When and where should I separate my children?

Dear Carrie

When and where should I separate my children?

I have a nearly 13 year-old daughter and a nearly 11 year-old son. I started them in Creation to Christ, and we are about to finish Resurrection to Reformation. My question is when and how do I separate them? My daughter will be in 8th grade this coming year, and my son will be in 6th grade. I could have them continue the next 2 guides together. Then, once we finish them, my daughter can easily move into the high school guides. However, where does that leave my son? He’d be too young for the high school guide. I wouldn’t have HOD material to cover that year. If I move him up with her, he’d graduate too young. Should I separate them now? I could move my daughter into Missions to Modern Marvels. That means she would miss all of the history and science in Revival and Revolution. What do you think?


“Ms. Please Help Me with When and Where I Separate My Children”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me with When and Where I Separate My Children,”

You could honestly separate or continue to combine. You really could go either way. Since you are on the verge of high school, but not actually there yet, one thing I would really use to make my decision to separate or combine for the upcoming year is how well you feel your older daughter is placed right now. Do you feel that she is well-placed and did well with RTR? Or, did you feel that she was done very quickly and waiting on her younger sibling a lot? If the placement felt right this past year, then I would be more inclined to keep your kiddos together for the upcoming year, and then reassess as your daughter is ready to enter high school. At that point, we could ponder again whether to move her forward to the first high school guide.

Or, if the reverse is true and you felt she literally flew through her school and was always needing more, often waiting on her younger sibling, then you could look at separating them and moving her to MTMM this year instead. Whatever you do, it will be very important for your older daughter to be doing Drawn into the Heart of Reading this coming year in preparation for high school level literature. It will also be important for her writing skills to be very strong and moving forward and for her grammar to be on track (especially if you are looking to bump her ahead). Last, it would be good if her math skills were also on track. Otherwise, if she is a bit behind in any of her 3 R’s, then moving her ahead in the other areas could quickly cause an overload. I just want to encourage you, either path could work. However, based on how she is doing now in RTR, one path should show itself to be better.



Be careful of being too busy to enjoy your homeschool life!

From Our House to Yours

Be careful of being too busy to enjoy your homeschool life!

Are you busy? I can relate. Homeschool moms are some of the busiest people I know. I talk on the Heart of Dakota phone lines with moms whose lives are jam-packed. Emails arrive from moms who are pushing themselves to the max. Posts on FB, on blogs, and on our message board show homeschool moms are busier than ever. When someone asks how our day, our week, our month, or our year is going, we often say, “Busy!” But, what are we busy about?

I began to ask myself this question 6 1/2 years ago when my Dad died of pancreatic cancer. We are only promised today, so asking ourselves from time to time what we are busy about is a pretty important question to ask. So, if you summed up your day, your week, your month, your year for me, what are you busy doing? We women are born to be multi-taskers, but from one homeschool mom to another, be careful of being too busy to enjoy your homeschool life.

Love your year, but love your days too!

Not too long ago, I was sitting outside in our backyard at our patio table. I’d made my school calendar of the days we’ll be homeschooling this year, and I was really happy with it! I’d chosen my start date as Tuesday, September 1, with Friday of that week and Monday (Labor Day) taken off for vacation. I’ve found doing school three days a week at the start is perfect for us! We can try out our schedule, make any needed adjustments, and gather anything we missed gathering.

My calendar was just right. I loved my start and end dates. We had just the right days marked off for vacation, for birthdays, for holidays, and just for fun. I’d planned for sick days and for end-of-the-year testing days. From this past homeschool year, I could tell I would love this calendar! The year was going to be great! So, why was I worried? Well, it had nothing to do with the year; it was the ‘days’ I was worried about.

Some Wise Advice from My Son

My son noticed me looking stressed; every mother deserves a son like Riley. He can talk me off the ledge. He popped out to the patio table and pulled up a chair. What’s wrong, Mom? he asked. I explained I REALLY wanted to spend a lot of time with him this year because it was his senior year. He told me we spend nearly all of our time together. I tried to explain I wanted to spend LOTS of time homeschooling him though. How much time, Mom? he asked. Let’s just say my answer scared him, especially when I told how much time I thought I should also spend with both of his brothers. That’s crazy busy, Mom. It was. Riley told me that part of the reason we love our life is because homeschooling gives us the kind of life we love. A slower pace. A less busy pace. He said I deserved that too. Hmm, pretty wise advice. Thank you, son!

Mapping Out Our Days to Be Less Busy

Six and half years ago when my Dad died I made a lot of changes. I cut things out of my life that were busy but not worth the busy-ness. My years became less busy, and I began to love my life more and more. However, the days ARE busy as homeschool moms. There is no daily plan that will totally take away the ‘busy.’ It is the stage we are in, and it goes on for awhile. It’s best to recognize that. We are ‘busy’ because we have important work to do; however, we need not push ourselves to the point of exhaustion or depression. Riley helped me see that. Together, we worked at mapping out our days to be less busy. I made time for God, time to walk, time to make breakfast, time to teach, and time to work. Ideally, I’d have given more time to all of these things, but that would have made me “crazy busy,” as Riley puts it. And “crazy busy” is never a good thing.

What are you busy about?

So, now I ask you, what are you busy about? Are you ‘crazy busy’? Don’t be. You don’t have to be and that is no way to love your days! It is no way to love your life. Start with the easy things. What is not worth the busy-ness? Stop doing those things. I don’t keep a garden anymore. I’m not good at it, and I don’t really enjoy it. I don’t have rummage sales anymore. We live in the country, and no one comes. I don’t plant flowers anymore. Hanging flower pots do me just fine. I don’t make lunch anymore. Breakfast and supper I knock out of the park! But lunch? Riley makes that – it’s easy, it’s fast, and he likes it. Thank you, son. I don’t check my FB, email, or Instagram incessantly. Just here and there when I have time – that is enough.

I am busy about my teaching. Homeschooling well is important to me, but I don’t expect perfection – from me or my children. I am busy talking to my Mom and my sisters. They are my best friends; they are worth my time. I am busy dating my husband. He is my best friend too, and I love him. I am busy exercising, but I don’t always drive to exercise at the gym. My country road is a pretty place to exercise too. I am busy spending time with God each morning, but I don’t time myself as if an exact time is what He desires. So, what are you busy about? Be careful of being too busy to enjoy your homeschool life. It goes fast. If you are ‘crazy busy,’ look in the mirror for the person making you so – and make some changes! Loving your life is worth it.

In Christ,


Know your goal…exposure or mastery?

Teaching Tip 

Know your goal…exposure or mastery?

As you teach younger children, it helps to remember this is often their first exposure to many concepts.  Everything ranging from history to math to reading will be new. So to expect mastery of new concepts, or even terrific retention, at such a young age is a tall order.

How can you help young children be successful with school?

Instead with younger kiddos, strive for the following goals:

  1. Keep the lessons short.
  2. Keep the day moving along.
  3. Keep your expectations in line with your child’s age.
Resist the urge to add extra drill and practice beyond what is in the guide.

Often as parents, we think more practice is better.  The Internet makes it easy to add extra practice with little effort.  However, is this truly necessary for your child to gain exposure to a subject? If you add too much to the guide, your children may feel their school day is too long.  You may also find that the extra practice crowds out time for the rest of the subjects in the guide. There is a careful balance between enough practice and too much!  Your Heart of Dakota guide is designed with this careful balance in mind.

Young children make great gains when you least expect it.

Children will make great gains and strides in their younger years.  These gains often come unexpectedly after steady progress forward pays off. Take heart even if your little ones don’t seem to be “getting” everything you’d love them to take from the HOD guide. They will surprise you as the year passes in unexpected ways!


PS: In this blog post, we looked at how to enjoy your homeschool life by simplifying your school day. To find out more ways you can enjoy your homeschool life while using our guides, check out the blog post linked below!

Enjoy Your Everyday Heart of Dakota Life

Not Just a Spelling List!

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Not Just a Spelling List!  How Heart of Dakota’s first spelling instruction teaches beginning skills for Charlotte Mason’s studied dictation…

A fellow homeschool mom recently asked some questions about Heart of Dakota’s spelling. She’d been planning on continuing to use another spelling program. However, she mentioned it was pretty time intensive, and neither she nor her son really liked it. When she read in Heart of Dakota’s catalog: “For spelling, students focus on learning to spell a basic body of frequently used words. Next, they move on to studied dictation to cement their spelling skills,” her curiosity was piqued. She thought if Heart of Dakota’s way produces good spellers, and if it wasn’t so intensive on teacher and student, then maybe she should make the switch. She asked if the basic body of frequently used words were taught as just a list to be memorized? I thought this was a great question, and I wanted to share my answer here with you too.

The Charlotte Mason-style lessons planned with the spelling words are very effective.

Dictation is a process that must be trusted and faithfully applied, and it will yield results. Dictation is harder than spelling, and the way spelling is done in HOD is a stepping stone for dictation. The Charlotte Mason-style lessons planned with the spelling words in the language arts box of the guide are very effective. I know we probably all grew up doing spelling lists, by studying them and taking a test. Well, the plans written in the HOD guide are totally different. The plans apply the idea of the mind being like a camera taking a “picture” of the word each time it sees it.

Day 1 of Spelling Instruction:

So for HOD’s spelling, Day 1 always has the child look at one word written in black on a white index card. The child studies it, and when the child says he is ready, you (the parent) take the card away. Then, the child writes just that one word on his white marker board in black marker. If he misses it, right away, you erase it and show him the card again. (This is to erase that incorrect “picture” in his mind immediately.) When he says he is ready, you take the card away again, repeating this process until he writes it correctly.

Day 2 of Spelling Instruction:

Then, for Day 2’s spelling you (the parent) just say the word, using it in a sentence. The child tries to write the word from memory, again a black marker on a white marker board is best. If he misspells the word, you erase it immediately to erase the incorrect “picture.” Then, you show him the index card, allowing him to study it as he did on Day 1. The child then writes the word again, repeating this process until he writes it correctly.

Day 3 of Spelling Instruction:

On Day 3, you (the parent) choose three words the child needs to practice the most. One word at a time, the child should use the word in a sentence orally, as you write the sentence on marker board for him. Then, the child looks at the marker board to copy the sentence on paper. You help the child correct any mistakes then.

Day 4 of Spelling Instruction:

Finally, on Day 4, you (the parent) say the word and use it in a sentence. The child tries to write the word correctly. This time, if it is missed, you erase it, and show the child the index card again. Have him fix it on his paper, and while looking at the index card, do the activity to review any missed words (the activity rotates each week).

Many skills are learned though this four day rotation of spelling instruction.

Many skills are learned in this method of spelling, rather than a child just studying a list and taking a test at the end. This four day method of spelling provides an important foundation for dictation the following year. You can see that using the word in a sentence, using the word within copywork of sentences, studying a word and having it taken away then, fixing errors, etc. all prepare children to do dictation the following year.

My son, who was born quite prematurely, had speech therapy for several years as a young child. Yet, he has managed to thrive with HOD’s spelling/dictation plans using Charlotte Mason-style methods. I highly recommend giving this four day spelling approach a patient try, and then I am certain you will see the fruits of it given time! I’m a former user of Spelling Power, and R & S spelling, as well as other programs. However, I’ve found Charlotte Mason’s methods have been the most successful and produced the most carryover to children’s own writing – which is the core reason we’re studying spelling in the first place . This took me awhile to come to this consensus. But now with my second and third child, I’m totally on board with it – and it shows in their excellent spelling.

A few other links that may be helpful…

Here is a link that gives samples of the spelling lists:

Here is a link that gives dictation samples:

In Christ,

How do you move through an English lesson in a timely fashion?

Dear Carrie

How do you move through an English lesson in a timely fashion?

All is going well with Heart of Dakota – off to a great start! However, I have some questions about how to move through an R & S English 4 lesson in a timely fashion. Do you do all of the oral review questions, the oral assignment questions, and the written assignment questions? Today, for example, we did the oral, but then the written was almost identical. It seemed like I was having my son do double the work. I’m also struggling on writing assignment days. They seem to take much longer, and I usually need two days for each of the writing assignments. I have my son write his story. Then, I correct it and go over it with him. Finally, I have him re-write it correctly. I know this is all taking way longer than it should. So, my question is, how do you move through an English lesson in a timely fashion? Thanks in advance!


Ms. Please Help Me Move Through English More Quickly”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Move Through English More Quickly,”

We do the 5 oral questions at the beginning of each lesson, and then we do the entire lesson. However, we do most of the entire lesson orally. This means that we do the sections marked as “Written Exercises” orally too. I only choose one small section in each lesson to have my kiddos do in writing. To do the written exercises orally, I just have my kiddos say the answers instead of writing them. I often read the sentences aloud in the exercises, and then have my child quickly say the answers right after me. My reading parts aloud to them keeps their attention and keeps the lesson moving quickly. Before the lesson begins, however, I have my kiddos read the first part of the lesson to themselves. This way they are prepared for what is to come. This all helps us move through English more quickly!

We diagram sentences on the white board to move through diagramming more quickly.

We often diagram together on the white board, which helps us move more quickly through the lesson. I might just draw the diagram lines and have my kiddos point and say where the various words will go. This procedure has allowed us to keep Rod and Staff English very manageable. Even at the upper levels like English 6-8, we move very quickly through the lesson; we don’t exceed 30 to 40 minutes total on most days for both oral and written work. It is true though that review lessons and writing days take longer.

To move lessons along quickly if you are running behind, you could do the rest of the written work orally.

I do think another factor around English 4 is that students have not really cemented their English skills yet, so their answering doesn’t come as quickly. They are having to think harder to remember and English is not naturally a part of their skill-base yet. So, for some kiddos it may take longer at the English 4 and 5 level until they become more familiar with what is being asked of them. Don’t despair! If your lessons are running long, you could do evens or odds for awhile. However, in the long haul I’d try not to make skipping a practice. I would set a goal not to exceed 30 minutes at this stage. If you see you are coming close to that time and are not done for the day, omit any written work and just do it all orally. This is another technique I use when running behind. I want to encourage you, you will see such progress with these few tips!