Learning letter sounds and shapes is exciting!

Teaching Tip:

Learning letter sounds and shapes is exciting!

Learning the letter sounds and shapes is an exciting time for a child. It is a time when the “code” of reading and writing is unlocked. It is also a stage when children begin to realize a whole new world is opening up to them.

Do you have a child who is learning the letter sounds/shapes for the first time?

If you have a child learning the letter sounds/shapes for the first time, it is a good idea to keep in mind the varying ways children learn. For many kiddos, phonics instruction needs to encompass auditory, visual, and bodily kinesthetic activities. This means instruction needs to involve more than just a child’s eyes and ears. It is often helpful for learning to involve the body as well.

Often we expect children to learn letter sounds and shapes from passive activities.

Often we expect kiddos to pick up and retain letter sounds/shapes from watching letter-based shows (which is a passive activity). Or, perhaps we expect our kiddos to learn letter sounds and shapes by playing letter-based computer games. Even though this is a less passive activity, it is still mainly eye and ear based. While there is nothing wrong with these types of activities, it is good to pair them with something less passive. Often there is improved retention of letter sounds and shapes if we actually involve a child’s whole body in the learning process.

How can learning the letter sounds and shapes be a bodily-kinesthetic activity?

Little Hands to Heaven uses kiddos’ large and small motor skills in conjunction with their eyes and ears to learn letter sounds and shapes. The guide incorporates a wide variety of bodily activities to get kiddos moving and learning at the same time. For example, kiddos trace large masking tape letters on the floor by tiptoeing on the outline of the letter. As they trace the letter, they say the letter sound. When they reach the end of the letter…they jump off! Kiddos also glue cereal pieces, raisins, or marshmallows on marker outlines of letters. Or, they may trace a letter outline on construction paper using an ice cube or paint. Through a corresponding finger play each week, kiddos learn hand motions to signify each letter sound. As a flashcard for the letter is shown, kiddos say the sound along with demonstrating the corresponding hand motion. These are just a few of the activities in Little Hands to Heaven that make learning a whole body experience.

What if your child already knows the letter sounds?

Even if your child already knows the letter sounds, he/she will still benefit from the activities in Little Hands to Heaven. This is because these activities are also designed to hone large and small motor skills. The exercises in the guide also strengthen eye tracking skills needed for reading. All of these skills are a great help as children begin to read and write!

No matter what type of learner you have, Little Hands to Heaven is designed to address their needs.

Since Little Hands to Heaven was written with all types of learners in mind, it encompasses all learning styles. This means that no matter what type of learner you have, Little Hands to Heaven was written for you! Taking only 30 minutes each day, Little Hands to Heaven is a Bible-based readiness program that takes no planning or preparation. Designed for ages 2-5, Little Hands to Heaven will help you create wonderful memories with your child using fun learning that seems like play! If you have little ones, consider Little Hands to Heaven today!



Do you have a new reader who is just finishing phonics?

Teaching Tip:

Do you have a new reader who is just finishing phonics?

If so, it’s good to know kiddos often “finish” phonics with varying levels of confidence and skill as readers. Some kiddos finish phonics and are able to read almost anything. Other kiddos finish phonics struggling slowly through the texts provided in the phonics program. If you happen to have a struggler, today’s tip is for you!

Is your reader struggling after finishing phonics?

We had a struggler situation with our fourth little guy after finishing phonics. This was a new situation for me. Our other boys pretty much took off after phonics and were ready for the Emerging Reader’s Set right away. With our fourth little guy, I had stopped phonics instruction over the summer (two different summers), simply because I was so busy writing. This “stopping and starting” took a toll on his readiness to read when he finished phonics. Our son also had tubes in his ears during this time, which we finally had taken out due to fluid in the tubes. This meant he wasn’t clearly hearing the sounds when learning to read either. So, when we finished phonics, he was still struggling to read.

Struggling readers often lack confidence and are easily overwhelmed.

Struggling new readers often lack confidence. Even if they can sound out words, the sheer number of words on a busy page of text is overwhelming. Tiny print with few pictures makes struggling readers never want to open a book again! This means it is important to get a struggling reader excited about reading, so he feels like he can do it.

How can you help a new reader build confidence and fluency?

To build confidence in a struggling reader, choose “real” books that are very easy and that he CAN read without struggle. Make sure these books have less text and colorful pictures. Place these books in a shoebox. Then, have your child read a book from the box at least once daily to you or another adult.

What kind of easy readers could be put in the “box”?

To decide what books to put in the box, take note of what your child can read without difficulty. Often this can be an eye-opener. Don’t worry if you have to back way up to build fluency! We had to back up to the super easy readers with our son for awhile. For example, we headed back to the “Shared My First Reading” and “My First I Can Read Books.” These books come before the Level 1 readers. They are books like the easier “Biscuit” series and “Mittens” series. We also used some Level 1 and above books, but they were the easier looking ones. While these specific titles are in no way needed, I share them to get you thinking. Often our little ones are overwhelmed by too much text on the page. Yet, with books that are too simple, they are missing the thrill of reading a cohesive story with beautiful pictures. So, these books fill that gap.

What about using the “Bob books” or other controlled readers?

My son had the Bob books and many other controlled readers in his room, but he wasn’t excited about them. He thought the stories didn’t make sense. Truly, he was beyond them maturity-wise, even if they were the right reading level practice-wise. My other boys liked the Bob books. My oldest really loved them! However, my other boys read the Bob books when they were much younger. Age definitely plays a role as to when the Bob books or controlled readers will be a good fit.

Reading aloud picture books also helps restore the joy of reading.

In looking to restore excitement in reading, it also helps to read aloud beautiful picture books. With my fourth little guy, I realized we had not been reading aloud picture books very often like we did for our other boys. To remedy that, we began reading one beautiful picture book aloud to our son each night. Then, he read one of his easy “box” books to us. This helped his enthusiasm for the written word to grow more.

How does reading easy books help your child grow as a reader?

As your child reads easy books, he gains confidence, reinforces sounds, and begins to enjoy reading. By setting apart books your child can read easily, you are selecting those that will be enjoyable to read without much work. What was the result at our house? My little one started taking his box of books in the car to read on the way as we went places. He started reading with his box next to him in his bed. He took his box downstairs to read when he had free time. He asked for more Biscuit books and more Mittens books and read them all when they came. He enjoyed reading and wanted to read. He was even ready for the Emerging Reader’s Set in a couple of months.

What should you do when your child struggles with a word?

If my son didn’t remember a word, I tried to have him sound it out. If that didn’t work, I restated the rule, ” Remember ‘ou’ says…”. If he was reading bigger words, I’d cover up part of the word with my finger to show the word in manageable chunks. Then, I would have him read each part and put it together to make the whole word. If he guessed, I’d repeat what he said, and ask, “Does that make sense?” Ultimately, I had a goal not to let him get frustrated and to make reading fun! ūüėÄ

Having a box of books the child can read is a great strategy for readers who don’t struggle too.

Placing books kiddos can read into a box or a cube just for them is a strategy that can be applied to many different ages. It sets apart books that really can be read by the child no matter what his stage of reading. This keeps children from frustration with books that are way too difficult. Since our school books push kiddos into higher level material, it is good to keep free reading books at an easier level. No one likes to be pushed to peak performance all of the time. Some things should be easier!



Why did you choose to carry The Reading Lesson and Reading Made Easy for phonics?

Dear Carrie

Why did Heart of Dakota choose to carry The Reading Lesson and Reading Made Easy for phonics?

Dear Carrie,

My daughter is 3 1/2 and loving Little Hands to Heaven! As I like to look ahead, I am currently researching phonics programs. I am looking at Reading Made Easy and The Reading Lesson. However, it is very difficult for me to decide what I want to use. This will be my first time teaching a child to read. I just don’t want to screw it up, lol! So, why did Heart of Dakota choose to carry The Reading Lesson and¬†Reading Made Easy for phonics choices?


“Ms. Please Explain Why You Chose the Phonics Programs You Did”

Dear “Ms. Please Explain Why You Chose the Phonics Programs You Did,”

When choosing Reading Made Easy and The Reading Lesson, we looked at SO many factors that affect how well a phonics program works. We also sorted through the many methodologies out there, although I’d seen and read much already about the various methodologies during my 11 years of being doused in a big variety of phonics programs during my public school teaching days!

Demanding a child’s fine motor skills to keep up with decoding skills can cause frustration.

I’ll be very up front in saying that if you are of the “writing as a way to learn to read” methodology or the “learn every phonics rule and drill it” methodology, then the two programs we carry will NOT suit you well. Then, you’d want to look at something like the Writing Road to Reading or the Orton-Gillingham method of phonics instruction instead. Our philosophy is that writing can actually come much later than reading. Demanding a child’s fine motor skills to keep up with the decoding skills needed to read can cause much frustration. Our own boys each read very early and wrote much later. Had I held them back, waiting for them to write each word as it was read (or learned), I would have made reading an overwhelming task at an early age.

We’ve discovered knowing some rules is beneficial, but using an eclectic approach to covering those rules works fine.

When teaching early readers, we’ve discovered that knowing some rules is beneficial. Using an eclectic approach to cover those rules works fine. Our experience is that not all children need to be able to recite every phonics rule in order to apply it. Many rules are just too tedious and have too many exceptions to be worth memorizing. For example, we used Alphabet Island for phonics/spelling with my first son. While the rule coverage was amazingly complete, little of the rules were retained. His learning to actually read didn’t come out of that experience. We had to use yet another program to teach that!

However, we do believe in giving a thorough treatment to phonics, rather than stopping as soon as kiddos are reading quite well. Programs such as 100 Easy Lessons drop kiddos off before phonics is finished, leaving a parent to fill a gap by finishing out phonics on their own (which can be done easily but requires some creativity).

We like that both phonics programs provide coverage that is complete enough without being tedious.

We chose Reading Made Easy and The Reading Lesson because we find the phonics coverage to be complete enough without being tedious. The combination of gentle introductions to the various rules applied right within the reading material gives kiddos an “I can do this” feeling. It gets them reading early in the lessons and keeps it entertaining without being overly flashy.

We like that both programs take into account children’s short attention spans and provide necessary reading material.

Both programs also work well with Heart of Dakota‘s Charlotte-Mason approach to short lessons that capitalize on kiddo’s short attention spans. Both programs provide stories right within the guide, having Teacher’s Guide and Student Book in one. This feature saves much time searching for developmentally appropriate books, since the reading material is already there.

We like that each phonics program focuses purely on phonics.

Each guide is just purely for phonics, rather than throwing in all sorts of other language arts skills too. This keeps the focus on learning to read and allows the parent to move more quickly or slowly through the program without feeling like they may be missing other skills if they change the pace. We’d used the Blue Book for LLATL with my oldest son early on and felt tied to its slow pace of learning to read due to the multiple other skills woven in the lessons. For that reason, we had to abandon it.

We like that both phonics programs transition well into the Emerging Reader’s Set.

Reading Made Easy and The Reading Lesson also transition very well into our Emerging Reader’s Set. This solves yet another difficult problem for parents. The question about what to do after phonics is easily answered by the HOD sequence from phonics program to Emerging Reader’s Set to independent reading using Drawn into the Heart of Reading.

We like that both phonics programs make teaching your child to read easy to do.

Reading Made Easy is more teacher intensive and The Reading Lesson is more open and go. Both make teaching your child to read something anyone can do, rather than requiring the parent to take a course first or wade through how much to do each day or how to pace the program.

We like that both phonics programs are highly recommended both by other homeschoolers and by reviewers.

Both of these programs come highly recommended by other homeschoolers and reviewers alike. Reading Made Easy is currently in Cathy Duffy’s Top Curriculum Picks. The Reading Lesson has won many awards as well. Both have been used to teach thousands of children to be good readers. My own mother (who was a first grade teacher for 25 years) really likes The Reading Lesson. She’s read it cover to cover and was surprised at how well laid out it is. She’s a tough critic! She also likes Reading Made Easy, but thinks The Reading Lesson could easily be used by anyone!

The teaching style of the parent is just as important as the learning style of a the child.

With all that being said, there are other good programs out there that work equally as well. The teaching style of the parent is just as important as the learning style of the child, when choosing a phonics program. If the parent is not inspired or doesn’t feel confident with their choice, then the phonics program most likely won’t get done.

We’ve discovered the best phonics program is the one that consistently gets done.

In the end, we’ve discovered that the best program is one that consistently gets done in the day-to-day. The two phonics options we offer make that possible. While many phonics programs are wonderfully in depth or very full content-wise, if they just sit on the shelf because they’re too overwhelming, the benefit is lost.

Parents often find the best phonics program is the second or third one they used.

I hope this gives you some good areas to ponder when choosing a phonics program for your situation. Interestingly enough, most parents find that their second or third phonics option worked best, after struggling with their first option. In truth this is largely due to the child just being more mature and more ready to read by then, and also due to the fact that the child has some phonics instruction under their belt to draw on when heading it a second or third round of phonics! For those parents who only used one phonics option, celebrate!! You are VERY blessed!


Should I use the Emerging Reader’s Set and/or phonics for an advanced 5 year old reader?

Dear Carrie

Should I use the Emerging Reader’s Set along with a phonics program for my advanced 5 year old?

My 5 year old daughter is an advanced reader who tests at a 4.6 reading level. She taught herself to read and has never had formal phonics. Though she does a good job of figuring out words she’s familiar with and knows her letter sounds, she does not know any phonics rules. As I was reading The Reasons Behind HOD Choices, I realized that not giving my daughter formal phonics training and teaching her the rules could end up holding her back in reading eventually. I don’t want to do just phonics during Little Hearts for His Glory, as I think this will frustrate her. She is so excited to read! So, should I use the Emerging Reader’s Set and incorporate a phonics program to slowly teach my advanced reader the phonics rules? I also gave her the Primary Singapore placement test. She places in 1A and is ready for spelling.


“Ms. Please Help with My Advanced Daughter’s Phonics and Reading Choices”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with My Advanced Daughter’s Phonics and Reading Choices,”

If your daughter is near to being 6, she could begin Heart of Dakota‘s Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory instead. However, she would also need to be good at sitting and listening to longer chapter-style books without pictures. Whether you use Little Hearts or Beyond, I think a run through Sound Bytes phonics would be a good way to go for her phonics instruction. You can view¬†Sound Bytes here; just click and scroll¬†to the bottom. Sound Bytes works well for kiddos who are already reading because it moves quickly and takes only a few months to complete the entire phonics sequence. The stories go from short and easy to harder as the kiddos move through the program. It hits all the needed phonics rules and makes sure kiddos have had exposure to them. It also addresses the rules as spelling helpers.

You can either start the Emerging Reader’s Set after completing Sound Bytes, or you can alternate them.

After your daughter moves through Sound Bytes, she could begin the Emerging Reader’s Set. Or, you could alternate between Sound Bytes and the Emerging Reader’s Set instead. You have a choice of Bibles in the Emerging Reader’s Set. I would begin with The Beginner’s Bible in the Emerging Reader’s Set, as the Early Reader’s Bible will be too easy for her.

You will need the Beyond Little Hearts guide for the ERS schedule, comprehension questions, math lessons, and spelling.

If you do go the Little Hearts route, be sure to get the Beyond guide for the needed daily schedule and questions for the Emerging Reader’s Set. You will also want the Beyond guide for the daily math lessons that go with 1A/1B and for the daily spelling lists as well. Since your daughter is advanced and reading well, she will be ready to do the spelling portion of Beyond too.

We can verify you previously purchased the Beyond guide when your order the rest of its Economy Package and still apply your package savings.

If you do get the Beyond guide, then the next year when you need the rest of the Economy Package that goes with Beyond, simply email us to let us know you bought the Beyond guide early to for the Emerging Reader’s Set, and you will still receive the Beyond package discount with your purchase. If you have more questions, let us know!


First Grade or Second Grade with Heart of Dakota: Customizable, Inspirational, Foundational

From Our House to Yours

Each child is fearfully and wonderfully made, and¬†Beyond Little Hearts… accounts¬†for those differences!

Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory is a complete one-year homeschool guide for children ages 6-8.¬† It is typically used for either 1st or 2nd grade, and it works great for either!¬† This is where homeschooling starts to get interesting, doesn’t it?¬† Gifts each child has been given by the Lord begin to show themselves, as do challenges.¬† Every 6, 7, or 8 yo child is not the same!¬† Praise God – He fearfully and wonderfully made each little child!¬† We wouldn’t want them to all be the same! The good news is¬†Beyond… is customizable, inspirational, and foundational!

Heart of Dakota recognizes that each child will begin to demonstrate different needs.¬† Rather than just handing each child an identical box of homeschool books and resources,¬†Beyond… offers multiple levels for skill-based areas of school, like language arts and math.¬† But, for the more general subject areas – like history, poetry, Bible study, science, art, music, etc. – the resources are the same.

How is Beyond Little Hearts… customizable?

Beyond… is customizable in all the right places!¬† In Language Arts, you can choose among phonics, emerging readers, or independent readers.¬† There are even choices within each of those choices!¬† Let’s look at phonics/reading instruction first!

When to Choose The Reading Lesson

If your little one is needing a first trip through phonics or had a less than happy first trip through phonics with something else, The Reading Lesson with CD/download would be a good choice.¬† It is purposefully black and white, so your child can focus on the shape of the letters (quite important for a first trip through phonics).¬† It’s also only 20 lessons, so with a 34 week homeschool year, if your little one hits a bump in the road and needs to slow down, you can without getting behind.¬† The CD/download also offers additional practice with other words that follow the same lesson.¬† Plus, it’s fun!¬† A circus theme where they earn tokens to ‘spend’ at the circus – very motivational and independent (and not much can be independent at this age, so what a bonus).

When to Choose Reading Made Easy

If your little one has made a first trip through phonics but needs one more trip through a harder phonics, or if your little one is seeming to be advanced, or if your little one is older (as in 7 or 8),¬†Reading Made Easy is a great choice!¬† This program is by a favorite author of ours, Valerie Bendt.¬† It’s thorough, hands-on, and well-scripted for the parent.¬† It also has the option of a written component via workbooks. They don’t require a lot writing, are fun, and are a great addition to the program if your child is writing.

When to Choose the Emerging Reader’s Set

If your child is already reading a Level 1 or Level 2 book like¬†Frog and Toad Are Friends quite smoothly, only pausing to sound out one longer word maybe every other page or so, he would begin the¬†Emerging Reader’s Set.¬† This is an awesome set of books that starts easier and get incrementally harder throughout the year! It has a schedule in the back of the¬†Beyond… guide with 3-4 oral comprehension questions.¬† Don’t be dismayed if your child isn’t ready for this set when doing¬†Beyond…!¬† The Emerging Reader’s Set is also a part of¬†Bigger Hearts as a reading option.

When to Choose Drawn into the Heart of Reading

If your child is advanced, reading chapter books fairly easily, and writing sentences independently, he/she would place well in¬†Drawn into the Heart of Reading 2/3.¬† Few students place here for reading in¬†Beyond…¬† But, if your fearfully and wonderfully made little one is gifted with being very advanced in reading, this option is for him/her!¬† This is an outstanding reading program for kiddos ages 7-15 years old.¬† Carrie wrote it, and it has won a lot of awards because it is a literature program based on amazing books that teaches all of the genres and story elements.¬† It includes everything you’d want in a literature program – all the skills with the enjoyment of a book club feeling.¬† Again, don’t be dismayed if your child isn’t ready for this in¬†Beyond…!¬†¬†It’s offered as a reading choice in all the guides to come up to¬†Missions to Modern Marvels!

So, what else is customizable?

Singapore Math is also customizable.¬† Often considered a year advanced, it is best to give the free placement test to determine what level to use.¬†Beyond… has hands-on math plans for 1A/1B, so just the workbooks are needed.¬†¬†Beyond… has a schedule in its Appendix for 2A/2B, so both the textbooks and workbooks are needed.¬† Or, if you prefer hands-on plans for 2A/2B, you’d get only the workbooks and the¬†Bigger Hearts… guide, as this has hands-on plans for 2A/2B.¬† (You can let HOD know you bought¬†Bigger Hearts… already the next year when you order the rest of the¬†Bigger Hearts… Economy Package, and we will credit back your package savings then.) If your child places in 1B, just do 1B/2A for the year.¬† It all works fine!¬†¬†Click here for the placement test, making sure to choose the Primary Math placement test.

There is also a choice of 2 spelling lists in¬†Beyond…’s Appendix.¬† The second is harder than the first.¬† Both lists have daily plans in the¬†Beyond… guide.¬† Finally, there is a choice of Storytime read-alouds.¬† You are reading these aloud to your little one, so choose the set you are most excited to read and they are most excited to listen to!¬† All 3 sets have amazing books, but 1 set will do!¬† Choose from Classic, Boy Interest, or Girl Interest packages.

So, what is inspirational?

Charlotte Mason was a big proponent of having a balance of disciplinary and inspirational subjects in school.¬†¬†Beyond… has both!¬† First, the American history books you are reading are incredibly inspirational!¬† Second, the¬†Morning Bells devotional, corresponding music¬†Hide ’em in Your Heart,¬†and Bible Study¬†are sure to inspire!¬† Third, the classical poetry will tug at your heart and get your creativity flowing.¬† Fourth, history projects, art projects, and science experiments offer even more creative responses to wonderful history and science living book readings!

So, what is foundational?

A lot, really.¬† This is an important year though, right?¬† Foundational skills like reading, writing, math, spelling, grammar, copywork, Bible, history, science, geography, timeline, Charlotte Mason beginning oral narration skills, genre and story element instruction, Godly character traits with personal application – these are all a part of¬†Beyond…!

Check out the rundown of Beyond… below…
  • Bible Memory Work
  • Devotional Topics
  • Science Discovery
  • Art Projects
  • Geography Exploration
  • Timeline and History Activities
  • Poetry and Rhymes
  • Gross Motor Skills
  • Music
  • Copywork
  • Spelling Practice
  • Basic Grammar Skills
  • Introduction to Capitalization and Punctuation
  • Reading Choices
  • Narration
  • Storytime Genre Studies
  • Guided Literature Discussions
  • Story Element Lessons
  • Godly Character Lessons
  • Math Exploration

And don’t stress about how long this is going to take!¬†¬†

So, now I’ve worried you, haven’t I?¬† That list has you wondering just how long school will take with Beyond…¬†Well, don’t stress – just 2 to 2 1/2 hours a day.¬† How can it be, you ask?¬† Well, all of the above things are not done daily.¬† Children complete them in a balanced, rotating way.¬† So, you are able to teach many important things, both disciplinary and inspirational subjects, in one day.¬† Just use common items in your kitchen or basic art supplies – that’s all you need.¬† I LOVE that so much!¬† Who has time with little ones to run to the store, run to the library, or plan and prep for homeschooling all week?¬† No one.¬† So why do it?¬†¬†Beyond… doesn’t require any of that.

So, there you have it!  I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory!  Next time, I’ll introduce you to Bigger Hearts for His Glory. In the meantime, enjoy checking out the printable Introduction and first week of plans of Beyond Little Hearts and our 10 most commonly asked questions!

In Christ,


P.S.¬† If you check out the placement chart and your little 6-7 yo is not quite ready for¬†Beyond¬†Little Hearts‚Ķ,¬†click here¬†to check out¬†Little Hearts for His Glory.¬† And don‚Äôt worry about ‚Äėmissing‚Äô using¬†Beyond¬†Little Hearts ‚Ästremember you can just use it for second grade!