Written Narrations As a Homeschool Form of Assessment

From Our House To Yours

What is a written narration?

I thought I’d make the focus of this weekly check-in written narrations.  So, just what is a written narration, you might ask? Well, a written narration is an assessment requiring students to use writing to tell back what they’ve just read or heard. Students use this Charlotte Mason inspired written skill in response to the reading of living books. Authors of living books write in a narrative style and are passionate about what they are writing about.  Heart of Dakota uses living books as the primary reading material for virtually every school subject in homeschooling. Therefore, it makes sense that a common form of assessment in Heart of Dakota’s plans is the written narration.

What makes written narrations a good form of assessment?

Using written narrations as an assessment encourages children to share what they have read with accuracy, personality, originality, and spirit. This is the opposite of using worksheets, quizzes, and tests as a form of assessment. Students often find  writing a narration to be the harder of the two assessments.  Why? Probably because the student does not have any aid in writing a narration. Multiple choice answers, true or false questions, or fill-in-the-blank quizzes aid the student in giving (or guessing) the proper response. In contrast, students rely wholly on their own memory and knowledge of the topic in written narrations. There is certainly a place for both forms of assessment!  Heart of Dakota does use both. However,  when students retell what they are reading, they better remember what they have read. So, this is the preferred method of assessment whenever possible.

What do written narrations look like at various ages?

Heart of Dakota’s plans take away the guesswork for what kinds of narrations we as teachers of our children should expect. First, students follow clear step-by-step instructions in each Heart of Dakota guide. Students carefully follow the noted parameters particular to each written narration assessment. Second, students always write narrations in response to reading a living book. However, the subject they write about may vary.  Students often write narrations in response to history readings, but they can write them in response to science, literature, etc. Finally, whatever the subject matter, students always write narrations in response to reading outstanding books! So, to show what written narrations look like at various ages, I’ve included one from each of my kiddos below…

Creation to Christ Written Narration
World Geography Written Narration
U.S. History II Written Narration
What improvements in written narrations should be expected?

Incrementally, the parameters of written narrations get harder as students age and mature. Some improvements can definitely be expected! But, what are they?

Expect an increase in the reading level and maturity level of books. 

To begin with, you can expect an increase in the reading level of living books in which written narrations are given as an assessment.  The Creation to Christ reading was Streams of History: Ancient Rome.  In World Geography, students read  A Book of Discovery, and in U.S. History II students read America: The Last Best Hope Volume II.

Plan for the length of the written narrations to increase each year.

In addition, you can expect an increase in length of the written narrations.  Students write 5-8 sentences in Creation to Christ. In World Geography, students write a length of 3-4 paragraphs. By U.S. History II, students write a length of 5 paragraphs.

Anticipate editing abilities to gradually improve as students move down the Written Narrations Skills checklist.

Furthermore, you can expect an increase in a student’s ability to edit using Heart of Dakota’s Written Narration Skills checklist.  I still do the editing in Creation to Christ.  We do not address every skill on the Written Narration Skills checklist. In World Geography, we share the editing process and most skills on the Written Narration Skills checklist are addressed.  By U.S. History II, the student edits his own written narration, and the entire Written Narration Skills checklist is usually addressed.

Plan for more difficult and varied types of written narration assessments as students mature.

Last, you can expect an increase in difficulty and variety of types of written narrations. In Creation to Christ, students use guided questions to help aid their writing of a general written narration. Students in World Geography must include the main topic, main ideas with supporting details, author’s style, and a strong opening and closing sentence. U.S. History II students must include all of these elements.  But, they must also list 5 topics from the given options in the guide.  They must also include names, dates, and events pertinent to the reading.

Finally, to conclude this written narration From Our House to Yours…

Many of us homeschool moms did not grow up in schools that used written narrations as a form of assessment. Hopefully, this shows what written narrations are, what written narrations look like at different ages, and what improvements to expect!

In Christ,


Do you have a child using the Emerging Reader Set?

Teaching Tip

Do you have a child using the Emerging Reader Set?

If so,  I’ll share one quick tip that has been successful at our house.  The tip is to have your child practice reading the assigned Emerging Reader pages for the day on his/her own first.  Then, have the child read the pages to you.  This “practice time” has several benefits.

What are the benefits of having a child practice reading the assigned pages on his/her own?

First, it gives the child needed time to figure out words he/she may not know.  Second, it allows the child to go back and reread anything that may not have made sense.  Third, it allows the child time to linger over the pictures. Fourth, it allows the child to decipher the plot line.

What are the benefits of listening to a child after he/she has practiced reading?

A reader who has practiced first will pause less and read more fluently.  The reader will also feel more confident and will focus more on comprehension the second time around.  For the parent, it will be much more enjoyable (and time conscious) to listen to a prepared reader! Try having your child practice first before reading to you, and see if you notice a difference!


Guide Placement for My 5 ½ Year Old Kindergarten Son in Heart of Dakota Homeschooling

Pondering Placement

Question: Hello to the Austin family! Could you please help me with placement in Heart of Dakota for homeschooling my  5 1/2 year old son? He will be 6 in October, and this fall will be his kindergarten year. What placement would you suggest for my kindergarten 5 ½ year old son? Looking at the first page of the placement chart he is…

  1. 5  1/2 years old and turning 6 in October
  2. ready for phonics instruction
  3. at the beginning stages of writing
    • dislikes handwriting and coloring
    • writes the ‘J’ and the ‘u’ in his name really well, but the ‘d, ‘a,’ and ‘h’ are questionable
    • occasionally writes from right to left instead of left to write (but this is sometimes normal, and he’s not dyslexic)
    • can draw a stick figure and most of the body parts
  4. ready for gentle intro to basic parts of speech
    • he was a little late to the game with speech due to allergies
    • he tested for speech therapy and did not qualify
  5. math will be no problem, as he is strong in this area

With handwriting being second on the placement chart in order of importance, would Little Hands to Heaven be best? Although with him just finishing Pre-K, perhaps Little Hearts for His Glory for kindergarten would be a better fit? I know it is not advised to repeat the same guide twice, so I don’t want to repeat Little Hearts. Which guide would you suggest I place my kindergarten 5 1/2 year old son in this year?  Any advice is appreciated!

Reply: Thanks for sharing your findings about your son in regard to the placement chart!

That is always the first and best step to determining placement! We find this information incredibly helpful, as every child is different in needs and skills. As I was reading through your initial post, I think Little Hearts… would be a good fit for your son. It sounds like he fits well there on the placement chart overall. Much of what you shared as far as fine motor challenges isn’t that uncommon for boys upon entering Little Hearts. Your description actually fit my own third little guy when he began Little Hearts as he was turning 6.

Three Factors to Consider When Choosing Placement Between Little Hands… and Little Hearts…

There are three factors to consider when choosing Little Hearts… or choosing doing Little Hands… with Little Heart’s… kindergarten options. First, we want to consider your son’s age. Second, we want to consider the fact that he has already been through quite a bit of kindergarten readiness. Third, he seems to really make strides when you work with him one-on-one. In conclusion, all of these factors make me lean more toward Little Heartswith the K options.

An Easy Pacing Schedule for Your Kindergarten Son and for You

This could perhaps be done just 4 days a week, stretching 9 weeks into the next school year to finish. This plan would allow him to grow up a bit before getting to Beyond. But, it would also keep him moving forward more closely with his age-mates. While I dislike comparisons, age does help give us some guidelines when we’re trying to decide between two good options. In your son’s case I think it tilts the decision more in favor of Little Hearts.

Once you get Little Hearts… and its resources that go with it from us, you’ll be able to tell better. You’re also welcome to return anything within 30 days for a full refund or in exchange for something else. This should help ease the decision-making process a bit!



P.S. For more on placing your child in the right guide, click here!

Sharing Time of Favorite Homeschool Assignments at the Kitchen Table

From Our House to Yours

Sharing Favorite Homeschool Assignments Around the Kitchen Table

Our children often naturally share what they are learning in their homeschool Heart of Dakota guides with each other. With a literature-based homeschool curriculum, the books are so engaging that conversation about them just happens. With Heart of Dakota, every subject is taught by reading excellent literature. So, with each retelling, students better retain happenings in history, science, literature, etc.  As we eat virtually every meal together, a common sharing place of what’s been learned is around our kitchen table.

Encouraging Discussions by Asking What Children Are Reading or Learning Lately

Lively discussions about books, authors, poets, history events, scientists’ discoveries, etc., are common and need no facilitation on my part. To encourage this type of conversation, I often ask what interesting things they’ve been learning lately. Of course I know what they’ve been learning, because I am the teacher of them all. But, it gives them a chance to informally share with one another what they remember most about what they’ve learned. That’s always interesting for me to hear!

Taking a Few Minutes to Share Favorite Assignments from the Day

One day this week, I asked each of them to share their favorite assignment they did for homeschool for the day. I also asked them to give a few reasons why it was their favorite. This was such fun for me to hear! Below are pictures of what they each shared, along with the reasons why they chose each of these as their favorites.

Wyatt: U.S. History II’s British Literature Prisoner of Zenda
This is my favorite U.S. History II assignment today because I…
  • love the book; the plot is amazing
  • like to give my opinion in my literature journal in response to questions, rather than fill in answers to questions
  • easy to do the night before school, as I love reading good books in my room before bed anyway
Riley: World Geography’s Book of Centuries Timeline Entries
This is my favorite World Geography assignment today because I…
  • love to color each of the pictures
  • like the idea of keeping this same book of timeline entries all through high school
  • enjoy reading the captions under the pictures
Emmett: Creation to Christ’s History Project Making of a Mezuzah
This is my favorite Creation to Christ assignment today because I…
  • like to make it, bake it, and add decorations to it
  • love to pull out my secret Scripture message as a big reveal when I show people
  • think it’s neat the Scripture message talks about Jesus’ resurrection because we just had Easter
Try a sharing time at your next lunch or dinner!

Conversation about Heart of Dakota’s learning requires little prompting. Once and awhile when you are together for a meal, consider having each of your children share their “favorite” of the day. There’s no judgment here. Anything can be a favorite! Also, no need to draw it out. A few minutes for each child is more than enough. The children enjoy it when I share my ‘favorites’ I had with each of them as well. I think because I’ve always been willing to do this, they don’t feel put on the spotlight and easily share.  We find lunch is a great time to facilitate sharing. However, dinner time is another wonderful time to share, as often times fathers are at this meal. I hope this helps you stop to enjoy sharing some favorites of Heart of Dakota once and awhile! Try it a few times, and you might be surprised how often it just begins to happen on its own!


In Christ,


Are your expectations realistic as to how long your school day should be?

Teaching Tip

This is the next post in our series of things to check if your school day seems to be too long. I know this can happen to any of us, and hopefully these tips may help!

When you think back to your school days, how long were they?

In public school, my days were close to 8 hours. I also had a couple of hours of homework at night and on the weekends. Of course, the school day at home can and should be shorter! But, what should our expectations be for a homeschool child?

Are your expectations realistic as to how long your school day should be?

Sometimes in our quest for the “shorter day,” we forget that school is meant to be a big part of our child’s day. It is meant to be very important! This means school is not something to “get over with,” so we can get on with our day. Instead, much of our day should be focused upon school.

Is school a priority at your house?

As your child’s teacher, teaching should be a priority and a focal point of your day. It is easy for meals, laundry, cleaning, and caring for little ones to become the focal point of the day. While these are all very important, school needs to be a priority. Molding your day around school takes a different mindset than molding school around your day. Plan for meals, laundry, cleaning, and caring for little ones in a way that doesn’t derail your school day.

How can you make school a priority?

Strive for 30 minute chunks of time to work with individual children. Then, take a brief 5- 10 minute break to move your other needed tasks along. Wait to do grocery shopping, baking, extensive meal preparation, and longer tasks until the afternoon. Strive not to answer the telephone, the doorbell, emails, or texts during school time unless absolutely necessary. Dock your devices and focus on school. Make the time until lunch very productive school-wise. Do your main teaching up until lunch. Then, after lunch finish up whatever remains. Save more independent subjects for students to do after lunch. Don’t drag school out all day. Make it a priority and finish in a timely fashion. Then, move on to your other tasks.

How much time does each guide take?

Little Hands to Heaven = 30 minutes a day (5 days a week)

Little Hearts for His Glory = 90 minutes a day (5 days a week)

Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory = 2 – 2 1/2 hours a day (5 days a week)

Bigger Hearts for His Glory = 3 – 3 1/2 hours a day (5 days a week)

Preparing Hearts for His Glory = 4 hours a day (4 days a week)

Creation to Christ = 4 – 4 1/2 hours a day (4 days a week)

Resurrection to Reformation = 4 – 4 1/2 hours a day (4 days a week)

Revival to Revolution = 4 1/2 hours a day (4 days a week)

Missions to Modern Marvels = 4 1/2 – 5 hours a day (4 days a week)

High School: World Geography = 6 1/2 hours a day (4 days a week)

High School: World History = 7 hours a day (4 days a week)

High School: U.S. History I = 6 1/2 – 7 hours a day (4 days a week)

High School: U.S. History II = 6-7 hours a day (4 days a week)

Note: In the guides from Preparing Hearts on up, an increasing portion of the day is independent. To be effective, work done independently will still need to be monitored and checked.

I hope this series of tips has been of help to you!

This is the last tip in our series of things to consider when looking at the length of your school day. Each of these tips I’ve shared over the past weeks have helped me so much through the years! I pray they may be a help to you too!


School day too long? Check your times for each subject with the author!

Have you trained your children in Charlotte Mason style skills?

Is your child placed in the right guide?