Each HOD guide has a pattern that becomes familiar.

Teaching Tip: 

Each HOD guide has a pattern that becomes familiar.

Each HOD guide is designed with a pattern that is meant to become familiar to your students. As the pattern becomes familiar, your students will know more clearly what is expected and what is required to complete assignments.

Knowing a guide’s pattern shortens work times.

Knowing the guide’s pattern and expectations helps your students do assignments in less time. As students move through the guide, the school day typically becomes shorter. This is simply because the students have gotten the routine down!

As the guide progresses, your days will flow better, be shorter, and require less of you.

If you are starting a new guide that seems a bit challenging right now, don’t lose heart! If your child is well-placed in his/her guide, you will see improvement as your child progresses through the year. Your days will flow better, be shorter, and require less of you. When you draw near to the end of your official “school year” you’ll be surprised at how “easy” the guide seems.

One benefit of the guide’s pattern is a shorter school day!

A shortened school day as the year progresses is a huge blessing. Often the shortened days come at a time when many teachers (and students) are running out of steam. To see my boys clipping through their day and knowing what is expected is a joy! I pray it will be a blessing to you to see your kiddos finish strong and confident as well!


Take time to set priorities!

Teaching Tip: 

Take time to prioritize.

Today’s teaching tip is all about priorities. If you’re like me, you might get a bit overwhelmed with the tasks that lie ahead in the coming school year. This is why it helps to set priorities before your year begins.

Define your main priorities for each child.

As you look at each child, define your main priorities for that child for the upcoming year. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds! Simply ask yourself which areas each child needs to work on the most. Then, pick one to three areas to focus on for the upcoming year.

What are some areas where a child might need help?

Through the years we’ve had a variety of areas in which our boys needed work. Sometimes we had a child who needed to strengthen reading skills. Other times a child needed work on math facts or being neater in math. Some years we focused on legibility in handwriting. Other years we focused on character issues. At times a child really needed to gain independence. Or, maybe studied dictation was an area needing attention. There were years where we needed to do better on projects and following directions. These are just a few areas we’ve worked on over the years. Hopefully, this list will get you thinking of areas where your child needs work.

Make a plan for how to focus on your priorities.

Once you’ve decided a few key areas where each child needs work, make a plan for how to focus on those areas. This can be as simple as committing to be by your child’s side as he/she works on a difficult subject. It can mean allowing an extra 10 minutes a day in your schedule to oversee or teach a tough area. Making it a goal to check your child’s work daily in a specific area is another way to achieve your priorities. Being willing to pause what you are doing to deal with character issues might be an option. Assigning a child who is strong in a subject to work with a child who is weak in that subject is another solution.

Be careful not to over-emphasize your priorities.

It is easy to think we need to major on our areas of priority. For example, if spelling is a priority, you may be tempted to rush out and buy a rigorous spelling program. Yet, the solution could be as simple as committing to doing studied dictation daily from the HOD guide. As you consider solutions, be sure not to add more work to what is already in the HOD guide. Otherwise, you will just add time to your day and neglect other key areas. Instead, let your HOD guide work for you!

Use your HOD guide as a tool to help you accomplish your priorities.

As you look at accomplishing your priorities, use your HOD guide as a tool to help you. Focus on a few key areas that will aid you in accomplishing your priorities. Maybe your child needs to read a certain assignment box aloud to you daily to focus on following directions. Perhaps your artistic older child does the projects with your less artistic younger child. Maybe you focus on legibility in handwriting every time a written narration comes up. Perhaps you work on independence in one key box of plans first and build on that. Or, maybe you commit to being present and helping with math.

Work on your priorities briefly each day.

Simply pick one or two times a day to work briefly on your priorities. Brief consistent work pays off. Try it and see if setting priorities helps you! You may be pleasantly surprised.


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

Teaching Tip:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Seven Things to Consider When Choosing a Start and End Date for Homeschooling

A Heart of Dakota Life

Scheduling Your Homeschooling Year with a Calendar

With Heart of Dakota, you can begin homeschooling at any time! Heart of Dakota does not link its plans to seasons, months, or days of the week.  So, your ‘start’ and ‘end’ of your homeschool year might be different than the more traditional mid-August to May school year. Our ‘start’ is usually in September after Labor Day. Usually our ‘end’ is at the end of May at the latest.  Whenever your ‘start’ and ‘end’ of the year may be, scheduling your homeschooling year with a calendar can help you keep the big picture in mind.

An overall pacing goal is to complete a Heart of Dakota guide each year. 

In general, an overall pacing goal can be to complete one Heart of Dakota each year. This keeps students steadily progressing in their homeschooling.  Taking calendar in hand and mapping out when approximately homeschooling will be done usually ensures we get it done.  I also take great satisfaction in knowing we are on track and steadily moving toward our finish date!  Or, if we are getting off-track, I can see our year will go longer, and that usually motivates me to get back on track.  It motivates my kiddos to stay on track too!  We love our homeschooling, but we love our summers off too!

You can use a calendar-at-a-glance when scheduling your homeschool year.

Although we don’t follow our public school’s schedule for homeschooling, I do like to use their calendar.  It fits on one piece of paper, and it has holidays noted (though not always by the name I call them as a Christian).  I print off the calendar and use a pencil to circle whatever I know we need to take off for the year.  This helps me map out the year in general, which gives me a better idea of when I need to start so I end when I want to end!

Seven Things to Consider When Choosing a Start and End Date for Homeschooling

There are seven things I think are helpful to consider when choosing a start and an end date for a homeschooling year.  I’m sure there are more!  But, at least for me, these are the biggies!

First, consider state standards for homeschooling.

It is always best to make sure you are meeting state standards when choosing your start and end date for homeschooling. You may need to do standardized testing at certain grade levels and times of the year, so this may impact your start and end date. It may be necessary to ‘report’ your homeschooling progress each year to a principal, an assigned mentor/teacher, or an umbrella school. You can check current state standards at HSLDA’s website.

Second, it is a good idea to consider your weather.

Weather can play a big role in when it is best to homeschool! Winters in South Dakota are lovely to see, but often it is best to view them from inside a warm home looking out a window!  So, we homeschool ‘hard’ through the winters.  Even if we are on ‘4 day a week guides,’ for example, we complete 5 days’ worth of plans during most of the winter. If you live in Florida or in Arizona, you might homeschool ‘hard’ through the hot, hot summers.

Third, jobs may impact homeschooling.

Jobs can really impact homeschooling.  Maybe your husband is in the military, maybe your husband travels, or maybe you have a part-time job as well. My husband travels a lot and is especially busy through pheasant hunting season, as he also guides.  I also travel to book fairs for my work at Heart of Dakota, so this is something to consider as well.

Fourth, travel plans effect homeschooling.

When you travel can really impact when you are able to homeschool. Though some homeschool families travel all the time and make it work very well, for many families travel happens more occasionally, which means ‘normal’ homeschooling is harder to do. Vacations, weddings, graduations, holidays, and business trips all should be part of the overall plan for homeschooling.  We often plan these things ahead of time, so adding them to the overall plan for the year just makes sense.

Fifth, sick days should be added.

Hopefully not many sick days will be needed, but planning ahead for them helps it not be such a surprise should you need them! Unplanned outings, such as my husband’s taking the boys fishing or hunting when the weather or his schedule cooperates are part of this as well.  I usually plan a cushion of 2 weeks for unexpected days we need to take off, and that has usually been enough.

Sixth, you might want to spread out your first week of plans over 2 weeks.

If you are new to Heart of Dakota and beginning multiple guides or upper guides, you might want to spread out your first week of plans. This can be as simple as taking 2 weeks to do 1 week’s worth of plans.  Yes, this will add a week to your homeschool year, but solid training of how to do the guide properly at the start helps your student get the most out of the guide for the entire year.

Seventh, pacing can be slowed to half-speed at the start if need be.

Especially if your child is on the youngest side of the target age range of a guide, if you start to find he/she needs more time to grow into it, you can always change to half-speed for awhile.  You would still homeschool on the days you’d planned to on your general calendar.  However, you’d just do the guide half-speed for awhile.  This can look many ways, but in general, half-speed just means taking 1 day’s worth of plans and spreading the boxes over 2 days.  Half-speed for awhile can be a nice “Plan B” pacing option.

Circle any dates on your year-at-a-glance calendar that fit the above 7 Biggies.

Once I’ve met with my husband, called my extended family, chatted with our kiddos, and considered my thoughts on the matter too, I pull out my calendar. I circle any dates I know we need or want to take off. From this, I could determine when we needed to start, so we could finish when I wanted to finish. For example, here are some dates I circled that we planned to take off this past homeschool year…

  • Aug. 30 – Sept. 3: family vacation
  • Dec. 8:  b-day for son
  • Nov. 13-17: boys deer hunt with Dad
  • Nov. 23: Thanksgiving hosted at my house
  • Dec. 15 and Dec. 22:  Fridays to Christmas shop and bake goodies
  • Dec. 25-28: Christmas vacation
  • Dec. 29-Jan. 2: travel to wedding in TX
  • Feb. 14:  Valentine’s Day
  • Mar. 8: b-day for son
  • Mar. 9: fishing with Dad while I’m at book fair
  • Mar. 26: b-day for son
  • Mar. 30: fishing with Dad
  • Mar. 13: fishing with Dad while I’m at book fair
  • May: overflow sick days as needed
In closing, I realize that life often does not always go according to plan.

Life does not always go according to plan, and I realize the best laid plans of man are not always the best plans.  Truly only God makes the ‘best’ plans.  However, we do have an orderly God, Who loves to make good plans for us. I have always found it best to try to display this character trait of His in my life by planning ahead the best I can for my homeschooling.  If it doesn’t go according to my plan, then His plan took over, and that’s all the better!  However, with a plan in hand, I can make homeschooling my children in a Godly way a priority, and I’ve always found He seems to honor that.  Happy planning, ladies!

In Christ,