I can! (Keep in mind, placement for children with special needs is done on a more case by case basis. It is based more on parents’ preference on personal goals and level of involvement than what I am describing here.)

Criteria for Choosing Half-Speed Pacing

My criteria for running a guide half-speed is dependent on how my child is doing overall. If I can see my child has the skills intact to do a guide well, is trying his best, is choosing a good attitude, is working his hardest, but still just seems to be struggling – not with the skills in a guide – but with completing his guide in a timely fashion – I might go half-speed for awhile. Half-speed seems to help me teach time management skills better, as well as the routine of the guide. For example, I started “Bigger Hearts” half-speed with Riley at the end of his second grade school year. The next school year, I thought we’d start full-speed, but he was not ready. He still needed time to grow in his time management skills.

He loved school! However, using his time well was something he needed to learn. I knew this was an important habit to instill, as it would effect his work habits lifelong. So, we changed to half-speed. We worked on how to better use time (with a timer), how to transition between subjects better (with a markerboard listing of what needed to be done), and how to work through a project in a way that allowed creativity but didn’t let dawdling surface (by talking through the steps of a project, noting what I’d be looking for in the guide as far as assessment, and how to break the project down so he finished in a fairly timely manner). He then easily moved into doing Bigger Hearts full-speed.

Poor attitudes or work habits are character-based problems and are not a good criteria for going half-speed.

Sometimes children are properly placed and have the academic skills and ability to do a guide well. However, pesky things like poor attitude and poor work habits are the problem. If this is the case, and if “character-based” traits such as these need to be worked on, then we do that through focused encouragement and discipline instead of by slowing work to half-speed. Poor habits are not “rewarded” by a lowered work expectation in the form of lessening work in school. Character-based issues are not good criteria for going half-speed.

Criteria for Children Who Don’t Have the Academic Skills to Proceed Ahead to Full-Speed Successfully

A final placement scenario is if it becomes obvious the child does not have the academic skills to proceed full-speed ahead successfully. If this criteria is the case, then doing a lower guide is the better placement. Half-speed will not fix the fact that he or she did not have the skills in place to start the guide. The skills he or she needs are not taught at an introductory level in the guide. They were taught at the introductory level in the previous guide. Therefore, he or she needs to go back and be taught those skills first.

How can you know if this is the case?

Well, the placement chart and the first week of plans can make this criteria clearer. The placement chart skills need to be solidly in place for children to begin a guide. They are not skills to shoot for, to work on developing, or to grow into. Whatever the skills are listed in the column for a guide, the child should possess those skills to begin that guide. Using this criteria, a child will be well-placed for the entire year.

An Example of Criteria for the Storytime of Little Hearts for His Glory

For example, when the placement chart lists the criteria that a child needs to be ready to listen to “Daily read-alouds that are classic short stories that foster listening skills and beginning narration skills” for the Storytime of Little Hearts for His Glory, and a child does not have the attention span to listen to short “classic” sounding books with fewer pictures, that child is better placed in Little Hands to Heaven. I am not talking about being able to immediately narrate well upon these books. Instead, I mean that the child has the ability to listen to the books being read, without saying things like “Where are the pictures?” or “I like this book better because I understand it better,” and that book is a book that has a bunch of pictures, or is a book with a more simplistic plot or storyline.

An Example of Criteria for Reading in Bigger Hearts for His Glory

The placement chart lists the criteria that a child needs to be “done with phonics and be either an Emerging Reader or be Reading Independently to begin Bigger Hearts.” That means a child needs to be able to (at the very least) read the Emerging Reader’s Set of books well. So, if a child is still doing phonics, and cannot read the Emerging Reader’s Set books, he should be placed in Beyond Little Hearts instead.

An Example of Criteria for Copywork in Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory

When the placement chart lists the criteria that a child needs to be “able to copy sentences and study/copy spelling words to begin Beyond Little Hearts,” that means a child needs to be ready to (at the very least) copy 1 sentence a day, as well as do the spelling word activities in the language arts box of plans. So, if a child can only write one word of the poetry, or if a sentence of copywork a day is too much, that child should be placed in Little Hearts for His Glory instead.

An Example of Criteria for Reading in Creation to Christ

When the placement chart lists the criteria that a child needs to be “Reading independently – able to use Drawn into the Heart of Reading (DITHOR) Level 4/5 to begin Creation to Christ (CTC),” that means that child needs to be able to read his history and science well independently, as well as able to read at least 4/5 level books independently with DITHOR to be able to start CTC. So, if a parent is having to read aloud the history and the science, or if the child is unable to read 4/5 level books for DITHOR well, then that child should be placed in Preparing Hearts, or Bigger Hearts instead.

Age is only one part of the criteria in placement.

I am trying to answer this question fully with not just the ages of children in mind. When using the placement chart, a child should not be “growing into” the skills within the columns of a guide. Rather these are the academic skills a child needs to already posses to be able to do the guide properly. Skills cannot be fast-forwarded. If a child does not have them, then a child must go back to get them. Going forward will only cause more skills to be missed. Eventually, a child must drop back to be taught them anyway.

Other Criteria That Impacts Placement

Sometimes when looking at the placement chart, parents think children have skills they actually do not have. When they begin a guide, it becomes obvious they do not have them intact. Therefore, they must be placed a guide back. If children have not had a Charlotte Mason education, or are coming home from public school, or have been used to a textbook-style education, or have been used to a parent doing all of their reading, or have not done many follow-up activities in the form of skill-based learning, then often times it is more difficult to place them accurately, even with the placement chart. It just can be tough to tell which skills they really do have intact.

By completing all the plans in a guide, children are well-prepared for the next guide.

I have not had to drop back a guide, as I have been with Heart of Dakota from the start. The criteria I am sharing here is more for initial placement. Each guide truly does prepare children for the next guide, provided children are doing everything in the guide each day. A word of caution – skipping boxes results in skipping skills. This further results in children not having the skills in place to do the next guide. We have always made sure to do all that is planned in a guide. This ensures our children are learning the skills they need to progress.

In Closing

So, when using placement chart criteria, it is a good idea to really ponder if children have the skills intact to begin that guide, or if they need to go back and solidify some skills first instead. Second, it is a good idea to really ponder if children have the Godly character traits, good work habits, and solid time management skills in place to do their work well – and if not, to use encouragement and discipline to help them learn these skills. If it is a matter of managing time or teaching good work habits, then half-speed can be utilized to help in this training phase. Third, it is a good idea to routinely have children be responsible for all of the work in a guide each day, so they do not fall behind in skills and find themselves unprepared for the next guide.

In Christ,


Click on the play button below to listen to the audio version of this post! Hope you enjoy this! (Note: If you’re reading this blog post in an email and having trouble playing the audio, scroll down to the very bottom of the email and click on the link to this post.)

P.S. Need some help with placement? Heart of Dakota has many placement helps available! I will list them below for your convenience:

  1. placement specialist by phone (call (605) 428-4068 any afternoon Monday through Friday)
  2. HOD Message Board (free to join, please post on the Main Board)
  3. placement chart
  4. catalog (free to order, full of lots of helpful placement information)


A little bit of playtime can go a long way!

Teaching Tip

A little bit of playtime can go a long way!

If you have little ones, here’s a tip you can put into practice during summer break! This summer, train your little ones to have a 20-30 minute playtime alone in a designated safe area at least once daily.  For really young ones, the playpen or the crib can serve as the designated area.  For kiddos aged 3 or older, a gated play area can work well. For kiddos closer to school-age, playtime in their bedroom can be an option.

What can the kiddos do during this designated playtime?

During playtime in the designated area, we had certain toys for the child to play with during that time. When the kids were younger, we kept those toys/books in 5 lidded storage tubs numbered days 1-5.  Each day, we just pulled out the next numbered tub. We stored the tubs under our bed. When the kiddos got older, we listed safe toys from our playroom on index cards numbered 1-5 instead. We placed the index cards on a ring on our fridge.  We flipped to a new card each day to know which toys to set out for playtime for that day.

Focus on getting your young ones to have some playtime alone in a safe space.

There are many different variations you could use to accomplish this goal.  The focus needs to be on the little one having a bit of playtime alone in a safe environment. This is so helpful during the school year and makes for a happy little one and a happy mama! Don’t despair if the training takes some time. Just remember you are training for the future.


PS: Looking for more ways to utilize playtime to keep your days running smoothly? Check out this Teaching Tip!