Help My 2nd Grader Grow into the Amount of Writing in Bigger Hearts

Dear Carrie

How can I help my 2nd grader grow into the amount of writing planned in Bigger Hearts?

My son is in 2nd grade and doing HOD‘s Bigger Hearts for His Glory. He loves it all, except the amount of writing. He does poetry copywork every day and sometimes Bible verses. Additionally, he writes within his science notebooking, dictation, and sometimes history activity writing. I switched him to doing Rod and Staff 2 orally because he couldn’t handle the writing. He also does one sheet daily from Abeka’s language arts. All of this together is too much for him. He is overwhelmed, and his handwriting is getting worse. I would say in a day, he does the Abeka sheet and one other area mentioned above. I’ve been doing Rod and Staff 2 with him orally. I placed him in Bigger Hearts, and I think it is the right placement. But, how can I help him grow into the amount of writing he should be doing?


“Ms. Please Help My 2nd Grader Grow into the Amount of Writing in Bigger Hearts”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My 2nd Grader Grow into the Amount of Writing in Bigger Hearts,”

First of all, take a moment to rejoice that your kiddo is doing well and enjoying Bigger overall. That is a wonderful thing! Next, I just want to encourage you that many kiddos struggle with writing of ANY sort. It is something to grow into, just like learning to read or learning to do math problems.

To reduce the amount of writing, I recommend doing most of Rod and Staff orally.

As far as English, there’s no need to do Abeka in addition to Rod and Staff. So, I’d pick one or the other. Since your little guy doesn’t enjoy writing, I’d choose Rod and Staff, as it is easy to do orally. In the Introduction to Bigger, I actually recommend doing almost all of Rod and Staff orally, and only assigning one small portion to be done in writing each day. So, you’re actually doing Rod and Staff the way we intended by doing it almost all orally!

We rotate assignments to keep the amount of writing in balance each day.

Next, in the daily plans, we actually rotate the writing assignments around, so you’re not doing all of those writing assignments on any one given day. So, make sure you’re following the plans as written, and that will help you not to get overloaded with too much writing.

Try reducing the amount of writing by omitting the optional poetry copywork.

As far as writing activities go, you’ll need to keep the scheduled dictation. However, you can reduce the amount of writing by omitting the poetry copywork. In Bigger Hearts, the poetry copywork is only suggested but not scheduled daily or required. If your little one is doing cursive, then the poetry copywork could be skipped. I know that we didn’t do it with my second son, and it was fine.

Other Suggestions for Lessening the Amount of Writing

That will leave one other writing something each day to be done (either copying a Bible verse, doing a history notebook assignment, doing a science notebook assignment, or doing a science experiment form). With each of those assignments, you can lessen the amount of writing by writing the beginning part of a sentence or even a sentence or two for your son. Then, just have your sweetie finish the rest. You can gradually move up to requiring a little more of it to be written by the student until you eventually work up to full-speed by the end of the year. Make sure not to do more than one vocabulary word either (and you can even do the writing for your student on that one, taking dictation, until he can work up to doing it himself).

Many kiddos need to grow into the amount of writing required, so just ease into it to find success!

Writing will always be an area that takes some growing into for MANY kiddos. No matter what program you use, there will be writing required. Just allow your child to ease into it, gradually moving up as he’s able, and you’ll eventually find success!


P.S. Looking for ideas for going half-speed in Bigger Hearts or in Preparing Hearts with a child for other reasons?  Click here to find some half-speed options with daily language arts and math!

Practical Ideas to Help an 8 Year-Old Focus Better

Dear Carrie

How can I help my son maintain better focus during history and science readings?

We just finished our first week of Heart of Dakota. I have a son who is eight using Bigger Hearts. He’s really enjoying the curriculum and doing well. However, he is having a hard time getting the science and history readings to sink in. Do you have suggestions on how to help him keep his focus/attention? Especially while I read to him? He has a tough time trying to narrate back to me. Someone suggested letting him move about the room while I read, or buy some special wiggly seat for him to sit on. I tried having him move around the room. It was a disaster. The readings are so interesting! I’M totally into them. I just can’t figure out how to get HIM to focus. Do you have some practical ideas to help him, that don’t involve buying a special cushion?


“Ms. Please Help with Practical Ideas for My 8 Year-Old to Focus Better”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with Practical Ideas for My 8 Year-Old to Focus Better,”

One thing to keep in mind is that the readings that are within Bigger Hearts are definitely challenging and include a very high-level vocabulary. This makes them a step up from the readings within Beyond. It takes time to grow into the skills required to listen to, process, and narrate upon more difficult readings. So, time spent reading more difficult material will definitely help a child grow into these skills. It is a process that takes time.

Have your child sit next to you and follow along as you read.

Next, it is usually true that seeing and hearing what is read will result in better retention than simply hearing what is read. So, it is a good idea to have your child sit next to you and follow along with the text while you read. I keep my wiggly boys close to me on the couch and keep my arm around them, having them help me hold the book as I read. This keeps them anchored next to me and keeps their minds focused on the words on the page.

Having your son narrate on shorter segments will help, but be careful not to stop to explain, summarize, or reread the text.

Stopping after several paragraphs to have your child give a brief narration, and then continuing right on, is another strategy that will help. Also, be sure that you are not stopping to explain difficult words, summarize the reading, or reread the text, as this actually interrupts the flow of the story in a child’s mind. Instead, we want to work toward training your child in the habit of listening and retelling from a single reading.

For many children, movement during reading interferes with the habit of retention.

While it is true that kiddos with certain disabilities listen and retain better when they are in motion, this is not true for most children. For many children, movement during reading interferes with the habit of attention and instead focuses and practices the habit of multi-tasking. Kids today often multi-task very well, but multi-tasking often means not giving your full attention to a single task but rather giving partial attention to a variety of tasks at once.

We are looking to form the habit of giving full attention to a single task, within the process of listening and narrating.

With narration and listening, we are looking to form the habit of giving a child’s full attention to a single task. To do this, the child often needs to be still, focusing all his/her attention on the reading and subsequent retelling. This is why it is so important to keep the readings short and the follow-up short too. This allows the child to give his/her full concentration to the task at hand, without requiring an unreasonable amount of time to be spent in this focused concentration.

You will see this skill slowly develop as time passes.

As time passes, I think you will be surprised at the progress your child will make in this area if you simply do the plans as written, requiring the child to focus/concentrate from a single reading. The skill will slowly develop through the years.



Brainstorming for a Large Family with Just Two Children in Mind

Dear Carrie

Brainstorming for a Large Family with Just Two Children in Mind

I’m a mom of 6 children. One is married with children of his own now! My 19 year-old son is in special education in high school. I use Heart of Dakota with the rest. My 12 and 14 yo are in Revival to Revolution.  My question is about my other two children. One is in Unit 13 of Bigger Hearts for His Glory. The other is in Unit 20 of Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory.  So, it won’t be long until there are two in Bigger Hearts at different places, and then one in Preparing Hearts and one in Bigger. There is no way I can combine – I wouldn’t want to anyway. As we have a large family and these are somewhat teacher-intensive guides, I’d sure be interested in brainstorming about these two children. The rest – I have quite happily figured out. Thanks!

“Ms. Brainstorming for a Large Family with Just Two Children in Mind”

Dear “Ms. Brainstorming for a Large Family with Just Two Children in Mind,”

Brainstorming sounds like a great idea! As far as your situation goes, I would encourage you to choose one set of storytime books to read aloud to the Beyond/Bigger kiddos. I’d follow the plans for the younger guide, so you can keep this pattern going as they head into the next guide too. I would also work toward getting the kiddos who are the most ready to read from their guide to do so as soon and as much as they are able. This doesn’t always mean this will be the older child either!

Brainstorming About Reading: Whoever can read first, should!

Reading can take real time, so it’s worth brainstorming about! If your child eventually heading into Preparing is able to read his/her own history, I would encourage you to let that child do so. Or, perhaps your first Bigger student might be able to read the science (or possibly even the history). I did allow my second son to do this as he was ready in Bigger. My next little ones in Bigger could not do that though, so I read everything aloud to them.

Brainstorming About the Emerging Reader’s Set 

If you have a child in the Emerging Reader Set, I have one brainstorming tip. I find it oh-so-helpful to have that child practice his day’s pages alone first before coming to read to me. This allows the child time to peruse the pictures, figure out difficult words, and ruminate on the story. Then, by the time he/she comes to read to you the reading clips along more quickly. He/she can also answer the follow-up questions more easily. Plus, while the child is practicing on his/her own, you can work with someone else.

Brainstorming That Includes Recognizing Your Self-Starters 

If you have kiddos who are organized or self-starters, I have another brainstorming tip about them! Why not have them get out their own books and do the things they can do? My child in Bigger sang his own hymn in the morning (and we all loved hearing it fill the house). He also did his own copywork in the morning and got out his needed books by checking the guide. Of course, he didn’t do these things when beginning Bigger, but as he progressed further into the guide, he wanted to do more on his own! All of these are time savers and pay big dividends to the parent! Plus, the child is happy to be moving along rather than waiting on mama!

Brainstorming That Includes the Help of An Older Child

Here’s one more brainstorming tip! If you have an older child who is finished ahead of time and is waiting on you, have him/her jump in and help teach one box from a little one’s guide for 5-10 minutes. We do this at times with our older boys, and it helps keep things moving along (and helps me get to the older child faster).

Brainstorming That Takes Advantage of A Morning Recess Break

If you give your kiddos a morning recess break all together, here’s one more brainstorming tip. Why not use that time to check the older children’s work? This will help you make sure they are staying on track. It also keeps you on top of how the more independent kiddos are progressing (and saves derailment later in the day). Once the kiddos’ work is checked, have them clear those books away, as clutter is a joy-stealer! (At least it is for me!)

Brainstorming That Puts “Piles” to Good Use

Here’s a brainstorming tip we use that involved putting ‘piles’ to good use. We have our boys place their books/notebooks/completed work in their own pile on our kitchen counter next to our stove. Each child has his own space for his pile. That way, as time allows, we can check their work. Then, when we have checked it, we move it to the other side of the stove (in a pile). This way, the kiddos can see the work has been checked and put it away. Anything that has been corrected but needs attention, we don’t move to the other side (as a reminder for us to go back and help the child redo that subject). For our littles in the teacher-led younger guides, we check and put away as they go (not allowing them to put anything away until its been checked).

Brainstorming Ideas with the Family Working As a Team in Mind

Anyway, those are just some brainstorming ideas that may help or get you thinking of things that could help. I’m sure you already have discovered many of these things, and probably more that I haven’t listed. We try to think of our family as a team, where everyone must be willing to help one another out to get our day accomplished. If we have appointments or places to go, we will warn the kiddos the night before so they can plan accordingly and are not taken by surprise. Often, our olders might work ahead that evening or get up earlier in the morning then, so as not to be behind. We do not, however, let our littles get up any earlier on those days, as once they’re up the day is officially underway for us all.


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

Should my children do poetry copywork if they are doing Cheerful Cursive?

Dear Carrie

If my children are doing Cheerful Cursive in Bigger Hearts, should I still have them do the poetry copywork?

We are starting Heart of Dakota‘s Bigger Hearts for His Glory on Monday. I wasn’t sure if I should have my kids do both the Cheerful Cursive and the Charlotte Mason copywork in the Poetry section. Even though we are starting cursive, their printing could still use some work. Should I do both? Or, is there enough other writing that they will still get enough printing practice? Thanks in advance for your help, and we can’t wait to start!


“Ms. Not Sure If My Children Should Do Copywork and Cursive”

Dear “Ms. Not Sure If My Children Should Do Poetry Copywork and Cursive,”

The choice of whether to do the poetry copywork in Bigger Hearts works well either way, as the poetry copywork is an optional choice if you’re currently doing Cheerful Cursive or Italic D. When we did Bigger Hearts with my second son, we did the poetry copywork in manuscript along with doing Cheerful Cursive. However, that particular son of mine loves to write. There is plenty of writing/copywork within Bigger Hearts, so if you have a child who does not love to write or is easily tired by too much writing, I wouldn’t do the poetry copywork. Instead, I would work toward fully doing the other assigned copywork in history and science and vocabulary.

What We Decided to Do with My Third Son’s Poetry Copywork and Cursive in Bigger Hearts

When my third son did Bigger Hearts for His Glory, I decided to do the poetry copywork in manuscript but wait on Cheerful Cursive. He just was not nearly ready for cursive. I based this decision on him having had some struggles with handwriting due to having surgery on the tips of his fingers on his left hand, as well as on us having to make him be a “righty” when he was obviously a “lefty”). Anyway, we added cursive for him the next homeschool year, when we came back to finish the rest of Bigger Hearts (at which point we decided not to continue with the optional poetry copywork in manuscript).

What We Decided to Do with My Fourth Son’s Poetry Copywork and Cursive in Bigger Hearts

When my fourth son did Bigger Hearts for His Glory, I chose a pace of half-speed with him. As I wanted him to continue practicing his printing but also begin learning cursive, I had him do both the poetry copywork and Cheerful Cursive. So, one day he did the poetry copywork, and the next day he did Cheerful Cursive. This way, I had him strengthening his fine motor skills by writing every day. So, there are many options to choose from, and I would choose which is best for each of your children doing Bigger Hearts based on their individual needs.