Should I add the extension books to change up the units we’re repeating?

Dear Carrie

Should I add the extension books to change up the units we’re repeating?

Last year, we started Bigger Hearts with my 2nd grader. Though we enjoyed it, I ended up having some unexpected life challenges, and we set it aside for a textbook/workbook approach. I feel, like I did last year, that God has led our family to Heart of Dakota. I prayerfully want to make this work. Although my son was doing fine with Bigger for 2nd grade, I feel like it would still be a good fit for him. Plus, I am familiar with it, so it’s not like I’d be trying to learn something new. So, I was considering buying the Extension books to read along during the units he already covered. He will only be in 3rd grade though. Will they be okay as read alouds? (NOT independent reading.) Just looking for a way to repeat those units (1-15) and change it up a bit. What do you think?


“Ms. Please Help Me Decide If I Should Add the Extension Books for the Units I’m Repeating”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Decide If I Should Add the Extension Books for the Units I’m Repeating,”

If you made it partway through Bigger Hearts last year, I would be inclined to just pick Bigger up where you left off and go forward from there with it as written. For a third grader, I wouldn’t add the Extension books as a general rule, but would instead encourage you to do the Storytime books (either boy, girl, or classic set). The skills in the Storytime box are really important, and the books in the Storytime sets were chosen for their read-aloud quality.

The Extension books were intended to be read independently by the child and were chosen to extend the study of American history for an older learner. So, the Extension book readings will be much longer as read-alouds, as they were not intended for that purpose. If you love to read aloud, you can certainly read aloud some of the Extension titles. However, we wouldn’t want that to replace the very needed Storytime read-aloud sessions and skills.


Should I go back to teach skills my struggling reader may have missed?

Dear Carrie

Should I go back to teach skills my struggling reader may have missed?

I’ve homeschooled for three years and have a 9 year-old doing Bigger Hearts. This is our first year with Heart of Dakota, and I love it! My son has unfortunately always struggled with reading. He just seems to have missed something. Previously we used first grade MFW phonics and then Time for Learning. My son reads slowly. Sometimes he sounds out words and sometimes not. He runs his finger underneath the words but passes the next word before finishing the previous word. Fluency is not there, but he does comprehend well. He read as far as Prairie School in HOD’s Emerging Reader’s Set. I do all of Bigger Hearts. Sometimes I do R & S English orally and sometimes written. He loves writing in cursive and always does well on his spelling words. We do the writing on the Science lab, and he LOVES our read-alouds!

Last year, he scored at a reading level of 2.4 on the Peabody Test, and that was at the end of the 2nd grade. I also own Sing, Spell, Read, Write and thought I’d try that. Looking ahead to Preparing Hearts, I don’t think he’ll be able to read what he’s supposed to read. I’m just worried that I missed something starting with Bigger Hearts and that whatever I missed won’t get covered in Preparing. So, here is my question! Do I need to go back and teach whatever I may have missed not doing prior to Bigger Hearts? If I do need to go back, do I do that now? We are in Unit 20 of Bigger Hearts, and summer will be here soon. Carrie, I respect and appreciate your opinion and look forward to some help. Hubby and I are at a loss.


“Ms. Please Help Me Decide If I Should I Go Back to Teach Missed Skills ”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Decide If I Should I Go Back to Teach Missed Skills,”

Thanks so much for taking time to share about your son. From what you’ve shared, I’d say that it is possible that your son has never actually gotten to the 2nd grade phonics-instruction level. What I mean is that by doing MFW 1st grade and then switching to Time4Learning, it is pretty likely that your son got a solid introduction to typical first grade skills, but may not have gotten through all the phonics he needs to know in order to read well. In actuality, phonics instruction typically runs through K, 1st, and 2nd grades (increasing in difficulty and adding sound combinations as you go). Kiddos often don’t need to take all three years to go through all needed sounds, but they do need to go through all the needed sounds and know them before “graduating” from formal phonics instruction.

Your son may have missed typical ‘2nd’ grade level phonics instruction.

With this in mind, as your son changed phonics programs mid-stream, he probably missed the typical “2nd” grade level of phonics instruction. Since you own Sing, Spell, Read, Write, you could go from the beginning of that program (skipping much of the writing and doing the singing, spelling, and reading or whatever pieces help him learn and practice using the sounds). Just make sure to go through all needed sounds to the very end of the program. Or, if that feels too lengthy (which to me it would, since it is a full K-2nd grade program), you could instead choose any 2nd grade level phonics/reading program and take him through just that level for the rest of his phonics instruction.

There are many second grade level phonics programs to choose from to get the skills he missed.

There are many second grade level phonics programs to choose from to get the skills he missed. However, I’d lean away from those that will bog you down with a lot of writing (and spelling). Instead, just worry about getting the phonics down. He’ll need more than just drilling the sounds, as he’ll actually need to read controlled books or stories that practice those new sound combinations. This is why it would be good to have a second grade program for that. Bigger Hearts will cover your needed writing, copywork, spelling, and English skills. So, you’re truly looking for a reading only type program and only for the last chunk of sounds more typical to 2nd grade.

Reading Reflex is an excellent resource to go back and help with missed reading skills too.

Another thing that you could look into is a book called Reading Reflex. It is helpful in making sure kiddos have all the sound pictures/phonograms they need to read well. It takes a different approach than a purely phonetic approach, but we used it during my school teaching days for third/fourth grade to help kiddos who were struggling as readers, and it does work.

Third/fourth grade is a common time for children to first need glasses, so I’d make an appointment to rule this out.

I would definitely get your son’s eyes checked too. Third and fourth grade are the most common years for a child’s eyesight to take a turn and for him/her to need glasses, and this often gets missed. This could be another huge factor in your son’s reading. I’d make an appointment for him as soon as possible to rule this out.

Keep moving forward in Bigger Hearts, but work only on reading when you take your summer break.

Next, I wouldn’t stop your daily pace in Bigger Hearts. It sounds like your son is handling all of the other areas well except for the reading. I’d just keep going doing a day in a day. I know you’d mentioned you will be on your summer break soon. I would work on only reading for the summer. Then, in the fall, I’d pick Bigger back up where you left off. Don’t worry about Preparing Hearts right now. Kiddos can change so much over time, and even if you took no summer break from Bigger, you’d still have a minimum of 14 weeks left (which is 4 and 1/2 months, or half a calendar school year). With any kind of a break, you’re 6 months away from finishing Bigger now. That is a long time in the world of kids!

A Few Thoughts on the Emerging Reader’s Set

Finishing at a 2.4 Reading Level would put him at the beginning of the Emerging Reader’s Set. If he made it all the way to Prairie School, that’s quite good! That is where many kiddos begin to hit a bump in the road, as the text gets longer and harder and the pictures begin to go away. One thing that has helped my kiddos at the Emerging Reader’s Level is to practice reading their pages to themselves (reading it aloud) before they come and read to me. This gives them confidence, allows them practice time to sort out their words they’re not sure of, cuts down on missed words, and makes their reading time with me more enjoyable.

When you finish your formal tour through phonics, I’d pick the Emerging Reader’s Set up again. You may have to back up to get him reading more confidently in the Emerging Reader’s Set, so you’ll have to weigh how far you want to back up. Also, it would be good to add in any of the extra books suggested for each week. These are great for practicing missed skills more on a similar reading level.


Is placement off if character qualities are too abstract for my child?

Pondering Placement

Is placement off if character qualities are hard for my daughter to understand and apply?

I am using Heart of Dakota’s Bigger Hearts for His Glory and Drawn into the Heart of Reading with my eight year-old. In the Bible box we talk about a character quality each week. While she can have a reasonable discussion about the trait after we define it, she doesn’t really remember the meanings of the words. When I ask her how she can display the trait we are studying, she can’t really answer. She usually says things like “I should obey my parents” or “I should be nice.” Should I have her look up each character trait, write them down, and study them as vocabulary words? But then I kind of wonder if the character qualities are just too abstract for her still? If the character qualities are too abstract for her, did I place her in too high of a guide? Thanks in advance!

Carrie’s Reply in Regard to Understanding and Applying Character Qualities

Understanding and applying character qualities is a new skill to be learned, and it definitely takes time. One thing that is really helpful to know is that learning to think beneath the surface of what was read and learning to make connections among various strands of learning are definitely higher level skills. Often these types of skills are not really fostered in many educational settings, simply because they do require discussion and time for the learner to sit with a reading and dwell upon it and ponder. These skills don’t come naturally, as it is just so much easier to stay at the basic comprehension level in our thinking, because it just takes much less effort and is so much easier to do! By studying character qualities, children begin to learn to think beneath the surface of what is being read.

Delving into character qualities helps children see God and His Word are our measuring stick for how we live our life.

The reason we focus on this type of open-ended questioning and seeking or questing for deeper answers is because this is what God desires for us to do in His Word. He wishes us to know Him better through dwelling upon what He has shared with us both literally and beneath the surface in the Bible. He wants us to weigh everything else that we read and hear with what it says in His Word. This is to be our measuring stick for how we live our life. So, we start to foster this type of thinking from an early age, as we teach kiddos that looking beneath the surface of what you read is part of reading. Delving into character qualities is one way we do this.

When you pose questions to think and discuss about character qualities, you provide opportunities for children to learn to read with moral discernment.

We pose questions that take time to think about and discuss, and we do it regularly. We want to provide as many opportunities for this type of thinking, pondering, and connecting as possible. Kiddos can then learn to think carefully about what is really being said in writing and watch for the messages that are hidden in what they read. It is our ultimate goal for kiddos to read with moral discernment and to weigh everything they read and hear with God’s Word in mind. This brings character qualities to life in a real and life-changing way!

You can think of the study of character qualities as a time to train your child to think deeply and Biblically.

As you can imagine, this is a lifelong pursuit!   It is not something that happens in a year or even in a few years. It is something that as adults we are still pursuing and seeking to do daily. So, if you can think of these types of questioning moments as opportunities for conversation, or opportunities to share you own thought process or examples, you will have a much more fulfilling time with your child. The study of character qualities can be though of as a time to train your child to think deeply and Biblically one step at a time. This is the ultimate goal of learning about character qualities.

Character quality studies should be personal and should provide the opportunity for deeper, heartfelt discussions.

One thing I would caution you against would be in making the activity into a comprehension type exercise that seeks one right answer from your child. It is so tempting to do this, as this is often where our comfort level as a teacher lies (in that comprehension level, one-right-answer questions are so much easier to measure or grade)! But, if you do that you’ll miss the opportunity for the deeper discussions! So, I encourage you to persevere and seize the moments to share your own thinking and examples with your child. Make it personal and your child will eventually share personally too. The deeper questions will provide dialogue opportunities and a window into your child’s mind for years to come! As your children mature, you will be so thankful for this window into their soul. I know I have been!

Your daughter is in the right guide. She is flourishing in every area of Bigger Hearts and Drawn into the Heart of Reading! I know this from visiting with you. So, I just want to encourage you, your daughter will also learn to take more and more from her reading as she studies and applies character qualities. She has many years to continue to grow in this area!


Prepare for the school year by reading the guide’s “Introduction”!

Teaching Tip

Reading the guide’s “Introduction” is great preparation for the school year.

You may be beginning to turn your thoughts toward school. One of the best ways to prepare for the upcoming year is to read through your HOD guide’s “Introduction.” There is such a wealth of information in the “Introduction” that we should truly title it something else!

How does reading the “Introduction” help prepare you for the year?

The “Introduction” will give you a feel for how each area is handled in the guide and the goals for each subject. It will let you know what notebooks, binders, etc. are needed for each subject area. Reading the “Introduction” provides a great summary of what to expect for the coming year. The “Introduction” is the last part of the guide we write. In this way, we can be sure that it truly summarizes needed information for you in one place!

If you have students in different HOD guides, read only one guide’s “Introduction” each day.

If you will be teaching more than one Heart of Dakota guide, read the “Introduction” for different guides on different days. This will help you focus on one guide at a time and will keep you from getting overwhelmed.

Can you use the guide without reading the “Introduction?”

Of course you can skip reading the “Introduction” and just jump right in and teach. However, often when families do this they miss the big picture of the guide. They also miss out on some gems that are referred to in the “Introduction” and included in the Appendix.

So, let’s get started!

After more than 15 years of homeschooling my boys with HOD, I still read the “Introduction” at the start of my school year! So, grab a cup of tea or coffee, cuddle up with your highlighter, and read away. Just reading the “Introduction” will make you feel more prepared!


Top Ten Tips for Teaching Multiple Guides

A Hybrid Approach to Beyond Little Hearts and Bigger Hearts for 6-8 Year-Olds

From Our House to Yours

A Hybrid Approach to Beyond Little Hearts and Bigger Hearts

Heart of Dakota’s (HOD’s) Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory (Beyond) has a target age range of 6-8 years old. This means the bulk of the guide is geared toward children within this target age range. So, the history, geography, timeline, science, Bible study, devotional, music, art projects, poetry activities, and read-alouds all are very appropriate for children ages 6-8. These subjects are more inspirational, and as such, have a wider range of appropriate placement. In contrast, language arts and math are more disciplinary subjects. These subjects have a smaller range of appropriate placement. They require more fine tuning. There are already multiple levels of reading, spelling, math, and copywork in Beyond’s plans. However, what if you are combining a 6 year-old with an 8 year-old that is just ready for more in language arts and math? Well, you take a hybrid approach!

A Hybrid Approach to Handwriting

Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory (Beyond) already has writing options for copywork. Students use classical poetry provided in the Appendix of Beyond for copywork. You can already customize handwriting by choosing how many lines of the poetry each student copies. Younger students might begin by copying one line of poetry each day. Older students might copy four lines of poetry each day. But what if your 8 year-old is advanced in handwriting and is ready for cursive? Well, you take the hybrid approach by adding either Cheerful Cursive or Italic D from the Bigger Hearts guide!

A Hybrid Approach to Math

Beyond has two math options. The first option includes 1A/1B Singapore Math. The Beyond guide has wonderful hands-on daily math plans to teach the 1A/1B math. In the Appendix of the Beyond guide, there is a second option for using 2A/2B Singapore Math. This schedule uses the textbook to teach 2A/2B, with the workbook to follow. However, if you prefer hands-on math plans to teach 2A/2B, or if you have one super smart little one that places in Singapore Math 3A/3B, it’s time to take the hybrid approach! How? Well, you use the Bigger Hearts teacher’s guide. With daily hands-on math plans for 2A/2B, by using the Bigger Hearts guide, you don’t even need to buy the 2A/2B Textbooks. So, really, by using this hybrid approach for 2A/2B, you’re getting the Bigger Hearts guide for nearly $30 less (the guide less the cost of the textbooks).

A Hybrid Approach to Spelling

Beyond includes two spelling options already. Spelling list one is easier than spelling list two, and both are included in Beyond’s daily plans and Appendix. However, if your 8 year-old is ready for harder spelling in the form of Charlotte Mason’s studied dictation, it is time to take the hybrid approach! The Appendix of the Bigger Heart’s teacher’s guide includes Dictation Level 2. This is the first of eight levels of studied dictation, and it is the next, harder level of spelling instruction after Beyond’s spelling list two. So, if you have an 8 year-old in Beyond who is ready for studied dictation, take the hybrid approach by adding the dictation plans from the Bigger Hearts guide!

A Hybrid Approach to Grammar

Each Day 5 of each weekly unit in the Beyond teacher’s guide already includes an activity to teach a grammar skill. The grammar lessons in Beyond usually don’t require much writing, so they are perfect for 6 or 7 year-olds ready for grammar but not ready for a lot of writing! However, if your 8 year-old is ready for daily grammar with more writing, it’s time to take the hybrid approach! Just add the Bigger Heart’s R & S English 2 grammar plans for your 8 year-old!

A Full or Partial Hybrid Approach

So, if you have an 8 year-old or nearly 9 year-old using Beyond for a core guide, either solo or combined with a younger sibling, consider a hybrid approach! Choose a full hybrid approach for an 8 year-old ready for more in all language arts and math areas. Or, choose a partial hybrid approach for an 8 year-old ready for more in just one or two areas. Either way, you can easily use a full or partial hybrid approach alongside Beyond as your main guide. Better yet, you won’t be out your Economy Package savings the following year when you use Bigger Hearts as your main guide! Just let HOD know you already purchased your Beyond guide from them the year before, and HOD will still apply your $20+ package savings when you order the rest of the Economy Package later. Hope you enjoy some of these hybrid approach ideas!

In Christ,