As you begin planning a schedule for school…be realistic!

Teaching Tip 

As you begin planning a schedule for school…be realistic!

It is so easy to make a perfect school schedule on paper that falls apart in practice!  So, here are a few tips to help you make a more realistic schedule.

Consider whether you are a morning person.

When making a “school” schedule, be sure to take into account whether you are a morning person.  Then, set a realistic start time for your days. I am not a morning person!  So, for me breakfast at 9:00 with teaching at 9:30 is realistic. It is better to make a plan you can stick to rather than a “wishful” plan that quickly falls by the wayside.

Consider your child’s best work times.

It is also wise to take note of your child’s best work time.  Is your child a morning person?  Or, does he/she do better with a slower start? It is a good idea to schedule accordingly. For example, don’t schedule a child who has a hard time getting going in the A.M. with his/her hardest subjects first.

Consider your little ones first.

When planning for school, often our first thought is to schedule the school-age children.  If you have a 2 or 3 year old, it is more important to schedule that little one first.  If we expect our little ones to just “go with the flow,” what will happen?  A busy 2 or 3 year old can drag everyone else along as he/she quickly derails the day!

Spend some time over the next week noticing when you and your children are at your best.

As you begin mulling over a schedule, remember to be realistic with your expectations! Your year will run more smoothly if you schedule both you and your children when you are at your best!


Should my son do copywork or handwriting?

Dear Carrie

Should my son do copywork or handwriting?

I’m using Heart of Dakota’s Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory with my 7 year-old this year. His fine motor skills are slow-coming. His hand tires easily when cutting, writing, and coloring. At the end of Little Hearts for His Glory, his writing had improved a lot. However, he still struggled with the correct formation of some of his letters. He wasn’t forming all his letter correctly. I was reading a different Heart of Dakota message board thread about handwriting in kindergarten. Julie had written, “…having the strokes progressively taught goes a long way for teaching children proper manuscript. Since writing progressively moves front and center for the subsequent years of learning, one year at least of formal manuscript instruction makes more of an easy go of it for years to come.”

I’m wondering if I should just go with the copywork in Beyond Little Hearts? Or, should I use another handwriting book (like A Reason For Handwriting A) to review how to form letters and slowly ease into copywork? One of my biggest fears in homeschooling is that I will miss something, or not realize something to be important/need corrected or focused on…especially in these early years. Any thoughts? Thanks!


“Ms. Please Help My Son Improve His Handwriting”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My Son Improve His Handwriting,”

From what you’ve shared about your little honey, I would lean toward doing A Reason for Handwriting A with Beyond. Simply skip the reviews (the first 30 lessons) of all of the letters given in the beginning of the book and jump right in with the daily lessons on copying words instead. Do it daily 4-5 days a week, and you will finish about 9-12 weeks earlier than you finish Beyond. For at least the last 12-15 weeks be sure to do the poetry copywork as well in preparation for Bigger Hearts. Your sweetie will also be doing copywork of sentences in spelling in Beyond each week, along with writing spelling words daily. There is some copywork in the grammar lessons once weekly as well.

We did this handwriting path with my 3rd son back in Beyond, and he really made great gains. We finished Beyond the beginning of the next school year and then moved into Bigger Hearts. By then, he was ready to ease into more writing. Some little guys just need more time to grow in their motor skills.


Scheduling: The “Shotgun” Approach or the “Slow Down” Approach

A Heart of Dakota Life

The “Shotgun Approach” or the “Slow Down Approach” to Scheduling

I know many of you have already placed your orders with Heart of Dakota for this upcoming homeschool year and have had your ‘box day‘ – how exciting! It will soon be that time of year when schedules are being made, put into practice, and tweaked. Back in 2012 on our HOD Message Board, we had some great dialogue about scheduling. At that time, I shared two different kinds of scheduling approaches. I called one the “Shotgun Approach” and the other the “Slow Down Approach.” I’ve switched between these two scheduling approaches throughout the past 17 years of homeschooling. I enjoy choosing my scheduling approach on a year by year basis. As you ponder what scheduling approach you’d enjoy this year, I thought I’d rewind back to 2012 and share this past post of mine:

The Shotgun Approach to Scheduling

I’ll call my scheduling in the past years the Shotgun Approach. The Shotgun Approach to scheduling involves getting up, getting going right away, blazing trails with no breaks for me, and finishing school by late lunch time. This approach worked for me very well for the past ten years. The kids were younger, the guides were shorter, I was younger, my husband was around more, my parents were healthy, and I had to work in the afternoons.  The Shotgun Approach was amazingly successful and very fulfilling for me for many years. Here is my Shotgun Approach for Revival to Revolution, for the  end of Bigger Hearts/start of Preparing Hearts, and for the end of Little Hands/start of half-speed Little Hearts from last year…

My Change from the Shotgun Approach to the Slow Down Approach

My change to the Slow Down Approach all started with this thought provoking post on our HOD Message Board. When I read this post, the first seed was planted that… maybe… just maybe… it would be possible to choose a slower, more relaxed scheduling pace – though you can see from my response, my initial thought was this would not be possible for me. Thanks to the message board post, I really sat down and pondered this days on end – weeks, really. In fact, I had spent forever working out my schedule for MTMM, PHFHG, and LHFHG, making it look much like past years’ schedules, which utilized the Shotgun Approach. Up until now, the Shotgun Approach had worked really well.

What Prompted My Scheduling Change to the Slow Down Approach

This year, however, I am going into this school year tired, physically, emotionally, and mentally – and this is after a summer break – though summer really ended up not to be much of a break after all. Women often work through things by talking with other women about them. Hence the beauty of the HOD board, right?!? Well, Carrie and I have figured this out about each other, and it often helps just to let the other gal talk, talk, talk, and then share lots of ideas until one or two strike(s) a chord.

Talking with Carrie, I realized what worked in the past for scheduling might not work best right now. Why?

– I am 40 years old, with thyroid trouble, and I am feeling my age.
– My husband is traveling more than he ever has in the past, and this is not going to change.
– My seventh grader is going to have a longer school day. I know this is necessary for his age, and I don’t want him rushing through things.
– My dad is going through chemo as a preventative measure against pancreatic cancer. I want to be there for my mom and him as much as possible.

– I need some real time to fill my soul that isn’t accompanied by 2000 interruptions.
– Also, I cannot see me constantly saying ‘no’ to all of my needs for the next 13 years it is going to take to homeschool my youngest child to the finish line.
– I want real time to discuss Biblical things planned in the HOD guides, with each of my children, but especially with my oldest so I can hang onto his heart.

Sooooo, my new scheduling is my version of a slower, gentler pace. I am excited to give this Slow Down Approach a whirl. It looks like this…

I love this Slow Down Approach to scheduling in the morning because…

– In this scheduling approach, the start time for me is later, which equals more sleep for me. I have time to cuddle with Emmett first because he loves this. We have cuddle up and read time in bed together by doing Little Heart’s Storytime, which we both love. I also have private time to talk about Riley’s Bible Quiet Time alone right after he did his part in his room.

– In this scheduling approach, I like the start time for each of the boys. I let Wyatt choose his, with the rule it could not be earlier than 6 AM (he chose 6:15 AM). I let Riley choose his, with the rule it could not be earlier than 7 AM (he chose 7:15 AM). Also, I planned for each of them to do school things they can do independently in their bedroom. This will not wake Emmett up too early, nor will it wake me.

– In this scheduling approach, I actually have enough time planned for chores and breakfast, so this will not be a RUSH. Also, I have enough time to get done what has to be done before we start our school day.

– In this scheduling approach, I like the longer teaching block of time with Wyatt first thing (1  1/2 hours). This includes checkpoints for what he has done already independently.

Other things I love about this Slow Down Approach to Scheduling…

– In this scheduling approach, Riley and Emmett play together first, which they love! They also worry they might not get their computer time. (We don’t have any other media time other than educational videos). So, letting them play together first and then do computer equals them coming to school work with a great attitude ready to work. This also gives me teaching time with Wyatt alone.

– I have checkpoints in place for Wyatt and Riley throughout day in this scheduling approach. Emmett is also with me fairly early on in the day, which helps me get him going.

– In this scheduling approach, we knock out dictation, R & S English, and math for my olders early on when they are fresh and focused.

– We have a BIG break in the middle of the afternoon (as in from 1:30 to 3:30 PM). This is great for the boys to run off some steam outdoors. Likewise, this is great for ME! I have my Bible quiet time, prayer, and journal alone in the house when it’s QUIET, and I can actually think.  Also, this is a good time for me to exercise, do phone calls, assess what needs to be done for work, etc.

– In this scheduling approach, the kids take a big break. Then, they come back to finish subjects they can do on their own, with just a bit of overseeing from me. This way, I can “float” between them as needed to help while also prepping for supper.

– In this scheduling approach, the kids have a quiet time and then have short outdoor play. I can work during this time and finish out supper as needed. Also, I don’t have to help them come up with a plan for a long afternoon all in a row of free time.

I feel at peace about this Slow Down Approach to scheduling.

I am excited about this slower, gentler scheduling approach, and much more ready to start now! After much prayer and pondering, I feel at peace now to begin this year. I am sharing all this in case being a fly on the wall for this gal chat Carrie and I had may be helpful to any of you wonderful ladies as you consider what layout for your day fits you best now. Maybe the Shotgun Approach would be a welcome change. However, maybe the slower, gentler Slow Down Approach would be a welcome change. Or, maybe you find yourself somewhere in between these two scheduling approaches. Either way, hopefully this can spark some thoughts about how your day can be set up best to work for YOU this year! My hope is we can all have the kind of year that’s just right for each of us right now – for whatever our stage of life is!

In Christ,



Making the Five Love Languages a Part of Your Average Homeschool Day

From Our House to Yours

Hello fellow homeschool moms! If you’re too busy to read this post, try listening to the audio version of it by clicking on the link at the bottom!

The Five Love Languages

I bought both The Five Love Languages and The Five Love Languages of Children at a Christian book fair booth many years ago. These books by Gary Chapman teach that there are five love languages. These five love languages are words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, acts of service, and gifts. The premises is that each adult or child has a preferred love language. In other words, each person has one more predominant way he/she feels loved. Each person also has one more predominant way he/she shows love to others. Ironically, this may be a different way than the way in which he/she feels loved. So, what does this have to do with Heart of Dakota and homeschooling? Well, let’s see!

Love Language #1:  Words of Affirmation

Does your child thrive when you speak words of affirmation? Well, sincere verbal compliments or kind words are easy to make part of your Heart of Dakota homeschool day! When your child finishes giving an oral narration, share what you loved best about it. On top of your child’s passed dictation passage, write “Terrific work!” When correcting your child’s creative writing story, jot some encouraging words in the margins about what you liked best. In your child’s Common Place Book, take a moment to write an encouraging comment. When discussing your child’s Bible Study, be sure to affirm how much you love your child and to share the Christian qualities you see blossoming in your child. If words of affirmation is not your own love language, remember Thessalonians 5:11 says: So encourage each other and give each other strength, just as you are doing now. Give it a try!

Love Language #2:  Physical Touch

Does your child love to be hugged? Well, physical touch is easy to make a part of your Heart of Dakota day! As you begin your homeschool day, give your child a big hug! When reading aloud to your child, cuddle close together on the couch. If you are working through a tough math problem together, give your child a little neck or back rub to ease stress and provide encouragement. Every now and then, give your child’s shoulder a little squeeze of encouragement as you say “I love you!” Share a fuzzy blanket and a cup of hot cocoa as you go through your child’s completed independent work. If physical touch is not your own love language, remember I Peter 5:14 says: Give each other a kiss of Christian love when you meet. For your child’s sake, give it a try!

Love Language #3:  Quality Time

Does your child love to spend time with you and have your undivided attention? Well, quality time is easy to make a part of your Heart of Dakota day! Whenever you have “T” teacher-directed plans, give your child your undivided attention. Look your child in the eye, nod as you listen, share your thoughts, and be really present in that moment. Set up your day to have teaching blocks of time alone with your quality time-loving child. Then, be sure to spend that time together without distraction. Show your child how much you care by not taking phone calls, checking text messages, posting on Facebook, or giving that child’s quality time to another child. If quality time is not your own love language, remember Jesus said in Matthew 28:20: I will be with you always, even until the end of the age. And, give quality time a try!

Outdoor “recess” can become quality time with cousins too!
DITHOR Projects are great quality time opportunities for siblings too!
Science projects offer quality time chances for brothers too!
Love Language #4:  Acts of Service

Does your child love it when you show you care by performing acts of service? Well, acts of service are easy to make a part of your Heart of Dakota day! Any “T” teacher-directed or “S” semi-independent boxes of plans in your child’s guide are a great place to step in with some loving acts of service! For the “I” independent boxes of plans, you can help set out your child’s books, art supplies, or science experiment things. You can make your child a cup of hot cocoa for break time. Simply asking, “How can I help?” or “How can I make things better?” are great ways to see what acts of service would be most appreciated. If acts of service is not your own love language, remember I John 3:18: My children, we should love people not only with words and talk, but by our actions and true caring. Give it a try!

Who doesn’t love being served hot cocoa?!?
Helping a little brother with school is an act of service too!

Love Language #5:  Gifts

Does your child love to receive gifts or little surprises? Well, this love language is easy to make a part of your Heart of Dakota day! “T” teacher-directed and “S” semi-independent plans help you offer the gift of your presence every day! Have a fun HOD ‘box day’ by wrapping your child’s books like a gift at the start of the year. Or, make a ‘treasure hunt’ with your child’s HOD books as the ‘treasures!’ Choose some inexpensive special art supplies (i.e. twistables) or school supplies (i.e. glitter) for your child to open as gifts throughout the year. Surprise your child with a special drink (i.e. bubble gum soda) or snack (i.e. caramel popcorn) during the homeschool day. Get a new dollar store candle to light during seat work.  Remember, James 1:17: Every good action and every perfect gift is from God. These good gifts come down from the Creator of the sun, moon, and stars, who does not change like their shifting shadows.

History Projects can be ‘gifts” when shared!
History-inspired meals can be shared ‘gifts’ too!
The dollar store is full of fun little surprise gifts!
The Lord cares so much about us showing love that He commands us to do so!

God made each of us His own special creation. We all feel loved and show love in different ways. Knowing how our children feel most loved and showing them we love them during our homeschool day is so important! The Lord cares deeply about us showing love to one another. In fact, He cares so deeply that He said in John 13:34-35: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.

Putting Love Languages into Practice

Knowing how each of my children feels loved is key. It saves time! Showing love in the way each of my children truly feels loved fills their ‘tank’ faster and longer than trying to show love in just the way(s) I feel loved. The love language a child prefers can change through the years. So, be ready to make a change if need be! When in doubt, I try to show each child each love language and see which one each seems to prefer. Being sincere and not judging a child for his/her preferred love language is crucial. Remember, there is no one right way to love or to be loved! On a side note, it never hurts to tell your children how YOU feel loved too! We don’t want to feel like showing love to us is a difficult task with an unknown target. Hope you have fun discovering how love languages can enhance your homeschool days!

Click the following link to listen to the audio version of this post!  If you have trouble finding the audio in the email version of this post, try copying and pasting the URL at the very bottom of the email in your browser!

In Christ,


Circle Time: Is it worth the stress of adding it to HOD or not?

Dear Carrie

Circle Time: Is it worth the stress of adding it to HOD or not?

First of all, I want to say how incredibly grateful I am for Heart of Dakota (HOD). This is my first year homeschooling, and HOD makes things easy for me! The issue we’re having is not with Heart of Dakota; it is with circle time. I heard about circle time and thought it’d be fun to start my day with it, but some mornings it just isn’t! Since I have a 6 year-old, a 4 year-old, and a 2 year-old, I try to keep it short. We look at the calendar, do our memory verse, stretch, and sing songs. Some mornings my 6 year-old complains about different aspects of circle time, and my 4 year-old just chooses to challenge me on things. I’m wondering if it’s THAT important to keep doing circle time? Or, should I just start their HOD school right away instead? Circle time is stressing me out.


“Ms. Please Help Me Stop Stressing About Circle Time”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Stop Stressing About Circle Time,”

As homeschool mommas, it is important to choose our battles. With that in mind, I can see how getting a group of little ones together for activities that engage them across their varying levels could result in a battle of wills to get them to stay focused. We haven’t done circle time in our own homeschool for that very reason. Instead, I grouped a few activities from the HOD guide around lunch time for us to do together. You could do the same! These things could be Bible memory work, rhymes, poetry, music, or storytime. That worked better for us and kept us moving forward in our HOD guides with things that were already needing to be completed in the day. (I stopped doing this when my boys were older and when the ages of my boys began to vary more.)

The guides are complete, so there is no need to add more unless your heart truly desires it!

I want my kiddos to be fresh and excited for their school day when we begin. I want to keep my “battles” for their attention for the things that are really needed in each individual child’s school day. This will be different for different ages. Christian music at breakfast and prayer is a great way to start the day. Then, just jump in to the guides. The guides really are complete as written, so there is no need to add more (like circle time) unless your heart truly desires to do so!


Follow-Up reply from “Ms. Please Help Me Stop Stressing About Circle Time”:

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I don’t have much support for homeschooling, so to hear your take on things is priceless. For now, I think we’ll stop doing circle time. I like the idea that was mentioned of how your day should start “happy” and without the stress. The way our circle time is going, this isn’t always the case. I second guess myself a lot about homeschooling (I know I’m believing lies from the enemy), so this is really helping me to persevere. That’s what motherhood is about, right? Persevering and believing God for the reaping of fruit in His time!