Do you train your little ones?

Teaching Tip

Training your little ones makes school go better.

During summer break, I am often thinking of ways to make the coming school year better. If you have little ones, it is important to plan for them just as you plan for your school-age children. This is because little ones can quickly waylay the best-laid plans you may have for school! With this in mind, I’ll share a few tips you could consider as you train your little ones for the coming year.

Use a cabinet near the area where you school to store quiet toys for your little ones.

One thing that we found really helpful was to clear out a lower cabinet in our kitchen. To make space in the cabinet, we cleared out our “good dishes” (which were rarely used). We chose a cabinet near our table where we do “school” with our older kiddos. Then, we placed items in the cabinet that any 2-4 year old would enjoy. Last, we added childproof door locks.

How can you use the cabinet toys as an activity for your little ones during school?

During school, we assigned our little ones “cupboard” or “cabinet” time. Our 2-4 year olds could take one item from the cabinet at a time. They had to play with the item on the floor by the cupboard or near our kitchen table. This worked because our little ones liked being where the other kiddos in our family were schooling.

What are some guidelines for this activity time?

Our little ones were allowed only one toy, puzzle, or activity out of the cabinet at a time. They had to fully pick it up prior to being allowed to get something new out of the cabinet. Sometimes the “cabinet” time was a quick series of dumping something out, picking it up, and putting it away. Other times, the boys played longer with an item. A watchful eye and child locks made sure the little ones didn’t dump out everything in the cabinet at once!

Can you use this type of activity for a bit older child?

We used our cabinet time all the way up to ages 6-7. The 6-7 year old’s cabinet was full of puzzles, games, activity books, play dough, and moon dough. We found this to be a great use of space.

Do you have a cabinet near your school area that you could prepare for your little ones?

It may be a lifesaver for you too!


Taking Time Off From Teaching

Train Your Children During Extended Break Time!


Alternating Inspirational and Disciplinary Subjects, Like Charlotte Mason Did

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Charlotte Mason structured her students’ school days by alternating inspirational and disciplinary subjects.

There are many ways we can structure our homeschool days!  Blessedly, with Heart of Dakota, we can choose the structure we most prefer. We can disperse our boxes of plans throughout the day in varying ways. So, we might choose a structure that is different from another family’s structure.  But, both can be right!  As we begin pondering this, we should ask what Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on the matter were.

As we can see, Charlotte Mason  put much thought into the structure of the day.  She especially paid close attention to the order of subjects. Plus, she did so by considering something we might not often consider!  What’s that, we may ask?  Well, it’s alternating inspirational and disciplinary subjects. But, what does that really mean?  To answer that question, we can first look at the difference between inspirational and disciplinary subjects.

So, what is the difference between inspirational and disciplinary subjects?

In general, Charlotte Mason categorized disciplinary subjects as skill-based. In contrast, she thought of inspirational subjects as being more content-based. She considered inspirational subjects as those that take thought. In contrast, she labeled disciplinary subjects as those that can be painstaking, requiring repeated practice to acquire skills. However, she found she could not place subjects exclusively in one category.  Based on the assignment, she could place subjects in both categories. So, how we categorize a subject depends on how we teach the subject. However, we can typically place a subject more in one category than the other.

We can often place disciplinary subjects in mathematics, phonics, reading instruction, geography, handwriting, dictation, English/grammar, composition, copywork, research, timeline, drawing, and foreign language. In contrast,we can place inspirational subjects in history, poetry, Bible, read alouds, literature, science, picture study, composer study, and art appreciation.

So, how did Charlotte Mason categorize inspirational and disciplinary subjects?  Well, let’s look at her list…

Inspirational Subjects:
Nature Study
Picture Study

Disciplinary Subjects:
Foreign Language

Notice Charlotte Mason maintained a balance of inspirational and disciplinary subjects!

Charlotte Mason listed 9 inspirational subjects and 10 disciplinary subjects.  She discovered keeping a balance of each to be ideal!  She found students need both kinds of subjects in their day.  If a student omits disciplinary subjects because he finds they are not as inspiring, there will be major gaps in skills.  Likewise, a student should not omit inspirational subjects.  Just because he prefers the predictability of disciplinary subjects, he will miss the deep thought and true connections inspirational subjects provide.

It’s best to let disciplinary subjects be disciplinary, and inspirational subjects be inspirational!

It is sometimes tempting to try to make disciplinary subjects be inspirational.  However, a student cannot live in a constant state of inspiration!  Nor, should we expect him to.  Can you imagine trying to be constantly inspired with every part of your day?  I find the thought to be somewhat exhausting, don’t you?  Imagine waking up and doing your Bible devotional and praying.  You are inspired!  What a special start to your day that was full of deep thought!

However, next it is time to unload the dishwasher, as the dishes are clean, and the children need to eat.  Can you imagine trying to make unloading the dishwasher inspirational each day?  You could try to change the plates to have more varied colors to unload. Or, you could try unloading the dishwasher in a new way each day. Maybe back to front, top to bottom, and then from left to right.  Or, you could try to ponder the mechanics of how your dishwasher got your dishes clean.  Hmmmm.  Or…  you could just unload it!  Personally, I feel a real sense of accomplishment in just getting this done quickly and efficiently, don’t you?

Disciplinary subjects need not be dressed up!

Disciplinary subjects are like that dishwasher.  They need not be ‘dressed up’ to be disguised as inspirational.  If they are, the day just gets longer. We cannot live in a constant state of inspiration, nor can our children – and that’s okay!  Not every moment of the school day is meant to be inspiring!  Students just need to know their times tables eventually.  They just need learn to spell words correctly.  Or, they need to learn how to correct them.  Likewise, continents just need to be recognized. Moreover, in grammar, they need to recognize a noun as a noun, and a verb as a verb.  When students say they are not excited about disciplinary subjects, we need to remember… it is not possible (nor even desirable) for them to be always inspired.  We can’t maintain that, and neither can they.  We can find beauty in the balance!  Likewise, they can too!

Inspirational subjects need not be stripped down!

We might also be tempted to try to make inspirational subjects be disciplinary.  However, a student cannot live in a constant state of discipline! Nor, should we expect him to.  Can you imagine trying to be constantly disciplined with every part of your day?  The thought is somewhat exhausting, isn’t it? I can’t imagine taking the Bible and making it solely disciplinary.

Memorizing Bible verses, for example, is excellent to do! However, I find the the Word of God to be incredibly inspiring!  I find the Bible a worthy subject to think deeply upon, rather than just Words to be memorized – albeit beautiful Words.  There is merit in both!  But, I find it sad when people can quote the Bible eloquently but profoundly miss out on the relationship with the Lord.  That is what can happen when an inspirational subject is made into a solely disciplinary subject.

We can structure our students’ school days and our own personal days with inspiration and discipline in mind!

I am not only structuring my school days this way! Likewise, I am structuring my own days this way.  I think this is going to be good for me!  Sometimes, I tend to focus only on disciplinary subjects in my day.  I set aside my inspirational subjects, thinking I don’t really need them in my day.  Am I alone in this?!?  Maybe!  However, in truth, I find it is the inspirational ones  I need the most sometimes! They balance out the more disciplinary parts of my day.

Let’s try alternating inspirational and disciplinary subjects!

So, join me, if you will!  As we ponder how to structure our homeschool days, why don’t we try alternating disciplinary and inspirational subjects?  We can find both in our HOD guides. We can find both in our lives too. So, we might as well try it in both!  Let’s see if we notice a difference in our child’s focus and concentration, by alternating inspirational and disciplinary subjects. Likewise, let’s try it in our own lives! I think we may find both to be a healthy balance! So, let’s give it a try!

In Christ,



Does everyone homeschool year-round?

Dear Carrie

My question is, does everyone homeschool year-round?

I was homeschooled growing up, but now it’s my turn to homeschool my kids! I’m set on using Heart of Dakota, but what I’m not sure about is WHEN to homeschool. A lot of things are different than when my mom taught me. I have always planned to start in the fall like around Sept. and then go until May or June. Then, I thought I’d have my summers off to relax and have fun. I don’t know! I’m just a bit surprised that I have seen so many homeschool families schooling year-round and going through the summer.

Personally, I think my kids would need a break, so that they are fired up to start again in the fall. Plus, I NEED a break too. So, my question is, does everyone homeschool year-round? Or, do some homeschool families take the summers off? If I may ask, what do you do personally, and why?


“Confused About Year-Round Or Summers Off Homeschooling”

Dear “Confused About Year-Round Or Summers Off Homeschooling,”

There are many ways a homeschool “schedule” can run! This is such a blessing! Many families do love to homeschool year-round. We did try a year-round schedule when my youngest was in kindergarten and first grade, but it wasn’t for us. So, we now follow a somewhat more traditional school-year!  We do take our summers off.  I’ll try to explain why – here goes…

One, we really value our summer weather!

Here in South Dakota, our summer weather is fleeting! So, we “live” outside for June, July, and August. We do still save our family vacation for September or October and just take a week off then.

Two, Mike and I both function best on a schedule.

I am a person who functions best on a schedule, and so does Mike.  Once we get in a flow (with my boys especially), taking a week or two off every month really causes us to lose the flow of our schedule. Also, when I did school year round, my little guy was always asking whether we needed to do school today or not. He was confused when we were on and when we were off. Mike and I both like being on the same page, and we like our kids to be on that same page too!

Three, my sons love summer projects!

My boys love their summer projects. Their unstructured days let them really get into book-writing, building things, recording tapes or making long video productions, trying experiments, and so on. They come up with their best ideas with long days of freedom. Often during the year, I’ll point out things that will be good summer projects. Many of them keep a list of these ideas, and when summer arrives… they’re set!

Four, convention season is a busy time for our family!

I am often going to conventions in May and June, so it helps to be done with school earlier.

Five, summer is a wonderful time for me to write!

I love to have the summer to really focus on projects (just like my sons, I guess). I am usually pushing hard to finish writing projects, so the time off from teaching coincides great with that for me!

Six, I’m an organizer and a planner at heart!

I am an organizer and a planner by nature, and having a more traditional school year makes it easier for me to tell where my kids should be academics-wise.

Though we take our summers off, we don’t really follow the public school calendar.

We do not follow the public school calendar, so we have school every day Monday through Friday. We do take off a week at Christmas, an extra day at Easter/Thanksgiving, and several days off when family visits from far away. Otherwise, every week day is a school-day here. My kiddos never ask whether we’re having school today. (Otherwise, I’d find it too easy to say, “No, we’re having a day off!”)

This kind of homeschooling just works for our family! Partially because of where we live, partially because of the lifestyle we lead, and partially because of the way we like our year to go! There is no one right way to choose the days you homeschool, but there is probably one way that is more right for you! You may have to try it a couple of different ways to find what really fits your family. Give your best idea a try, and if it isn’t a fit, adjust it for the next homeschool year. You’ll soon discover what fits your own family best.



P.S.  Check out this post on our board about families who enjoy year-round schooling and families who enjoy summers off – click here!  For further discussion, click here!  And for even more discussion, click here!  And, here!  This is a well-discussed topic by the wise ladies on our board!

P.S.S.  Looking for ideas for daily schedules/routines for homeschooling?  Check out our “Let’s Share Our Schedules” thread which has over 10,000 views by clicking here!

P.S.S.S.  For the benefits of taking time off from teaching, click here!


Graduation for Homeschool Students

From Our House to Yours

Our oldest son is 18 years old and just completed his last Heart of Dakota guide!  It is hard to believe he is graduating.  He has done every HOD guide from PreK through 12th grade, and the years have truly flown by.  We are so proud of him!  Homeschool graduations can be celebrated many different ways. To show one way, I thought for this post I would share some of the things we are doing for graduation.

Take pictures earlier in the year if you can!

Last October a good friend of ours took Wyatt’s pictures for graduation. Fall is a beautiful time of year here.  I knew we’d be crazy busy this spring, so taking the pictures ahead of time really helped.  Our friend just took pictures on her camera different places around where we live.  God’s creation is always a beautiful backdrop!

We picked one dressy outfit and two casual outfits.  I tried to stick with a similar color scheme. I washed, pressed, and set aside the clothes.  We told our friend to just give us at least a few hours’ notice for when she thought the pictures would be good to take.  This is something we can do when we are homeschooling, right?!? Having our son’s senior pictures taken ahead of time allowed me to be able to make the invitations for our open house ahead of time on Shutterfly.  So, all I had to do was fill in the date of our open house later.  My son chose his favorite photos for the invitations and picked a Bible verse for them. Easy peasy!

Choose a date that is different from the dates of public and private school graduations!

We picked a different open house date than local public and private high school’s dates.  We can choose any date for our graduation!  I love the flexibility of homeschooling! Visiting with family and close friends, we picked the date and time that worked best. Choosing a date other than the typical graduation gatherings helps family and friends be more able to attend.

Choose a place that can be set up ahead of time if possible!

We have chosen our garage for an  informal outdoor graduation open house.  This is common where we live, as summers are lovely, and we live on an acreage!  Plus, it gives us a great reason to clean the garage, right?!? I don’t know about your garage, but ours could use a reason for a good cleaning!  We’ve borrowed tables and chairs from my husband’s workplace.

Choose simple table decorations that can be reused for your other children who will be graduating someday!

As we live in the country, we have chosen red gingham tablecloths.  I don’t have to spend much money on them, and I can reuse them. Each 6 foot table will have ball canning jars with Wyatt’s favorite snacks – cashews and M & M’s!  I’ve made a family photobook each year for my husband for Christmas, so I’m setting a different photobook on each table too.  There are many pictures of Wyatt with our family growing up, and I think this could be a good conversation piece!

I’m also planning on having a card table with red gingham tablecloth and with a premade poster for people to sign for Wyatt.  They can write comments as well here, and I think it will be a neat keepsake of the party for him.  I’m putting a red geranium on this table as well (thanks mom for that wonderful idea)!  I’m also going to put his baby photobook on this table.  Finally, the backdrop leaning against the wall will be a metal art wall hanging I made for him with all his senior pictures.  This can hang on the wall in his bedroom after the party (thanks Carrie for this awesome idea)!

Choose food that won’t prevent you from visiting with guests!

I love to cook and to bake!  However, I don’t want to be consumed with this so much leading up to the graduation or during the graduation.  I want to be able to visit with family and friends and be there for Wyatt.  So, we are making pulled pork ahead of time and putting it in crock pots for sandwiches.  We are also putting baked beans in crock pots.  Premade potato salad, chips and dip, coleslaw (thanks Cindy for this idea), and 2 kinds of layered cake from Costco will round out the menu.  Lemonade, coffee (good idea, mom), and water bottles will be available as well.

I hope this has given all of you amazing moms some ideas to simplify graduation for your homeschool senior!  What a blessing to be able to celebrate ‘pressing on toward the goal to win the prize‘ with our graduating teens!!!  God bless!

In Christ,