The checkmark method: a way to save sanity while teaching multiple guides!

Teaching Tip: 

Here is a sanity-saving tip for tracking your child’s work each day!

This week’s tip is a sanity saver for my family, especially as we are running multiple HOD guides each year! The “checkmark method”  is a very simple and effective way to keep track of what work has been completed and corrected each day.

Are you using your HOD guide as a correcting tool?

You may not know it, but your HOD guide was designed to aid you in keeping track of your child’s work. On each two-page spread of plans, your child’s work is conveniently divided into boxes. Each box contains assignments to be completed and corrected. Once a box has been completed and corrected, simply make a small checkmark in the top corner of the box. This checkmark shows that all work within the box has been completed and corrected.

Why is it it important for the parent to check the boxes?

The two operative words for our household in checking the boxes are “parent” and “corrected.” We used to let our kiddos check their boxes as they completed their work. Our boys sometimes became overly zealous in checking boxes before the work within the box was actually completed. At other times they missed things that were assigned within the box. Then, they checked the box off thinking they were done. This method left us unsure of whether the work had actually been corrected. So now, we make sure only the parent does the box checking! We check the box after the work has been corrected by the parent first.

Having a parent check the boxes provides a quick visual of what remains for your child to complete.

A checkmark in the corner of the box provides a quick visual of what has been looked over by a parent. At a glance, both parent and child can also see what still needs to be completed and corrected.

The checkmark method keeps your child accountable.

The checkmark method keeps your child accountable because he/she knows every box is going to be checked. With this method, only the parent can say when the work is truly done. Try this simple tip today! See if it makes it easier for you to keep track of correcting.


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!


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

Teaching Tip 

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

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

Consider whether you are a morning person.

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

Consider your child’s best work times.

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

Consider your little ones first.

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

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

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


How should I have multiple students annotate high school literature?

Dear Carrie

How should I have multiple students annotate high school literature?

I have six children, and we have enjoyed using Heart of Dakota from Little Hands to Heaven to MTMM! We have found part of the beauty of HOD’s literature-based curriculum is how reusable it is! So, now that my oldest will be starting World Geography for high school I have a question. Since there is annotating, will I need to buy the literature package six times? Or, how should I handle annotating when I have multiple students? Thanks in advance!


“Ms. Please Help with How to Annotate with Multiple Students”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with How to Annotate with Multiple Students,”

I have just had each child annotate in a different colored pen. For things that they are directed within the guide to annotate, the child would still need to underline using his/her own pen color to show that the direction has been followed, even if a previous child had annotated the same passage. This way, at a glance, it is easy to see if the current child did the assignment.

Students remember what they annotate due to both the physical act of marking a passage and the mental picture of the marked page.

I like writing within the book at the high school level to annotate, as it feels more interactive to physically mark the page. This physical act of marking a passage combined with taking a mental picture of the marked page, somehow seems more memorable. When I was in college, I used to memorize my notes word for word and visualize the highlighting or marking in my notes as part of that process. When I took tests, I could actually recall the way my notes looked on the page to help me sift and sort through information to find the answers. I liken annotating to that process of seeing the marks on a page and focusing more closely on the marked information.


5th and 7th Grade Placement When Using 3 Guides Already

Pondering Placement

I use 3 HOD guides with my younger children and want to start using it with my 5th and 7th graders, but how can I add just 1 more HOD guide when my 7th grader wants to be by herself?

I already love using Heart of Dakota with 3 children! I’m using Little Hands with my preK son, Little Hearts with my first grader, and Bigger Hearts with my 2nd grader. I like it so much I’m considering using it with my 5th and 7th graders. However, since I’m already using 3 younger guides with more teaching time, I only want to add 1 guide. I was going to add Creation to Christ, but they don’t want to “do school together” like we have in the past. My 7th grader wants to be able to do it all “by herself” without my interference. Could I combine my 5th grader with my 2nd grader in Bigger Hearts? Or, should I combine my two oldest in CTC, even though my 7th grade girl doesn’t want to? She hasn’t expressed it too much, just asked could they please “not do it together”?

Carrie’s Initial Reply: Could you please share about your 5th grade son in regard to the first page of the placement chart? (Parent response below)

My just turned 10 year old has a mathematical mind and is a problem solver. He’s an excellent reader and loves to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He’s never narrated, has messy handwriting, and hates to write. I homeschooled him for 1st-3rd, and he went to public school for 4th grade. His learning slowed down in public school! They didn’t do much grammar, and they didn’t have history; they had “social studies”. He retained nothing from science, as they didn’t do any science experiments. He places between Bigger and Preparing on the placement chart. I just ordered Singapore 5A/5B and Rod and Staff 5 for him. He looked at the Bigger guide I’m using with my 2nd grader and got really excited. The hands-on activities are right up his alley. I’ve caught him peeking at the Stories of Great Americans book already. So, I know he’ll love the history!

Carrie’s Response with English and Literature Recommendations

Based on what you’ve shared thus far, and about your desire not to do two more guides, I do think your son could be placed in Bigger Hearts with Extensions. I would recommend that he do Rod and Staff English 4 instead of English 5, and do a lesson daily 4 days a week. I would also recommend that he do Drawn into the Heart of Reading (DITHOR) with the level 4/5 Student BookI’d recommend the 4/5 Boy Interest Set. You could just do DITHOR 3 times weekly in order to lighten your load.

Carrie’s Response with Math Placement Recommendations

As far as math goes, I would give him the Singapore Math U.S. Primary Edition placement test. I’d begin with the test for 3A and see if he passes. Make sure not to aid, help, or explain in any way, or the results will not be accurate. It would not be uncommon for a 5th grader who is new to Singapore to have to start back somewhere between 3A and 4B, simply due to the differing scope and sequence. I wouldn’t start a 5th grader who is new to Singapore in 5A/5B, as it will assume that he has had the Singapore method and foundation laid in 3B on up to guide and help him. Since you just ordered your English 5 and Singapore 5A/5B Math, you can return them and exchange them for the texts you need from us instead. We want to be sure that you have what you need to have a successful school year!

Carrie’s Request for Placement Information About the 7th Grader

As far as your 7th grader goes, if my experience with kiddos her age is correct, she is deeply desiring independence due to her age and increasing maturity level. She probably feels excited about any guide that will insure she is not combined with her younger sibling. I would be interested to hear where she places on the first page only of the placement chart when you consider her all by herself (no combining scenarios in mind). It is possible that she may fit in Resurrection to Reformation instead. If you get a chance to share a bit more about her reading, math, grammar, writing, independence level in regard to our placement chart, and about her ability to read her own materials that would be great!

Placement Information Shared Regarding 7th Grade Daughter (Parent response below)

My daughter places between Resurrection to Reformation and Revival to Revolution. She is a voracious reader and writer. She loves to draw and is very talented. Her weakness is math. The idea of her being “above” Creation to Christ appeals to her. I showed her Resurrection to Reformation in the Heart of Dakota catalog, and she is super excited! As she has not done much in the way of narrating, oral or written, I think RTR will be a better start for her.  I started Bigger Hearts with my 5th grade son, and he is loving it already! Now, I just need to order the extensions for him and RTR for my daughter.

Carrie’s Final Recommendation Thoughts

I think you will enjoy Bigger Hearts with extensions for your 5th grade son. I’m also excited for you to begin Resurrection to Reformation with your 7th grade daughter. I think you will both enjoy the independence in that guide, as well as the mother/daughter Biblical girlhood study that celebrates your daughter’s maturing. Thank you for ordering from Heart of Dakota; we depend on that support – God bless!