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,
Julie

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!

Blessings,
Carrie

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,
Julie

A Suggested Sequence of Guides for a 14 Year-Old

Pondering Placement

Question: What placement and guide sequence should I use for my 14 year-old?

We’ve homeschooled my 14 year-old since kindergarten, but he’s behind two grade levels. I’m counting him as an 8th grader. I’ve tried to push total texts with him, but it’s just not working. Presently, he’s using IEW SWI-B. He’s almost finished with the first book of Fix It grammar. He read The Sign of the Beaver and did a Progeny Press guide. He doesn’t like reading, probably because he’s too into video games. He’s never done dictation. I have had him narrate some. He’s using MUS math but is behind in that too. Looking at the placement chart, Resurrection to Reformation might be a fit, other than dictation. I like the fact that Heart of Dakota uses some of the IEW material. That is a plus for me. Is this type of study even possible? I guess I just need some insight for a placement and guide sequence to use?

Carrie’s Reply:

In thinking through your son’s age and in pondering what he has done thus far, I do think he will make steady progress as you move through the Heart of Dakota guides. Often you will see the most fruit in your second year of HOD. This is because the skills taught in one guide help prepare your child for the next guide. The layering of skills over time produces strides in learners as time passes that are definitely noticeable. So, be encouraged that your son can make needed gains in his difficult areas! I am confident we can find a sequence of guides that works well for him!

A Suggested Sequence of Guides

For now, I think we can go into Resurrection to Reformation considering this to be his 8th grade year. This will give him earth science exposure. This would mean that for high school he would follow the sequence below:

  • 9th grade Revival to Revolution (last half of English 5 and Advanced EE Physical Science for high school as scheduled in guide)
  • 10th grade Missions to Modern Marvels (all of English 6 – as scheduled in the guide and Chemistry with beef ups as scheduled in guide)
  • 11th grade World Geography (first half of English 7 – as scheduled in the guide – possibly IPC as scheduled in guide or other science)
  • 12th grade World History (last half of English 7 – as scheduled in the guide and Biology as scheduled in guide)
A Short Explanation of This Sequence of Guides

This sequence will give him needed credits in American History, Geography, and World History. It will also give him a steady rise in skills in the language arts area and cover his needed sciences. For math, it would be good to get through a minimum of Algebra I and Geometry (with a possible hope of also doing Algebra II – albeit in a introductory way). We can address the sciences as we go to be sure he is getting what is needed in that area each year as it arises.

A Reading Suggestion for This First Year in This Guide Sequence

In pondering that we would be considering your son as an 8th grader this year, we have a bit more wiggle room in using this year as a skill-building year in this sequence (picking up needed teaching in some key areas). With that in mind, I would lean toward doing Level 6/7/8 of Drawn into the Heart of Reading Student Book along with the Boy Set from Creation to Christ. Since you won’t get to Creation to Christ with your son, you can use the CTC Boy Set with Drawn into the Heart of Reading (as there is one book for each genre). This set will work well for your son’s age and should include topics of interest. Or, if preferred, you can choose different books that are at this reading level.

Some Language Arts Suggestions for the First Year of This Guide Sequence

When you begin your son’s RTR guide, I’d recommend you begin Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons (setting aside SWI-B even if he did not finish it). Be sure to follow the plans within the RTR guide for Medieval Writing Lessons, as we omit some assignments and stretch others out longer. I think Rod and Staff 5 (first half only – doing a lesson each time it comes up in the plans twice weekly) will be a good fit as well. Charlotte Mason studied dictation exercises are in the back of the RTR Guide. You will want to begin your son at a level where he is having to repeat a passage only once or twice a week. Otherwise, he will be at a frustration level. The RTR Guide tells you when to do studied dictation.

Some Thoughts on Packages for the First Year of This Guide Sequence

I would also encourage you to either have your son read the Basic Package or do the Extension Package but not do both. This is due to the new level of work and skills that will be required already within the RTR Guide. I would allow your son to choose between the two sets to see which he desires to read. The Basic Package is scheduled in the daily plans. The Extension Package is scheduled by day in the Appendix.

The Importance of Completing All That Is Scheduled Within This Suggested Sequence of Guides

It will be important for your son to fully complete all that is scheduled within each day of plans within this sequence of guides. Some of the assignments may feel young at times, as he is on the highest age range of the guide. However, the skills gained by reading and following written directions, adjusting to the volume of the readings, becoming comfortable in writing across the curriculum, and being trained in a higher level of independence, when combined with regular skill practice will all be needed in preparation for high school next year. Try to keep in mind that if you skip a box, you skip a skill. I think this is a workable plan, which we can revisit as your son progresses. But, I hope this suggested sequence gets you started!

Blessings,
Carrie

 

How do I spread out Beyond and Bigger, so my son does Preparing at 9 years old?

Pondering Placement

Question: How do I spread out Beyond and Bigger, so my son does Preparing at 9 years old?

I am new to Heart of Dakota, and my oldest will be 6 next month. I’m fairly certain he places in Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory.  He reads books like Frog and Toad with no help from me. I can read just about anything aloud to him. He does like pictures, but he can listen/read books with just a few pictures too. We read several “Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories” each night. He loves this and usually draws several pictures after the reading. I really love the look of the Emerging Reader’s Set for him. However, if he starts in this level, I’m afraid he may be missing phonics instruction. He also writes well – several sentences on his own as well as letters to other people. My other son is wiggly, but this son is not.

I was thinking of doing Beyond Little Hearts and Bigger Hearts over 3 years. This is because I’ve read some concerns about going into Preparing Hearts on the young end. It seems others for some reason don’t want to go into Preparing Hearts before a certain age/grade (like age 9 or 4th grade). I think it’s because of the maturity level. So, I guess he would not be able to go straight through. I don’t feel Little Hearts for His Glory is the right placement for him. So, if I can’t do Preparing with him at age 8, how should I slow down Beyond and Bigger to make them stretch out longer? Help!

Carrie’s Reply: First-born children often are accurately placed on the young side of the target age ranges.

As we’re looking at placement for your son, and thinking down the road, it’s good to know that Preparing has a target age range of 8-10 with extensions for ages 11-12. As we look at the target age range of the guide, you may find that those kiddos who come into the guide at the youngest age range are often first-born children who were just born ready to go. (This could be because the parent had the time to really sit and work with the child from an early age, since this was their first-born child). While this is not always true, it does seem to happen more often! Additionally, God seems to equip those first-born kiddos to lead! He often gifts them in a unique way, so they are self-starters. All of this, when combined with solid skills in the 3 R’s, makes these types of kiddos thrive at the youngest age range of the guides.

While Preparing Hearts does work well for 9 or 10 year olds, it also works well for 8 year olds who are appropriately placed.

I think you’ll also find that if you visit with others, those who feel a child “must” be 9 to do Preparing are usually not talking about their first-born. They are often families who are either new to Heart of Dakota and started a young child too high up in order to combine with an older sibling. Or, they may not have placed their 8 year old based on skill level and have come into Preparing unable to do what is asked. Or, they may have a struggling writer or reader. While Preparing does work well for 9 or 10 year olds, it also works for 8 year olds who are appropriately placed from the beginning. My own sister has had this situation with her two oldest boys, who have always come in on the youngest age range of the guides and excelled.

I would lean towards placing your 6 year old son in Beyond.

With this in mind, and with the skill level you’ve already shared that your son has in the 3R’s, I would lean toward placing him in Beyond. I’d go through all of the rest of his phonics using The Reading Lesson, prior to having him begin the Emerging Reader’s Set. However, I would plan on the Emerging Reader Set being his reading as you are going through Beyond. I think finishing up his phonics will not be a long process. The schedule for the Emerging Reader’s Set is in the Appendix of Beyond. It includes follow-up questions and narration prompts. I would do Math 1A/1B with the plans in Beyond. If he can handle full-speed, I see no reason to slow him down. Doing school 5 days a week at the Beyond level is very doable if a child is well-placed. I think you’ll have a great year!

You’ll be able to tell if you need to slow down at the start of Bigger Hearts.

When you get to Bigger Hearts if you need to slow down at the beginning, you’ll be able to tell. However, it might not be necessary to do so. I wouldn’t make a plan to formally slow down a guide. Usually, we only suggest that route if a child needs time to grow into the skills in the guide at the beginning for a bit, or if a family has multiple students and needs more time to work with a certain child (and then slowing down one child’s guide gives them this time).

Blessings,
Carrie