Choosing Between Preparing Hearts and Creation to Christ

Pondering Placement

Choosing Between Preparing Hearts and Creation to Christ

My fourth grade daughter is just turning 10. She has taken her time in becoming independent in her reading. Last year she got through about Unit 24 in Bigger Hearts and did really well. She did not continue into Preparing Hearts because I wanted her to spend lots of time on intense phonics review and reading. Blessedly, she’s grown leaps and bounds in her reading. She can orally narrate and write about 3-5 simple sentences. Also, she’ll complete Singapore 3B, Dictation 2, Rod and Staff 3, WWE 3, and 3rd grade readers. She is self motivated. Yet, she can be a big complainer if she thinks she cannot do something. I’m not quite sure if she can do DITHOR 4/5. One minute I’m convinced she should be in Preparing Hearts then I switch to CTC. What do you think?

Carrie’s Reply to Choosing Between Preparing Hearts and Creation to Christ

With what you’ve shared so far, I’d be inclined to suggest Preparing Hearts. I am basing this mostly upon her reading and writing level. Creation to Christ (CTC) is also quite a step up in independence and in reading and following lengthy written directions. I would be hesitant to put a child who has been a bit of a late bloomer in reading into CTC without first having that child go through the stepping stones that are built into Preparing Hearts.

I’d recommend Preparing Hearts with DITHR Level 3 books.

I think that a year in Preparing Hearts would also keep her from being too overwhelmed with the addition of DITHR to her days. With this in mind, I’d lean toward having her do Preparing Hearts with DITHR Level 2/3 (if she hasn’t already done it) or 4/5 (if she has already been through DITHR 2/3). I’d also lean toward the level 3 Book Pack (which actually has a reading level in the range of 3.5-5.1). If you think that is too young, you could move into the 4/5 Book Pack. However, I would do that with some hesitation as you want to encourage her to feel good about her reading without overwhelming her.

I’d recommend R & S English 4 half-speed, as well as the Preparing Hearts poetry writing lessons.

I would have her move on into Rod and Staff English 4 at half speed, spreading each lesson out over 2 days. Then, I’d move onto dictation Level 3 (which is in the Appendix of Preparing Hearts). I would move away from Writing with Ease, as you’ll have too much duplication between that program and the writing across the curriculum we do in Preparing Hearts (through guided written narration, oral narration, and dictation). I would make sure to do the writing lessons from the poetry as scheduled in Preparing Hearts to build those writing skills that are not covered elsewhere in our guide or in Rod and Staff. She will also be getting quite a bit of writing instruction through Rod and Staff.

I’d recommend Singapore 4A and the Preparing Hearts Deluxe and Science packages.

She can also move easily into Singapore 4A as that is scheduled in the Preparing Hearts Appendix. I would have her do the Deluxe Package with Preparing and also the science too. These will be her independent areas and will do a great job of building independence incrementally.

I’d definitely encourage a year in Preparing Hearts with your daughter, rather than jumping ahead to CTC.

In looking down the road at the level of reading, written work, and independence required in CTC and RTR on up, I would definitely encourage you to spend a year heading through Preparing  first with your daughter. The leap from completing 2/3 of Bigger and then jumping to CTC would be very huge (without having Preparing in between first).



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?

October Library Builder: Save 10% on all variants of the Creation to Christ Basic Package!

Library Builder

Use coupon code OCTOBER-LIBRARY for 10% on all variants of the Creation to Christ Basic Package!

We are excited to continue our  Heart of Dakota Library Builder book set promotion! On the 1st Wednesday of each month we will be promoting one of our book sets with a 10% coupon code. For this month’s special, use coupon code OCTOBER-LIBRARY on our website for the entire month of October to apply the savings to your order. The coupon applies to all variants of the Creation to Christ Basic Package. To view the History Interest, Boy Interest, and Girl Interest variants of this package, just click here! (Scroll down until you see the “Basic Package”  section.)

How is the History Interest Package used in Creation to Christ?

Well, we could tell you, but why reinvent the wheel? Carrie and Julie have already done an excellent job of outlining how these books are used in the Creation to Christ Introduction, so why don’t we have a quick look at that?

(From the Introduction to Creation to Christ ):

There are 3 book set options for Storytime: a History Interest Set, a Boy Interest Set, or a Girl Interest Set. If you desire to read aloud books that coordinate with the historical time period being studied, you will want to choose the History Interest Set. In keeping with the ancient time period, the History Interest Set does contain some violent content.

If you wish to avoid this, choose the Boy Interest or Girl Interest Set instead; these sets do not match the history, but were instead selected to provide excellent read-alouds from 9 different genres.

Sixth and seventh graders should either listen to the History Interest Set read aloud, or read the Extension Package books (as scheduled in the Appendix), or do both of these options in order to extend their learning. If you are a family that enjoys reading aloud, you may choose to read aloud more than one set of books from the Basic Package.

These scheduled read-alouds are highly recommended, unless you need to
economize. Complete listings and book descriptions for these books can be found in the Appendix. These books are sold as a set as Basic Package Option 1, 2, or 3, or sold individually, at

Each unit includes the following activities in coordination with the “Storytime” read-aloud assignments:
*Day 1: give a detailed oral narration
*Day 2: rotate through the following 4 narration activities: an outline sketch, a short skit, a question and answer session, and an advertisement speech for the book
*Day 3: give a summary narration
*Day 4: make connections between the story and Proverbs

Use coupon code OCTOBER-LIBRARY to save!

To apply this month’s savings, just enter coupon code OCTOBER-LIBRARY on our website when you check out! We hope these books will be as treasured to you as they are to us!

Have a great rest of the week!
Heart of Dakota

PS: If you’d like a more in-depth look at what using Creation to Christ looks like in your home, have a look at this article!

Creation to Christ: An Intriguing Ancients Homeschool Program for Ages 9-11, with Extensions for Ages 12-13

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

Alexander the Great: Brilliance and Brutality

History with Heart of Dakota

Who was Alexander the Great? 

Conqueror, explorer, leader, and visionary. These are just a few of the words that describe Alexander the Great. Born the son of legendary warrior-king Philip II of Macedonia, Alexander went on to outshine his father.  Philip transformed Macedonia from an unremarkable country to a ruling power in Greece; Alexander made Macedonia the ruling power in the entire known world. His conquests would stretch the Macedonian empire from the mountains of his homeland, to the sands of Egypt, to the expanses of Persia, all the way to the banks of the River Beas in India.

Personality of a Genius 

Alexander was a genius in more ways than one. First, his grasp of military tactics was unequaled in his day. He perfected the use of the phalanx – a tactic which his father had introduced. The phalanx was an infantry formation where soldiers grouped tightly together with each man’s shield protecting himself and his neighbor. In addition to this, each man also carried an 18-20 foot pike which he would thrust outwards from the shield wall. (Wasson) In a time where armies usually fought in a haphazard manner depending on sheer force of numbers to win, the phalanx gave Alexander’s soldiers a huge advantage. Oftentimes, enemy soldiers would simply break off his phalanxes like water off a rock. In addition to this, Alexander had distinct knack for sensing his enemy’s weakest position and massing his men to exploit it. Therefore, when his phalanxes came crashing through there was usually no stopping them.

Second, Alexander was a genius when it came to leading his men. He routinely made a point of leading the charge in battle rather than staying back in safety. Initially, he also insisted on sharing his men’s hardships. For instance, while marching his troops through the desert, according to biographer Peter Green, “…when a helmetful [sic] of muddy water had been found for him in some nearby gully – but no more was to be had – he laughed, thanked the donor, and then tipped the water out into the sand. So extraordinary was the effect of this action that the water wasted by Alexander was as good as a drink from every man in the army.” (434) Alexander lead by example, as all great leaders do. When his men saw him facing and overcoming the same challenges they faced, it inspired greatness in them as well.

Fatal Flaws

Nonetheless, Alexander was far from perfect. “Like many brilliant men,” historian John Gunther writes, “he was unstable…he ran from one extreme to another…” (46) While he could be caring and understanding, he also could be irrational and violent. He had a burning temper which resulted in him murdering some of his most faithful soldiers, such as Clitus and Parmenion. Also, during his final years he firmly believed himself to be descended from the Greek god Zeus. Those who did not acknowledge this were executed. (Gunther 138-139) Sadly, with no god to serve except himself, Alexander – once great – ended his life in drunkenness and confusion.

Lasting Impressions

Even though Alexander’s life was dramatically short (he only lived to be 32!) what he accomplished in that time has had repercussions that affect us to this day. His use of soldiers as disciplined units formed the gold standard in military tactics for hundreds of years afterward. In addition, by bringing many different countries under one empire, he spread the use of a universal language – Greek. Many scholars believe this was instrumental in spreading the Gospel 400 years later. He also founded many different cities – some of which remain to this day. (Many of these he named Alexandria, after himself.) Ultimately, much like God had used prior civilizations and kings to carry out His purpose in history, God used Alexander the Great to mold the world according to His own plan.

Which HOD guides can you find Alexander the Great in? 

Alexander the Great can be encountered in several of Heart of Dakota’s guides! You can find him in Little Hearts, Preparing Hearts, Creation to Christ, World Geography, and World History. You can also find a more in-depth study of him in John Gunther’s book Alexander the Great, which students can read in the extension package for Creation to Christ.


Green, P. Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C. (University of California Press, 2013).

Gunther, J. Alexander the Great. (Sterling Publishing, 2007).

Wasson, D.L. The Army of Alexander the Great. (Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2014).