I need your assistance! Should I combine or separate my oldest two children?

Dear Carrie

I need your assistance! Should I combine or separate my oldest two children?

Dear Carrie,

I need your assistance! I have 4 children, ages 6, 4.5, 2, 1, and a baby due in 3.5 weeks. At the beginning of the year, I agonized over combining my oldest two. I decided to do just the right side of Little Hearts (LHFHG) with my 6 year-old. Then, the following year when little brother turned 5, I planned on doing LHFHG with both of them. However, I now know more about my boys. My 6 year old (K) is bright, picks up things quickly, and is ready for more. Little brother is more average. He often feels inadequate and not as smart. When he gets a wrong answer, he shuts down or walks away crying. The beauty of homeschooling to me is meeting each child where they are. I feel like I am not doing that with either. However, I need to do what’s best for the whole family too.


“Ms. Please Provide Assistance for This Mama of Many Little Ones with Combining or Separating”

Dear “Ms. Please Provide Assistance This Mama of Many Little Ones with Combining or Separating,”

I would be glad to give some assistance! First, take heart that as time has passed this year it has revealed much to you about how your oldest two would do if they were combined. The past months have also shown you that your first-born is more ready to move ahead and that your second in line shuts down when pulled too fast. These are good things to discover, and honestly can only be found out as time passes. So, you have actually gained more clarity these past months and now have a bit clearer vision! This will provide assistance going forward!

I’d start Little Heart for His Glory full-speed with your oldest now.

With what you’ve shared, I would look at beginning Little Hearts (LHFHG) full-speed with your oldest now. To do this, I would just keep going with where you are on the right side of the LHFHG plans but I would start at the beginning of LHFHG for the left side and the Storytime. This would mean that you would have two spots you are working from in the guide for now. (Just put two sticky notes on those spots, and you’ll be fine). This will immediately provide assistance, as you will feel you are meeting your oldest where he is right now!

I’d start Little Hands to Heaven with your 4 year-old now, either full or half-speed.

I would also begin Little Hands to Heaven (LHTH) with your 4 year-old so that he has some of his own school. You can even just start half-speed with LHTH if desired (splitting each day into two days). Since your 4 year-old is shutting down at times right now, I would not have him join his older brother for LHFHG “school” but rather have the two just join together for play, lunch, recess, etc. I would keep their school very separate right now. This will provide assistance because it will cut down on unhealthy comparisons. They are probably together quite a bit, so they may actually need separation more than they need togetherness. I know this is true for my older two!

Once baby comes, it will provide assistance to focus on full-speed Little Hearts and to do Little Hands half-speed. 

Once the baby comes and you start back up with school, I would concentrate on getting in your older one’s LHFHG school done first. At that point, if it helps to do LHTH half-speed, I would do that. Just do half the boxes one day and half the boxes the next with your 4 year-old. This only amounts to 15 minutes of school a day (as LHTH takes 30 minutes in total). However, it will show your 4 year-old that his school is important too. I wouldn’t let big brother join in on LHTH right now either. Instead, just really concentrate on each of your older two as individuals for now. This plan will help stretch LHTH out and put some distance between your two kiddos.

It will provide assistance in the future to combine some of your littles.

As you travel down the homeschool path, it looks like you will have some little ones coming up who can definitely be combined. This will provide assistance because it will keep the number of guides you are running down. I think you will definitely be relieved to just get your older one started, and it does really help in the long haul if your older one can move into doing more on his own more quickly. Those older kiddos are often just wired by the Lord that way, and you will avoid more battles if that child is more independent.

It would not provide assistance to skip LHFHG and move into Beyond, but I truly believe the rest of my advice will provide assistance right now as well as in the future!

It wouldn’t provide assistance to skip LHFHG and move into Beyond, as there is a big jump between LHFHG and Beyond. So, I would jump into LHFHG full time as soon as possible, and I think you will really begin enjoying your days!   I would also make sure to begin LHTH in some form so that your 4 year-old can get excited about his own school too. I truly believe all of this will provide the assistance you are wanting and will get your homeschooling back on a good path!


Try the repeating method for “Rhymes in Motion”

Teaching Tip:

Do you have a child doing Little Hands to Heaven or Little Hearts for His Glory?

If you have kiddos doing either Little Hands to Heaven or Little Hearts for His Glory, today’s teaching tip is for you! It’s a simple tip, but one that makes the “Rhymes in Motion” go more smoothly with your little ones!

What is one helpful tip when you begin a new “Rhymes in Motion?”

Here is one helpful tip for beginning a new “Rhymes in Motion.” Say the rhyme and do the motions one line at a time, with your child repeating each line right after you.

What does the repeating method look like on Day 1 of the rhyme?

For example, on Day 1 of the rhyme, you will say and perform line one of the rhyme. Then, your child will repeat line one with the motions. Next, you will move on to line two, saying and demonstrating the line. Then, your child will repeat line two with the motions. Continue on through the rhyme this way to make sure your child is getting the words and motions.

How does the repeating method differ on Day 2?

At our house, we usually continue to use the repeating method on the second day too. However, at the end of the rhyme on day two, we also do the whole rhyme once more in unison.

What are the benefits of doing the rhymes this way?

Usually after two days of repeating each line after you, kiddos are more sure of the words and motions. Then, they are ready to do the rhyme in unison with you in the coming days. The repeating method is also great for making sure your child is participating and has the words down! Try this method at the beginning of a new rhyme and see what you think!


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!

Eight Easy Tips to Help Little Ones Get Ready to Read

From Our House to Yours

My first easy tip to get little ones ready to read is simply to do Little Hands to Heaven with them!

During our summer break, I loved working with just my littlest one. I had more time, and I needed to be with my little one anyway. So, why not help him get ready to read? My first go-to way to get my little ones ready to read was always to simply do Heart of Dakota’s Little Hands to Heaven (LHTH) with them. Using LHTH, I taught my sons a sound and an action for every letter. I used the fingerplays, flashcards, and letter activities to help my sons commit their letters and sounds to memory. Everything was neatly tied to the Bible theme for the week too! I only spent 15-30 minutes a day doing HOD’s Little Hands to Heaven. Half-speed took 15 minutes. Full-speed took 25-30 minutes. Easy-peasy, productive, and an awesome way to help little ones get ready to read!

My second easy tip to get little ones ready to read is to have them watch the Leap Frog DVDs.

All of our sons enjoyed watching the Leap Frog DVDs. The first DVD is called Letter Factory, and it does a great job of teaching letters and their sounds! This was by far my favorite DVD for getting my little ones ready to read. The second DVD is called Talking Words Factory. This one is a little more grown up, as it moves on to words. I didn’t have my kiddos watch this until they had the Letter Factory down pat. There is a third DVD called Let’s Go to School. I didn’t have them watch that DVD; we were homeschooling. No need to hype up a classroom setting! However, I loved the first two DVDs! They were inexpensive, 30 minutes long, and available everywhere.

My third easy tip to get little ones ready to read is the ‘finger slide.’

Once children know their letters and sounds well, I like to teach them the ‘finger slide.’ I begin by always putting my finger under the sound being read, and I don’t slide it to the next sound until they read it read right. Then later, I put my finger under the word being read, and I don’t move it on until the word is read right. Then still later, I put my finger at the start of the line, and I don’t move it on to the next start of the line until the sentence is read right. This is an easy visual queuing system. I like how I can use this finger slide method in a progression, as my kiddos learn to read!

My fourth easy tip to get little ones that are a little older to read utilizes a markerboard.

Once children have begun to read small words, I like to have a handheld markerboard nearby. When they are trying to sound out a word, I simply set the book aside. Then, I pull out my handheld markerboard. I begin to jot the word they are working to sound out in large letters in black marker in the middle of the markerboard. I jot the word they are struggling with one sound/chunk at a time, having them say them for me. For example, if the word was “glass”, I’d write…

gl (pause for him to say it) a (pause) ss (pause)

Then, I would slide my finger under the whole word to signify it’s time to blend it all together. They loved this! I remember one time I forgot the markerboard. My little one came to a word he was stuck on, and after a few tries, he said, “MOM – where’s the markerboard? I’m waiting.”  Toe-tapping, arms crossed on chest. Too cute! Anyway, it’s easy, it works, and they only need help like this occasionally.

My fifth easy tip to get little ones that are a little older to read is to give them a chance to “practice” first, without me.

For some of our sons, having some time on their own to sound out each word without me next to them helped. It gave them a chance to “practice” without me watching, and it helped them not to feel so put-on-the-spot.  When I tutored, I would sometimes have little ones that were overwhelmed by books. If they were not sure about reading from a book, I would just write each word on a markerboard one at a time and do the lesson like that, with me referring to the manual just for my own information. One word on a markerboard is much less intimidating than a page. It also doesn’t seem like a page is being repeated, even if it is a repeat of what was done yesterday. After practicing on markerboard, they were then often ready to read the book and did so quite happily and successfully!

My sixth easy tip to get little ones that are a little older to read uses a loud voice and/or a rubberband.

Once little ones are sounding out words, they often forget the first sound by the end of the word. For example, they might sound out c… a… t… quite slowly, and then quickly say the word is ‘tan.’ Or, they might sound out t… e… n… slowly, and then quickly say the word is ‘net.’ This happens because they have not learned to ‘hold’ the sounds in sequence in their mind. They remember the last sound the best, as they just said it. They might even vaguely remember the middle or first sounds. However, they jumble their order and pronounce their final word with the last sound first. This is very common and usually nothing to worry about!

An easy tip to help them with this is to simply say the first sound the loudest. I would model this, sometimes saying it louder while gently cupping my hands around their ear as I said it (i.e. C… a… t… – Cat! Though the first sound obviously isn’t always accented (i.e. in a two-syllable word), this tip works to help emphasize the ‘holding’ of the first sound first and foremost in their mind. One more idea that worked for my sons was to use a rubberband to stretch as we were saying each sound and then snap it back when we blended it.

My seventh easy tip to get little ones that are a little older to read is simply to try the BOB books.

Have you heard of the BOB books? They are inexpensive, funny, and excellent for beginning readers. We went through these as we did our phonics, starting about in the middle of our phonics, when I knew my sons would be successful with them. The first set begins with CVC words in a pattern. These books are inexpensive and available online and at most book stores.

My eighth easy tip to get little ones that are a little older to read is to give rewards. 

Giving rewards, just little ones, for small gains at first is motivating to little ones learning to read. For example, I might have a jar and every time my son reads a word properly for the day, he gets a mini marshmallow or chocolate chip or skittle or whatever. He may get 10 if he reads 10 words properly. Maybe every 10, he would get a sucker too. Or, if you don’t believe in this type of reward, you can give a sticker for each, and when he receives 10, let him do something special with or on his own (i.e. build a lego tower or watch a short video). Rewards really did make a difference early on in our sons’ reading progress. We found after awhile, we could just drop them, and then reading itself was the reward.

I hope some of these ideas help, but mamas of little ones, keep pressing on! It WILL click, and though it takes time, it is so worth the time and effort to get there!

In Christ,

Flexible Pacing for Homeschooling Little Ones 4 or 5 Days a Week

From Our House to Yours

Flexible Pacing for Homeschooling Little Ones 4 or 5 Days a Week

We have now used Heart of Dakota from PreK through 12th grade! One of the things I love best as a busy homeschool mom is the flexible pacing. Back in 2004, I began homeschooling with just one guide, Little Hands to Heaven. Wyatt was 4 years old, and Riley was 5-months old. When Wyatt reached Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory at 6 years old, Riley began Little Hands to Heaven slowly at 3 years old, and that was my first time to do two guides at once.  The following year Wyatt began Bigger Hearts for His GloryRiley was still finishing  Little Hands to Heaven, and Emmett made his grand entry into this world as baby #3.  For these first 4 years of homeschooling, we homeschooled 5 days a week, and I was so very thankful! Each day had just enough homeschool to keep my sons happy and content.

I preferred to homeschool 5 days a week when all my children were little.

When my children were under age 8, I preferred to homeschool 5 days a week. I had almost forgotten why when I asked a young mom how staying home was going. Well, pretty good, I guess. We get up at 7 AM when baby wakes up. I dress the children, feed them, take them on a stroll, play with them, have them watch a short video, do puzzles, read some board books, and then it’s 9:30 A.M. I don’t know what else to do, so we just do it all over again… and again… and again… and then we are just looking at each other like, what now?!? Honestly, we are just so glad to see Daddy walk through the door! That is when I remembered why I loved homeschooling 5 days a week with little ones! Our days were just the right balance of homeschool and free time.

I preferred to homeschool 4 days a week when my oldest son started Preparing Hearts for His Glory.

Once my oldest son started Preparing Hearts for His Glory, he was on a 4 day a week schedule. He began to take on more independence, not only in homeschooling but in life in general. Wyatt loved to lead his younger brothers in playtime, and they loved to be led. He came up with endless games to play, outdoors and indoors. They couldn’t wait to see what he came up with next!  A new day was dawning. I was no longer the sole form of entertainment. In fact, I’d taken a backseat to big brother. I began to realize I’d truly enjoy a 4 day week. If I could just get everyone on board with a 4 day week, life would be grand!

I liked going half-speed and full-speed with several guides to move toward a 4 day week.

As each of my children saw all the fun Wyatt was having in HOD, I started them homeschooling on the youngest side of the age range of the guides. I wanted to have special mommy time with them anyway. Riley was on the youngest side of the target age range when I had the epiphany I’d enjoy doing homeschool just 4 days a week. So, for Riley, it made sense simply to move toward doing school 4 days a week. For awhile we did a January to December homeschool year for him, where he’d start a new guide in January. As he is my artistic, creative child, I spread out his Creation to Christand Resurrection to Reformation years. I went half-speed, then full-speed with Creation to Christ. Then I went half-speed, full-speed with Resurrection to Reformation. Voila!  He reached Revival to Revolution at the start of 7th grade.

I knew I wanted to go 4 days a week with my youngest son from the very start.

When my last little one started Little Hands to Heaven, I knew I wanted him to be on a 4 day a week schedule. As it turns out, it’s just a math problem to be figured out to make that happen. And oh, how I love a good math problem! There are 4 days of plans for 35 weeks for Preparing Hearts through U.S. History II. That equals 140 days of school each year (which is really 5 days of school planned in 4 days to save us a day, so if you’re from a strict 175 days of school state, you’re still ‘getting it in’ and can always spread it out to 175 days if you feel you must, but I digress).  Okay, back to the concept of 140 days a year so you can homeschool 4 days a week with everyone once your oldest reaches Preparing Hearts.

I liked this schedule for doing Little Hands to Heaven through Bigger Hearts for His Glory for 4 days a week.

I planned for 135 days a year, to account for easing into younger guides and to account for the increased sick days little ones often have. It works out perfectly to do 135 days a year, doing 4 guides in 5 years with the schedule below.

1st Year:  Little Hands to Heaven, Units 1-27

2nd Year:  Little Hands to Heaven, Units 28-33; Little Hearts for His Glory, Units 1-21

3rd Year:  Little Hearts for His Glory, 22-34; Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory, Units 1-14

4th Year:  Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory, Units 15-34; Bigger Hearts for His Glory, Units 1-7

5th Year:  Bigger Hearts for His Glory, Units 8-34

*Note: You can always do 140 days of school each year with your little ones, if  you prefer. Just start your little one on the same day as your olders, but start slowly, taking an extra 5 days to ease into the guide. Or, spread out the end of the guide at the end of the homeschool year, so everyone finishes together. Easy peasy!

Heart of Dakota is very flexible!

I have been very thankful Heart of Dakota is so flexible through the past 17 years! If you happen to have little ones starting Little Hands to Heaven alongside older ones doing HOD guides 4 days a week, this is one plan you might enjoy!  No matter what, HOD has flexible pacing, as guides are not planned according to specific days of the week, months, or holidays. With 365 days in the calendar year, there are endless pacing possibilities!  Hope this gives you one more way to ponder!

In Christ,