Third or Fourth Grade Homeschooling – Preparing Hearts for His Glory

From Our House to Yours

Third or Fourth Grade Homeschooling with Heart of Dakota- Preparing Hearts for His Glory

With Heart of Dakota, there are flexible age ranges because, as we all know, not all kiddos at one age are the same. Preparing Hearts…, which will be the focus of this blog post, has a target age range of 8-10 (third or fourth grade), with extensions for ages 11-12 (fifth to sixth grade). It has complete plans for all necessary subject areas but customizable plans in reading, spelling, grammar, and math.  It is Christ-centered and full of Charlotte Mason style unforgettable living books. I’ve ‘met’ Preparing Hearts… myself 3 times with my 3 sons, so I’m pretty confident in saying, I think you will love her!

Preparing… says let’s give our children the backdrop. Let’s give them the timeline of history running from start to finish. Then, we will know they are well prepared for the ‘hooks’ of each of the 4 time periods to come in Hearts for Him Through Time.  Let’s also get them prepared for middle school work, by having them gradually take on some necessary independence. But, hold on to your hat! Let’s still recognize they are not all that grown-up, and let’s still plan for some needed time together. So, you can see Bigger Hearts… laid the foundation, but how does Preparing Hearts… answer back?

Preparing Hearts says, “Let’s grow up a little, but not too fast!”

Little brother Bigger Hearts… planned for a big teaching year.  He didn’t let anything slide because he knew how important it would be to prepare for Preparing.  He took a little time, depending on you as the parent to work side by side your child to lay that foundation well.  But, this is when you thank him, because here comes Preparing to prove your time in Bigger was well spent. Bigger… bows and happily hands the reins over to Preparing Hearts. Bowing back, Preparing Hearts… tips her hat to Bigger Hearts…, and says, “Thank you kindly, Bigger. I’ll take it from here! Now let’s just see what we can do!”

Introducing Some Notable and Exciting Changes in Preparing Hearts

You know how you worked alongside your children for most of Bigger Hearts? Well, Preparing Hearts will change that and in a way that is in no way confusing.  Little letters begin to show up in each box of your teacher guide’s plans. “T” for teacher-directed, “S” for semi-independent, and “I” for independent.  Why?  Because there is less confusion about who does what.

Charlotte Mason said when children reach the age of 9, they should begin reading their own books for all school subjects. Preparing recognizes this, but eases children into it by only assigning a manageable amount of reading each day.  A part of history with just a few directions to follow, all of science, and all of reading become the student’s reading responsibility for the day.

These readings and directions are short, and they are on the student’s appropriate reading level, so they can feel success with this newfound independence.  The Self-Study History Package for the Newly Independent Reader, the Science Package, and a choice of either the Level 2 or Level 3 or Level 4/5 Boy/Girl Drawn into the Heart of Reading book packages comprise their reading for the year. But, what else is a notable change, you may ask?

Well, say ‘goodbye’ to 5 days of school each week, and say ‘hello’ to 4!

Bigger Hearts was laying the foundation, so 5 days a week was important.  But, Preparing Hearts takes 5 days of work and converts them to 4 days a week, so your child (and you) can have a day off to explore other interests (or to just do the laundry).  Hmm, we like that, right?  But, what else?

Well, say ‘goodbye’ to 1 day history activities, and say ‘hello’ to 3 day history projects!

History activities in Bigger Hearts were 1 day responses to the history readings.  In contrast, Preparing Hearts recognizes students need to learn to follow directions to complete multi-step projects from start to finish. (Project-based assessment is the spine of much of high school and college.)  Before you as a possible project-phobic parent want to throw in the towel, know that Preparing’s projects are never fluff.  They are connected to the history reading, and they are often the basis for multi-media history-based research.

Small increments of 15 minute segments are planned on Days 1-3 for students to step-by-step complete history projects directly related to their history. Every week is a different project, and every week they are done in 3 days. So no projects left out for weeks on end on your kitchen table, and no strange materials either.  An average kitchen and an average amount of typical art supplies are all you need.  But now you may be asking, if the history project is on Days 1-3 of the plans, what fills its place on Day 4? Written narrations – that’s what!

Say ‘hello’ to written narrations, but don’t say ‘goodbye’ to oral narrations – just take them up a notch!

Oral narrations were modeled and practiced previously, and children continue to hone those skills in Preparing.  Orally narrating on the read-aloud Storytime book was practiced in Bigger and is continued in Preparing.  Narrating on the Reading about History read-aloud is a new skill. Oral narrations are taken up a notch even further as children orally narrate on history readings they have read by themselves independently.  Likewise, children orally narrate on a totally new subject they also read by themselves independently – and that is science.

Finally, written narrations are introduced one day each week in response to the history read-aloud. But, as always, this skill is taught in a guided incremental way, so children can get off to a good start with it.  Plans let kiddos write narrations on smaller segments of the history read-aloud, with guided questions according to Bloom’s Taxonomyto get them started.  Simple step-by-step editing tips in the Appendix help make this transition even easier. Kiddos get off to a good start in written narrations, so they are sure to do well!

So, what else is added to Preparing Hearts, you may ask?

Well, creative writing lessons are added to Preparing Hearts in response to the classical poetry.  Likewise, the poetry study becomes more in-depth, focusing on the work of one poet, Robert Louis Stevenson (very Charlotte Mason-like).

The Poetry Study includes the following skills each week:
  • First Day: questions and discussion related to the meaning of the poem
  • Second Day: creative writing lesson based upon the poem’s style, content, pattern, or poetic devices
  • Third Day: personal connections with the poet and the poem
  • Fourth Day: suggested ways to share the poem with another person
  • *Each 12 week term: memorization of a previously studied Robert Louis Stevenson poem of the student’s choice
Other Noteworthy Changes

Other noteworthy changes to Preparing Hearts include the addition of history-based research using an encyclopedia.  This includes a specific topic to be researched, as well specific questions to be answered orally.  Geography quick-finds are included, and though they are matched nicely to the history, they are also matched nicely to typical state standards.  Comprehension questions must be answered each week for science, five questions to be exact, and they include the page number to locate the answer, as this is a new skill.

The Bible Study ‘grows up!’

Two days of Bible Study are led by the parent, but two days are practice for an independent Bible Quiet Time. Charlotte Mason’s Common Place Book is introduced. Instead of one Scripture verse being memorized, passages are being memorized, and further reflection and personal application are added, as well as the ACTS model of prayer. This is training for next year, when students will have daily Bible Quiet Time and parents will have Bible Study that is more in-depth.

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, let’s first check out the Bible layout of Preparing:
  • First Day : Discuss a portion of a Psalm using heartfelt questions that encourage students to read and reflect upon God’s word.
  • Second Day: Identify the mood and purpose of the Psalm, and pray about the Psalm.
  • Third Day: Have a personal quiet time filled with prayer and praise based on a portion of a Psalm.
  • Fourth Day: Copy the Scripture memory selection in a Common Place Book (Note: See the description of a Common Place Book in the “Bible Study” box of the plans for Day 4 in each unit.)

Everything else from Bigger just grows up a little more in Preparing

The 1-3 vocabulary cards in Bigger become 3-5 vocabulary cards in Preparing. Biblical connections  are just part of more and more in the plans. There are more timeline entries, longer readings, more mature topics, and longer dictation passages. Children do more diagramming and complete writing assignments in English, and they practice both cursive and print throughout the year.

Drawn into the Heart of Reading covers more difficult story elements, Godly character qualities, projects, and comprehension questions. Draw and Write Through History adds step-by-step drawing assignments. History and science notebooking assignments become more involved, as do science experiments.

In Closing…

Preparing has some of our favorite all-time books.  Grandpa’s Box partnered with Child’s History of the World – amazing!  I dare you not to cry when you finish the last reading of Grandpa’s Box. It made me long for my Dad’s storytelling and want to learn how to whittle (don’t ask about the whittling… you’ll understand once you read it).  It also made my kiddos see how God’s plans truly are best, even when we don’t fully understand them.

Last, it made me see how my role as a homeschool teacher and mom was changing.  I would not forever only read aloud, but instead I’d embrace new and exciting things my kiddos needed.  And though I thought I might not like that, I did.  In fact, I loved it, because I got to know my children better and better – their ideas, their hearts, and their dreams.  I hope you enjoy it too!

In Christ,


P.S.  You can check out our placement chart to see if Preparing Hearts… is a fit for your kiddos! If your child places better in Bigger Hearts…, check out this blog post by clicking here!

P.S.S. Click on each link below for Preparing Hearts...
P.S.S.S. New to HOD?  Check out our top ten questions!

Reading the guide’s “Introduction” is great preparation for the school year

Teaching Tip

Reading the guide’s “Introduction” is great preparation for the school year.

You may be beginning to turn your thoughts toward school. One of the best ways to prepare for the upcoming year is to read through your HOD guide’s “Introduction.” There is such a wealth of information in the “Introduction” that we should truly title it something else!

How does reading the “Introduction” help prepare you for the year?

The “Introduction” will give you a feel for how each area is handled in the guide and the goals for each subject. It will let you know what notebooks, binders, etc. are needed for each subject area. Reading the “Introduction” provides a great summary of what to expect for the coming year. The “Introduction” is the last part of the guide we write. In this way, we can be sure that it truly summarizes needed information for you in one place!

If you have students in different HOD guides, read only one guide’s “Introduction” each day.

If you will be teaching more than one Heart of Dakota guide, read the “Introduction” for different guides on different days. This will help you focus on one guide at a time and will keep you from getting overwhelmed.

Can you use the guide without reading the “Introduction?”

Of course you can skip reading the “Introduction” and just jump right in and teach. However, often when families do this they miss the big picture of the guide. They also miss out on some gems that are referred to in the “Introduction” and included in the Appendix.

So, let’s get started!

After more than 15 years of homeschooling my boys with HOD, I still read the “Introduction” at the start of my school year! So, grab a cup of tea or coffee, cuddle up with your highlighter, and read away. Just reading the “Introduction” will make you feel more prepared!


Top Ten Tips for Teaching Multiple Guides

All in the family!

Heart of Dakota Tidbit

All in the family!

Did you know that the children who are pictured on the front of Little Hearts for His Glory, Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory, Bigger Hearts for His Glory, and Preparing Hearts for His Glory are our boys? The beautiful girl who is pictured is our niece from Texas, Rachel.

Have a great weekend!

How do I prepare my dyslexic son who is an emerging reader for Preparing?

Dear Carrie,

My son is almost 9, and we are half-way through Bigger. We found out he was dyslexic about two years ago, and he STRUGGLES with reading. He did Beyond last year and loved it! The only thing we adjusted was the spelling. It was too much for him, so we didn’t do it. This year in Bigger, I have added the spelling, and he is doing better. He is doing the Emerging Readers Set in Bigger, and I have added All About Reading too. He does much better with the Emerging Reader’s Set because he is able to use the pictures to help decode.

That leads me to history. The history books in Beyond had a lot of pictures! The Bigger Hearts… history books don’t have many pictures. Having him rely solely on listening to the content has been difficult, as he’s dyslexic. So, I have been omitting much of the Bigger… history readings and supplementing with many picture books.

I have had to read everything out loud in Bigger. His favorite part In Bigger is the Storytime box. I got the Boy Interest set, and he has enjoyed them a great deal! However, Math is a struggle because he is dyslexic and cannot read his word problems. I started Heart of Dakota first with my daughter. I have already gone through Preparing with my daughter (and absolutely loved it!!) However, I don’t see my dyslexic son being able to do anything independently simply because he cannot read well. So, my question is how can I prepare my dyslexic son who is an emerging reader for Preparing?


“Please help me prepare my dyslexic son for Preparing”


Dear “Please help me prepare my dyslexic son for Preparing,”

Thanks so much for taking time to share about your son. It is so helpful to gain a better picture of what he is able to do!  I’d be happy to help answer your question about how your dyslexic son as an emerging reader can prepare for Preparing!  Reading issues aside, it isn’t uncommon for kiddos to find Bigger to be a step up in listening content and in writing. Bigger is purposefully meant to move kiddos toward listening to higher level books with fewer to no pictures. This is so they can practice the skills of comprehending without the aid of the illustrations.

Developing listening comprehension without the aid of illustrations is a skill that takes time.

Comprehending without the aid of illustrations is a process that takes time. Kiddos often are not good at this skill right away. Their attention can wander as listeners. Because of this, they may struggle in being able to remember much from the readings at first. However, as time passes, they get better and better at this important skill. It is encouraging that your son enjoys the Storytime read-alouds. This means he is headed in the right direction listening-wise! I also think you have your son accurately placed, and you have a good understanding of Heart of Dakota having used it with both your daughter and your son!

History read-alouds are more difficult than Storytime read-alouds.

As a general rule, history books that are more factual are more difficult than Storytime read alouds. So, I would encourage you at this point to move away from adding picture-style books to Bigger’s history.  Instead you can use the history read aloud books as scheduled… knowing this is another level of a skill that will take time to develop. Just keep in mind that it is a necessary stepping stone as he matures even further as a listener (and comprehension-wise), even though he is dyslexic and is an emerging reader.

Follow-up activities are specific to the history read-alouds, so changing the books makes it difficult to be successful with the assigned work.

The history readings in Bigger… have skill-based follow-up activities, timeline, vocabulary cards, art projects, poetry, etc. Since everything on the left side of the Bigger Hearts plans each day goes with the history reading, it is probably confusing not to have read the corresponding history reading which sets up the activities. So many skills are wound into the activities on the left side of the guide. Going forward it will be important to do what is in the plans so he gains the skills needed for Preparing Hearts. Many of the skills your son will be gaining are not reading-related. So, in spite of his reading difficulties, he will still need the skills wound within the Bigger plans. In fact, with dyslexic reading challenges, listening skills become all the more important!

Discontinuing supplementing will give your son time to focus on the skills in the guide, so he can keep progressing.

I would encourage you to stop the urge to supplement. This includes not doing 2 reading programs, which is more than likely fatiguing for him as he is dyslexic. Since he is having success with the Emerging Reader’s Set, I would continue with that.  Following the reading schedule and answering the oral comprehension questions will continue to move him along in both reading ability and comprehension. Give this at least 18 weeks to work on its own. Bigger is designed to build a huge array of skills that take time for kiddos to gain. Having done Bigger Hearts 4 times now with 4 very different sons, I can say that it is a slow burn that brings big results over time. You will see the fruit from Bigger in Preparing Hearts. It just takes time to reap what you sow.

Celebrate the progress your son is making in reading and try not to compare.

As far as your son’s emerging reading goes, it sounds like you are progressing in this area! It is not uncommon for kiddos to have difficulty when decoding multi-syllable words or for kiddos to struggle as they move to more words on a page and fewer pictures. So, take heart that your son is making good, steady progress. Often it is true that if you have an older sibling who was a natural reader first, then when a younger one struggles it seems all the more pronounced. We had this very scenario at our own house!! Also, remember that the difference between when boys and girls mature as readers and writers is also a factor. So, in looking at your son just try to focus on the forward motion he is making.

Make time for hearing and vision tests, and then encourage free reading time with easier picture books.

Be sure that both his hearing and his vision have been tested in the past year. That way you can rule out any concerns in either of those areas. Then, keep steadily plugging along with what is working for him in reading. For your son’s free reading time, be sure to allow him to read easier books with many pictures, comparable to the level of the Emerging readers. This will build his confidence and his enjoyment of reading. Kids often free read at a level or two below what they can really read, as they don’t want to work so hard to gain meaning.

It’s just fine for you to read aloud the math story problems for your son for now.

As far as the math story problems go, I would just read those aloud to your son. Since math is a time to be thinking about mathematical concepts, there is nothing wrong with reading the story problems aloud for him to aid in that process. I often read the math story problems aloud to my younger boys. That way they can focus on the math rather than on decoding the words before even getting to the problem.

Going half-speed in Bigger will give your son time to progress in all the skills needed to be ready for Preparing.

If you need to move to half-speed Bigger for awhile in order to do everything in the plans as written I would suggest that you do so. Just make it a goal not to move onto the next day of plans until you’ve done everything from the day before. Bigger is such a key teaching and learning year, it can be hard to make up for missing the rich set of skills wound within every box of plans if you fast forward past them.

It will also be important that your son does as much of the writing as he can that is in Bigger each day. So, if you have to slow down in order for him to do the written portions than I would definitely do so. Otherwise, if you rush forward without taking time for your son to gain needed skills, then each subsequent guide will have to be modified more and more until all you have left is a reading aloud program because the rest of the skills will all be too difficult.

Here are a few tips in regard to copywork, notebooking, and the reading of the books in Bigger!

As far as writing goes, you can write a sentence of the poetry copywork and have him write his own version right below yours. Then, you could do the rest of the copying for him with the goal of having him copy more as he is able. He can eventually move toward copying more as he is able. As far as the science lab and notebooking assignments, you could move toward having your son do a small portion of the writing in these areas and work up to eventually doing more. Just keep in mind that you are meant to be helping him with every part of Bigger and also that you are meant to be doing all the reading aloud. Then you can rest easier knowing you are doing exactly what you need to do by helping him along the way.

These few tweaks will help your son continue to move forward in Bigger so he can prepare for Preparing.

With just a couple of tweaks that I mentioned above, you can move forward in Bigger knowing you will be preparing your son for the next step up. One of our own sons struggled with reading too, and he has had slow but steady progress in this area. He is gaining every year! We did do Preparing at half-speed at first for awhile to help him grow into the guide before going full-speed with it. Remember that in Preparing, you are still reading aloud the history. It is just the Deluxe Package and science books that the child is reading. Slow and steady wins the race, so keep on with Bigger, and your son will be ready for Preparing!




How to Create a Charlotte Mason Timeline and Book of Centuries with Heart of Dakota

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Creating a Charlotte Mason Timeline and Book of Centuries

Children will need to have the sense that what they’re reading has a specific time when it happened before their collection of knowledge gets too vast. To do this, make a century table, something like a timeline chart only longer. To make one, divide a long sheet of heavy paper into twenty columns. Put the first century in the center and let the rest of the columns represent a century, either B.C. or A.D. Let the child write the names of people he reads about in the the century they belong to. At this point, children don’t need to focus on exact dates, but this simple table of the centuries will give the child a graphic memory of when things happened. He will have a panorama of events pictured in his mind in the correct order.
                                                                                                                      – Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason’s column timeline is part of Beyond Little Heart’s… and Bigger Heart’s history plans.
Charlotte Mason's column timeline in Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory
Charlotte Mason’s column timeline in Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory

Heart of Dakota begins with Charlotte Mason‘s suggestion for a column timeline in Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory and Bigger Hearts for His Glory. Children don’t really have a good grasp of the flow of history at that age. Seeing events in 50-100 year columns on a single or double page helps them better understand the flow of time. Prior to writing these guides, Carrie’s oldest son kept a separate timeline book for his beginning 5 years of schooling. He used cut and paste figures. Since then, we’ve found much greater retention and connection for younger kiddos when we switched to the method described here. Drawing and labeling the figures really helps cement the people and events in young children’s minds. It forces them to interact with the material more and makes it personal (and also very engaging to look at)!

A wall or accordion-style timeline is part of Preparing Hearts… history plans.
Wall timeline in Preparing Hearts for His Glory
Wall timeline in Preparing Hearts for His Glory

Next, we move into our one year overview of world history with Preparing Hearts for His Glory. We step the timeline up a level to either a wall timeline or an accordian-folded timeline. This also is designed to give a feel for the major events in the flow of history. It provides mental pegs for children to hang their history readings upon in the future. Children of this age are more invested in their timelines when they complete the work themselves. Doing it themselves means more to them because of the work it has taken them to produce the timeline.

A chronological continuous timeline using a 4-year cycle is part of Creation to Christ through Missions to Modern Marvels.
Chronological continuous timeline in Heart of Dakota's 4-year history cycle
Chronological continuous timeline in Heart of Dakota’s 4-year history cycle

Once we move to Creation to Christ, we begin a chronological flow to history using a 4-year cycle. At that point we do begin a continuous timeline, which will be added to each year. However, we do not do it in isolation but rather within a beautiful full-color Student Notebook. This adds depth to timeline entries by providing places for written narrations, copywork, sketches, and maps (alongside the timeline). Many history connections can be made, as the timeline book is not separated from the rest of the children’s work. The student adds a new section to the Student Notebook each year through each guide from CTC to MTMM. The result is one large beautiful volume completed over 4 years.

A Charlotte Mason-style Book of Centuries is kept as part of Heart of Dakota’s 4 years of high school.
Book of Centuries in Heart of Dakota's 4-year high school curriculum
Book of Centuries in Heart of Dakota’s 4-year high school curriculum

Finally, in high school students begin keeping a Book of Centuries.
Carrie researched and read much about Charlotte Mason’s version of a Book of Centuries. There is much to love about her approach. Heart of Dakota’s approach is similar to hers in some ways and a bit different in others. Our Book of Centuries has a two-page spread for each century. This is in keeping with Charlotte Mason (except earlier centuries are combined as there are less known dates to record).

The right side of each two-page spread includes horizontal lines to record entries.

The right side of each two-page spread has horizontal lines. Each line represents an increment of 5 or 10 years in the century. To record an event on the timeline, students first locate the correct century. Then, they write a word or phrase to represent the event on the correct line within that century. This allows students to see at a glance events that defined the century.

The left side of each two-page spread includes customized portrait/picture gallery images.

The left side of each two-page spread is a portrait/picture gallery of people/events from the century. Amy Pak’s beautiful hand-drawn timeline images and descriptions coincide with Heart of Dakota’s plans. A customized printable CD for each guide helps students make a special keepsake Book of Centuries through high school. This portrait gallery replaces Charlotte Mason’s version of the left side of the two-page spread. Her students were instructed to draw artifacts, clothing, and instruments from the century on the left page. While this is also a great visual for the century, as part of this assignment Charlotte Mason’s students regularly visited museums to sketch from the real artifacts. A luxury we don’t tend to have in our day to day homeschooling.

Charlotte Mason was not focused on memorizing exact dates but rather on comprehending the flow of time.

Carrie and I find it interesting that Charlotte Mason was not focused upon memorizing exact dates in which events occurred. Instead, she felt that comprehending a flow of time was more important. In thinking back, we memorized many historical dates through our high school and college years, and then promptly forgot them. It is interesting to note we still struggle to place things within a flow of time. We have little memory of what events or people share a century. We must continually refer to timelines to refresh our memory as to what happened when and what events proceeded others. Charlotte Mason’s reasoning and thoughts on the keeping of a Book of Centuries resonate with us! We are glad our children will have a different experience than us! Who knows?!? Maybe their Book of Centuries will be a reference tool for them for years to come? Or at the least, a lovely memory of years we spent together enjoying history Charlotte Mason-style through high school!