How to Teach Your Child to Follow Written Directions

From Our House to Yours

Learning to Follow Written Directions… A Skill to Teach

In Heart of Dakota’s (HOD’s) younger guides, the parent does the reading and the leading. However, as children mature, they gradually begin to take on more independence. Beginning in Preparing Hearts for His Glory (PHFHG), children begin reading a portion of their history and their science, as well as their books for Drawn into the Heart of Reading (DITHOR). Along with reading books independently, comes reading directions to complete assigned follow-up work independently. HOD’s guides make it easy for both parent and child to know which work is to be independently done by putting the letter “I” in each box of plans that is to be done independently. Learning to follow written directions is a new skill. Just as children had to be taught to read, they must also be taught to follow written directions. But how? Well, let’s see!

Tip #1: The child needs to have the guide in hand to read the directions.

The child must have the guide in hand to read the written directions. The plans for the “I” boxes are written to the student. Beginning with PHFHG, the guide begins to function as a student planner. Children are to take the guide in hand and read the written directions for the “I” boxes themselves. This seems obvious, but it is a transition for us as homeschool moms to share our guide. We have been used to it just being ours. However, we only need to imagine how we would personally feel if the tables were turned. We would not want someone orally giving us multiple directions one time for a new skill to be learned and then walking away, leaving us with no written directions to help. Truly, for success in independence, the child needs to have the guide in hand to read and refer to the directions.

Tip #2: Read the directions once out loud without pausing and then have the child gather the book(s) and supplies.  

Begin by reading the directions for the “I” box out loud, with the child following along with the guide open on the table or counter. I like to stand over the shoulder of the child as I read the directions. This shows I will be leaving soon. I read the directions one time all the way through without pausing. This helps the child begin to ‘see’ the project from start to finish. After reading, I have the child get any book(s) or supplies needed. The guide should be referenced for this. If a child misses some supplies, I point to the words in the guide, drawing the child’s attention back to the written directions. (More help will be needed with this step at the start of the year, but this will get easier as they know their books and supplies well.)

Tip #3: Read the directions aloud a second time and have the child point or act out each written step. 

Next, I read the directions aloud a second time, having the child point or act out each step. For example, for PHFHG’s first “I” science box of plans, as I say, “Read Arctic Tundra p. 3-5,” the child opens the book to p. 3. (I often have a pile of sticky notes on the table, so as pages are found the child can mark them and not have to locate them again later.) When I say, “At the top the paper, copy Genesis 8:22 in cursive,” the child finds Genesis 8:22 in the Bible and acts out writing the verse in cursive at the TOP of the paper. As I say, “Beneath the verse, draw or trace the map from p. 48 of Arctic Tundra,” the child opens to p. 48 and acts out drawing or tracing the map BENEATH the verse.

When I say, “Color the tundra blue,” the child use a blue crayon or pencil to mimic coloring. As I say, “Copy the first sentence on p. 48 next to your picture,” the child finds the first sentence at acts out writing the sentence NEXT TO the picture. Finally, as I say, “Look on a globe to see where tundra is found,” the child gestures toward the globe. I then ask if the child has any further questions and answer them. This is also my last chance to share any further tips like, A good notebook page uses up most of the space and is balanced. So, please don’t draw your map itty-bitty and write your words really huge. Thanks!

Tip #4: Walk away.

You have now done all the training you should have to do. It is time to walk away. In fact, I make it a point to leave the room. This shows the “I” independent work has begun. The child has the needed books/supplies and has the guide in hand to follow the written directions one by one in order. Likewise, the child has visualized the assignment from start to finish, so the finished product is clearer. Finally, the child has briefly ‘practiced’ each step with each resource, so each step has been visualized. It’s time to walk away.

Tip #5: Now, the child transitions to independently doing these steps.

After about a month of moving through tips #1 through #4 for each “I” box of the plans, it is now the child’s turn to independently work through these steps. I usually oversee this to begin with, watching to see if the child began by reading the directions all the way through, then got the book(s)/supplies, and then briefly thought through each individual step in order. I then ask if the child has any questions, give any quick tips, and walk away.

Tip #6: If a step is missed, direct the child to the written directions in the guide.

The child will inadvertently miss a step from time to time. If this happens, direct the child to the written directions in the guide and say something like, “I think you missed a step.”  Or, if the child is very frustrated at realizing the project didn’t turn out (as was the case when my child used salt instead of sugar in a recipe), I might just point to the step in the guide and say what went wrong. Then, we can give grace! Children will make mistakes. We can then help them fix it the best we can, or (as in the case of the ‘salt cookies’), toss them out, gently remind our children that this is why it is important to follow directions, and move on.

Tip #7: Take time to celebrate progress. 

This final step is easy, but it is also easy to forget! When you see your child did a good job of following written directions independently for an “I” assignment, take time to celebrate! Everyone needs encouragement! It can be as simple as saying, “Wow! You did such a good job of following directions today!” Or, “You have come so far in following directions – way to go! I’m so proud of you!” Somehow, progress should be noted. This encourages children to keep trying and helps them know that following written directions is an important skill to be recognized. Give these seven tips a try! If you have an older child, you can move through them faster. I am hopeful you will begin to see real progress, as they have worked wonders for me with my own children!

In Christ,


Maximize Teaching Time by Not Hovering… Just Walk Away

From Our House to Yours

Maximize Teaching Time by Not Hovering… Just Walk Away

My oldest son, Wyatt, has always been logical, even from a young age. He made one simple observation many years ago that became a lightbulb moment for me. He was working on his Bigger Hearts history notebooking assignment. My middle son, Riley, was running around the kitchen. Baby Emmett was crying. Wyatt gave me that little older-than-his-years sidelong grin and asked me why I was “hovering.” I didn’t know what he meant, so I asked. He told me he didn’t need me to “hover” anymore. I’d already explained his notebooking assignment. He knew what to do and was doing it. So, why hover? This is when I noticed I was actually standing over him, wringing my hands, kind of just watching him work. He went on to say, “I think Riley and Emmett need you more, don’t you? I’ve got this, Mom – just walk away.”

There is a time to hover, and a time not to hover.

Hovering has its place. It is necessary sometimes. When children are little, we must hover; they can’t do much on their own. Blessedly, teaching time is short when children are young. So, though we may need to hover, it won’t be for long. When children are beginning a new Heart of Dakota guide, it is also a good idea to hover. Training children to do new things is important. Everything we train them to do right will be done right all yearlong then. Therefore, hovering is worth it at the start. However, there is also a time not to hover. Once children learn how to do something well, we should not hover. Likewise, once we have gone through directions and seen they’ve made a good start to the assignment, we should walk away. No need to hover anymore.

One way to maximize your teaching time is to choose not to hover. 

I can maximize my teaching time by setting up our schedule so I am less prone to hover. How do I do this? Well, I set up teaching blocks of time with each child that end with something they can finish on their own. Timeline entries, copywork, Common Place Book entries, the coloring of notebooking assignments, the drawing of science lab procedures, the labeling of maps, the final steps of a history project, etc. – all times to walk away. I start my teaching block with a teacher-directed (or a ‘hover’-type) thing or two. Then, I go through the directions for a more “S” semi-independent or “I” independent assignment. Once I see the child understands the assignment and has made a solid start, I walk away. I have other children to teach, other things to do. No need to hover!

Noteworthy Exceptions to the ‘Anti-Hover’ Rule

I do consider some things to be noteworthy exceptions to the ‘anti-hover’ rule. Even for children using more independent, older Heart of Dakota guides, there are times I need to hover. I find it best for me to stay for pretty much the entire Singapore Math lesson, even the workbooks. Singapore Math is challenging. Students must often complete multi-step, multi-skill problems. I’d rather be there to hover, to help at the onset of a misstep than to help backtrack multiple missteps later. Singapore Math doesn’t have many problems each day, so my ‘hovering’ is relatively short. I find the same to be true for high school math. Potentially dangerous science experiments (which Carrie often notes in the guide) and history projects that use the oven are other times I find it a good idea to hover.

I found it tempting to hover with the oldest, but the youngers needed me more.

I found it more tempting to hover with the oldest. He was always doing the ‘new’ HOD guide for me each year. I loved being there for all he was doing. The problem was he didn’t need me there… didn’t want me there. He needed some space to breathe, to grow up, to work independently without being constantly watched. This was healthy. Though it was tempting to always be focused on the oldest, I could see my youngers needed me more. I needed to give them the solid start I gave my oldest when he was younger. My youngers needed me to hover! My oldest, however, did not. Once I stopped constantly hovering over my oldest and instead made my time with him be focused on what he really needed me to teach him, things went better for everyone. He became more independent. I had more time to teach my younger, and the baby had me more to himself!

But what if a child is older and still needs you to hover?

This is possible. Sometimes an older child needs you more than a younger child. The younger child is maybe more focused, more a get-it-done worker, more a direction-follower, more driven. The older child is maybe less focused, more a dreamer, more lackadaisical, or more a how-about-I-do-this-a-different-way-that’s-more-MY-way person. What then? Well, you may need to oversee that child’s work more. However, the walk away is still important – even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes. Though that child may need you more, it isn’t fair to have you all the time. Not fair to you. Not fair to the child. And not fair to the other children. I have found that if I keep my high expectations and keep things moving along, in time, I can walk away. I hover a little less every day with the more familiar things, and we are all the better for it.

In Closing

Try to take stock of how much time you ‘hover.’ See if you can master when to ‘walk away.” Maximize your teaching time, especially with your older(s), so you have enough time with your younger(s) like they need. Even if you are homeschooling only one child, try being conscious of the importance of not constantly hovering. Imagine someone constantly standing over you, watching you work all day long, giving you tip after tip of how to improve. That kind of hovering starts to feel like an invasion of privacy. Try using the “T”, “S”, and “I” letters to monitor how much time you stay by your kiddos’ side and how much time you walk away. Check out the suggested time allotments as another way to balance time together and time apart. Give your ‘hover’ time a check, and be encouraged by what a few changes can do!

In Christ,

Checking Middle School Work in a Quick and Efficient Way

From Our House to Yours

Checking Middle School Work in a Quick, Efficient Way

Emmett, my 12-year-old seventh grader, is using Heart of Dakota‘s Revival to Revolution curriculum this school year. He is in Unit 18 now, which is halfway through the guide. By now, we have really hit our stride in checking his work in a quick and efficient way. As more boxes of plans become “I” independent, we as homeschool moms still need to check to make sure the work is complete. However, checking work need not take forever! A homeschool mom I helped on the phone asked this very question. After I’d shared some ways I correct Emmett’s “I” independent work, she told me this would be a great blog post for me to write. What a good idea! Here goes!

First Teaching Block: Efficiently Checking Bible Quiet Time and State Study/Research

I find I can check work quickly and efficiently during my teaching blocks of time. By my first teaching time, Emmett has completed his independent Bible Quiet Time and State Study boxes. To check Bible Quiet Time I correct his Hidden Treasures, circling incorrect answers, underlining any misspelled words, and writing their correct spelling in the margin. I do the same with his Common Place Book, when it is assigned. He makes any needed changes, and I make sure they are fixed. Next, I ask him if he prayed using his Prayer Starters and if he practiced his Scripture verses. (Simply asking makes him accountable.) On Day 4, he says his verses for me with the Bible open between us (so I can see it and he can refer to it if he gets stuck).

Next, I check his State Study, which is super easy. Using the answer key, I circle any incorrect answers. I don’t write the correct answers in the margin for him. Instead, he uses his State Study resource to fix them. One day a week he does Research instead of State Study. To check his Research, I have him read aloud his bulleted notes on the back of his signer cards. (I find he writes more neatly knowing he will be reading aloud his answers to me.)  I then underline any misspelled words or misinformation; he can usually fix them on his own. (If he can’t, I have him look at The Signers book for help or jot the correct spelling on a sticky note or markerboard for him.) And just that quick, two “I” boxes are corrected efficiently already!

Second Teaching Block: Efficiently Checking Reading About History and Independent History Study

By my second teaching block, Emmett has completed Reading About History and Independent History Study. For Reading About History, assignments rotate. To efficiently check his written narration, I have him read it aloud to me. I either use the sticky note method or the markerboard method to edit it. He makes any corrections right away. If it is an oral narration day, I listen to his narration using Appendix guidelines. On the period artwork day, I underline any capitalization/spelling mistakes in his caption in his notebook. As the caption is copywork from his guide, I have him use his guide to fix any errors. Then, I ask him the questions from the guide. For the U.S History Atlas/globe assignment, I ask him the questions in the guide. Or, if we are short on time, I might just ask him if he did it. (Simply asking makes him accountable.)

For the Independent History Study box, assignments rotate. For copywork, I underline misspelled words and have him look up the spelling in the resource he copied from to fix it. Or, if it is a drawing/coloring day, I make sure he did what was assigned. (Note: This is not an art assignment. It is a response to history. So, if you have a less than perfect artist, as long as he/she did the work as neatly as possible and it is complete, that is ‘good enough!’) If it is an audio day or a ‘read the timeline’ day, I ask him to share a few of his favorite or most interesting things he heard or read. Or, if we are short on time, I might just ask him if he listened to his audio or read his timeline. (Simply asking makes him accountable.)

Third Teaching Block: Efficiently Checking Rotating History and Storytime

The rotating history box includes four different assignments. To efficiently check the Timeline, I make sure he drew and colored each entry. I also underline misspelled words and mark missing capitalization or punctuation. Emmett uses his guide to fix any errors. For Poetry, I ask if he read his poem. Then, I check his copywork of the poem. I underline/mark any spelling or capitalization/punctuation errors. Emmett uses the poem in his guide to fix any errors. For Geography, I use the teacher’s answer map to correct his student map. I ask any questions in the guide about the map or the atlas. For Worthy Words, I ask if Emmett read it. Then, I ask the follow-up questions in the guide. For Storytime, I still enjoy reading aloud to Emmett. So, after reading it, I ask the questions or listen to the narration. Two more boxes quickly and efficiently checked!

Fourth Teaching Block: Efficiently Checking Science Exploration and Inventor Study

Science Exploration Education has an answer key, so I just use the key to correct the Logbook. I circle any wrong answers, and Emmett fixes them. If I am not there to see the experiment, Emmett takes a few pictures of it and texts them to me. To check the Inventor Study, I ask if he read the assigned book. Then, I check his Inventor Student Notebook. I underline any misspelled words and mark any capitalization/punctuation errors. He uses his book/guide to fix them. If it is an oral narration day, I either listen to his oral narration or have him record it and text it to me. If it is a ‘review the timeline’ day, I ask him to share a few interesting things he remembers. And just that easy, voila! The last two “I” boxes are quickly and efficiently checked!

In Closing

In closing, I find it important I check each “I” independent box somehow. If I don’t, their work suffers. Either they start omitting things, or they don’t do their work as well. I find simply asking if they read the assigned pages helps with accountability. When asked, it is difficult for students to say they read the pages when they didn’t. They would actually then be lying, and they don’t want to do that. Likewise, checking the written “I” independent work for errors helps students learn to write more carefully. Fixing marked errors in copywork by using the book/guide helps them learn to to be more accurate. Students realize they might as well take care to copy things right the first time this way, rather than copy them wrong and have to redo it. I hope these few simple tips can help with checking independent work quickly and efficiently!

In Christ,