To combine, or not to combine; that is the question!

From Our House to Yours

To combine, or not to combine; that is the question!

To combine, or not to combine; that is the question we so often ask! Well, you can easily combine with Heart of Dakota, just like you can with other curricula. However, combining is not always what’s best for children or for moms. As a young mom new to homeschooling nearly 20 years ago, I was repeatedly told I would need to combine my children for homeschooling to work. Why? They said it was “easier,” and otherwise I’d “burn out.” Well, as a veteran homeschooling mom, I have a different message for you today! The truth is combining works very well in some situations! But, not combining works very well in some other situations! Much like “one size fits all” clothes don’t fit everyone, combining does not fit everyone either. So, how do you know when to combine and when not to?

It is best not to combine when children are further apart in ability and maturity.

When children are further apart in ability and maturity, it just makes good sense not to combine. They have totally different needs from each other. Let’s say for instance that a younger child is not reading and writing well. But, an older child is reading chapter books and writing paragraphs. Charlotte Mason would say you should move that older child toward reading his/her own material in all subject areas (roughly around age 9), as this promotes better retention and narration skills. If you pair a 9 year-old child ready for this type of independence with a younger sibling not yet close to reading, you must then read everything out loud to both of them so they can be combined. This results in combining actually taking longer than teaching separate programs. Likewise, it prevents the older child from moving on to skills more appropriate for his/her age.

Likewise, it is best not to combine when children are further apart in writing skills.

If an older child is writing well and ready for written narration instruction (Charlotte Mason said roughly around the age 10), but is paired with a younger sibling not writing, the parent is forced to find something else for the younger child not yet writing to do (often something that is a skill far below this skill that is independent, such as coloring, as they cannot read or write yet). There is nothing wrong with coloring, but then at what point does the younger child receive that excellent guided written narration instruction that the older child received? Often they don’t, as the older child is always on to the next harder skill, while the younger child is still just doing something to “tread water” while the older child finishes.

As the gap widens, it often becomes apparent not combining would be better.

Often the gap widens. Then, you as a parent are forced to continue to read everything aloud as the younger child cannot read independently yet. Or, because the older child has continued to move up in guides, you find that even by the time the younger child can read, the reading is so incredibly difficult, that younger child still cannot read the material – which means either you are still reading aloud to the duo (again the older student missing vital independent skills), or you see how important it is you separate the two at this point, more than likely because you are hoarse from reading pages aloud that were never meant to be read aloud by you.

Combining children who are far apart in abilities can set a precedence of continually teaching to the older child’s needs.

Combining in this type of situation can set up a precedence to be teaching to the older child’s needs instead of the younger child’s needs, and over time the younger child will just need something different. You can see how, because the older child never did get to read the material on his/her own, the parent never did have time freed up to work with the younger child, who really probably needed more instruction earlier on.

It works well to combine children who are fairly close in ability. 

Now imagine two children who are quite close in ability. The younger is doing phonics and writing individual letters, while the older is just starting to read 3 letter words and is just beginning to write 3 letter words. Combining these children together makes much sense! They will both require the parent to read the learning materials aloud, and they will both require time to grow into reading and writing independently. There is no reason they cannot both do the same history, science, poetry, Bible reading, etc., and while they may need separate reading and math instruction, this is fairly easy to accomplish.

It works well to combine children who are both reading and writing fairly well.

Likewise, imagine older children, who are both reading and writing fairly well; one is reading chapter books, and one is reading longer chapter books. Heart of Dakota makes it easy to combine these children, as the younger child can do the program as is, and the older child can do the extensions. If the older child is writing pages, and the younger child is writing paragraphs, both can easily receive instruction on written narration practice, with one completing more than the other. Combining is a winning situation here, as long as the younger child is not being asked to listen to material that is too mature for his/her ears.

When considering combining, it is important not to fool ourselves into thinking it will automatically be easier.

When combining, it’s important not to fool ourselves into thinking it will automatically be easier because it is one program to teach vs. several programs to teach. Sometimes just finishing the 4-year-old’s school in 30 minutes, and finishing the 6-year-old’s school in 2 1/2 hours because that’s where they place best, is super easy compared to trying to slow things down so the 4-year-old can catch up to the 6-year-old, or trying to rush along the 4-year-old to catch up to the 6-year-old.

Combining can be the perfect answer for children who are close in abilities, who work well together, and who place in similar guides anyway.

Other times, combining is the perfect answer for children are close in abilities, work well together, and place in similar guides anyway. I will say either way, the single biggest factor in making homeschooling multiple children easier is when children reach the age of being able to read materials on their own – both directions in guides and materials in living books – they do so. The next biggest factor would be when they are writing fairly well on their own, they do so. It is necessary for children to move toward this independence in their learning as along with it comes age appropriate skills. I hope this helps as you consider what’s best for your children – whether it is combining, or not combining!

In Christ,
Julie

P.S. Outside circumstances also can play a part in whether or not to consider combining (i.e. working outside the home many hours, children with health concerns with many doctor’s appointments, being in poor health yourself, and having a very large family and being stretched thin, etc). Thinking back to the wonderful ladies I’ve met at book fairs, on the phone, and online, these are also important things to consider when choosing whether to combine or not.

Inventive spelling… a do, or a don’t?

Dear Carrie

Inventive Spelling… a ‘do’ or a ‘don’t’?

I’m doing Beyond Little Hearts with my 7 year-old son. Occasionally, he will write something on his own, which will include a mix of properly spelled and misspelled words. I always praise him for his work, and I don’t make a point to show him his mistakes. However, for school I’ve noticed most of his writing is copywork. I know Charlotte Mason really stressed the importance of it. What were her thoughts on independent writing? Should I encourage him to write his own sentences and simple stories? I see that that is not being done in the Beyond lessons yet. Is that something that should be downplayed right now? What are your thoughts on this? Would allowing inventive or phonetic spelling undo the good work of copywork? Basically, is inventive spelling a ‘do’ or a ‘don’t’?

Sincerely,

“Ms. Please Help with Inventive Spelling”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with Inventive Spelling,”

Whether inventive spelling is considered a ‘do’ or a ‘don’t’ is actually a common question! So, I’m glad you asked. As far as Charlotte Mason goes, she did not encourage original writing in the younger years. This was because she wanted the children to develop the habit of seeing words spelled correctly (mainly through copywork).

The habit of seeing words spelled incorrectly and writing them incorrectly is a difficult one to overcome.

In my 11 years of public school teaching days, the new philosophy was getting kiddos to write as much as possible and all of the time… and don’t worry about the spelling. Inventive spelling was “in,” and children wrote volumes of incorrectly spelled work, which I could never get on board with!   As the years passed, teachers were discovering exactly what CM found… that the habit of seeing words spelled incorrectly and writing them incorrectly is a difficult one to overcome. While some kiddos are naturally good spellers, the rest of the kiddos were developing terrible spelling habits and having no sense at all of what “looked right” anymore. So, when I headed into homeschooling and read more of CM’s philosophy, it really made sense to me in regard to inventive spelling in particular.

In general, I don’t correct “free-time” writing.

With my own kiddos I do not discourage them from writing original stories and sentences, and they all do it on their own during free time. Often great literature inspires them to be creative writers on their own. I don’t correct their “free-time” writing. Instead, I just try to compliment them on the content. If there is a glaring spelling error, I may point that out to be fixed.

Early writing in school is kept to the form of copywork, so inventive spelling is not used.

During school-time, we keep their early year’s writing practice to copywork. So, we do not use inventive spelling. Then, in grade 4 and on up, we begin moving onto some original composition, as planned in the Heart of Dakota guides. I do require correct spelling for school-related work. I’ll often write their ideas on a markerboard to be copied correctly. Likewise, I do check every paper they do during school time for spelling. Then, I do require correction. I write the correct spelling in pencil above the incorrect word (or in the margin). The kiddos then copy my spelling and erase my word, so only their corrected word remains.

There are many ways to approach inventive spelling, but the CM way has made the most sense to me.

I realize there are many ways to approach inventive spelling and that the CM-style of teaching spelling is just one way. But to me, it has made the most sense of any that I’ve tried.

Blessings,
Carrie

 

When will it all come together for my 11-year-old?!?

From Our House to Yours

When will it all come together for my 11-year-old?

I recently visited with a mom whose 11-year-old son was doing Resurrection to Reformation (RTR). She had multiple children using Heart of Dakota. All were doing exceptionally well, except her oldest son. He’d misplace his books. When doing his history project, he’d do steps 1, 3, and 5. Though usually good at copywork, he’d misspell his timeline captions or Shakespeare quotes. In grammar, he’d forget the oral review question answers. When writing his narration, he’d write Unit 13’s narration in Unit 14’s box. She said he was a bright boy who did amazing with his guide overall! But, it was the little things that were getting missed! She told me she was fine helping him, as long as it would come to an end. She said, It WILL come to an end sometime, won’t it? I mean, when will it all come together for my 11-year-old?

11 Year-Olds Have a Lot Going On

I laughed and asked if she’d been homeschooling MY son because they did the same things. However, I told her I had one ace-in-the-hole. I knew it would pass! And the reason I knew it would pass was this particular son was my last, and I’d been through this with my older sons back when they were about 11 to 12 years old. 11-year-olds have a LOT going on. There is a reason From Boy to Man (and From Girl to Woman), as well as What Is God’s Design for My Body?, are a part of RTR. Sometimes you can’t even see a whole lot of change happening on the outside. However, there is much going on, both inside and outside for 11-year-olds. It can make them distracted. They can lose focus. Not to mention, all of this happens at a time when school is getting harder!

What can be done to help our 11 year-olds?

So, what can be done to help our 11-year-olds? Well, what we can do is stick to the plan. It’s not flashy, I know, but it works. At a time when everything is changing for our 11-year-olds, what they need more than anything is consistency. Emotions running wild? We as moms need to remain calm. Work not complete? We as moms need to help them complete it. Papers in disarray or books lost? We as moms need to help find them. Oh, you don’t feel like writing 8-12 sentences for your narration today? Too bad, it’s in the plans, so we do it. Frustrated with math and wanting to quit? Take a breather, but then we’ll finish it together. Our 11-year-olds need us as moms to step in the gap and be the calm and the consistency they crave. It’s not easy, but it works!

A Student Planner That Teaches Time Management

One amazing blessing of Heart of Dakota is the way the guides are designed. As children grow and mature, rather than just being teachers’ guides, the guides become student planners too. Children take their guide in hand and follow it for their “I” and for (a portion of) their “S” boxes. So, little by little, our 11-year-olds start to see they have some control over their school day. They begin to understand that how they manage their time determines how long their school day takes. Likewise, they see how carefully they follow directions impacts how much time school take because redoing work takes more time. Of course, they only realize these things if we as moms are consistent in expecting their work to be fully completed. That is why it is so important we make sure they ‘stick to the plan.’

So, when will it all come together for our 11-year-olds?

So, WILL this come to an end at some point?!? Will there be a time that it all comes together for our kiddos? Yes, it will! But, maybe not when they’re 11. For my son, who is now a 12-year-old, everything came together about a month ago. All I can say is he just turned the corner. He sets his own alarm each morning and gets up. If he finishes a box early, he goes on to the next one. When we meet, he has his work done. His writing is neat. He rarely misspells things within copywork. He’s doing all the steps for his projects. He often finishes school early. I just praise God for it! Is he perfect? No. However, he is working hard to manage his time and do his best. This is far different from when he was 11 years old. Mission accomplished!

In Closing

At a time when we as homeschool moms can feel weary, we need to stay strong with high expectations for our 11-year-olds. By consistently expecting them to complete all of their guide’s plans, they in turn learn to manage their time, to focus better, and to do their best work the first time. Whatever we do – we cannot open the door to discussions about ‘if’ they must do all that is assigned; very quickly this becomes a daily battle. Rather, we can plan to set the bar high for all their work to be completed consistently each day. Given time, we will reap a bountiful harvest! Trust me – it is a harvest that keeps producing fruit year after year, guide after guide, all the way to high school graduation. And it all starts at about 11 years old.

In Christ,

Julie

Help My 2nd Grader Grow into the Amount of Writing in Bigger Hearts

Dear Carrie

How can I help my 2nd grader grow into the amount of writing planned in Bigger Hearts?

My son is in 2nd grade and doing HOD‘s Bigger Hearts for His Glory. He loves it all, except the amount of writing. He does poetry copywork every day and sometimes Bible verses. Additionally, he writes within his science notebooking, dictation, and sometimes history activity writing. I switched him to doing Rod and Staff 2 orally because he couldn’t handle the writing. He also does one sheet daily from Abeka’s language arts. All of this together is too much for him. He is overwhelmed, and his handwriting is getting worse. I would say in a day, he does the Abeka sheet and one other area mentioned above. I’ve been doing Rod and Staff 2 with him orally. I placed him in Bigger Hearts, and I think it is the right placement. But, how can I help him grow into the amount of writing he should be doing?

Sincerely,

“Ms. Please Help My 2nd Grader Grow into the Amount of Writing in Bigger Hearts”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My 2nd Grader Grow into the Amount of Writing in Bigger Hearts,”

First of all, take a moment to rejoice that your kiddo is doing well and enjoying Bigger overall. That is a wonderful thing! Next, I just want to encourage you that many kiddos struggle with writing of ANY sort. It is something to grow into, just like learning to read or learning to do math problems.

To reduce the amount of writing, I recommend doing most of Rod and Staff orally.

As far as English, there’s no need to do Abeka in addition to Rod and Staff. So, I’d pick one or the other. Since your little guy doesn’t enjoy writing, I’d choose Rod and Staff, as it is easy to do orally. In the Introduction to Bigger, I actually recommend doing almost all of Rod and Staff orally, and only assigning one small portion to be done in writing each day. So, you’re actually doing Rod and Staff the way we intended by doing it almost all orally!

We rotate assignments to keep the amount of writing in balance each day.

Next, in the daily plans, we actually rotate the writing assignments around, so you’re not doing all of those writing assignments on any one given day. So, make sure you’re following the plans as written, and that will help you not to get overloaded with too much writing.

Try reducing the amount of writing by omitting the optional poetry copywork.

As far as writing activities go, you’ll need to keep the scheduled dictation. However, you can reduce the amount of writing by omitting the poetry copywork. In Bigger Hearts, the poetry copywork is only suggested but not scheduled daily or required. If your little one is doing cursive, then the poetry copywork could be skipped. I know that we didn’t do it with my second son, and it was fine.

Other Suggestions for Lessening the Amount of Writing

That will leave one other writing something each day to be done (either copying a Bible verse, doing a history notebook assignment, doing a science notebook assignment, or doing a science experiment form). With each of those assignments, you can lessen the amount of writing by writing the beginning part of a sentence or even a sentence or two for your son. Then, just have your sweetie finish the rest. You can gradually move up to requiring a little more of it to be written by the student until you eventually work up to full-speed by the end of the year. Make sure not to do more than one vocabulary word either (and you can even do the writing for your student on that one, taking dictation, until he can work up to doing it himself).

Many kiddos need to grow into the amount of writing required, so just ease into it to find success!

Writing will always be an area that takes some growing into for MANY kiddos. No matter what program you use, there will be writing required. Just allow your child to ease into it, gradually moving up as he’s able, and you’ll eventually find success!

Blessings,
Carrie

P.S. Looking for ideas for going half-speed in Bigger Hearts or in Preparing Hearts with a child for other reasons?  Click here to find some half-speed options with daily language arts and math!

Enjoy stress-free planning ahead with HOD’s flexibility in placement and pacing!

From Our House to Yours

Counting guides and stressing about planning ahead? Well, don’t! HOD takes the pressure off by offering flexible placement and pacing!

As homeschool moms, we love to plan ahead! Even when our children are little, we might be planning ahead for middle school or for high school. Blessedly, Heart of Dakota offers complete curricula for PreK through 12th grade. So, that already takes the pressure off planning what your child will do next! However, Heart of Dakota takes this one step further by offering flexibility within this plan, both in placement and in pacing. But how?

Flexibility in Placement

Heart of Dakota recognizes proper placement should be based on more than a child’s age. This is why we have a placement chart with age ranges for guides. It is also why when you ask for placement help, we don’t just ask the age of your child and then send you the same box of materials we’d send every other child of that same age. All children of a given age are not exactly alike – praise God! For how drab that would be! Heart of Dakota recognizes children of the same age have different needs by offering guides with age ranges, and by also including within each guide multiple levels of math, reading, spelling, grammar, etc. But, how do the plans ahead change based on if your child is on the younger, the middle, or the upper part of the target age range?

Flexibility for Those Who Place in the Middle or Upper Target Age Range

Heart of Dakota recognizes you might need flexibility in pacing for your children through the years. Students who place in the guides in the middle or upper side of the target age ranges will more than likely move through the typical guide sequence, graduating in 12th grade having done the 4 high school guides as written. However, if your child needs to slow the pacing of a guide, due to life events or to learning needs, extension packages can be added as needed. Then, going forward, we can help you plan the best path through high school based on your teenager’s future goals.

Flexibility for Those Who Place on the Youngest Side of the Target Age Range

For students who are more advanced and place on the very youngest side of the target age range, Carrie purposefully wrote the guides to have some flexibility for several reasons. One, in case this more advanced placement becomes too difficult at some point and the pacing needs to be slowed down, or two, in case there are some difficult years ahead. So, for example, if health concerns arise (for children/parents/grandparents), or if there is an unexpected job change or move, or if any other of the many unforeseen difficulties in life that make homeschooling need to be slowed down for a year or so occur, the student who had been doing the guides on the youngest side of the target age range has a year of ‘wiggle room.’ Or, of course, you can always just graduate a younger student a year early.

How I’ve Personally Taken Advantage of HOD’s Flexibility in Placement and Pacing

I find it interesting that all of my sons did Little Hearts for His Glory for kindergarten. However, none will graduate one year early. My oldest son did a guide a year until my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My son did not finish the last 7-8 units of World Geography, which he was using for 8th grade because of what was going on with my Dad. We decided to have my son complete the last 7-8 units of WG and the remaining 3 high school guides over 4 years.  It was perfect!  He was able to spend time with my Dad before he passed away and so was I, he worked more hours and earned money to pay for college, and he helped me homeschool my other children by teaching their math (he loves math and is good at it).  He is now in college and thriving!

How HOD’s Flexibility in Placement and Pacing Helped My Middle Son

My second son did a guide a year until Creation to Christ. He is very artistic and creative, and he was taking too long to finish each day. For him, we spread CTC and RTR over 3 years instead of 2 years.  It was perfect!  He is now an 11th grader doing USI and loving it! Lord willing, he will graduate exactly on time. HOD’s flexibility in placement and pacing was such a blessing!

How HOD’s Flexibility in Placement and Pacing Helped My Youngest Son

My third son did a guide a year until Bigger Hearts.  He was an excellent reader, but his writing needed to mature. We spread Bigger Hearts and Preparing Hearts over 3 years instead of 2 years. It was perfect!  He is now a 6th grader doing RTR and loving it!  Lord willing, he will graduate exactly on time. HOD’s flexibility in placement and pacing has been such a blessing!

The Blessings of Having an Extra Year of Flexibility

I share our homeschool journey to show that often times something in life happens that we do not expect, either health-wise or pacing-wise. It is an incredible blessing to have an extra year to work with, which is why Carrie planned for this.  Children on the youngest side of the target age range may find at some point that a slower pace would be better for one reason or another. Of course, if everything goes just perfectly both in life and in pacing of learning, students can graduate one year early.  There are many options for earning college credit that can be done from home in this scenario.

One More Option for Children on the Youngest Side of the Age Range

One other option that many families enjoy is taking either 5 years to do the 4 youngest guides (i.e. Little Hands…, Little Hearts…, Beyond…, and Bigger Hearts…) by homeschooling 4 days a week instead of 5 days a week. Click here for a schedule for this option. Or, families may take 4 years to do 3 guides (i.e. Little Hearts…, Beyond…, and Bigger Hearts…) by homeschooling half-speed at the start of each guide and/or 4 days a week instead of 5 days a week.  These are all 5 day a week guides, so this works well. Preparing Hearts… through USII 12th grade guides are all 4 days a week.

In Christ,
Julie