Help! Extra-Curricular Activities Overload!

Dear Carrie

Help! We are in extra-curricular activities overload! What ideas do you have for evaluating our priorities and changing this?

Dear Carrie,

Now that we’ve discovered HOD, my endless quest for the perfect curriculum is over! Now God has been leading me to evaluate other areas. I’ve read some books that have challenged my thinking about how we’re using our non-academic hours. We’ve fallen into the trap of extra-curricular activities overload. We do soccer twice a week, ballet twice a week, piano lessons, music/singing twice a week, and a Friday morning history/science co-op. My kids have been asking to stay home more. I’m more tired and edgy than I’d like to be. Dad is wondering why we’re eating out too much. I’d love to hear if you’ve evaluated priorities in a similar way, what resources were helpful, and what overarching goals you have for your family. And if we stay home in the afternoons more often, what are some ideas for things to do?


“Ms. Please Help Us with Our Extra-Curricular Activities Overload!”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Us with Our Extra-Curricular Activities Overload,”

My husband and I read “The Socialization Trap,” and it totally changed the path upon which we were headed activity-wise with our family. At the time  we read that book, we were involved in everything there was to be involved with at church (i.e. nursery, teaching Children’s Church, teaching Sunday School, youth group leaders, church deacon and later elder, spiritual gift teachers, men’s groups, women’s group, VBS, etc.) and doing outside sports as well (i.e. t-ball, softball, soccer, swimming, etc.). With 3 sons (aged 9, 6, 3, and a child on the way), plus a family business, homeschooling, and my husband working a full-time job, we knew things needed to change.

My husband and I were on extra-curricular activities overload!

Both my husband and I had always been very active in everything. We were high school sweethearts who dearly loved playing sports and being involved in all things musical (i.e. marching band, jazz band, choir, swing choir, music competitions, plays and musicals, etc.). Likewise, we were involved with everything you could possibly be involved with at church from youth group to Sunday School to catechism to choir and so on. We carried that enthusiasm into college and then later into our married life.

Reading “The Socialization Trap” and talking to my oldest sister helped us make a change.

By the time we read “The Socialization Trap,” we were weary and running out of steam. My older sister cautioned us to really think before beginning certain activities (as once they are begun they are hard to stop, and also what you do for one child you will feel you need to do for another). This was timely advice for us, as we were seeing our nights being filled with sitting by various ball diamonds in different towns (headed toward not even being together as a family at these events, as our boys would all be in differing leagues due to their age spread). We were already glimpsing it that summer, as we had one on the verge of beginning a traveling baseball team at age 9, and the other just out of t-ball, with our next child headed into t-ball (not to mention soccer or swimming)!

Instead of extra-curricular activities overload, we chose family activities to do together.

So, we made a major life decision that summer that we would be done with organized sports and activities. Our oldest son balked a bit. Our next two sons never did. For us, the sense of relief was huge. Our summers became less busy immediately. My sister and her sons and our boys played at the park twice a week. We started having picnics and nature walks. The boys played catch in the backyard, played soccer, threw the football, made up their own rules and had a blast! We got a blow up pool for the backyard and the boys swam and swam in it every day.

Our sons had free time and developed lifelong hobbies.

They had free time and developed hobbies. They began to learn to work out their disagreements rather than arguing, because they knew they only had each other. I used to tell my boys that my sisters and I were somewhat alike and somewhat different. Yet, our arguments were usually short-lived, because when you grow up on a farm 4 miles from town as we did, you quickly realize that to stay mad at your only playmates is very dull. So, we usually made up quickly when we argued (and we still do today)!

Today, our sons love to play sports, watch movies, play games, and more!

Fast-forward to today! Our boys school in the morning, work in the late afternoons, and still get together with their cousins. They’ve never been involved in organized sports, but they dearly love to play soccer, catch, football, basketball, and kickball. They are outside every day, often even on work days, as for their breaks they hustle out to play a quick game of backyard soccer or football. They ride bikes, swim in the pool, play basketball at the gym and the park, build snow forts, have movie nights, and play board games at the local coffee house.

We enjoy being home, having free time, and pursuing hobbies.

We are home most days. Within our home, we all live, school, eat, work, and play. Really, we are together continually! The boys have learned to get along with each other (and with my husband and me), to enjoy being home, to look forward to daily home-cooked meals (which at times are less wonderful than others), and to covet their free time to pursue their hobbies.  My oldest son recently told me, “I love my life!” This did my heart such good, as I often have wondered whether we are choosing the right path.

Though our sons and nephews are very different, they are still best friends – from the oldest down to the youngest.

I share all this not to have you think that I believe this is the “one right way” to approach activities. Instead, I share it to show a different way. The blessings to reap from this type of path are that our boys enjoy playing sports just for the fun of it and with whatever number of people are able to play. They are all very different from one another, yet they are best friends from the oldest down to the youngest. Of course they still argue and have their differences, but they have learned how to resolve their differences and how to respect the differences among them.

Free time is viewed as a privilege, and overall our boys are happy.

Our oldest son holds a tremendous amount of influence in the lives of our younger kiddos. This makes him an incredible mentor. School holds a special importance, and routine is a part of their lives. Our kiddos never complain of boredom as they view free time as a privilege. They do not spend their days waiting to go to the next activity. Sometimes there are feelings of isolation. Sometimes the boys have wished they played organized sports or were involved in more things. Yet, overall our boys are happy. In looking back, the change we made was necessary for us. We could not have continued with all we do within our home without the shift in thinking.

Life without extra-curricular activities can still be joyful and full.

For those of you who feel you are in a similar place, I want to encourage you that life without organized activities is still joyful and full. I believe the Lord’s best looks different for each family, which is something my sisters and I discuss regularly. I know there is uncertainty with any choice, and I pray the Lord’s wisdom and guidance for all of us as we seek His path for our unique families.


Setting Up for Little Hands to Heaven

From Our House to Yours

Setting Up for Little Hands to Heaven

So, you’ve placed your children properly. You’ve had your ‘box day‘ after ordering from Heart of Dakota! But, what happens next? Well, you get ready for your homeschool year by setting up your guide! So, let’s do this together in this ‘From Our House to Yours’ series, starting with Little Hands to Heaven!

Start with the Nuts and Bolts of the Guide

To get where you want to go, you need to know how you are going to get there! So, when setting up for a guide, I always start by reading the nuts and bolts of the guide. For me, that is the Introduction, the Appendix, and the first week or month of the plans. I do this every year, even if I’ve done the guide previously. Why? Well, it sets the course for us for the year, and I can clearly see the purpose of each part of the plans. Each guide also includes options for ways of doing things (i.e. using one large binder or several smaller binders, using index cards or notebooks, etc.). I like to note the options I choose in the margin of the Introduction of the guide. That way, I can easily make my shopping list based on my notes for what options I preferred.

Setting Up the Front of My “Little Hands to Heaven” Binder

First, I photocopy the cover of my  guide in color and insert it in my binder. If you don’t have a color copier, a black and white cover looks nice as well! Second, I print the Introduction of the guide off the Internet (click here). I use the Table of Contents that is part of the Introduction as my attendance record. Next to each ‘Unit,’ I write the dates we completed it (i.e. Unit 1:  Sept. 2-6, 2019). Third, I print the first week of plans (click here). This is just a nice overview of what the guide includes. If your state requires you to turn in your student’s completed portfolio, to meet with a principal, or to be under the guidance of an umbrella school, the Introduction and first week of plans give an excellent overview of what is covered in the guide.

Label Tab Dividers Inside My LHTH Binder

Next, I label tab dividers for my binder. My goals are to show what my child did and how he progressed in skills. So, I label my first tab “BIBLE.” Since the history chronologically covered in LHTH is Bible History, anything my child does in response to the Bible reading can be placed here. Usually, I put Bible Activities and Art Activities behind this tab. Next, I label my second tab “LETTERS.” Mostly, I put Letter Activity projects and Hide and Seek letter pages behind this tab. Then, I label my third tab “MATH.” Behind this tab, I put any completed Math Activities and Count on Me pages. (I know the Count on Me pages are in the Bible Activities box, but I feel they show my child’s math progress nicely.) Last, I label my fourth tab “COLORS”and put any completed Colors pages (i.e. the “Yellow is…” colors page).

Extra Tab(s) for Those Who Take Pictures and Actually Print Them

If you are a super mom who not only takes pictures but also prints them, you can include one more tab called “HANDS-ON.” Behind this tab, you can place printed action photos of the Fingerplays, Active Exploration activities, Dramatic Play activities, and/or the Corresponding Music singing. Or, you can label the tab “OTHER” and put pictures of anything special, like you reading the Bible or Devotional to your child. However, ask me how many times I have gotten that done in three trips through LHTH. Zero. So, if you don’t get this done, no worries! I DO have many pictures taken, and I DID have them on a slideshow in a photoframe for awhile. So, if you don’t have the time, don’t do this. Your binder without any of these extra tabs will still be amazing!

Make Photocopies for the Year

I usually make all my photocopies at the start of the year. (Keep in mind, you can always skip this step and just make copies as they come up in the plans.) For LHTH, I first photocopy the Letter Flashcards from the Appendix. I cut them, fold them, and put them in order in a large ziplock bag. Next, I photocopy 35 “Count on Me” pages from the Appendix (33 copies are needed, but a few extra are always nice). Finally, I copy the “Hide and Seek,” “Number,” and “Color” pages.

I put these in order of use in 3 different manila file folders. If your copier leaves a slight gray edge on any copies, just trim the edge, if it bothers you. Please know, Carrie, HOD’s author, gives permission for these pages to be copied, as well as the Introduction and First Week of Plans. However, any other photocopies (i.e. of daily plans) would be a copyright infringement.

Label Sticky Tabs to Mark Places in the Guide

Next, I label sticky tabs to mark places in the LHTH guide. I label the first sticky tab “DAILY PLANS.” Then, I label the next tab “FINGERPLAYS.” If you decided to make your photocopies as you move through the plans rather than all at the start of the year, you may also want to labels in the Appendix for “COUNT ON ME” and “FLASHCARDS.” 

Shopping for Supplies

Since Carrie’s plans use readily available household supplies and many options are suggested, the guide does not have a supplies list. For example, the plans may call for either a bean bag and a basket, or a rolled up pair of socks and a plastic bin. Or, the plans may call for a scarf, a jump rope, or a long belt. Going out and buying bean bags, scarves, and jump ropes will not be necessary! So, embrace the beauty and savings of using what you have on hand on any given day instead of trying to make an exhaustive shopping list of supplies.

Instead, plan on stocking up on usual art supplies, such as colors, markers, glue, scissors, construction paper, tape, playdough, fingerpaints/paints/paintbrushes, cotton balls/yarn, etc. Also plan on stocking up on masking tape, index cards of different sizes, clear page protectors, and a few catalogs or magazines your child can cut pictures from.

In Christ,

DITHOR Lessons and Projects with Two Students in Different Levels

Dear Carrie

How does a DITHOR lesson and project look with two students in different levels?

Dear Carrie,

How does a DITHOR “lesson” look with two students in different levels? I’m trying to figure out how we do this when they’re reading different books. If my boys are in different levels (older reading 4/5 and younger reading 2/3), but we are studying the same genre, do I choose the same project for them? Thanks!


“Ms. Please Describe a DITHOR Lesson and Project for Two Students in Different Levels in Heart of Dakota

Dear “Ms. Please Describe a DITHOR Lesson and Project for Two Students in Different Levels,”

You can choose the same project for your two students if desired, or you can do different projects. I often let my boys choose from among the project options. Sometimes they choose to do the same project, and other times they choose to do a different project. I just have the planning meeting with them on the “first” project day, as laid out in the guide. Then, I typically break the task down for them, so they know what to do each day for 5 days. I keep the project time each day the same as a typical DITHOR lesson, so in that way the project does not take over our day.

I use the first day of our scheduled DITHOR time to map out the pages they’ll be reading and choose a kick-off.

One thing I do to keep DITHOR going well throughout the year, is on the first day during our scheduled DITHOR time, I just sit down with the kiddos and map out the pages they’ll be reading in their Student Books and also choose a kick-off. I count that as my first DITHOR day. Then, I put the guide away, and the next day we do the kick-off. As each day passes I just teach through the guide, one day at a time, and when I get to the project day, we just pick the project and map it out. Then, we put the guide away. The next day we begin the project.

I plan DITHOR right within my school day to avoid planning in the evenings.

This way, I don’t have to do planning at night ahead of time but can just sit down and do it when it comes up in my DITHOR time during the school day. If I need a bit of planning for DITHOR in which the kiddos aren’t needing to be present, I send them to do their next subject instead. It sometimes adds a few days to DITHOR to do it this way, but it keeps us going forward steadily and keeps me from having any planning to do in the evenings. It makes DITHOR fit right within the school day, and I’m never caught unprepared. DITHOR truly can be open-and-go, as long as you’ve chosen the books to read. But, if I do come across something I’m not ready for, I just stop and plan it then and there and then do it with the kiddos the next day.

My oldest two sons reaped the benefits of DITHOR in high school level literature.

My oldest two sons really reaped the benefits from DITHOR with a seamless transition to high school level literature. Their moral discernment far outweighs what I had book-wise when I was their age too! They actually choose to read classic novels and enjoy themselves in the process. Their love of reading was truly encouraged with DITHOR, and I am thankful daily for the discussions we had about literature in light of the Bible throughout their elementary and middle school years thanks to DITHOR. I hope you have a great start to DITHOR!


Five Ways to Celebrate Your Heart of Dakota Box Day

From Our House to Yours

Celebrate your very own Heart of Dakota box day!

When you order your homeschooling curricula from Heart of Dakota, you get to celebrate your very own ‘box day!’ Often times, by the time you order, our family has actually gotten to know you. Through helping on the phone, at conventions, through email or FB, on the blog or HOD Message Board, we often know you personally. As I see our sons and nephews picking your orders and packing your boxes, I envision your ‘box day!’ Through the past  decades, we’ve received pictures of families enjoying their ‘box day.’ We love these pictures! I’ve put them in our HOD Photobooks, on our message board, and even on my office wall.  We feel so blessed you are supporting our small family business by choosing to order from us. We thank God for you! That is why we take special joy in the emails, pictures, and phones calls we’ve received through the years capturing that brown HOD box day (or a white HOD box day, if you’ve been with us from the start).

Capture your box day in pictures!

I think the number one most celebrated way to remember box day is to capture it in pictures!  Of all the pictures we’ve received of box days, this is the one we see most often. Year after year, we see children growing up with Heart of Dakota celebrating their box days! Smiling for the camera, we see beautiful children full of joy posing with their HOD materials!  Often, they like to spread all of their books and CDs and things out in front of them like a buffet of living materials they can’t quite believe is all theirs! These pictures are precious to us. I often get to share them with our sons and nephews, as there is usually a brown HOD box and a massive pile of packing paper in the photo. These boxes and paper are special – our sons and nephews put their hands on them, and they packed them thinking of your children enjoying Heart of Dakota. We love it when families capture their box day in pictures!

Unpack, sort, and re-wrap your HOD things in gift wrap and bows!

If you have multiple children, each Heart of Dakota box will contain a mixture of your children’s things. Because of this, often times, moms will unpack the HOD boxes and separate each child’s things for the homeschool year. Then, moms will lovingly put them back into a box (or two – hey, we love books at HOD) for each child. Wrapping each box in gift wrap and bows, each child gets to open their box(es) and see what amazing books and resources he or she will enjoy for the year. The look on these children’s faces as they open their gift-wrapped boxes is priceless!  We love it when families gift wrap their HOD things for their children!

Hide and seek your HOD things for box day!

One of the more creative box days we have seen is the hide and seek box day! Often times moms do the sorting and piling of resources first. But then, they hide each child’s Heart of Dakota repacked box somewhere in the house. Let me tell you, we have some pretty creative moms!  I think if it were me looking for the box, I may not have found it. Of course, this appeals to the dads as well, which is probably why some of those boxes have been hidden in near-to-impossible places to find! We love it when families play hide and seek with their HOD things for box day!

Make a treasure hunt for your HOD things for box day!

Yet another fairly ‘out of the box’ idea (sorry, I couldn’t resist) for box day is to make a treasure hunt. With each clue, children come closer and closer to the treasure. Outdoors, indoors, at home, not at home – we’ve seen it all! Anywhere can be a good place for a treasure hunt for your HOD box day!  We love it when families make a treasure hunt for their HOD box day!

Sip your coffee, and quietly enjoy your own HOD box day as a homeschool mom!

Finally, one of the least captured on camera box days that is one of my favorites is simply opening your HOD boxes as a homeschool mom yourself! We don’t receive many pictures of this – any, actually. Homeschool moms are humble. They are focused on their children, not themselves. If someone makes it into the picture, it’s the children. But, I like to picture the box day I think many moms I get to know have. They are hardworking, humble, loving, amazing moms, who rarely take a moment to sit. I like to picture them receiving their HOD boxes and just sipping some good coffee, slowly unwrapping their boxes and dreaming of their year ahead. Lovingly fingering each book, unwrapping the beautiful notebook pages, smiling at picturing their children particularly loving this or that. It is a mental picture I have, and I love picturing moms quietly opening their HOD boxes and dreaming of their year ahead!

No matter how you enjoy your HOD box day, our family thanks you!  We know you have a choice in who to support when you order things. What a privilege it is to have you support HOD by ordering from us!  May the Lord richly bless your upcoming homeschool year, and may you have a wonderful box day, however you would most enjoy it!

Love in Christ,


Need a fresh start?

From Our House to Yours

Do you need a fresh start?

God created us to need new beginnings, to have the opportunity for fresh starts. As my Heart of Dakota homeschool year draws to a close and summer approaches, I always reflect on the year. I find things that went well, but I also always find things I want to go better.  Sometimes these things relate to homeschooling, and sometimes they relate to life in general. From this reflecting, I begin to plan for the summer and for my next homeschool year.

18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!…

Fresh Starts You Might Want to Make

To have a new beginning, you must make a decision to make some changes. If you keep going in the direction you have been going, you will not see any changes. As you reflect on your homeschooling, you might find you want to make some fresh starts. For example, maybe you combined two of your children in a guide that fit neither. A fresh start might be to separate them into their own guides. Or, maybe you started your child in too hard of a level of dictation passages, and she is missing every passage. A fresh start might be to go back one level or half a level. Or, maybe you didn’t spend the time you wanted to with your little one because you were focused on your older children. A fresh start might be to do Little Hands to Heaven with your little one, even just half-speed 15 minutes a day.

Heart of Dakota plans opportunities for fresh starts!

Blessedly, Heart of Dakota plans many opportunities for fresh starts! In fact, I think it is one of the few homeschool curricula that does. Carrie planned age ranges for the guides, so if you are realizing placement was off, make a fresh start and change it! Likewise, she included multiple levels of math, grammar, reading, and dictation within each guide. If you think the level you chose for your child is off, make a fresh start and change it! Similarly, Carrie planned for children to be combined or not to be combined. If you think combining didn’t go well, make a fresh start and separate! Carrie also planned many opportunities for pacing. If your child needs more time to grow into his guide, make a fresh start by going forward half-speed. Or, if your child didn’t finish his guide, make a fresh start by planning how to proceed with best placement in mind.

We’d love to help you make a fresh start!

Through the past 17 years of homeschooling, I’ve seen the need to make some fresh starts. A new beginning is within your reach!  But, you have to make a decision to make some changes for a fresh start to happen. If you want help with those pacing, placement, or level changes, call us or dialogue about this on our message board. Our family loves to help, and we believe in fresh starts and opportunities for change. We are here to help you talk through those decisions, and then we are here to help you order just what you need from Heart of Dakota to implement those decisions.  All you have to do is reach out.

In Christ,