Tips on What Order Works Well for the Boxes of Plans

Heart of Dakota Life

Tips on What Order Works Well for the Boxes of Plans

I love this time of year when I get to put together my homeschool schedule! The organizer in me comes to life, and I begin to craft my schedule to best fit our stage of life. Some things in my schedule change every year, but others remain the same. As you craft your schedule, I thought I’d share some tips on what order has worked well for us for the boxes of Heart of Dakota’s plans!

Try putting the Bible box of plans first! Then, follow up with the Corresponding Music box of plans!

God’s rightful place in our lives is first, so why not put the Bible box of plans first in our day?!? Whenever possible, I schedule Bible as the first box of plans for each child to complete. I want our children to learn to have their own personal Bible Quiet Time as a lifelong habit. It is my prayer that this habit continues long after our homeschooling is done. I have my sons do the Corresponding Music after/with their Bible Quiet Time or Bible Study, as these go together.

My son, Emmett, loves wood-working. I have said so often that I want to put God first in my day that he made me a little wooden cross. He suggested I put it on my end table next to my bed. Every morning I wake up, I see that little wooden cross. It reminds me that after all Jesus has done for me, the least I can do is start my day with Him! I want my children to do the same, and starting with the Bible box of plans and Corresponding Music conveys that!

Keep the Reading About History box of plans and the follow-up History box of plans together!

The Reading About History box of plans provides the backbone for all of the left side of plans. The follow-up history box(es) of plans are meant to be done after the reading of the books in the Reading About History box. In the younger guides, there is one rotating history box of plans. It is directly underneath the Reading About History box of plans, and it works great to do this box right after reading the history book.

In the older guides starting with Preparing Hearts for His Glory, there are multiple boxes of history plans. Each box of plans has its own purpose and teaches its own skill. After reading the history, it is a good idea to the rotating box of plans. The rotating history box of plans is found on the left side of the guide. In Preparing Hearts for His Glory, for example, the rotating boxes of history plans are Research, Vocabulary, Geography, and Timeline. After completing the rotating history box of plans, it is nice to do the History Project box of plans. This flow has a beginning reading, a rotating follow-up, and an ending project – all connecting the history theme beautifully!

Other Tips on What Order to Do the Boxes of Plans

There is a lot of leeway in how to choose to do the rest of the boxes of plans. I like to rotate seat work things with active, hands-on things whenever possible. Especially for active children, I like to keep things moving! I also like to alternate disciplinary and inspirational subjects. Click here to read more about that! If you are like me and are teaching multiple guides, I find it helpful to end with something my child can finish independently. For example, I might end my teaching block with the History Project because I can get my child started and then walk away to help another child as he finishes his project.

Finally, I take into consideration what might be too much in a row for particular children. For example, my older two sons liked to do their dictation, grammar, and math all in a row. My younger son did NOT like this! It was too much in a row for him. Another example – as a young child, one of my sons was a strong reader but not a strong writer. For this child, I spread out his writing. If he did a written narration in history, I made sure not to put his formal writing curriculum assignment next. A final example – one of my sons lost focus when reading too many books in a row. For this child, I spread out his reading. For example, I would have him do his DITHOR reading after lunch. Hope these tips help as you ponder what order you’d like to do the boxes of plans!

In Christ,

Our guides take advantage of the “beginning of the school year” enthusiasm!

Teaching Tip:

Our guides take advantage of “beginning-of-the-school-year” enthusiasm!

If you are considering placing your child in one of our guides, here is a tip that is good to know. I planned each guide to take advantage of the enthusiasm the start of a new school year brings. So, at the start of a new guide, we really hit the skills hard and build on them incrementally throughout the year. This means the first week of plans is a good indicator of how difficult a guide is overall.

Rather than beginning with review, our guides jump in and get going right away!

Rather than starting with review, and beginning with easy things, our guides jump right in and get going right away. The benefit of this approach is that kiddos can work on mastering the skills in our guides all year long. This approach is good for the parent too, as you can see where you need your student to be by the time the guide ends.

Time spent training your students during the first week is time well-spent.

During the first week, it is helpful to spend some time training students in what the guide is asking. Since each guide has a definite pattern and repeating set of skills, time spent training students to complete the guide successfully is time well-spent.

As students discover the pattern of a guide, the guide takes less time.

As students begin to sense the pattern of a guide, they get into a rhythm. Things begin to fall into place. As the year progresses, students are able to complete their work in less time. As students master needed skills, the quality of their work improves too.

If your start to the year is rocky, hang in there!

If your start to a new guide is rocky, just hang in there! It should get better as you go. Your children should seem to thrive more as time passes. It is how the guides are designed to work! If for some reason your children continue to be overwhelmed in a guide, it may be time to rethink their placement.


Tweaking Placement and/or Pacing to Help in Unforeseen Life Challenges

Pondering Placement – Tweaking Pacing

Question: How would I go about tweaking pacing and/or placement for a few unforeseen life challenges? 

We’re currently using three Heart of Dakota guides, with a VERY distracting 2 year-old in the house. Three guides worked fine last year! However, due to unforeseen life challenges, I’d love your help tweaking placement and/or pacing. My 11 year-old is doing well in Creation to Christ. She’s appropriately challenged, able to work well independently, and my check-ins hold her accountable. She’s often done with her “I” boxes and waiting for me to finish with her brothers, so we can do her “T” boxes. So, I don’t think tweaking her pacing back to half-speed would help.

What about tweaking my 9 year-old son’s placement or pacing in Bigger Hearts?

My 9 year-old son in Bigger enjoys the History and Science very much. However, he is overwhelmed with the writing. He also finds the reading challenging (he has some eye-focusing issues that make those things laborious). I question whether he’ll be able to handle the Independence of Preparing next year. Bigger is taking us about 4 hours to complete, not counting Storytime or DITHOR (we try to cover those things at night.) He did okay in Beyond Little Hearts last year overall. Maybe you have some tweaking suggestions for pacing or placement for this son?

What about tweaking my 7 year-old son’s placement or pacing?

My 7 year-old is almost done with Little Hearts (LHFHG). He’s a little over halfway finished with The Reading Lesson. Although he’s still doing the handwriting workbook, he’s ready for more writing. I would place him in Beyond Little Hearts if we were coming fresh to HOD. Unfortunately, I loaned my Beyond things to a family member this year. My 7 year-old son is not at all ready for Bigger. He struggles with attention span and being able to focus. Maybe you have some tweaking suggestions for pacing or placement for this son?

What about tweaking pacing by slowing down my son in Bigger Hearts and pushing my 7 year-old along more quickly?

I’m now wondering whether I should slow down my child in Bigger to half- speed. I could then begin to work my younger son towards being ready to combine with his brother in a year or so. That would put my older son in the extensions as we move forward to keep him on grade level. Hopefully, my younger son would be ready to move forward with Bigger full-speed in a year. What are your thoughts? Would this be a disservice to my 9 year-old, or unrealistic for my 7 year-old? Sorry this got so long!

Carrie’s Reply: Try tweaking by combining your 7 year-old and 9 year-old in Beyond, but continue with full-speed LA and math in Bigger Hearts.

This suggestion is a bit on the unique side! However, I can honestly see it working better for you in the long haul than trying to hustle your younger child through Beyond, while your Bigger child treads water doing just the 3R’s for over a year. Homeschooling with a busy toddler can make schooling a challenge. With this in mind, and the fact that this little one will be a lovable distraction in the mix for awhile, I would lean toward having your 9 year-old bump back down to join your 7 year-old in a trip through Beyond. I know your 9 year-old just finished Beyond. However, your 7 year-old is so ready for Beyond! It is better to combine where the younger child is, rather than pulling a younger child up to always be towed along behind an older child.

Tweaking by combining in Beyond will lessen the amount of writing for your 9 year-old and the amount of teaching time for you.

Since you are struggling already to get DITHOR and Storytime from Bigger in your 9 year-old’s day, and Bigger is already taking you a lot longer than we’d like simply due to the writing challenges and possibly somewhat due to the eye issues your 9 year-old has, then it makes sense to bump that child back into Beyond where the writing load is less and the time overall to teach is less for you. This will allow you to devote needed time to DITHOR daily for your 9 year-old and will solve your Storytime issue as you’d combine your 7 and 9 year old-for that in Beyond. Choosing a different set of books to read aloud for the Storytime in Beyond will solve the problem of any repetition there for your 9 year-old in Beyond.

Tweaking by Doing Daily R & S English, Dictation, Cursive, Math, and DITHOR

For your 9 year-old, in this move to Beyond, I would keep going daily with Rod and Staff English, studied dictation, and Cheerful Cursive from Bigger. I would also keep going with your chosen math and do DITHOR daily for your 9 year-old as expected in Beyond. I would encourage you to additionally require daily copywork from poetry in Beyond in manuscript (even just a couple of lines a day) for your 9 year-old to build his writing muscles. This plan would allow you to keep the kiddos combined for the long haul and meet them both pretty closely to where they are at, since Bigger is a bit of a stretch for your 9-year old and LHFHG is a bit easy for your 7-year old.

Savor the Time with Your Older Child to Build 3 R’s and Strengthen Fine Motor Skills

I would do Beyond as written with your 7 year-old. For your 9 year-old, I would add the things I noted from Bigger. I’d focus on not rushing through Beyond to get to Bigger too early. I would savor the repeat time with your older child in Beyond. This will be time to build his 3 R’s and strengthen his fine motor skills daily. I believe this plan will save your sanity in the long haul and make school a joy once again!

Your family member has now had time to see whether Beyond is a fit for her family.

I would tell your family member (to whom you so graciously loaned your HOD materials) that due to a change in your plans you are in need of your Beyond Economy Package, science book, devotional, and music CD back. Then, I would purchase a new set of Storytime books to make that fresh. Your family member has likely had enough time to see whether she likes HOD enough to invest something in it. The Economy Package and the science, devotional, and music CD required to complete Beyond are not expensive (around $120 for all of those materials combined)! She could keep your storytime set for now (which will save her money).

Praying for God’s Grace and Wisdom for You

I pray God’s grace and wisdom on you as you seek His best for your homeschool. In looking down the road, I think this plan with the tweaking mentioned makes the most sense for the long haul. If you ever feel like your older child of the pair makes huge gains and is ready for more, you could always consider bumping that child forward a guide in coming years if needed.


Criteria to Choose Half-Speed in a Higher Guide, or Full-Speed in a Lower Guide

From Our House to Yours

Hello fellow homeschool moms! If you’d enjoy it, try listening to the audio version of this post by clicking on the link at the bottom!

Criteria to Choose Between Going Half-Speed in a Higher Guide, or Full-Speed in a Lower Guide

On the phone for Heart of Dakota, I am often asked what a good criteria is for determining whether it is better to go half-speed with a higher guide, or full-speed with a lower guide. I have used half-speed pacing and full-speed pacing throughout the past 17 homeschooling years with my sons. My criteria isn’t a set list necessarily, but I will try to describe it here as best I can! (Keep in mind, placement for children with special needs is done on a more case by case basis. It is based more on parents’ preference on personal goals and level of involvement than what I am describing here.)

Criteria for Choosing Half-Speed Pacing

My criteria for running a guide half-speed is dependent on how my child is doing overall. If I can see my child has the skills intact to do a guide well, is trying his best, is choosing a good attitude, is working his hardest, but still just seems to be struggling – not with the skills in a guide – but with completing his guide in a timely fashion – I might go half-speed for awhile. Half-speed seems to help me teach time management skills better, as well as the routine of the guide. For example, I started “Bigger Hearts” half-speed with Riley at the end of his second grade school year. The next school year, I thought we’d start full-speed, but he was not ready. He still needed time to grow in his time management skills.

He loved school! However, using his time well was something he needed to learn. I knew this was an important habit to instill, as it would effect his work habits lifelong. So, we changed to half-speed. We worked on how to better use time (with a timer), how to transition between subjects better (with a markerboard listing of what needed to be done), and how to work through a project in a way that allowed creativity but didn’t let dawdling surface (by talking through the steps of a project, noting what I’d be looking for in the guide as far as assessment, and how to break the project down so he finished in a fairly timely manner). He then easily moved into doing Bigger Hearts full-speed.

Poor attitudes or work habits are character-based problems and are not a good criteria for going half-speed.

Sometimes children are properly placed and have the academic skills and ability to do a guide well. However, pesky things like poor attitude and poor work habits are the problem. If this is the case, and if “character-based” traits such as these need to be worked on, then we do that through focused encouragement and discipline instead of by slowing work to half-speed. Poor habits are not “rewarded” by a lowered work expectation in the form of lessening work in school. Character-based issues are not good criteria for going half-speed.

Criteria for Children Who Don’t Have the Academic Skills to Proceed Ahead to Full-Speed Successfully

A final placement scenario is if it becomes obvious the child does not have the academic skills to proceed full-speed ahead successfully. If this criteria is the case, then doing a lower guide is the better placement. Half-speed will not fix the fact that he or she did not have the skills in place to start the guide. The skills he or she needs are not taught at an introductory level in the guide. They were taught at the introductory level in the previous guide. Therefore, he or she needs to go back and be taught those skills first.

How can you know if this is the case?

Well, the placement chart and the first week of plans can make this criteria clearer. The placement chart skills need to be solidly in place for children to begin a guide. They are not skills to shoot for, to work on developing, or to grow into. Whatever the skills are listed in the column for a guide, the child should possess those skills to begin that guide. Using this criteria, a child will be well-placed for the entire year.

An Example of Criteria for the Storytime of Little Hearts for His Glory

For example, when the placement chart lists the criteria that a child needs to be ready to listen to “Daily read-alouds that are classic short stories that foster listening skills and beginning narration skills” for the Storytime of Little Hearts for His Glory, and a child does not have the attention span to listen to short “classic” sounding books with fewer pictures, that child is better placed in Little Hands to Heaven. I am not talking about being able to immediately narrate well upon these books. Instead, I mean that the child has the ability to listen to the books being read, without saying things like “Where are the pictures?” or “I like this book better because I understand it better,” and that book is a book that has a bunch of pictures, or is a book with a more simplistic plot or storyline.

An Example of Criteria for Reading in Bigger Hearts for His Glory

The placement chart lists the criteria that a child needs to be “done with phonics and be either an Emerging Reader or be Reading Independently to begin Bigger Hearts.” That means a child needs to be able to (at the very least) read the Emerging Reader’s Set of books well. So, if a child is still doing phonics, and cannot read the Emerging Reader’s Set books, he should be placed in Beyond Little Hearts instead.

An Example of Criteria for Copywork in Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory

When the placement chart lists the criteria that a child needs to be “able to copy sentences and study/copy spelling words to begin Beyond Little Hearts,” that means a child needs to be ready to (at the very least) copy 1 sentence a day, as well as do the spelling word activities in the language arts box of plans. So, if a child can only write one word of the poetry, or if a sentence of copywork a day is too much, that child should be placed in Little Hearts for His Glory instead.

An Example of Criteria for Reading in Creation to Christ

When the placement chart lists the criteria that a child needs to be “Reading independently – able to use Drawn into the Heart of Reading (DITHOR) Level 4/5 to begin Creation to Christ (CTC),” that means that child needs to be able to read his history and science well independently, as well as able to read at least 4/5 level books independently with DITHOR to be able to start CTC. So, if a parent is having to read aloud the history and the science, or if the child is unable to read 4/5 level books for DITHOR well, then that child should be placed in Preparing Hearts, or Bigger Hearts instead.

Age is only one part of the criteria in placement.

I am trying to answer this question fully with not just the ages of children in mind. When using the placement chart, a child should not be “growing into” the skills within the columns of a guide. Rather these are the academic skills a child needs to already posses to be able to do the guide properly. Skills cannot be fast-forwarded. If a child does not have them, then a child must go back to get them. Going forward will only cause more skills to be missed. Eventually, a child must drop back to be taught them anyway.

Other Criteria That Impacts Placement

Sometimes when looking at the placement chart, parents think children have skills they actually do not have. When they begin a guide, it becomes obvious they do not have them intact. Therefore, they must be placed a guide back. If children have not had a Charlotte Mason education, or are coming home from public school, or have been used to a textbook-style education, or have been used to a parent doing all of their reading, or have not done many follow-up activities in the form of skill-based learning, then often times it is more difficult to place them accurately, even with the placement chart. It just can be tough to tell which skills they really do have intact.

By completing all the plans in a guide, children are well-prepared for the next guide.

I have not had to drop back a guide, as I have been with Heart of Dakota from the start. The criteria I am sharing here is more for initial placement. Each guide truly does prepare children for the next guide, provided children are doing everything in the guide each day. A word of caution – skipping boxes results in skipping skills. This further results in children not having the skills in place to do the next guide. We have always made sure to do all that is planned in a guide. This ensures our children are learning the skills they need to progress.

In Closing

So, when using placement chart criteria, it is a good idea to really ponder if children have the skills intact to begin that guide, or if they need to go back and solidify some skills first instead. Second, it is a good idea to really ponder if children have the Godly character traits, good work habits, and solid time management skills in place to do their work well – and if not, to use encouragement and discipline to help them learn these skills. If it is a matter of managing time or teaching good work habits, then half-speed can be utilized to help in this training phase. Third, it is a good idea to routinely have children be responsible for all of the work in a guide each day, so they do not fall behind in skills and find themselves unprepared for the next guide.

In Christ,


Click on the play button below to listen to the audio version of this post! Hope you enjoy this! (Note: If you’re reading this blog post in an email and having trouble playing the audio, scroll down to the very bottom of the email and click on the link to this post.)

P.S. Need some help with placement? Heart of Dakota has many placement helps available! I will list them below for your convenience:

  1. placement specialist by phone (call (605) 428-4068 any afternoon Monday through Friday)
  2. HOD Message Board (free to join, please post on the Main Board)
  3. placement chart
  4. catalog (free to order, full of lots of helpful placement information)


Start a 5-day a week guide now to school 4 days a week later!

From Our House to Yours

Start a 5-day a week guide now to homeschool just 4 days a week next school year!

Do you find yourself searching for things for your children to do at home right now? Due to COVID-19, many families have had to cancel spring and summer plans. Increased time at home can leave parents scrambling to find things for their children to do. While older children can often find ways to entertain themselves, younger children still need parents to oversee them. In Heart of Dakota (HOD), the guides Little Hands to Heaven (LHTH) through Bigger Hearts for His Glory (BHFHG) utilize 5-day a week plans. If you find yourself looking for things to do with your younger children, here’s the answer! Try starting LHTH through BHFHG now, and you can shave time off your next homeschool year!

Why do the younger HOD guides have 5-day a week plans?

The younger HOD guides have plans for 5 days a week for many reasons. Spreading work over 5 days means days are kept shorter. Shorter homeschool days fit little ones better. Shorter days match their shorter attention spans, and they prevent fatigue and frustration. This shorter lesson format for younger children matches Charlotte Mason’s thoughts on the matter. Not to mention, more days of teaching of foundational skills like beginning phonics, handwriting, and math skills gives more days to cement these important skills for a strong start to learning in general. So, HOD’s scheduling of 5-day weeks for little ones is intentional.

Why do the older HOD guides have 4-day a week plans?

The older HOD guides have plans 4 days a week for many reasons. Taking 5 days’ worth of work and condensing it into 4 days means students have a free 5th day each week. Longer homeschool days fit older students better. Longer days match their increased attention spans. Likewise, longer blocks of time help students have enough time to truly complete their more in-depth, independent work. Having one free day each week fits older students better. This format allows older students to have free time for extracurricular activities, outside interests, and work. So, HOD’s schedule of 4-day weeks for older students is intentional. (Of course, if you happen to have an older student with a shorter attention span, you can always spread the 4 days of work over 5 days to have shorter days.)

How many units/weeks of 5-day plans would you need to complete to homeschool 4 days a week next school year?

Homeschooling 4 days a week is appealing to many homeschool families. A 4-day week is especially appealing to families who happen to have older children using HOD’s guides Preparing Hearts for His Glory through U.S. II high school, as these guides utilize a 4-day week format. Little Hands to Heaven has 33 weeks of 5-day a week plans. Little Hearts for His Glory through BHFHG have 34 weeks of 5-day a week plans. This equals a total of 165-170 days of plans. The older guides, from PHFHG through U.S.II, have 35 weeks of 4-day a week plans. This equals a total of 140 days of plans.

So, if you start homeschooling your youngers only now, and you make it through about 6 units/weeks of plans, you can homeschool just 4 days a week next school year and finish your guides!  You can do this either by homeschooling 5 days a week for 6 weeks, or by homeschooling 4 days a week for about 8 weeks. I often did this with my younger sons, once my oldest son had moved into 4-day a week guides. This was the best of both worlds in my opinion! My youngers still had shorter days, had more days of school to cement skills, and had me all to themselves when I needed to be with them anyway – but, during the school year their days matched my older son’s schedule… and I loved a day off each week! Give it a try!

In Christ,