Will it be too much to do DITHOR and Storytime in Bigger Hearts?

Dear Carrie

In Bigger Hearts, will it be too much to do Drawn into the Heart of Reading and Storytime?

Dear Carrie,

My 9 year old is doing Heart of Dakota‘s Bigger Hearts. He started the Emerging Reader’s Set (ERS) last year. He’ll finish it soon. (I took longer, lack of consistency on my part)! Anyway, I want him to grow into a stronger reader. I hear Drawn into the Heart of Reading is both interesting and enjoyable! However, I currently read aloud the Bigger Hearts Storytime books. We are on historical fiction now and enjoying it very much.  I certainly don’t want that to end. Can I do both DITHOR and Storytime, or will that be too much? Is it practical to be reading two different genres at the same time? Like him reading biography while I’m reading historical fiction to him? Or him reading his own fantasy book while I am also reading a different fantasy book? Thanks!


“Ms. Please Help Me Understand DITHOR and Storytime in Bigger Hearts”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Understand DITHOR and Storytime in Bigger Hearts,”

Since your son is 9, we would plan for him to be heading into DITHOR after the Emerging Reader’s Set is done. If you don’t plan to use DITHOR, then we would be expecting you to be choosing a different reading program in its place to make sure that he is getting the skills that are required in the area of reading state standard-wise. The area of reading has many standards that are to be met, and those standards include understanding, discussion, and analysis of character, plot, setting, mood, comparison/contrast, theme/moral, rising action, prediction/inference, and so on.

One aspect of understanding literature is knowing the genres, and another more important aspect is knowing moral discernment while reading.

Another aspect of understanding literature is knowing the various genres and what makes a certain type of book a certain genre.   These areas of literature do not typically come up in regular discussion unless you plan specifically to talk about them and address them within your child’s daily reading. But, an even more important component we feel with reading instruction is that of teaching moral discernment in light of the Bible as kiddos read. This is another aspect that DITHOR addresses, which often does not come up in regular conversation as much as we’d like, without it being planned within the day.

Bigger Heart’s Storytime covers needed reading standards, with a focus on applying these standards to books they are listening to as read alouds.

Bigger Heart’s Storytime does have a mini-DITHOR planned within it, which serves two purposes. One is that it covers the needed reading standards that I’ve mentioned above for students who may still be doing the Emerging Reader’s Set. Two is that it focuses on applying these reading skills and standards to books that the children are listening to as read-alouds. This is different than applying these skills to books students are reading on their own. Listening to a book read aloud and reading on one’s own are two different skills of reading.

Students that complete the ERS are to move up to DITHOR next.

So, as soon as kiddos complete the Emerging Reader’s Set, we are expecting that they are heading into DITHOR (unless they happen to be younger than 7). If the child is younger than 7, then it would be alright to ease into DITHOR slowly (as the state standards for reading are not as exhaustive or in-depth for a child of that age).

Having children simply reading silently alone will not address state standards.

While every state is different, all states do have set standards in reading that are along the lines I’ve mentioned above. Once you get to our guides from Preparing Hearts on up, we no longer do a mini-DITHOR in the Storytime box. At that point it is really important to be doing DITHOR or something comparable, or you’ll be missing needed literature/reading instruction. Simply having your children silent reading on their own does not address the standards mentioned above.

At times we mention waiting on DITHOR, but this is the exception, not the rule.

While we do at times mention that families who are very busy or very large can wait on DITHOR until their children are a bit older, this would be the exception rather than rule. This is because very large families, or those who have extreme health issues, or those with heavy work situations must make choices between what they are able to accomplish in any given day. So, we are mindful of that in our recommendations, knowing each family is different. In your situation though, it sounds like your 9 year old is ready for DITHOR and with his age in mind, he will be in need of its instruction.


What should I do for Drawn into the Heart of Reading our last 2 weeks?

Dear Carrie

What should I do for Drawn into the Heart of Reading for our last two weeks of Bigger Hearts?

Dear Carrie,

So next week my son will be finishing up his realistic fiction project and presenting it. Then, I will only have two weeks left of the Heart of Dakota‘s Bigger Hearts manual. So, does that mean I do nothing for DITHOR for the last two weeks? Read the folk tale books for fun? I am just trying to figure out those last two weeks and how I could fit folk tales into that time slot? Thanks! This is our first time with Drawn into the Heart of Reading (DITHOR), and we love it. My son has done wonderfully with the projects, and we look forward to using it in the future!


“Ms. Please Help with the Last 2 Weeks of Drawn into the Heart of Reading”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with the Last 2 Weeks of Drawn into the Heart of Reading,”

How exciting that you are close to finishing Bigger Hearts! I am so glad that you have gotten a chance to use and enjoy DITHOR too. Since you are only two weeks away from being done with Bigger, I can see a couple of options working for DITHOR.

Option 1: Use the folk tale unit when you start Preparing Hearts.

One option would be to set aside the folk tale unit to start when you begin Preparing instead. If you chose to do this, then DITHOR would just drop out for the final two weeks of the Bigger Hearts guide.

Option 2: Read the folk tale books without doing the DITHOR unit.

A second option, if you feel your child may outgrow the folk tale books as a reader before you begin Preparing Hearts, would be to read the folk tale books while you finish Bigger Hearts (but not do the DITHOR unit). If you chose this option, your child would finish reading the Folk Tale books over the break before you begin Preparing. Then, when you do Preparing you would move onto the next book set and get to do the folk tale unit from DITHOR along with the new folk tale books in the next book set.

Either option would work! Happy reading!


Follow-Up from “Ms. Please Help with the Last 2 Weeks of Drawn into the Heart of Reading”

Thank you Carrie! I think we will enjoy some cuddle time and just read those books together the last two weeks and start Preparing’s Drawn into Heart of Reading with folk tales too. Best of both worlds, and we can enjoy those great books! Love DITHOR and look forward to many more years with it!

Don’t overthink Drawn into the Heart of Reading

Teaching Tip: 

Don’t overthink Drawn into the Heart of Reading.

In getting started with Drawn into the Heart of Reading, I would encourage you NOT to overthink it. Instead, I would boil down starting DITHR to the following quick, easy steps.

Try these easy steps for a successful experience with Drawn into the Heart of Reading!

1. Choose which genre to do first with your child. Typically this should be a type of literature your child likes/loves to read. This will encourage a good start!

2. Open up your Student Book to that genre.  Decide how many books your child will read for that genre. To keep it simple, start with the fewest amount of books feasible. Often this is 1 or 2 short books at the younger reading level and 1 book at the upper reading level. Keep the readings short.

3. Fill in the calendar with the pages to be read each day. The calendar is in the Student Book behind the genre description sheet.

4. Choose one simple kick-off idea from the first day of plans for that genre. Keep it simple, so it goes quickly. Later, once you’re comfortable with DITHR, you can choose to do a kick-off up big. For now, keep it short and sweet.

5. Begin the next day. Then, just do a day of plans each day. If your child bogs down in the writing, write for him/her. Or, write part of the page and have your child just copy one sentence from a markerboard. The focus is on the reading and discussing, not the writing.

6. When you get to the project at the end of the unit, give your child a day off from DITHR.  Use that day off to pick a project from the 3 project options right during your normal DITHR time.

7. When working on the project, do not let the time go too long each day. Just cut the project off each day in tiny bite-sized pieces. If the project goes over 5 days, wrap it up.

8. When you get to the start of the next genre, give your child another day off from DITHR.  Then, do steps 1 – 4 above right during the school day during your normal DITHR time. This way, there is no prep. or planning in the evening.

See if these simple steps help you start Drawn into the Heart of Reading successfully!

What are you waiting for? Follow the steps above and get started on DITHR today!  Many of my boys favorite books, projects, and discussions came from our time in DITHR.  So, get started today!

Happy reading!


PS: Interested in Drawn into the Heart of Reading? You might like this blog post by Julie too!

Drawn into the Heart of Reading: A Multi-Level Reading Program That Works with Any Books

Our Grand Beginning

Heart of Dakota Tidbit

Our Grand Beginning

Did you know that the first guide that Carrie wrote was “Drawn into the Heart of Reading”? We sold one of them (barely) at our first convention which was in Minot, ND in 2002. The price of the Teacher’s Guide was $65.00, it was spiral-bound, and it had colored page dividers between each genre.

Oh yes, and the temperature with wind-chill the day of the convention, March 1st, was about -55 and our van would not start when the convention was over. It was a grand beginning.

Have a great weekend!

Struggling with Sounding Out Words Phonetically in Reading

Dear Carrie

What would you do with an almost fourth grader who struggles to sound out words phonetically in reading?

My daughter has been using Heart of Dakota, and we love it!  She learned to read using The Reading Lesson. She then moved into the Emerging Reader’s Set. Now she has read all of the Level 2 Drawn into the Heart of Reading (DITHOR) books. She is working her way through the Level 3 DITHOR books. Although she is a slow reader, she has done alright with the reading in Preparing Hearts for His Glory (PHFHG). When she reads out loud to me, she misses quite a few words and struggles with fluency. She does enjoy reading though, and she can narrate like a champ. So, I do think she probably gets most of what she reads.

But, it doesn’t seem like she knows what to do when she gets to an unfamiliar word. She often says a completely different word.  Or, she makes up a word that often sounds almost nothing like the actual word. If I ask her to sound it out, she doesn’t really seem to get how to do that. My other student took off with the reading progression I used, so I’m not sure why my daughter isn’t! She’ll be 9 years old next week. Help!


“Mom of Struggling to Sound Out Words Daughter”

Dear “Mom of Struggling to Sound Out Words Daughter,”

You’ve asked such good questions here! Before homeschooling my own kiddos, I spent much of my 11 years in the public school classroom in 3rd/4th grade. So, the age of your daughter is near and dear to my heart! After coming home to teach my own four boys, I got an even more personal view of the reading process! So, through the years it has been interesting to refine and rethink what I believe about teaching reading. I want to take the pressure off of you to do everything “just right!” So, I’ll start with sharing what is normal for kiddos your sweet daughter’s age!

It is normal for different students to respond differently to the same reading programs.

First of all, different kiddos respond differently to the same reading program. While this is obvious when teaching a large group of kiddos in the classroom, it is less obvious at home! So, I’ll just start by saying that we can’t expect the same results from a reading program with every child. This is because not all kiddos learn to read in the same way or at the same age. So, we can know going into a program that each of our kiddos will respond a bit differently to it – thus varying the stage of reading that they exit the program in having. So, no worries about your older student responding differently than your daughter!

It is normal for different kiddos to need different amounts of phonics instruction.

Next, it’s interesting that not all kiddos need the same amount of “phonics” instruction to become fluent readers. Some seem to need more than others. Yet, at some point, learning phonics rules seems to reach its needed level for reading purposes.  Then, it switches over to learning phonics rules for the purpose of spelling correctly. At that juncture, to me, continuing on with tedious phonics rules that have many exceptions, begins to become less purposeful. This makes it a good time to exit phonics instruction.

It is normal for students to use a combination of sight word recognition and decoding skills.

Another thing to keep in mind is that all kiddos need some sight word recognition, so they will not purely read phonetically. Knowing a solid bank of sight words is an important part of reading, as often words cannot just be “sounded out.” So, reading by sight words part of the time is not a bad thing! It is actually an essential part of reading. However, if a child is reading only by sight words (and by memorizing new words in this same manner, but cannot decode), then we have a problem! Likewise, if a child tries to use phonics rules to decode every word he/she reads, the process of reading also breaks down as not all words can be decoded!

It is normal for different students to exit reading programs at differing levels.

Since kiddos will often exit any reading program at differing levels, there will be differing amounts of follow-up needed to get them reading fluently. So, when a child does not exit a phonics program as a fluent reader, does this mean that he/she is unable to decode words phonetically or hasn’t had enough phonics? Often this is not the case. More typically, it just means a child needs practice in gaining fluency with readers that are less controlled in their vocabulary. Even easy-looking books, with a less controlled vocabulary, can be difficult for kiddos at first simply because they have been used to reading stories with a very controlled bank of words.

It is normal for students to need time to transition into fluently reading chapter books.

When kiddos begin to read chapter books, the pictures begin to go away. The text becomes longer on each page. Because of this, reading fluency can actually decrease for a time. Students are daunted by the sheer number of words on the page! This doesn’t necessarily mean they need another pass at phonics. It just means that they need the readings broken up into small chunks and need plenty of help and encouragement as they transition to more words on the page.

It is normal for students to mispronounce some words.

This transition to chapter books is also a stage where mispronunciation is not uncommon. This is because so many of the words are new (and long). Even the best decoders can really stumble! So, grace is needed for mispronunciations of longer words. It is also alright for kiddos to read silently, even if they aren’t getting everything right! Ask yourself how many words you may actually be mispronouncing in your head as your read silently? Even as adults, we often wouldn’t be able to correctly pronounce every word if asked to read aloud from a book that we consider to be difficult!

S0, what can you do this summer for your dear daughter?

Returning to easier books is actually a good idea for a child who is groping for words as he/she exits the phonics program. Building fluency takes daily reading practice, plenty of cheerleading, sitting by the child and helping (and helping and helping), and guiding them by prompting with the many ways that you can figure out a word you don’t know as you’re reading.

Refer to the Appendix of Drawn into the Heart of Reading for help in sounding out words.

So, what should you do when your child comes to a word he/she doesn’t know? The Appendix of DITHOR is a great place to begin for this! It includes things like making sure a child begins the unknown word using the correct sound (with the correct starting letter), chunking a larger word into parts, looking for the small word inside the big word (saying the prefix, then the root word, then the suffixes -uncovering the word with your finger as they read bit by bit), using the context of the story to make a better guess at what the word might be, sounding it out, and sometimes even giving the child the word if they are stumbling over it mightily. Running your finger under the words as the child progresses is a good help too.

Give your daughter her own copy of the DITHOR strategies.

You can give your daughter a copy of the run-off paper from the back of DITHOR strategies to refer to when she comes to a word she doesn’t know. Have her read with it beside her, and choose a strategy to use when she comes to a word she doesn’t know. This will show her there are more strategies for this than sounding the word out!

Choose a quiet time to devote for daily reading practice to build fluency.

Once a child becomes a fluent reader, then the need for daily time spent in reading instruction lessens, but until a child hits the stage, consistency is needed. At our house right now, my husband often reads with our youngest son before bed. This one on one quiet time has made a huge difference. We still work on his regular reading schedule during the course of the school day, but this extra dose of reading is motivating to our son and has helped him show good gains in fluency.

Before another round of phonics for a new 4th grader, give the student time to gain confidence and fluency.

So, how do you know if your child needs another pass at the “rules” with perhaps another round of a phonics program? In my opinion, time will tell. If you give your child 3-5 months of regular reading practice daily with easier books, and help from you as a refresher as to what the various sounds are as he/she reads, and you aren’t noticing ANY improvement… then you may need to consider giving another round of phonics instruction.

Sometimes, the child just wasn’t paying much attention during the first round of phonics. Or, maybe they had fluid in their ears and couldn’t really hear the first round of phonics (like my own fourth little guy). Maybe they do have some learning issues that are interfering in their ability to internalize the needed phonics. Or, maybe it is an eye issue where they need glasses, or perhaps they have a tracking issue. But, before we jump to all of these conclusions soon after finishing phonics, we need to take a deep breath and give the child time to gain confidence and fluency for awhile first.

The phonics program is just one piece of the puzzle.

In looking back over all of the things that affect a child’s readiness and ability to read, we can see that the actual phonics program (while important) is just one piece of the overall puzzle. I believe that Mary Pride once said that the best phonics program is the second one that you use! I had to smile when I read that because it is often true that for kiddos who cannot read well upon exiting a first phonics program, the second program (no matter what it is) seems to be the one that works.

Why is this true? Is it because the program is so much better, or is it actually because the child has learned quite a bit more than we thought from the first pass through phonics and is now more able to take in and apply a second round of phonics. Or, is it because the child is just older and more mature? Or, is it because the child is finally at the stage where he/she is interested in reading? It is most likely all of the above.

Keep doing the wonderful job you are doing teaching your daughter to read!

From what you’ve shared here, I think that your daughter has been making gains. I just think that she is still building fluency which does take time. I would be sure at this point that you are keeping up on eye exams and hearing tests at this stage to rule out any concerns there. Sound Bytes reading could be a good option if you are not seeing the growth you’d like to after the summer. These are just some thoughts to ponder as you journey along! Phonics is such a personal journey with so many different ways to approach it. I just share this in hopes that you will see that the phonics journey often looks different for different kiddos, so don’t be surprised with the varying routes taken by different families in search of a similar end!




P.S. If your student did not complete a formal phonics program or missed some phonics due to hearing or eye-related concerns, and you’d like more information about how to review phonics, click here!