What would my son be missing out on if he doesn’t have proper placement?

Pondering Placement

What would my son be missing out on if I combine him in a guide  that isn’t his proper placement?

I am on the fence about which guide(s) to choose for proper placement. One son likes American history and reading about wars. The other son doesn’t say what he likes. He is probably too young to know. Honestly, he doesn’t even know much about history yet to say what he’d like. I don’t want to choose to combine in a guide just based on my oldest son’s placement and interests. I really like the progression of skills and learning I see in Heart of Dakota’s guide sequence. Both sons would benefit from proper placement.

Deep down, I know my younger son can’t do the same work my older son can do. I don’t want to combine just to combine. I want both sons to have proper placement. So, I THINK I know the answer, but still, I’ll ask the question. What would my son be missing out on if I combine him in a guide that doesn’t fit him on the placement chart?

Carrie’s Reply:

When I was in high school, I played volleyball and basketball. I had always “started” throughout middle school and into high school, until my sophomore year. In that year of basketball, I had a coach with whom I had a personality conflict. The conflict was that he did not like my personality, and I didn’t particularly love his! Now hopefully I have grown and matured since then. However, the point is that I ended up on the bench for almost the entire season. After that year, I went on to a different coach and was back to “starting” again.  No one can ever tell me that you feel a part of a team when you’re sitting and observing, watching, and listening from the bench!

Proper Placement Considerations for Little Ones

Often in homeschooling, we let our little ones sit on the “bench”, simply observing, watching, and listening in but rarely getting them truly involved in the “game”. So, at HOD, we write our guides with family balance in mind. It is so easy for families to get out of balance by targeting one or more key members of the family and targeting the teaching toward that child. When grouping large age ranges together, the parent must choose what age to target their teaching toward, and often teaching is targeted toward the older child. In that case the older child is receiving the skills he/she needs, while the youngers are simply tagging along, which often equates to sitting on the bench.

Proper Placement – the Key to Balance

Proper placement in HOD is the key to balance within a family, making sure all learners are getting the needed balance that gets them involved in the learning. Our HOD guides seek to balance time spent on various subjects within the school day, the amount of time required to complete a guide each day, the teaching time required by the teacher in presenting and guiding lessons each day, the time and attention given to various skills within the day, the way various learning styles are addressed within the day, and the individual time given to children at various age levels during the day. In this way, every child is participating and learning, and no one is left simply watching and listening.


I need your assistance! Should I combine or separate my oldest two children?

Dear Carrie

I need your assistance! Should I combine or separate my oldest two children?

Dear Carrie,

I need your assistance! I have 4 children, ages 6, 4.5, 2, 1, and a baby due in 3.5 weeks. At the beginning of the year, I agonized over combining my oldest two. I decided to do just the right side of Little Hearts (LHFHG) with my 6 year-old. Then, the following year when little brother turned 5, I planned on doing LHFHG with both of them. However, I now know more about my boys. My 6 year old (K) is bright, picks up things quickly, and is ready for more. Little brother is more average. He often feels inadequate and not as smart. When he gets a wrong answer, he shuts down or walks away crying. The beauty of homeschooling to me is meeting each child where they are. I feel like I am not doing that with either. However, I need to do what’s best for the whole family too.


“Ms. Please Provide Assistance for This Mama of Many Little Ones with Combining or Separating”

Dear “Ms. Please Provide Assistance This Mama of Many Little Ones with Combining or Separating,”

I would be glad to give some assistance! First, take heart that as time has passed this year it has revealed much to you about how your oldest two would do if they were combined. The past months have also shown you that your first-born is more ready to move ahead and that your second in line shuts down when pulled too fast. These are good things to discover, and honestly can only be found out as time passes. So, you have actually gained more clarity these past months and now have a bit clearer vision! This will provide assistance going forward!

I’d start Little Heart for His Glory full-speed with your oldest now.

With what you’ve shared, I would look at beginning Little Hearts (LHFHG) full-speed with your oldest now. To do this, I would just keep going with where you are on the right side of the LHFHG plans but I would start at the beginning of LHFHG for the left side and the Storytime. This would mean that you would have two spots you are working from in the guide for now. (Just put two sticky notes on those spots, and you’ll be fine). This will immediately provide assistance, as you will feel you are meeting your oldest where he is right now!

I’d start Little Hands to Heaven with your 4 year-old now, either full or half-speed.

I would also begin Little Hands to Heaven (LHTH) with your 4 year-old so that he has some of his own school. You can even just start half-speed with LHTH if desired (splitting each day into two days). Since your 4 year-old is shutting down at times right now, I would not have him join his older brother for LHFHG “school” but rather have the two just join together for play, lunch, recess, etc. I would keep their school very separate right now. This will provide assistance because it will cut down on unhealthy comparisons. They are probably together quite a bit, so they may actually need separation more than they need togetherness. I know this is true for my older two!

Once baby comes, it will provide assistance to focus on full-speed Little Hearts and to do Little Hands half-speed. 

Once the baby comes and you start back up with school, I would concentrate on getting in your older one’s LHFHG school done first. At that point, if it helps to do LHTH half-speed, I would do that. Just do half the boxes one day and half the boxes the next with your 4 year-old. This only amounts to 15 minutes of school a day (as LHTH takes 30 minutes in total). However, it will show your 4 year-old that his school is important too. I wouldn’t let big brother join in on LHTH right now either. Instead, just really concentrate on each of your older two as individuals for now. This plan will help stretch LHTH out and put some distance between your two kiddos.

It will provide assistance in the future to combine some of your littles.

As you travel down the homeschool path, it looks like you will have some little ones coming up who can definitely be combined. This will provide assistance because it will keep the number of guides you are running down. I think you will definitely be relieved to just get your older one started, and it does really help in the long haul if your older one can move into doing more on his own more quickly. Those older kiddos are often just wired by the Lord that way, and you will avoid more battles if that child is more independent.

It would not provide assistance to skip LHFHG and move into Beyond, but I truly believe the rest of my advice will provide assistance right now as well as in the future!

It wouldn’t provide assistance to skip LHFHG and move into Beyond, as there is a big jump between LHFHG and Beyond. So, I would jump into LHFHG full time as soon as possible, and I think you will really begin enjoying your days!   I would also make sure to begin LHTH in some form so that your 4 year-old can get excited about his own school too. I truly believe all of this will provide the assistance you are wanting and will get your homeschooling back on a good path!


Deciding Between Combining and Uncombining

Dear Carrie

Deciding Between Combining and Uncombining

In January we’ll start our new school year. I’ll have a ten year-old daughter and an almost eight year-old son. We’ve used Heart of Dakota (HOD), from preschool through Preparing Hearts. I’ve had no problem timewise doing two guides, especially since my daughter is getting more independent. However, I think I’d like to combine the two for history and science. Honestly, my son’s been secretly listening to his older sister’s books for years! I REALLY want to stick with HOD! So, if I combined my 2nd and 4th graders in Creation to Christ (CTC) for history and science ONLY, how would I do it? How would I modify written work, notebooking assignments, etc.? His handwriting is NOT great. I go back and forth on this. I honestly am okay keeping them uncombined if you think that’s better. Combining has been smooth sailing. Maybe I shouldn’t rock the boat with uncombining!


“Ms. Please Help Me Decide Between Combining or Uncombining”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Decide Between Combining or Uncombining,”

Combining and uncombining can work within Heart of Dakota (HOD). However, the target age ranges of the guides really do matter. One thing I think all of us go through as our kiddos are getting older and are gaining independence is that our momma’s heart longs to stay with our oldest and keep on learning and sharing with that child. (The subject matter just gets so interesting that we don’t want to allow that child to head off without us!) Yet, as our children mature it is so important to allow them to be more mature and to treat them in that manner without having little ears listening in to all of the more grown-up topics and heart issues that come along with that maturity.

Our littler ones deserve the same focused attention our older ones received.

It is also so important to give our littler ones the same focused attention that our older ones received, and having an older one moving into the guides from CTC on up allow us to do just that! This is because as our older ones take over more of their own readings, we have more time to spend with just our little ones… bonding and making individual memories with them too.

Our guides speak to a more clearly defined stage or age of children, both in ability and maturity.

You will find this to be very true as you head into CTC on up, as we definitely wrote these guides with the target age range on the guide in mind and we meant to let our kiddos head off more on their own. This means that we’re not writing with an eye toward kiddos beneath the age range, but instead are really targeting the range of ages on the guide both in ability and in maturity. This makes our guides really fit a narrower age range well. It also makes the guides speak to a more clearly defined stage or age that the child is in at that time.

Combining a young child beneath the target age range of a guide  with an older child impacts reading skills and maturity.

So, if you choose to have a young one (beneath the target age range of the guide) combined with an older one just listen in, you’ll find over time that you’re having to read aloud material we never planned to be read aloud (simply to keep your young one in the loop). You’ll also be exposing your child to content that we never intended for a child beneath the age range of the guide to be hearing, simply due to the maturity needed to handle the subject matter in the guide.

The spiritual maturity and depth of faith of a child should also be considered when contemplating combining.

Another thing to ponder when looking at combining is how much spiritual maturity and depth of faith a child should have before being exposed to the content in each guide. In my mind, it is very important for a child to have an excellent foundation in the Bible and in what he/she believes before heading into anything involving ancient history and the Reformation! This means that kiddos beneath the age range of a guide will also not have the spiritual maturity we are looking for them to have in place prior to moving into the historical time period in the guide. This is really something that easily gets overlooked in placement but that makes a huge difference in a child’s reaction and understanding of many difficult times in history!

When a younger child ‘listens in’ to an older child’s guide, much of the experience we have planned for that child to gain is lost.

So, while I can understand your thoughts on combining your kiddos to have unity in your history study, I also want to encourage you that listening in to an older child’s guide leaves out much of the experience we have planned for that child to gain from using a particular guide. As an example for you to ponder from my own experience, I’ll share that my oldest son did Sonlight Core 1 as a first grader. As a part of that core, he was to listen to A Child’s History of the World. My oldest read at age four. He was able to read huge classic chapter books off his dad’s shelf (like the unabridged copy of Moby Dick) before he was turning seven. Of course, I took this book away midway through and told him Daddy’s shelf was off-limits! But, my oldest son was just an amazing reader!

As subject matter got harder, more violent, and more mature, I began asking whether just because my son “could” read this , “should” he?

So, as we journeyed through grade 1 of Sonlight, he read more and more of A Child’s History of the World himself. He had a great understanding of the world and could really comprehend the readings. So, we kept on going. As a couple of years passed with Sonlight, however, I realized that the subject matter just kept getting harder, more violent, and more mature. I began asking whether just because my son “could” read this type of more mature material, whether he really “should” read that type of material.

Maturity plays a huge role in how much children can truly “take in.”

By the time we were in third grade, my philosophy was shifting drastically. I began realizing that there were many things that required a depth of faith he didn’t have (at age 6, or 7, or 8, etc.) to bring to the study of those types of books. I also made a shift away from Sonlight for this very reason. There is much more to reading than simply being able to read and comprehend! Maturity plays a huge role, and even mature kiddos need to grow up to really “take in” what they’re reading on a deeper level!

Books that would have been a joy for an older reader were just so-so for my son.

So, my next choice was to use Ambleside Online. We did years 3, 4, 5, and part of 6 in full. While we moved to a more Charlotte Mason approach with Ambleside, and the readings were less lengthy, we still ran into much maturity needed in the readings. Books that would have been a joy for an older reader, were so-so for my son. He used Ambleside on grade level and had no problems with the level of readings. However, in looking back, I can see now that reading books like the unabridged Robinson Crusoe as a 4th grader left less of a good impression than they would have left if my son were much older and more mature when he read them (both in age and in his faith).

My son brought a maturity to reading A Child’s History of the World when he was older that made a big difference in the depth of his understanding of it.

Through Ambleside, my son read A Child’s History of the World (again). What a difference in his understanding now that he had matured several years! Every light bulb in his mind was going off like crazy! He brought so much maturity to the reading, and it made a big difference in his understanding. He was making connections all over the place and his thought process was much, much deeper.

My son had an amazing year in CTC as a 7th grader, and his love for history and reading returned.

With this in mind, as I completed the writing of Creation to Christ (CTC) for my next oldest son, I chose to leave Ambleside and have my oldest son do CTC as a 7th grader. Even though technically the readings were “below” his level by a long shot…what an amazing year he had! He deepened his faith and love for the Lord through his first really Biblical tour through the ancient time period! He understood and enjoyed what he read so much more than he had with Sonlight or Ambleside. Blessedly, his love for history and reading returned.

As my son did RTR for 8th grader, I no longer thought he had to be challenged in every area to have a great learning experience!

The following year I had him do Resurrection to Reformation (RTR) as an 8th grader. Again, I couldn’t believe how much the study deepened and matured his faith. It was a turning point in his education and a turning point in my thinking. No longer did I think that he had to be challenged in every area to have a great learning experience. For the first time, I realized how much a mature faith meant to a study of a historical time period!

Combining just to combine is not worth it.

So in comparison, when we look at having your nearly 8 year-old, second grade son do CTC next year, in comparing it to the experience my 7th grade son had, you can imagine my hesitation in ever recommending that option. “Could” you do it, with a lot of tweaking? Probably. “Should” you do it? In my opinion, “could” and “should” are worlds apart, and I wouldn’t advise you to do it simply based on whether it “could” be done. Combining just to combine is not worth it.

Families combining children who are within the target age range of the guide do this quite successfully. 

What we discover time and again with HOD, is that those families who pull up a child who is outside of the age range of an HOD guide (simply for combining with an older sibling) often can only make it work in the younger guides. After that (usually by CTC) it becomes next to impossible to do this type of combining well. They eventually either end up splitting their kiddos  and moving the young child back down to a guide where he/she truly fits on his/her own, or they end up moving away from HOD. On the other hand, families combining kiddos who are actually within the target age range of the guide are able to do this quite successfully.

When you ask us about combining, we are being realistic about whether this is a plan that will work well for you for the long haul!

So, it is not that we don’t recommend combining, but rather that we don’t recommend combining kiddos outside of the age range of the guide. In all honesty, we are looking toward the future and being realistic about whether this is a plan that will work for you well for the long haul! The wonderful thing about posing your combining question here is that when we advise you, we are looking down the road to the “graduation from high school” finishing line with HOD. The advice we’re giving you is to keep you from burning up your HOD options and leaving you in a pickle!

I wouldn’t be in a hurry to grow your younger son into an upper guide just for combining’s sake.

Simply listening in to an older child’s reading is by no means the same as actually “doing” everything that goes with those readings. Pulling a child back a guide is hard to do, and allowing a young one to hear everything an older sibling is reading (without doing any of the skills involved in those readings) is just stealing your thunder for the future when your younger child gets there. Spiritual maturity and depth of faith play a huge role in the appropriateness of historical subject matter. I wouldn’t be in too big of a hurry to grow your young one into an upper guide just for combining’s sake. He will get there sooner than you’d like already. So, I’d not rock the boat by combining; rather, I’d keep on with your smooth sailing and enjoy the trip!



PS: Here are some threads to ponder as well:
Why don’t you recommend having children younger than the target age range of the HOD guide simply listen in with the older student’s guide?

What would my child be missing out on if I did choose to combine him/her in a guide that doesn’t fit him/her well on the placement chart?

How will we be learning as a family if we do separate guides?

Tweaking Placement and/or Pacing to Help in Unforeseen Life Challenges

Pondering Placement – Tweaking Pacing

Question: How would I go about tweaking pacing and/or placement for a few unforeseen life challenges? 

We’re currently using three Heart of Dakota guides, with a VERY distracting 2 year-old in the house. Three guides worked fine last year! However, due to unforeseen life challenges, I’d love your help tweaking placement and/or pacing. My 11 year-old is doing well in Creation to Christ. She’s appropriately challenged, able to work well independently, and my check-ins hold her accountable. She’s often done with her “I” boxes and waiting for me to finish with her brothers, so we can do her “T” boxes. So, I don’t think tweaking her pacing back to half-speed would help.

What about tweaking my 9 year-old son’s placement or pacing in Bigger Hearts?

My 9 year-old son in Bigger enjoys the History and Science very much. However, he is overwhelmed with the writing. He also finds the reading challenging (he has some eye-focusing issues that make those things laborious). I question whether he’ll be able to handle the Independence of Preparing next year. Bigger is taking us about 4 hours to complete, not counting Storytime or DITHOR (we try to cover those things at night.) He did okay in Beyond Little Hearts last year overall. Maybe you have some tweaking suggestions for pacing or placement for this son?

What about tweaking my 7 year-old son’s placement or pacing?

My 7 year-old is almost done with Little Hearts (LHFHG). He’s a little over halfway finished with The Reading Lesson. Although he’s still doing the handwriting workbook, he’s ready for more writing. I would place him in Beyond Little Hearts if we were coming fresh to HOD. Unfortunately, I loaned my Beyond things to a family member this year. My 7 year-old son is not at all ready for Bigger. He struggles with attention span and being able to focus. Maybe you have some tweaking suggestions for pacing or placement for this son?

What about tweaking pacing by slowing down my son in Bigger Hearts and pushing my 7 year-old along more quickly?

I’m now wondering whether I should slow down my child in Bigger to half- speed. I could then begin to work my younger son towards being ready to combine with his brother in a year or so. That would put my older son in the extensions as we move forward to keep him on grade level. Hopefully, my younger son would be ready to move forward with Bigger full-speed in a year. What are your thoughts? Would this be a disservice to my 9 year-old, or unrealistic for my 7 year-old? Sorry this got so long!

Carrie’s Reply: Try tweaking by combining your 7 year-old and 9 year-old in Beyond, but continue with full-speed LA and math in Bigger Hearts.

This suggestion is a bit on the unique side! However, I can honestly see it working better for you in the long haul than trying to hustle your younger child through Beyond, while your Bigger child treads water doing just the 3R’s for over a year. Homeschooling with a busy toddler can make schooling a challenge. With this in mind, and the fact that this little one will be a lovable distraction in the mix for awhile, I would lean toward having your 9 year-old bump back down to join your 7 year-old in a trip through Beyond. I know your 9 year-old just finished Beyond. However, your 7 year-old is so ready for Beyond! It is better to combine where the younger child is, rather than pulling a younger child up to always be towed along behind an older child.

Tweaking by combining in Beyond will lessen the amount of writing for your 9 year-old and the amount of teaching time for you.

Since you are struggling already to get DITHOR and Storytime from Bigger in your 9 year-old’s day, and Bigger is already taking you a lot longer than we’d like simply due to the writing challenges and possibly somewhat due to the eye issues your 9 year-old has, then it makes sense to bump that child back into Beyond where the writing load is less and the time overall to teach is less for you. This will allow you to devote needed time to DITHOR daily for your 9 year-old and will solve your Storytime issue as you’d combine your 7 and 9 year old-for that in Beyond. Choosing a different set of books to read aloud for the Storytime in Beyond will solve the problem of any repetition there for your 9 year-old in Beyond.

Tweaking by Doing Daily R & S English, Dictation, Cursive, Math, and DITHOR

For your 9 year-old, in this move to Beyond, I would keep going daily with Rod and Staff English, studied dictation, and Cheerful Cursive from Bigger. I would also keep going with your chosen math and do DITHOR daily for your 9 year-old as expected in Beyond. I would encourage you to additionally require daily copywork from poetry in Beyond in manuscript (even just a couple of lines a day) for your 9 year-old to build his writing muscles. This plan would allow you to keep the kiddos combined for the long haul and meet them both pretty closely to where they are at, since Bigger is a bit of a stretch for your 9-year old and LHFHG is a bit easy for your 7-year old.

Savor the Time with Your Older Child to Build 3 R’s and Strengthen Fine Motor Skills

I would do Beyond as written with your 7 year-old. For your 9 year-old, I would add the things I noted from Bigger. I’d focus on not rushing through Beyond to get to Bigger too early. I would savor the repeat time with your older child in Beyond. This will be time to build his 3 R’s and strengthen his fine motor skills daily. I believe this plan will save your sanity in the long haul and make school a joy once again!

Your family member has now had time to see whether Beyond is a fit for her family.

I would tell your family member (to whom you so graciously loaned your HOD materials) that due to a change in your plans you are in need of your Beyond Economy Package, science book, devotional, and music CD back. Then, I would purchase a new set of Storytime books to make that fresh. Your family member has likely had enough time to see whether she likes HOD enough to invest something in it. The Economy Package and the science, devotional, and music CD required to complete Beyond are not expensive (around $120 for all of those materials combined)! She could keep your storytime set for now (which will save her money).

Praying for God’s Grace and Wisdom for You

I pray God’s grace and wisdom on you as you seek His best for your homeschool. In looking down the road, I think this plan with the tweaking mentioned makes the most sense for the long haul. If you ever feel like your older child of the pair makes huge gains and is ready for more, you could always consider bumping that child forward a guide in coming years if needed.


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,