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.


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!


Moving on! Why Heart of Dakota students only do each guide once…

Heart of Dakota Tidbit

Moving on! Why Heart of Dakota students only do each guide once…

Did you know that even though our guides have an age range listed for them we only do each guide once? We do not recommend repeating a guide with the same child. One of the reasons for the age range is to make sure that your child is place in the correct program according to the skills that he is able to perform. A great place to start when considering which guide to place your child in is our message board which can be found at

Have a great weekend!


Familiarity Breeds Independent Learning!

Heart of Dakota Tidbit

Familiarity Breeds Independent Learning!

Did you know that our guides all have a similar format? The left side of the daily plans called “Learning Through History” has a unit study feel to it with many connections between the boxes. The right side of the plans called “Learning the Basics” has all of the subjects that do not fit neatly with the history. Many times the saying “Familiarity breeds contempt” is appropriate, but in our guides, we think that familiarity breeds independent learning!

Have a good weekend!

Why Doesn’t Heart of Dakota Use a Weekly Grid for Their Lesson Plan Format?

Top Ten Tips for Teaching Multiple Guides

A Heart of Dakota Life

Top 10 Tips for Teaching Multiple Guides

Often times homeschool moms believe they will not be able to homeschool if they cannot combine all or most of their children. Combining does work well in some instances – that is true! But, it does not work well in some cases either. My 3 children, for example, are each 3-4 years apart in age, spanning now from ages 11 to 18. They do not place neatly together in one guide. If I tried to force this fit, I would always be overly challenging someone and under challenging someone else. I’m not alone in teaching my homeschool children with multiple guides!

Carrie, the author of Heart of Dakota and my lovely sister, has a similar situation with her 4 sons, which now span from ages 12-22. This has been a blessing, because she wrote the guides while homeschooling her multiple children, from PreK to 12th. What a constant reminder of how important it was to design the plans so, if need be, multiple guides could be used at once! So the first (unlisted) tip for teaching multiple guides is simply just to use Heart of Dakota. Carrie designed the plans to help you do this already! But, moving on, what are the top 10 tried and true tips for teaching multiple guides?

#1: Be sure you use proper placement in choosing the guides.

This cannot be overstated! Heart of Dakota guides incrementally teach students to be independent. This is in keeping with Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on the matter, but it is also an obvious skill needed as students mature. If kiddos can’t do the work that is meant to be done independently, the parent ends up having longer teaching time that is not intended. So, check out the placement chart, the HOD message board, the HOD catalog, or give HOD a call! But, somehow, be sure you get placement right!

#2: Have a routine order to the day, and let everyone know about it!

Write out a schedule, but stick to the routine. In other words, you can plan the best schedule possible, but if something goes awry (and it often does), stick to the routine, and you’ll be fine! Each child can have a copy of the schedule. Olders can read a typed schedule, and youngers can have pictures to follow. Either way, being on the same ‘page’ helps!

#3: Use blocks of time for teaching, so you know when you are working with each child, and so they know it too.

Teaching blocks of time ensure we meet with every child. They keep our teaching time balanced. Likewise, they minimize interruptions. If kiddos know they are meeting with you for a teacher block in 30 minutes, they can wait to ask you their question, knowing it’s their turn in half an hour.

#4: Include time to check work in your overall schedule.

I check work during my teaching blocks and save only a few things to be corrected at the end of the day. But, no matter how you do it, put time to check work (this includes listening to oral narrations, editing written narrations, etc.) in your schedule, or it may not happen.

#5: Have all older children each take turns playing with the younger children.

We have done this from the very beginning, and our sons are each other’s best friends because of it! Planning time for olders to play with youngers gives you time to work with others independently. Somewhere between 30-45 minutes works at our house!

Riley and Emmett were forever building forts for their playtimes together this winter!
Wyatt and Emmett built a deluxe hamster house for Cuddles for multiple playtimes this winter!
#6: Plan what the littles are going to do and stick to that routine until they know it like clockwork!

The littles are often the ones we forget about when making our schedule/routine. But, they are often the ones throwing it off! Planning what they will do with their day really helps keep them happily occupied and gives you needed time to teach!

#7: Train older students to use the HOD guide as a student planner.

It is difficult for students to be successful with independent work if they are waiting for the parent to read the directions. Giving the guide to the student and teaching him/her to read and follow directions keeps them moving forward without you. Students can initial the top corner of each box upon completion, which also helps you know what has been completed when you meet with them.

#8: Have a set time to start the school day.

This helps everyone know when to begin and ensures that you are on track with your routine. Be realistic! If you’re not a morning person, then don’t plan a super early start time. Likewise, if one of your older children IS a morning person, let him/her start school earlier! Either way, one set start time for the family or individual set start times for different people gets everyone going on the plan!

#9: Plan just to teach during your teaching blocks.

This is a tough one to stick to, but it is so important! Avoid checking emails, answering phone calls, doing long household chores, etc., during your teaching blocks. You will be thankful when your teaching day has gone well, and you have finished on time!

#10: Keep balance in your day and in your teaching time by avoiding bunny trails.

Heart of Dakota’s plans are inspiring! You may be tempted to just run with a theme, discussing it endlessly or looking up more and more information. This is great! It’s just not great for the other children waiting for you to teach them. Or, it’s not great when it’s time for you to make supper, and you didn’t get to teach multiple subjects. Jot the bunny trails down, and enjoy going down them later in the afternoon, at night, on the weekends, or on your free 5th day if you’re in upper HOD guides!

I hope these top 10 tips for happily and successfully homeschooling multiple children in different guides can help! We’ve stuck to them these past 15 years homeschooling, and they’ve made the journey a joy!

In Christ,


P.S.  For hundreds of posts of schedules/routines from homeschool families using Heart of Dakota that have had nearly 120,000 views, click here!

P.S.S. For a great discussion on our message board for ideas to keep toddlers engaged, click here!

P.S.S.S. For a better understanding of parent and student roles as kiddos mature in Heart of Dakota, click here!