My “Go-To Recipe” for Homeschool Success

From Our House to Yours

My “Go-To Recipe” for Homeschool Success

Do you have a “Go-To Recipe” you use again and again? A “Go-to recipe” is a recipe you pull out for meals again and again. A go-to recipe is a favorite because of its simplicity and its success rate. It is tried and true, and it always works. Well, just like my cooking binder has some well-loved go-to recipes, so does my homeschool binder. The formula is basic, but it always works. So, here is my go-to recipe for homeschool success!

Go-To Recipe for Homeschool Success

Set a start time and stick to it.

Alternate teaching times with independent times.

Set times to meet with each student and stick to them.

During teaching times correct work competed, teach teacher-directed boxes, and end with giving directions for semi-independent or independent work.

Mix in joint playtimes for youngers, add snack breaks, and season with love!

Oh, and make sure everyone has their own copy of your ‘Go-To Recipe’ for homeschooling!

Now, that’s a recipe for success!

Sample Go-To Recipe for Three Children Ranging Ages 4 to 10

Let’s just say you have a 4 year-old doing Little Hands to Heaven (LHTH), a 7 year-old doing Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory (Beyond), and a 10 year-old doing Creation to Christ (CTC). Here’s a sample go-to recipe:

Start time: 8:30 AM

8:30 to 9:30 AM:  Teaching time with 10 yo CTC student; Playtime together for 4 yo LHTH student and 7 yo Beyond student.

9:30 to 10 AM: Breakfast and Chores

10 -11 AM: Teaching time with 7 yo Beyond student. Independent work time for 10 yo CTC student. Independent playtime 30 minutes and audio book 30 minutes for 4 yo LHTH student.

10 to 10:30 AM: Teaching time with 10 yo CTC student with snack; 7 yo Beyond student helps 4 yo pick up from playtime then they have a snack together at kitchen table.

10:30 to 11:15 AM: Teaching time with 7 yo Beyond student; Independent work time for 10 yo CTC student; Independent playtime of learning stations for 4 yo LHTH student.

11:15 to 11:45 AM:  Teaching time with 4 yo LHTH student; Independent work time for 10 yo CTC student; Independent work time for 7 yo Beyond student (playtime if independent work is done before time is up).

11:45 – 12:15 PM: Teaching time with 7 yo Beyond student; Playtime together for 4 yo LHTH and 10 yo CTC students. (Tip: If running behind, have 10 yo finish LHTH with 4 yo.)  At this point, 4 yo LHTH student and 7 yo Beyond student are done with school.

12:15 – 1 PM: Teaching time and final correcting time with 10 yo CTC student. Exercise video or playtime with toys together for 4 yo LHTH student and 7 yo Beyond student.

DONE! 1 PM Lunch and then Free Time! A recipe for success!

In Christ,


Does IEW’s Student Writing Intensive A have to be completed prior to IEW’s Medieval-History-Based Writing?

Dear Carrie

Does my son need to do the IEW Level A Course before he does Resurrection to Reformation’s IEW Medieval course?

My son has severe dyslexia, and our primary focus has been reading. Right now, he dictates his Creation to Christ written narrations to me, and I write them. However, he’ll be 12 next year, and he needs more writing instruction. I know IEW’s Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons are included with Resurrection to Reformation. He’d really enjoy the history connection, but I’m not sure he’ll be ready for it. Does this program require prior writing instruction? He is a motivated writer and is hard on himself. Nothing he writes for fun measures up to his expectations. I think he’s comparing his writing to authors’ writing he reads in all of those awesome living books! I’m wondering if Medieval writing lessons requires a prior writing curriculum, or if it will teach writing as a stand-alone? Do I need to do the Level A course from IEW first before doing the Medieval lessons?


“Ms. Please Help Me Know If My Son Needs to do the IEW Level A Course Before the IEW Medieval Course”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Know If My Son Needs to do the IEW Level A Course Before the IEW Medieval Course,”

I’m thinking that you’re asking whether your son needs to complete IEW’s Student Writing Intensive A prior to beginning Medieval-History-Based Writing. Your son actually does not need need to do IEW’s SWI-A first, as the instruction in Medieval History-Based Writing is so well-done that no prior IEW experience is necessary. I had one son who had done IEW- SWI A and B prior to Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons, and another son who had no prior IEW experience when coming to Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons. Both did equally well with the program (and my husband taught the lessons to my second son and did well even though both father and son had no prior IEW experience)! I also much prefer Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons to IEW-SWI.

There are two levels of instruction offered within Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons (Level A and Level B). Both are scheduled in the Heart of Dakota guide. As long as your son sticks to the Level A schedule, he will be fine. We would also encourage you to follow the Medieval Writing plans the way they are scheduled within Heart of Dakota, as we spread out the writing sessions to keep them more manageable, and we also omit several of the writing units that are either covered in Rod and Staff or are covered in other ways through Heart of Dakota.   The Heart of Dakota schedule also allows for some great connections between the history and writing portions of the plans!





Face to Face Communication with Eye Contact

From Our House to Yours

Face to Face Communication with Eye Contact

My husband and I go on a date each week, and we usually end up at a restaurant. Socially distanced, we were still close enough to a young couple to realize they were on their first date. They had some awkward moments, which one can expect on a first date. However, what made things really awkward was their devout attention to their phones. For the entire date, they were talking, texting, and watching YouTube on their phones, separately. They almost missed the waitress stopping by to take their order. The whole date, they looked down… at their phones, at their food, at their napkins on their laps. The only time they made eye contact was when the waitress brought the bill. Both glanced up from their phones and quickly settled the bill. Awkward. Face to face communication with eye contact cannot be overrated.

Using Face to Face Communication with Eye Contact in Homeschooling

I recently was visiting with another homeschool mom who said her son disliked “Talking Points” oral narrations. When I asked why, her answer surprised me! She said he disliked looking at her. In World History the Talking Points directions say to Meet with an adult to share your talking points. Sit facing the adult and informally share your points. The adult should actively listen and withhold questions and comments until the end. Her son didn’t want to sit facing her. In fact, he preferred looking down and sitting far apart. This student had no special needs, but rather just disliked communicating face to face. She blamed gaming, and I agreed. However, we also both agreed her son would need to acquire these skills, and she made a great plan to help him start doing so the very next Talking Points narration. I can’t wait to hear about his progress!

Taking Advantage of Face to Face Communication with Eye Contact Opportunities in Heart of Dakota

Heart of Dakota offers ample opportunities for students to use face to face communication with eye contact. Oral narrations begin in Little Hearts for His Glory and continue all the way through high school’s U.S. History II. Younger children or older children who are new to narrating may need more practice before making eye contact. However, the more children narrate, the more comfortable they should become at making eye contact. Eye contact need not be constant, but it should be a natural part of narrating. Likewise, Socratic Worthy Words discussions, DITHOR project presentations, Speech presentations, parent/student discussions, etc. all offer opportunities for students to hone their face to face communication skills. As homeschool parents, we can help by actively listening, by not interrupting, and by being encouraging. We can also help simply by expecting them to work on this skill.

Using Face to Face Communication with Eye Contact at Restaurants

Once or twice a month, we try to treat our sons to a meal out. We have done this from the time our children were little. Through the past 20 years, we have noticed a change in the children we see eating out at restaurants. There is less and less face to face communication. In fact, many children’s eyes are glued to their media devices the entire time. Parents even order their food for them. I am not passing judgment on children who use media devices nor on parents who allow them to! Rather, I am saying that there are times outside of homeschooling I believe our children need to be expected to use face to face communication. This is just practicing good manners.

When waitresses come to our table, we tell our sons to look them in the eye and speak clearly. They are responsible for ordering their own meals and for making their own requests. We also tell them to be polite – to say “please” and “thank you.” We expect them to talk face to face with one another and with us. If they do pull out their phones, it is just to show something quickly to each other. We then expect them to put their phones away.

We’ve come a long way in being successful with making eye contact and using face to face communication!

Today, our sons readily make eye contact and use face to face communication inside and outside of homeschooling. I remember talking with each of our sons about the importance of eye contact. Likewise, I remember fledgling, hesitant oral narrations that have now blossomed into purposeful, confident oral narrations. We’ve come a long way!

I remember my husband telling my sons when they were little that one of them would have to ask the waitress for the free refill the restaurant provided of cotton candy. None of our sons would ask. They begged us to ask. We wouldn’t. Near the end of the meal, one of them worked up the courage to ask. Boy was he the hero!

Last month, due to social distancing, our sons had to sit separately from us at a restaurant. As my husband and I were paying the bill, the waitress told us how nice it was to wait on our sons’ table. She couldn’t believe they looked her in the eye, used their manners, and stayed off their phones – all without us as parents even being at the table with them. Yes, we’ve come a long way! Praise God for progress!

In Closing

My husband’s employer was recently conducting interviews. He told my husband he chose to hire the person who dared to look him in the eye! The other interviewers stared down at their hands, off out the windows, or even worse – they actually answered texts on their phones – during the interview! Oh my. Dare to be different! I want to encourage you to expect your children to develop skills in face to face communication and in making eye contact. Just by using Heart of Dakota’s plans, your children will be well on their way to success! This is not a homeschool problem; this is a problem all children are facing today. The extinction of face to face communication skills is at hand. Let’s do our part to ensure they live on – at least in our own children!

In Christ,

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).



Teach with Dependable Expectations

From Our House to Yours

Teach with Dependable Expectations

Have you ever worked for an employer whose expectations changed daily? Yesterday, you did one thing, and your boss thought it was great! But today, you did the same thing, and it was clear your boss didn’t think it was so great anymore. Each day you walk into work wondering how it will go. You feel like you never quite know how to hit the mark and be successful because your employer’s expectations are an ever-moving target. He says one thing but really means another.

You try to make mental notes on how to meet his expectations, but he changes his mind so much you might as well throw your mental notes out the window the very next day. If this goes on long enough, you give up trying. You even quit caring. Why try to meet the expectations of someone who is not dependable? Success is unattainable anyway, so it is just not worth the effort. If we don’t teach our children with dependable expectations, this could be their story too!

How Undependable Expectations Hurt

When our children cannot depend on our expectations of them in homeschooling, the quality of their work suffers. How would this look in your day-to-day teaching? Well, perhaps one week you said it was just fine to skip singing the hymn for Bible Study. Fast forward a month and you find your children have not sung the hymn since. You are upset, but they don’t understand why. It was fine last month. What changed?

Or, perhaps  for a few weeks you said it was just fine to write super short narrations of just a sentence or two. Fast forward a month and you realize your children have been writing extremely short narrations ever since. You are upset, but they don’t understand why. It was fine before. What changed? Or, perhaps for awhile you skipped DITHOR projects, made grammar totally oral, accepted one shoddily-done vocabulary card, omitted copywork, shortened writing assignments, or accepted totally illegible misspelled writing. Now you realize this is not good. Skills are being lost, work is sub-par. You see the need for change, but your children do not. They might not even care anymore. More than likely, they will argue and bicker with you. Undependable expectations hurt everyone.

How Dependable Expectations Help

On the other hand, when our children can depend on our expectations of them in homeschooling, the quality of their work is better. There is also less bickering about what is expected. How would this look in your day-to-day teaching? Well, perhaps one day your children skipped singing their hymn. You are upset and point to the guide’s directions to sing the hymn, and then you sing it with them. Fast forward to the next day, your children contemplate skipping singing their hymn. However, they remember your response yesterday and decide to sing it instead.

Or, perhaps one day your children write a super short narration of just a sentence or two. You are upset and point to the guide’s directions to write 5-7 sentences, and you make sure they do it. Fast forward to the next week, your children contemplate writing a super short narration. However, they remember your earlier response and decide to write 5 sentences instead. You count the sentences as they read their narration aloud and compliment them on a job well done. They feel good about their work! They might even attempt 6 sentences next time.

Or, perhaps you consistently hold them accountable to complete their DITHOR projects; to write at least a portion of their grammar answers; to complete at least the minimum of the assigned vocabulary, copywork, and writing assignments; and to write legibly. You even expect good spelling and help them fix their errors. Now they realize you have dependable expectations. In fact, those expectations are so dependable they can be found right in the Heart of Dakota guide. Their work is good and getting better every day. Skills are being gained; progress is being made. You care enough to have dependable expectations, and therefore they care too. Dependable expectations help everyone.

But, what do you do when you’re running behind schedule?

But, what about those days when you get behind and need to catch up? Maybe you DID need to skip the hymn singing one day, or you wouldn’t have gotten your child with a fever to the doctor. Or, maybe you DID need to have your child do grammar orally one day, or you wouldn’t have been able to help your mom contact the credit card company about her lost credit card. Maybe you DID need to shorten a writing assignment one day, or you wouldn’t have been able to help your husband drop off his car to be fixed.

These one-off things do happen, and then it does make sense to partner with your children to help them still finish school within a reasonable amount of time. However, the difference is these changes in expectations are rare. They happen on the one-off day rather than on every day. Children know the difference. So, I just want to encourage you to make your average homeschool days be ones filled with dependable expectations. Let the Heart of Dakota guide be your partner in this! All of the dependable expectations are right there for both you and your children to see. They are my best ally for a successful homeschool day; they can be yours too!

In Christ,