Benefitting from the Level of Independence Planned in the Guides

A Heart of Dakota Life

Benefitting from the Level of Independence Planned in the Guides

Beginning in Preparing Hearts for His Glory, Heart of Dakota’s (HOD’s) guides plan for students to become more independent. As I see my sons who are now 21, 17, and 13  years old at various levels of successfully working independently, the benefits are obvious. Their joy and success in working on things independently is such a blessing! This is also a blessing for me as their homeschool parent. So, are you reaping the benefits of the guides’ plans for gradual, successful levels of independence? Are you making sure in the guides from Preparing on up to follow the suggested levels of independence for each box in the guide?  If not, you should give it a try!

Teacher-Directed and Semi-Independent Boxes of Plans

If your child is doing the ‘S’ (Semi-Independent) or the ‘T’ (Teacher-Directed) levels of boxes without you, your day will be longer. You will either be checking work later, solving problems during the work time, or fixing mistakes later that were not caught. ‘S’ and ‘T’ boxes are harder and require more parent help. I compensate for these by sticking close to my kiddos during ‘S’ boxes. I pop in at the beginning or middle to check progress. For the ‘T’ levels of boxes, I am always present as many of these boxes are discussion-based.

Independent Level of Boxes of Plans

On the other hand, if you are thinking that the ‘I’ level of boxes mean that the child is totally independent and you have no role in the box, this is a misunderstanding.  ‘I’ means the child can complete the box ‘Independently”, but independent work also needs to be checked. So, I always go over all of the ‘I’ boxes with my child. We discuss what is in the box and check any work done independently. This is a similar situation to when a classroom teacher assigns homework to be done independently at home. Can you imagine how quickly a child would quit doing homework well, or doing it all, if it were never checked! So it is worth checking the way you are handling each box in your HOD guide in order to be more effective.

Training Children to Follow the Directions in the Guide

Have you trained your children in Preparing on up (and even possibly near the end of Bigger Hearts) to read right from the HOD guide?  Do you allow your children to have the guide in hand as they work? These two steps are crucial for a child to be able to do the ‘S’ and ‘I’ boxes in the guide. Working without a guide in hand is very difficult. The child ends up running back to the guide as he/she works, striving to remember a lengthy list of directions. In addition, if you are still needing to read aloud all directions to a child even from the ‘S’ and ‘I’ boxes, this will add significant time to your day. So, train your kiddos to read from the guide early and often. It is a skill that pays big dividends not just within HOD, but all throughout life.

In Christ,



Help for Struggling Emerging Readers

From Our House to Yours

Help for Struggling Emerging Readers

Do you have an emerging reader who is struggling? If so, take heart!  There are some simple things you can do to help your struggling emerging reader! Before we get to a few practical reading helps, you should rule out a few common causes for early reading struggles. First, if your child hasn’t had a vision test recently, now would be a good time to schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist. One of our sons was quite far-sighted in one eye and near-sighted in the other. So, glasses made all the difference in his reading!

Second, if your child hasn’t had a hearing test recently, now would be a good time to schedule a hearing exam. A tympanogram can identify hearing concerns that a normal doctor’s checkup might miss. Tympanograms are quick, easy, and accurate. A tympanogram identified mild hearing concerns in one ear and severe in the other ear for one of my sons. Fluid in his ears was the problem. Likewise, my nephew had the same results. Both were able to take antibiotic to get rid of the fluid in their ears. Both were also on to reading better in no time!

Brush up on phonics to help struggling emerging readers.

If your child is struggling sounding out words while reading the Emerging Reader’s Set books, you may just need to brush up on phonics! Explode the Code workbooks are inexpensive, fun, and easy to add to your child’s homeschool day. Your child can start with Level 2 or 3, doing 1-3 pages a day. These workbooks are witty and take just 5 minutes a page to do. They are a great way to brush up on phonics while still continuing to read the real books in Heart of Dakota’s Emerging Reader’s Set! Heart of Dakota recommends the workbooks rather than the online version. The mind/body connection of writing in the workbook supports better retention than answering online via a keyboard or touch screen.

If your child never completed a formal phonics program from start to finish, you may need to set aside the Emerging Reader’s Set and work through Sound Bytes phonics. This phonics program is more ‘grown-up’ and is intended for older children. It targets higher level skills and doesn’t feel babyish. Furthermore, it fills in any gaps a child who has not been through an entire phonics program may have.

Have your child trail his/her finger under each sentence while reading.

When children first begin reading, there is only one word or one sentence on a page. As children begin to read emerging reader level books, there are more sentences on a page and pictures too. Sometimes children simply lose their place when reading. They look at the picture, and they are lost. Where were they? Now the page is just a sea of words. For this reason, having children trail their finger under each sentence as they read along works well. Eventually, they’ll stop this. However, if they are losing their place while reading, it is a quick transitional tip that works wonders!

Use the supplemental emerging reader options.

If you have a beginning reader doing the Emerging Reader’s Set (ERS) who seems to just be unable to read the next book, this tip for you! Carrie has extra supplemental books, and they are noted for every unit in the ERS schedule. These supplemental books are at the same approximate reading level as the ERS book scheduled in that same unit. So, for example, if your reader gets stuck on the reading level of Unit 15, simply go to the library to check out the supplemental books from Units 1-15. Then, just read through them slowly. Before you know it, your child will be over the hump and onto the next ERS book!

In Christ,


Samples of Oral Narrations in Younger Guides

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Samples of Oral Narrations in Younger Guides

Narrating is a process that changes the narrator over time, so children should not feel bad in any way about their narrations. There is not a wrong way, rather more of a progression in narration. I am a summary type person too, and it has stretched me immensely to have to model narrations for my children. I think I have grown as a narrator through the years too, and it has been a journey!

Charlotte Mason’s References to Narrations

If you do have Charlotte Mason’s (CM’s) original volumes, you may wish to read the following sample sections as time allows. There are many more references related to narration, but these are great ones to begin pondering. I must share that I do deviate from CM’s philosophy in the area of grammar instruction. We do also schedule more formal writing outside of written narrations too than she advocated, so I am not a CM purist. But, she has so much that is good to say that I deeply love her philosophy and enjoy the wisdom she shares.:

  • Home Education Volume 1: p. 231-233 (on oral narrations)
  • School Education Volume 3: p. 178-181
  • A Philosophy of Education Volume 6: p. 16-18; p. 171- top of p. 174, p. 185 (top), p.260-261
Sample Storytime Narration from the Beginning of Beyond Little Hearts 

Oral Narration Sample by Riley
Feb. 3, 2009
A Lion to Guard Us, Chapter 3

Mistress Trippet came to check the kitchen, and she looked everywhere that she usually did. She looked in the room and she said, “How old are these kids? How old is the boy?”


“How old is the girl?”

“Only 5.”

And when Mistress Trippet went upstairs, the doctor came in. The cook said, “Amanda, go and get a pail of water!” That wasn’t very nice, was it?

The doctor came in and then he said, “Come with me, Amanda.” And she did, and then went dark into the hall. And he said, “Your mother has died.”

Sample Storytime Narration from the Middle of Beyond Little Hearts 

Oral Narration Sample by Riley
Mr. Popper’s Penguins

The crowds were standing in line for 1 or 2 miles long, just to get tickets to see the Popper’s Performing Penguins! Now when the piano player, the girl, didn’t want the penguins up on the stage while she played the piano, but then they discovered a different way to the stage. And Mr. Popper said, “I’m not going up there to get those penguins!”

Bill said, “We’d better catch them before they go up there and chew all of the strings off the guitars.”

So, Mrs. Popper said, “I’ll go up.” And then the penguins hid under the girl piano player’s skirts, and then she shrieked! And that was NOT part of the note written in the music.

And then they were on their way to Boston. They went to Mexico and Minneapolis, and Stillwater. Now they are going to Boston. Now the penguins are getting a little crabby, so they now ordered shrimp again because fish was too expensive. They ordered canned shrimp, and Mr. Popper said, “We only allow canned shrimp for these penguins.”

The president said that any store wherever they were staying would give them free shrimp, so now they are going to Boston, and the crowd was 1 mile long, just waiting for tickets.

Sample Storytime Narration from Near the End of Beyond Little Hearts

 Riley’s Sample Narration
Mountain Born
Jan. 13, 2010

The weather was brooding, and Peter was at Granny’s house working for his coat and his new vest. And the wind started blowing, and it was sharp and cold from the southeast. And then Granny said, “Peter! You’d better go home. The wind’s picking up!”

And Mary and Peter had planned to do a game night tonight, but the wind was just picking up too much. They were going to play checkers and some other kinds of games, and Granny was going to read them a letter.

So Peter went in, got his vest and his coat on, and he said, “Goodbye, Mary! I’ll have some nice wool for you, and I’ll take extra care of the lamb, so that the wool will be strong.”

“And after a few years,” Granny said, “you’ll be in manhood. You’ll have to give me white wool, and I’ll have to dye it dark blue. It’ll take you to manhood, but then you’ll need a new coat.”

Then Peter said, “Bye, Granny! Bye, Mary!”

Granny gave him a slice of bread and his milk, and then he started on his journey home.

Sample Storytime Narration from the End of Beyond Little Hearts

Riley’s Sample Oral Narration
The Apple and the Arrow
p. 48-50

All of the friends were in their house, and then he said, “Everyone, be quiet! I know you want to know what happened.” And Wolfgang said that the great Gessler had drowned.

And everybody shouted, “Hooray!”

And then Grandfather said, ”Everyone please be quiet and please go back to your own homes. Hedwig needs some time alone.”

So everybody went out, and then it started to rain again. When the rain hit the chimney, it sounded like a clock going tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.

And then the rain stopped, and then soon all went to bed. Hedwig let Prinz sleep on the rug beside the fireplace, just this once. And in the morning, they got up, had a great breakfast, and at noon they heard a hard knocking on the door. Walter jumped up from his bed! And saw his father burst into the door! They ran to him saying, “Father, father, father, how did you get out?”

Then Hedwig said, “Don’t you see your father needs some rest! He will talk to you later and tell you later.”

Sample Science Narration from the Beginning of Bigger Hearts

Greyson’s Sample Narration
Unit 3 Science, Bigger Hearts for His Glory
Jan. 19, 2011

When the tide comes in, it covers up the animals. First of all, take a mussel for instance, he gulps up water so his shell is full of it so that he can breathe and stay moist. Shrimps capture little worms underwater, and then they eat the worms. When the tide goes out then, the mussel glues himself to the ground. Take a limpet… they float back to their resting place and glue themselves to the ground too. Try moving one of those! Only in really big storms can you move the mussels and limpets. Crabs hide under rocks when the tide goes out. Day after the day, the tide goes in and the tide goes out, and repeats. And so the animals follow that cycle of float around, get food, and get back on the ground before you’re washed out to sea.

In Closing

I know when I first started learning about narrations, all I wanted was to read some samples. Hopefully these samples from our own children’s narrations when they were younger will be helpful in some way to you!

In Christ,



Can you help me get over my guilt of not prereading my son’s books?

Dear Carrie

Can you help me get over my guilt over not prereading my son’s books?

My son is starting World History next week. I ordered his things from Heart of Dakota last summer. I really meant to pre-read his books, but I haven’t been able to. Life has been so busy! We enjoy five Heart of Dakota guides in our home. I find it very manageable overall – having eight children is busy no matter what. However, I’ve always pre-read all of the books in the past. I’m feeling guilty. Not to mention, I truly LOVE reading all the books usually! They are excellent, and I enjoy the reading for ME. I just can’t seem to find the time this year. I thought about starting my son later, just so I can pre-read the books, but he’s ready to start and not willing to wait. He thinks the books look amazing too. Can you help me get over my guilt at not prereading the books? A strange question, I know, but it’s the one I have.


“Please Help Me Not to Feel Guilty About Not Prereading My Son’s Books”

Dear “Please Help Me Not to Feel Guilty About Not Prereading My Son’s Books,”

I believe that there are seasons in life and that each season has its own areas of focus. I didn’t have Heart of Dakota’s guides written for my oldest son. He was always ahead of my writing. As my oldest son was going through his homeschool years, I was too busy with babies, toddlers, work, church activities, meals, laundry, and the rigors of writing guides, etc. to have time to pre-read my oldest son’s books. I had to rely on others to do this for me, and I had to heed any warnings I found anywhere to help me. I skimmed the books as we did our lessons, but I quickly realized I could either teach or read, but I didn’t have time for both. You may be in a season like this now.   I see that you have a very full house with much on your plate. Prereading may be impossible.

Guilt is a joy-stealer.

As moms, we are so quick to bear the burden of guilt if we aren’t doing things to their fullest potential. I just wanted to encourage you today that guilt is a joy-stealer. I know, because I let it steal my joy many times. Still today, I continue to have to let things go in order to do the most important things. Just remember that as long as you lean on The Lord, He will fill-in our gaps. My oldest son is a very mature, thoughtful, steady, discerning, hard-working young man. He has grown so much in his faith simply by using much of what we’ve written, or testing much of it for us. He had a less than perfectly planned education with resources I was not able to pre-read thoroughly and still has thrived in spite of me!

Children need to be surrounded by excellent material that points them toward the Lord.

I believe that children need to be surrounded by excellent material that points them toward The Lord on a regular basis. The interaction with good material and God’s Word keeps their minds filled with those thoughts for much of the day. I believe that as homeschool parents we have time on our side, meaning that the sheer amount of time we spend together affords us opportunities all along the way to discuss and mentor our kids. This means that not every moment has to be spent in training and teaching every lesson to the fullest, because the moments through the years added all together will provide that needed time opportunity. As we move through our days I try to be aware of who needs what from me the most. This helps me stay focused.

Looking back to when my children were your children’s ages, I found a previous post of mine I will share a portion of here…

…This year my youngest really needs my time for phonics instruction. He also needs to learn to be kinder to his brother. I can see his heart is also tender toward The Lord. So, he needs encouragement to continue understanding The Lord as his Savior. I can see my next son needs my time for writing and proofreading what he writes. He also is coming into puberty and needs my time to understand his changing emotions and body. He is my sensitive child, so Resurrection to Reformation will need more monitoring for the warnings as he reads. Yet, I know from those tough readings fruitful discussions will come.

My next son is my creative child. He works very independently, so I need to make sure to draw him out. Our health discussions this year will be a priority for me to keep us close. Pilgrim’s Progress will be another area I really want to oversee. He is grappling with a deeper faith, and I want to encourage that. My oldest is ready to start online college classes. I know one-on-one discussions at opportune moments are necessary for him as he makes life-changing choices. So, those are my goals for my boys this year. Prereading their material, while a worthwhile goal, falls behind these focal points for me. I do realize my situation is different, because I have read the materials as I’ve planned the guides, however for my oldest son’s education that wasn’t the case…

As you can see from my past post, keeping goals for each child in mind diminishes guilt.

Keeping my most important goals for each child in mind when I begin a homeschool year helps me feel less guilty when I can’t do everything I personally want to do. I just keep my eyes on the most important things and steadily move forward. The guides contain warnings for anything I need to know about for the day, and I take heart in that. I try to remember that the plans are designed for the child to interact and think about things that point them toward The Lord and to give them a solid, academic education. If I just do what is planned in the guides each day, I feel good about completing that. I focus on the fact that time is on our side in the years ahead as we travel the homeschool path. Someday there will be another season, with different goals. For now, I am learning each day to be as content as possible in the season that I am undoubtedly in!


Assigning Points to Encourage Accuracy in Following Directions

From Our House to Yours

Assigning Points to Encourage Accuracy in Following Directions

Following step-by-step directions is a skill our children will benefit from their entire lives. My sons have learned the importance of carefully following directions through using Heart of Dakota. They know they will finish their homeschooling on time if they don’t have to go back and do steps they’ve missed. Missed steps cause mistakes, and mistakes cause things not to to turn out well. Missed steps cause recipes to taste bad, experiments to flop, and projects to fail. These consequences of missing steps are natural motivators that encourage accuracy in following directions. However, what do you do with an older student who has been trained well to follow directions, but still often misses steps? Well, one way to motivate accuracy in following directions is by assigning points.

Assigning points in less routine subjects can encourage accuracy.

Today I was in a hurry to go to an appointment. I needed to quickly go over my son’s Missions to Modern Marvels Write with the Best assignment and leave. My son is in 8th grade. Thanks to all of his previous years in Heart of Dakota, he has learned to follow directions quite carefully. He does really well with step-by-step directions in ‘boxes’ of plans that are more constant. Timeline entries, written narrations, geography assignments, etc. are easy for him to do accurately because he does them every week. Even history projects and science experiments go well. However, writing assignments vary greatly. This is why this box is labeled “S” for semi-independent. I teach a part, and then he does a part independently. In these less routine subjects, assigning points can help improve accuracy.

Assigning Points in Write with the Best to Encourage Accuracy

So, today I first went through the directions for the Write with the Best assignment. We looked at our notes from the previous lesson to help. Then, I assigned points for each step of the mini-lesson in Write with the Best. This lesson was short, as it was just the introduction for a literary critique he was starting to write for a book of his choice. However, this assignment still had many things to be included. I could foresee me returning from my appointment to help him add things he’d missed. So, in the Write with the Best guide I underlined each step/instruction. Then, next to each step/instruction, I put 5 to signify 5 points. There were 5 steps/instructions. I told Emmett this assignment was worth 25 points. Anything he forgot to do we would do when I got back. Well, he did everything he was supposed to do!  Accuracy – hooray!

In Closing

This assigning of points can be done to motivate accuracy in any subject area. Heart of Dakota’s guides already include excellent guidelines in each box of plans. Each guideline can be awarded points. I just underline the step/direction directly in the guide and jot the points in the margin. Sometimes I do 10 points, sometimes I do 5 points. Sometimes I give an extra 5 or 10 points for writing neatly, etc., if that is something I want to encourage. I don’t do points all of the time for every subject. Rather, I do points rarely. I do points if I feel I’ve really done my part to help ensure accuracy, and now it’s their turn to show me they can do their part to strive for accuracy too. Or, I do points if I have an appointment to get to!  I hope this helps give one way you can encourage accuracy!

In Christ,