Except the Lord build the house, they labour but in vain that build it

A Charlotte Mason Moment

“Here, indeed, more than anywhere, ‘Except the Lord build the house, they labour but in vain that build it’; but surely intelligent co-operation in this divine work is our bounden duty and service. The training of the will, the instruction of the conscience, and, so far as it lies with us, the development of the divine life in the child, are carried on simultaneously with this training in the habits of a good life; and these last will carry the child safely over the season of infirm will, immature conscience, until he is able to take, under direction from above, the conduct of his life, the moulding of his character, into his own hands.” (Home Education by Charlotte M. Mason Vol. 2, p.90).

Before and After Pictures Show Progress in Homeschooling

From Our House to Yours

Snap Before and After Pictures to Show Progress 

Many of us are in the homestretch of completing our homeschooling year with Heart of Dakota. Students might be nearing the end of their Heart of Dakota guide. Or in contrast, as homeschooling has flexible pacing, students may be starting a guide or in the middle of a guide. If your student is in the middle or end of their guide, this post is for you!  Heart of Dakota guides are front-loaded, with all skills being taught right away.  This allows students to improve their skills day by day, week by week.  One way to celebrate this progress is to snap “before” and “after” pictures!

As all of our kiddos our nearing the end of their guides, we decided to celebrate progress with each other!  First, I asked each of them to choose an assignment they felt they’d shown the most improvement in.  Next, we shared them with each other and snapped pictures.  Finally, we shared them here with you!  This has been such fun!

Emmett’s Before and After Pictures for Creation to Christ:  Most Improved in Notebook Assignments 

Before… Comments by Emmett:

  • notebook writing was very large
  • my notebook writing ran together
  • not even sure what I drew for the notebook illustration in Box 4
  • totally missed completing an notebook assignment in Box 6
Before… Unit 3 CTC Notebook

After… Comments by Emmett:

  • notebook writing neater and fits in boxes
  • timeline assignment more colorful
  • illustrations in notebook improved
  • completed all my notebook assignments well
AFTER… Unit 26 CTC Notebook







Riley’s Before and After Pictures for World Geography:  Most Improved in One Sentence Summary Assignment 

Before… Comments by Riley:

  • writing of the summary was too small
  • spelling in the summary was not right
  • didn’t fill the box completely with my sentence

After… Comments by Riley:

  • included all elements needed for the one sentence summary
  • remembered to box, circle, cloud, star my summary without being reminded
  • summaries were more descriptive and interesting to read
Before and After Pics from Units 3 and 30 of World Geography
Wyatt’s Before and After Pictures for U.S. History II:  Most Improved in Opinion Narrations 

Before… Comments by Wyatt:

  • opinions were randomly presented
  • wasn’t clear what was my opinion and what was fact
  • my opinions interrupted the storyline of my retelling

After… Comments by Wyatt:

  • better job evenly expressing my opinions throughout the narration
  • improved at clearly presenting them as my opinions
  • my opinions were interspersed so the story retelling went smoothly
Before… Unit 15 on Left; After… Unit 31 on Right from U.S. II History

As you near the end of your homeschool year, whenever that may be according to your chosen pacing, why not celebrate?  One great way to show progress in homeschooling is to snap “Before” and “After” pictures.  Hope this idea helps your family celebrate the progress your kiddos are making in Heart of Dakota!


In Christ,


P.S. To read more about Creation to Christ’s notebooking, click here!

P.S.S. To read more about written narrations as a form of assessment, click here!

P.S.S.S.  To read about another way to share favorite homeschool assignments, click here!





Making Bigger Hearts More Independent for a 5th Grade Homeschool Student

Dear Carrie,

We are finishing Unit 3 of Bigger Hearts…, and we are really enjoying it! The only issue I’m having is I’m doing it with a 5th grader.  I feel I need to make Bigger Hearts more independent for my 5th grader, who needs more independent work. My son would fit perfectly into Preparing Hearts…, but we really wanted to do a year of American History. The more I look at it, the more I really think I should have chosen Preparing Hearts… for my son. I looked at the placement chart, scope and sequence, etc. However, I focused focused so much on American History that I never really paid attention to those like I should have.

The only areas he really doesn’t place in Preparing… for are Poetry, Math, and Reading. Should I just save Bigger for my younger son next year and do Preparing for my older son? I’m really starting to think that may be best. I want his Science and History to be at his level. I know the extensions bring it up to level some, but I need him working more independently. How can I make Bigger Hearts… more independent for my 5th grader, or should I have him do Preparing Hearts…?


“Please Help Me Make Bigger Hearts More Independent”

Dear “Please Help Me Make Bigger Hearts More Independent,”

When we did Bigger Hearts with our son, we looked at it as a year of training. We taught him to read from the guide and to do his own readings. This really helped my son be quite independent and was excellent preparation for learning how to follow written directions!

Charlotte Mason says a child of 9, who is able, should read his/her own books.

I had him do his own history readings and science readings. Charlotte Mason says a child of 9 who is able to read his/her own books should, and mine could. He would get me when he was done reading, and we would do the follow-up activity together. However, before getting me, he read the directions for the activity in the bottom left box. Additionally, he was responsible for getting everything ready for me as best as possible. So, by the time I arrived, we were ready to go!

The timeline, art, note booking, vocabulary, and Bible copywork can be done independently.

He did his timeline, art, notebooking, Cheerful Cursive, and vocabulary (eventually) on his own, reading right from the guide. I just checked them when he was done. He practiced his Bible verse on his own and did his Bible verse copywork on his own. My son also read over any questions in the Bible study box. Likewise, he thought about the answers prior to me coming to discuss with him. Then, we did the Bible Study discussion. We listened to the hymns at lunch with all of the kiddos and me singing along.

English and Math can be semi-independently done.

My son read over his English lesson and started on it by the time I joined him. We always did at least half together though, to make sure that he got it. He began his math on his own, and I’d go over the textbook lesson with him after he’d read it.

Drawn into the Heart of Reading needs to be more teacher-directed.

I did formally set aside a specific time each day to teach Drawn into the Heart of Reading. This is because DITHOR is such an important area to cover well! When kiddos learn to think beneath the surface of what is read and learn to read with discernment, two important skills are learned.

Students can do the science quite independently, with the teacher just making sure to go through assigned follow-ups.

My son honestly did the science completely independently. I checked in with him to make sure he did his lab sheets correctly and performed the experiment correctly. I did listen to his oral narrations with the science book in hand. Sometimes, he narrated to a younger sibling (with me looking over his shoulder).

Fifth graders should do the Extension Package readings and assignments independently.

The Extension Pack readings are meant to be done independently. From what you’ve shared previously, I agree having him work on his writing and spelling skills this year is important. The level of writing in Preparing Hearts continues to rise. Placement in Preparing is based on the skills noted in the first page of the placement chart. You can see these skills include a good dose of writing and spelling. Without those skills in place, moving into Preparing would only suit him in the area of reading material. The practice of core skills needed for good writing may be lost in the shuffle.

Adding independence to Bigger Hearts seems to make it a good placement for your 5th grade son.

These are just my thoughts, and you will certainly know best! However, I wanted to give you some food for thought on the many needed skills woven within Bigger Hearts. With our son who was older when he completed Bigger Hearts…, the independence I’ve mentioned worked well. When he began, Preparing Hearts…, he was ready!



He’s so young, what can we expect?

A Charlotte Mason Moment

“The habits of the child produce the character of the man, because certain mental habitudes once set up, their nature is to go on forever unless they should be displaced by other habits. Here is an end to the easy philosophy of, ‘It doesn’t matter,’  ‘Oh, he’ll grow out of it,’  ‘He’ll know better by-and-by,’  ‘He’s so young, what can we expect?’ and so on. Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.” (Home Education by Charlotte M. Mason Vol. 1, p. 118)

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,