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)


Do the high school guides incrementally build in skill level?

Dear Carrie

Do the high school guides incrementally build in skill level as you go up?

I’m a homeschool mom of five, and I’ve loved using Heart of Dakota since 2010!  I am wondering if the high school guides are pretty much written at a certain skill level? Or, do they continue to progressively build in skill level as you go up? I’m curious if they incrementally build like the younger guides, where one guide prepares the student for the next guide in line. Or, are they written to be done in any order, with approximately the same level of reading and writing skills in each? Obviously this wouldn’t apply to the math portion, as that would have to build up in a certain way. However, I’m wondering about the rest of the guide. No matter what, we’ll be using Heart of Dakota, but I’m just curious! Thanks in advance, Carrie!

“Ms. Curious About Whether the High School Guides Build Incrementally”

Dear “Ms. Curious About Whether the High School Guides Build Incrementally,”

This is a good question! Like the younger guides, the high school guides do build incrementally upon the skills from the previous guides. So, as you progress through high school the level of the skills increase as do the type of skills. Some skills also bow out while others rise to replace them.

Though it is best to move through the guides in sequence, it is still key to place students where they fit best according to the placement chart.

The best path through Heart of Dakota (HOD) is definitely in sequence if at all possible. However, we do know that some families coming to HOD from another curriculum may have to borrow from upper guides (or possibly even lower guides) to put together their needed high school credits. It is still key to place students where they fit best according to the placement chart though. If students are well-placed in a lower guide and are not able to complete all of the high school guides prior to graduating, they will still be receiving a strong education that meets them where they are and incrementally moves them forward.

You will see a range of ages using each of the high school guides.

Of course, all of the guides are suitable for a range of ages, and the high school guides are no exception. So, you will definitely see a range of ages using each of the high school guides. In the comments for the World Geography section of our catalog, there are comments from 15, 16, and 18 year-olds (all of who successfully used the World Geography Guide with some modifications in math and science). I hope this can be an encouragement to you as your oldest enters high school!


To combine, or not to combine; that is the question!

From Our House to Yours

To combine, or not to combine; that is the question!

To combine, or not to combine; that is the question we so often ask! Well, you can easily combine with Heart of Dakota, just like you can with other curricula. However, combining is not always what’s best for children or for moms. As a young mom new to homeschooling nearly 20 years ago, I was repeatedly told I would need to combine my children for homeschooling to work. Why? They said it was “easier,” and otherwise I’d “burn out.” Well, as a veteran homeschooling mom, I have a different message for you today! The truth is combining works very well in some situations! But, not combining works very well in some other situations! Much like “one size fits all” clothes don’t fit everyone, combining does not fit everyone either. So, how do you know when to combine and when not to?

It is best not to combine when children are further apart in ability and maturity.

When children are further apart in ability and maturity, it just makes good sense not to combine. They have totally different needs from each other. Let’s say for instance that a younger child is not reading and writing well. But, an older child is reading chapter books and writing paragraphs. Charlotte Mason would say you should move that older child toward reading his/her own material in all subject areas (roughly around age 9), as this promotes better retention and narration skills. If you pair a 9 year-old child ready for this type of independence with a younger sibling not yet close to reading, you must then read everything out loud to both of them so they can be combined. This results in combining actually taking longer than teaching separate programs. Likewise, it prevents the older child from moving on to skills more appropriate for his/her age.

Likewise, it is best not to combine when children are further apart in writing skills.

If an older child is writing well and ready for written narration instruction (Charlotte Mason said roughly around the age 10), but is paired with a younger sibling not writing, the parent is forced to find something else for the younger child not yet writing to do (often something that is a skill far below this skill that is independent, such as coloring, as they cannot read or write yet). There is nothing wrong with coloring, but then at what point does the younger child receive that excellent guided written narration instruction that the older child received? Often they don’t, as the older child is always on to the next harder skill, while the younger child is still just doing something to “tread water” while the older child finishes.

As the gap widens, it often becomes apparent not combining would be better.

Often the gap widens. Then, you as a parent are forced to continue to read everything aloud as the younger child cannot read independently yet. Or, because the older child has continued to move up in guides, you find that even by the time the younger child can read, the reading is so incredibly difficult, that younger child still cannot read the material – which means either you are still reading aloud to the duo (again the older student missing vital independent skills), or you see how important it is you separate the two at this point, more than likely because you are hoarse from reading pages aloud that were never meant to be read aloud by you.

Combining children who are far apart in abilities can set a precedence of continually teaching to the older child’s needs.

Combining in this type of situation can set up a precedence to be teaching to the older child’s needs instead of the younger child’s needs, and over time the younger child will just need something different. You can see how, because the older child never did get to read the material on his/her own, the parent never did have time freed up to work with the younger child, who really probably needed more instruction earlier on.

It works well to combine children who are fairly close in ability. 

Now imagine two children who are quite close in ability. The younger is doing phonics and writing individual letters, while the older is just starting to read 3 letter words and is just beginning to write 3 letter words. Combining these children together makes much sense! They will both require the parent to read the learning materials aloud, and they will both require time to grow into reading and writing independently. There is no reason they cannot both do the same history, science, poetry, Bible reading, etc., and while they may need separate reading and math instruction, this is fairly easy to accomplish.

It works well to combine children who are both reading and writing fairly well.

Likewise, imagine older children, who are both reading and writing fairly well; one is reading chapter books, and one is reading longer chapter books. Heart of Dakota makes it easy to combine these children, as the younger child can do the program as is, and the older child can do the extensions. If the older child is writing pages, and the younger child is writing paragraphs, both can easily receive instruction on written narration practice, with one completing more than the other. Combining is a winning situation here, as long as the younger child is not being asked to listen to material that is too mature for his/her ears.

When considering combining, it is important not to fool ourselves into thinking it will automatically be easier.

When combining, it’s important not to fool ourselves into thinking it will automatically be easier because it is one program to teach vs. several programs to teach. Sometimes just finishing the 4-year-old’s school in 30 minutes, and finishing the 6-year-old’s school in 2 1/2 hours because that’s where they place best, is super easy compared to trying to slow things down so the 4-year-old can catch up to the 6-year-old, or trying to rush along the 4-year-old to catch up to the 6-year-old.

Combining can be the perfect answer for children who are close in abilities, who work well together, and who place in similar guides anyway.

Other times, combining is the perfect answer for children are close in abilities, work well together, and place in similar guides anyway. I will say either way, the single biggest factor in making homeschooling multiple children easier is when children reach the age of being able to read materials on their own – both directions in guides and materials in living books – they do so. The next biggest factor would be when they are writing fairly well on their own, they do so. It is necessary for children to move toward this independence in their learning as along with it comes age appropriate skills. I hope this helps as you consider what’s best for your children – whether it is combining, or not combining!

In Christ,

P.S. Outside circumstances also can play a part in whether or not to consider combining (i.e. working outside the home many hours, children with health concerns with many doctor’s appointments, being in poor health yourself, and having a very large family and being stretched thin, etc). Thinking back to the wonderful ladies I’ve met at book fairs, on the phone, and online, these are also important things to consider when choosing whether to combine or not.

Should I separate my twins?

Pondering Placement

Question: Should I separate my twins by moving the more wiggly “Tigger-like” one down to Little Hands to Heaven?

One of my 5-year-old twins is very wiggly. He literally bounces (like Tigger) through the house. When I’m reading, he is standing up and moving. However, when I ask questions, he answers them using phrases from the book I just read, so I know he’s listening. I tell him some things he just has to learn in school, whether he wants to or not. But, then starts the rebellion and the ‘It’s too hard for me! I can’t do it!’ Am I being too hard on him? Is he just not ready for Kindergarten? His twin brother is doing great. Should I separate my twins and move my ‘Tigger” down to Little Hands to Heaven? Also, my 8-year-old doing Bigger Hearts is a VERY slow writer! It took him 45 minutes today to write one vocabulary card. With these 2, our days are long! Words of wisdom please! Thank you!

Carrie’s Reply: Rather than separating your twins, I’d keep them together and adjust the expectations you have for your ‘Tigger.’

While you could easily separate your twins by sliding your wiggly twin down into Little Hands to Heaven, I think you’d find that since you have twins you’d rather keep them together in the long run. So, in order to do that, there may be a bigger learning curve for your “younger” twin than there is for the “older” one. If you just expect that going into each day, you most likely won’t be as frustrated when his attention, concentration, and focus doesn’t seem to be up to the same level as the older twin. Your little one will come along too, it will just take time.

My own sons were quite different maturity-wise!

My sons have always done separate guides due to their ages, but I still find myself comparing them, just as you are comparing your twins. When I look at the difference among my boys, it never ceases to amaze me! My third little guy just wasn’t as school ready, maturity-wise, as my other boys were and just took a little longer to come into his own in that area. But, I want to encourage you that with him the difference in attention span and understanding was HUGE between being a young 5 (when we started Little Hearts for His Glory LHFHG) to when he was 6 and completing LHFHG.

I am careful to keep our activities moving forward quite quickly throughout the day.

I also have always been careful to keep all of our activities moving forward quite quickly throughout the day, so they do not get drawn out. We do each box and move on, being careful to systematically develop the habit of attention. I don’t re-read or discuss again or repeat an activity very often. This keeps our day on schedule and helps if kiddos don’t “love” a certain activity to realize that it’s only a small portion of their day before it’s over.

I’d set the timer for the vocabulary activity for your older son.

With your older one doing Bigger Hearts, I would recommend setting the timer for 15 minutes for vocabulary. If it isn’t done when the timer rings, set it aside to be done in the evening with daddy, and move on. This way it still gets done, but it isn’t dragging your school day out all day. I do use the timer for any activity that my kiddos dawdle at doing. This helps them stay on task and to realize that it won’t go on forever! This will work for your kiddos in their separate guides too!

A Quote About Dawdling from Charlotte Mason

Here’s a quote from Charlotte Mason’s Vol. I p. 141 on her thoughts about this: “Never let a child dawdle over a copybook or a sum, sit dreaming with his book before him. When a child grows stupid over a lesson (meaning daydreaming), it is time to put it away. Let him do another lesson, as unlike the last as possible, and then go back with freshened wits to his unfinished task. When the child returns to the lesson it is now time for the parent to “pull him through; the lesson must be done, of course, but must be made bright and pleasant to the child.”

So, rather than separating your twins, I’d keep them together but adjust expectations for your little “Tigger.” Given time, I think he will rise to the occasion and grow into his guide very nicely!


Enjoy stress-free planning ahead with HOD’s flexibility in placement and pacing!

From Our House to Yours

Counting guides and stressing about planning ahead? Well, don’t! HOD takes the pressure off by offering flexible placement and pacing!

As homeschool moms, we love to plan ahead! Even when our children are little, we might be planning ahead for middle school or for high school. Blessedly, Heart of Dakota offers complete curricula for PreK through 12th grade. So, that already takes the pressure off planning what your child will do next! However, Heart of Dakota takes this one step further by offering flexibility within this plan, both in placement and in pacing. But how?

Flexibility in Placement

Heart of Dakota recognizes proper placement should be based on more than a child’s age. This is why we have a placement chart with age ranges for guides. It is also why when you ask for placement help, we don’t just ask the age of your child and then send you the same box of materials we’d send every other child of that same age. All children of a given age are not exactly alike – praise God! For how drab that would be! Heart of Dakota recognizes children of the same age have different needs by offering guides with age ranges, and by also including within each guide multiple levels of math, reading, spelling, grammar, etc. But, how do the plans ahead change based on if your child is on the younger, the middle, or the upper part of the target age range?

Flexibility for Those Who Place in the Middle or Upper Target Age Range

Heart of Dakota recognizes you might need flexibility in pacing for your children through the years. Students who place in the guides in the middle or upper side of the target age ranges will more than likely move through the typical guide sequence, graduating in 12th grade having done the 4 high school guides as written. However, if your child needs to slow the pacing of a guide, due to life events or to learning needs, extension packages can be added as needed. Then, going forward, we can help you plan the best path through high school based on your teenager’s future goals.

Flexibility for Those Who Place on the Youngest Side of the Target Age Range

For students who are more advanced and place on the very youngest side of the target age range, Carrie purposefully wrote the guides to have some flexibility for several reasons. One, in case this more advanced placement becomes too difficult at some point and the pacing needs to be slowed down, or two, in case there are some difficult years ahead. So, for example, if health concerns arise (for children/parents/grandparents), or if there is an unexpected job change or move, or if any other of the many unforeseen difficulties in life that make homeschooling need to be slowed down for a year or so occur, the student who had been doing the guides on the youngest side of the target age range has a year of ‘wiggle room.’ Or, of course, you can always just graduate a younger student a year early.

How I’ve Personally Taken Advantage of HOD’s Flexibility in Placement and Pacing

I find it interesting that all of my sons did Little Hearts for His Glory for kindergarten. However, none will graduate one year early. My oldest son did a guide a year until my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My son did not finish the last 7-8 units of World Geography, which he was using for 8th grade because of what was going on with my Dad. We decided to have my son complete the last 7-8 units of WG and the remaining 3 high school guides over 4 years.  It was perfect!  He was able to spend time with my Dad before he passed away and so was I, he worked more hours and earned money to pay for college, and he helped me homeschool my other children by teaching their math (he loves math and is good at it).  He is now in college and thriving!

How HOD’s Flexibility in Placement and Pacing Helped My Middle Son

My second son did a guide a year until Creation to Christ. He is very artistic and creative, and he was taking too long to finish each day. For him, we spread CTC and RTR over 3 years instead of 2 years.  It was perfect!  He is now an 11th grader doing USI and loving it! Lord willing, he will graduate exactly on time. HOD’s flexibility in placement and pacing was such a blessing!

How HOD’s Flexibility in Placement and Pacing Helped My Youngest Son

My third son did a guide a year until Bigger Hearts.  He was an excellent reader, but his writing needed to mature. We spread Bigger Hearts and Preparing Hearts over 3 years instead of 2 years. It was perfect!  He is now a 6th grader doing RTR and loving it!  Lord willing, he will graduate exactly on time. HOD’s flexibility in placement and pacing has been such a blessing!

The Blessings of Having an Extra Year of Flexibility

I share our homeschool journey to show that often times something in life happens that we do not expect, either health-wise or pacing-wise. It is an incredible blessing to have an extra year to work with, which is why Carrie planned for this.  Children on the youngest side of the target age range may find at some point that a slower pace would be better for one reason or another. Of course, if everything goes just perfectly both in life and in pacing of learning, students can graduate one year early.  There are many options for earning college credit that can be done from home in this scenario.

One More Option for Children on the Youngest Side of the Age Range

One other option that many families enjoy is taking either 5 years to do the 4 youngest guides (i.e. Little Hands…, Little Hearts…, Beyond…, and Bigger Hearts…) by homeschooling 4 days a week instead of 5 days a week. Click here for a schedule for this option. Or, families may take 4 years to do 3 guides (i.e. Little Hearts…, Beyond…, and Bigger Hearts…) by homeschooling half-speed at the start of each guide and/or 4 days a week instead of 5 days a week.  These are all 5 day a week guides, so this works well. Preparing Hearts… through USII 12th grade guides are all 4 days a week.

In Christ,