How to Grow into Working More Independently

Dear Carrie

How to Grow into Working More Independently 

We are beginning Heart of Dakota’s  Bigger Hearts tomorrow with my 11 year-old daughter. We are returning to it, as my daughter wasn’t ready for it last year. Even though my daughter is not reading much independently because of dyslexia, I’d like to help her grow independence while working in the guide. Do you have any suggestions for that? I was thinking about letting her read the history and science (with help if needed). Then, she could pencil a check mark in each box of the plans in the guide as she completes it. That would help her to see exactly what needs to be completed on a daily basis. This will teach consistency and help her to be diligent to finish what is required. Or, is that not a good idea? I guess my question is, how do I help her grow into more independence in Bigger Hearts?


“Ms. Please Help My 11 Year-Old Grow in Independence”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My 11 Year-Old Grow in Independence,”

Thanks for sharing about your daughter! The history and science readings in Bigger are typically meant to be done by the parent, unless the child is aged 9 or above, is a good reader, and is able to read the assigned pages easily on his/her own. Since your little sweetie has had some struggles in the area of reading, I would steer away from having her read any of her own history or science at this point. I wouldn’t push her to alternate reading with you either. Right now, she just needs to grow in the other skills that come along with Bigger, and she needs to learn to enjoy the guide.

I wouldn’t put undue pressure (on either her or you) to go beyond what the guide asks.

Starting right will make a huge difference in her perception of the guide!  Eventually, after she hits the halfway point through the guide, you can evaluate again. However, for now, I wouldn’t put undue pressure on either you or her to go beyond what the guide asks, as Bigger is written for the parent to read to the child.  Of course, it’s alright to lead a child in the direction of doing more on his/her own if the child has regularly been moving through the HOD guides and seems ready for more. However, upon just returning to Bigger, I’d be thinking that doing the guide as written will already be more your daughter has been used to recently, so I wouldn’t be quick to push her more on top of that.

Gradual Ways She Can Grow in Independence

Eventually, you can have her grow in independence by beginning to get her books out and find page numbers. Then, you can have her start getting out needed supplies she notices she might need. Later, she could start reading a box of directions on her own. But these things can wait until she starts showing some interest in them. Right now, reading is probably an overwhelming code that feels unbreakable, and tons of text on a page (like in the guide) would feel stressful. Just be sure she knows the guide is yours and you’ll read to her from it. In Preparing, she will start being responsible for two boxes only, so she will grow into that in a year’s time.

Simply settling in and teaching the guide as written will help your daughter grow too!

If she is accurately placed, then don’t push her to go beyond that right now. Simply settle in and teach the guide as written. Put your blinders on as far as the age range on the guide goes, and teach the child rather than the grade level. You will see her grow and progress as you journey! Learning is a process that just takes time. My best advice would be to teach her where she is right now, rather than where you want her to be. This is a lesson that I have learned the hard way! May The Lord richly bless you and your sweet daughter!


How can I beef up Bigger for 5th graders so they are ready for CTC?

Pondering Placement

How can I beef up Bigger Hearts for fifth graders so they are ready for Creation to Christ?

We are lovers of Heart of Dakota and completed LHTH, LHFHG and Beyond! However, then we discovered our twins have dyslexia. We had many issues and took a hiatus from HOD. I tried to keep a Charlotte Mason approach but didn’t do so well. We did manage to read aloud Preparing’s history books, most of the science, some read alouds, and a few extensions. I love Carrie’s book selections! Now we are ready for a new chapter. My twins just turned 10 last week and will be in 5th grade. I’m going to put them in Bigger. I am thinking to then skip Preparing. My question is how can I beef up Bigger so we can make a smooth transition into Creation to Christ? I’m so excited to be back. I really need the structure I get with HOD. Otherwise, I feel like a wanderer with no clear direction.

Carrie’s Reply: The easiest way to beef up Bigger is to add the extensions.

Welcome back! It sounds like you have a good plan forming. As I was thinking through some of what you shared, I do think that Bigger sounds like a good placement for your twins. The easiest way to beef up Bigger is to use the Extension readings as assigned in the Appendix. I’d recommend reading those aloud to your kiddos if time permits, since the reading level is likely a barrier for them to read the extension books independently.

You could possibly omit the Storytime books, but then you would definitely need to do DITHR.

You could possibly forego the Storytime books in lieu of the Extension books to add greater depth to the study. However, the Storytime books have excellent literary skills that you would then miss. In this scenario, you would for sure need to do DITHR then, in order to compensate for losing those skills from the Storytime box. I hesitate to suggest this option, as it would benefit your kiddos so much to have the Storytime and follow-up skills as a daily part of their learning.

I would wait to decide what to do next until you are within 8 weeks of finishing Bigger Hearts.

In looking ahead, I would honestly wait until you are within 8 weeks of finishing Bigger to decide what to do next. This is because kiddos grow and change so much in a year’s time. By the end of Bigger, we will have a better idea of whether they should just head into Preparing, or whether they can make the jump to CTC. Even if they need to head into Preparing, doing the guide fully along with the readings will provide a very different experience from simply reading the books aloud. Not to mention it would be a terrific stepping stone for your kiddos to do the “I” boxes in Preparing by reading their own assigned material (which they may be able to do in a year’s time).

Whether you use Preparing or CTC next, your next step after Bigger will be a good one.

Kiddos often like hearing stories more than once, and Preparing is a whirlwind tour through all of world history. There is so much content that it actually would be good to cover it again. So, either way your next step after Bigger will be a good one. For now, I would just settle into Bigger and enjoy the journey. There are so many skills wound within Bigger that I think you will have a good year of growth ahead of your twins.


How do I prepare my dyslexic son who is an emerging reader for Preparing?

Dear Carrie,

My son is almost 9, and we are half-way through Bigger. We found out he was dyslexic about two years ago, and he STRUGGLES with reading. He did Beyond last year and loved it! The only thing we adjusted was the spelling. It was too much for him, so we didn’t do it. This year in Bigger, I have added the spelling, and he is doing better. He is doing the Emerging Readers Set in Bigger, and I have added All About Reading too. He does much better with the Emerging Reader’s Set because he is able to use the pictures to help decode.

That leads me to history. The history books in Beyond had a lot of pictures! The Bigger Hearts… history books don’t have many pictures. Having him rely solely on listening to the content has been difficult, as he’s dyslexic. So, I have been omitting much of the Bigger… history readings and supplementing with many picture books.

I have had to read everything out loud in Bigger. His favorite part In Bigger is the Storytime box. I got the Boy Interest set, and he has enjoyed them a great deal! However, Math is a struggle because he is dyslexic and cannot read his word problems. I started Heart of Dakota first with my daughter. I have already gone through Preparing with my daughter (and absolutely loved it!!) However, I don’t see my dyslexic son being able to do anything independently simply because he cannot read well. So, my question is how can I prepare my dyslexic son who is an emerging reader for Preparing?


“Please help me prepare my dyslexic son for Preparing”


Dear “Please help me prepare my dyslexic son for Preparing,”

Thanks so much for taking time to share about your son. It is so helpful to gain a better picture of what he is able to do!  I’d be happy to help answer your question about how your dyslexic son as an emerging reader can prepare for Preparing!  Reading issues aside, it isn’t uncommon for kiddos to find Bigger to be a step up in listening content and in writing. Bigger is purposefully meant to move kiddos toward listening to higher level books with fewer to no pictures. This is so they can practice the skills of comprehending without the aid of the illustrations.

Developing listening comprehension without the aid of illustrations is a skill that takes time.

Comprehending without the aid of illustrations is a process that takes time. Kiddos often are not good at this skill right away. Their attention can wander as listeners. Because of this, they may struggle in being able to remember much from the readings at first. However, as time passes, they get better and better at this important skill. It is encouraging that your son enjoys the Storytime read-alouds. This means he is headed in the right direction listening-wise! I also think you have your son accurately placed, and you have a good understanding of Heart of Dakota having used it with both your daughter and your son!

History read-alouds are more difficult than Storytime read-alouds.

As a general rule, history books that are more factual are more difficult than Storytime read alouds. So, I would encourage you at this point to move away from adding picture-style books to Bigger’s history.  Instead you can use the history read aloud books as scheduled… knowing this is another level of a skill that will take time to develop. Just keep in mind that it is a necessary stepping stone as he matures even further as a listener (and comprehension-wise), even though he is dyslexic and is an emerging reader.

Follow-up activities are specific to the history read-alouds, so changing the books makes it difficult to be successful with the assigned work.

The history readings in Bigger… have skill-based follow-up activities, timeline, vocabulary cards, art projects, poetry, etc. Since everything on the left side of the Bigger Hearts plans each day goes with the history reading, it is probably confusing not to have read the corresponding history reading which sets up the activities. So many skills are wound into the activities on the left side of the guide. Going forward it will be important to do what is in the plans so he gains the skills needed for Preparing Hearts. Many of the skills your son will be gaining are not reading-related. So, in spite of his reading difficulties, he will still need the skills wound within the Bigger plans. In fact, with dyslexic reading challenges, listening skills become all the more important!

Discontinuing supplementing will give your son time to focus on the skills in the guide, so he can keep progressing.

I would encourage you to stop the urge to supplement. This includes not doing 2 reading programs, which is more than likely fatiguing for him as he is dyslexic. Since he is having success with the Emerging Reader’s Set, I would continue with that.  Following the reading schedule and answering the oral comprehension questions will continue to move him along in both reading ability and comprehension. Give this at least 18 weeks to work on its own. Bigger is designed to build a huge array of skills that take time for kiddos to gain. Having done Bigger Hearts 4 times now with 4 very different sons, I can say that it is a slow burn that brings big results over time. You will see the fruit from Bigger in Preparing Hearts. It just takes time to reap what you sow.

Celebrate the progress your son is making in reading and try not to compare.

As far as your son’s emerging reading goes, it sounds like you are progressing in this area! It is not uncommon for kiddos to have difficulty when decoding multi-syllable words or for kiddos to struggle as they move to more words on a page and fewer pictures. So, take heart that your son is making good, steady progress. Often it is true that if you have an older sibling who was a natural reader first, then when a younger one struggles it seems all the more pronounced. We had this very scenario at our own house!! Also, remember that the difference between when boys and girls mature as readers and writers is also a factor. So, in looking at your son just try to focus on the forward motion he is making.

Make time for hearing and vision tests, and then encourage free reading time with easier picture books.

Be sure that both his hearing and his vision have been tested in the past year. That way you can rule out any concerns in either of those areas. Then, keep steadily plugging along with what is working for him in reading. For your son’s free reading time, be sure to allow him to read easier books with many pictures, comparable to the level of the Emerging readers. This will build his confidence and his enjoyment of reading. Kids often free read at a level or two below what they can really read, as they don’t want to work so hard to gain meaning.

It’s just fine for you to read aloud the math story problems for your son for now.

As far as the math story problems go, I would just read those aloud to your son. Since math is a time to be thinking about mathematical concepts, there is nothing wrong with reading the story problems aloud for him to aid in that process. I often read the math story problems aloud to my younger boys. That way they can focus on the math rather than on decoding the words before even getting to the problem.

Going half-speed in Bigger will give your son time to progress in all the skills needed to be ready for Preparing.

If you need to move to half-speed Bigger for awhile in order to do everything in the plans as written I would suggest that you do so. Just make it a goal not to move onto the next day of plans until you’ve done everything from the day before. Bigger is such a key teaching and learning year, it can be hard to make up for missing the rich set of skills wound within every box of plans if you fast forward past them.

It will also be important that your son does as much of the writing as he can that is in Bigger each day. So, if you have to slow down in order for him to do the written portions than I would definitely do so. Otherwise, if you rush forward without taking time for your son to gain needed skills, then each subsequent guide will have to be modified more and more until all you have left is a reading aloud program because the rest of the skills will all be too difficult.

Here are a few tips in regard to copywork, notebooking, and the reading of the books in Bigger!

As far as writing goes, you can write a sentence of the poetry copywork and have him write his own version right below yours. Then, you could do the rest of the copying for him with the goal of having him copy more as he is able. He can eventually move toward copying more as he is able. As far as the science lab and notebooking assignments, you could move toward having your son do a small portion of the writing in these areas and work up to eventually doing more. Just keep in mind that you are meant to be helping him with every part of Bigger and also that you are meant to be doing all the reading aloud. Then you can rest easier knowing you are doing exactly what you need to do by helping him along the way.

These few tweaks will help your son continue to move forward in Bigger so he can prepare for Preparing.

With just a couple of tweaks that I mentioned above, you can move forward in Bigger knowing you will be preparing your son for the next step up. One of our own sons struggled with reading too, and he has had slow but steady progress in this area. He is gaining every year! We did do Preparing at half-speed at first for awhile to help him grow into the guide before going full-speed with it. Remember that in Preparing, you are still reading aloud the history. It is just the Deluxe Package and science books that the child is reading. Slow and steady wins the race, so keep on with Bigger, and your son will be ready for Preparing!