Monday, September 3, 2012

Creating High School Literature Units

I love literature--I always have. So when my oldest reached 7th grade, I decided to forgo the literature book and start creating my own literature units. Now I did teach 8th grade English in a Christian school before I started homeschooling.  In my teaching experience, we used whole book studies more than literature book studies. That made it much easier taking what I had done before and putting together a book study in our homeschool.

You can go about studying literature in two different ways. You can buy or find free online a prepared study guide for the book you intend to study or you can create a study from scratch all on your own. (Go to Glencoe Literature for free study guides.) In my case, I might do one or the other depending on the book. But many times I do a little of both. I'll give you some tips here on how to go about doing this.

Picking Books for Study
For a high school study, choose a theme--something you could put on their transcript such as Ancient Literature, American Literature, British Literature, World Literature, etc. This year, we are studying American Government & Economics. When I went about putting his literature study together, I picked books that went with a study of government. For example, this year in addition to reading Fellowship of the Ring, we are reading The Epic of Gilgamesh, Oedipus Rex, Julius Caesar, Animal Farm and Pride and Prejudice. He is also learning literary analysis.

Setting up the Study
Once you have chosen the books to study, you have to figure out what to do in your study. Go to one of the online book study sites such as Sparks Notes online. Copy or download the background information they have listed for your book. For example: Context, plot overview, Character List, Analysis of Major Characters, Themes-Motifs-Symbols. Go over these with your student as you introduce the book. Then from Sparks Notes, copy/download the chapter by chapter summaries and analyses.

After your student reads through a chapter of the novel, you can go over the summary and the analysis together. As an assignment, you could have your student write a short paragraph or two summary (or written narration) of the chapter before going over the summary/analysis. Enjoy these sessions with your student and try to bring out some great discussion between you and your teen. You could have them complete a quick reading quiz after each chapter  or a couple quizzes throughout the novel. I do not believe the quizzes are all that necessary but if you want your student to be used to taking quizzes especially pop quizzes go ahead and throw a few into the study.

Advice on Shakespeare

I do advise when studying Shakespeare to go ahead and purchase the Cliff's Complete version of the play you are studying. Go through the text with your student. The Cliff's Complete will explain historical references, Latin phrases, puns, Elizabethan phraseology, etc. as you read the text of the play. It makes deciphering Shakespeare so much easier. I would also advise if your student has had no background in Shakespeare to first read The Tales of Shakespeare by the Lambs. This will give them an understanding of the plot before they read it in the original format. And most importantly, watch the play being performed either live, movie or a recorded play. Shakespeare was meant to be watched not read.

Final Assignment
Continue going through the novel as described above. At the end, prepare a final assignment. Be creative and choose something to test your students knowledge of the material but take into account your student's strengths. For example, after reading Oedipus Rex, they could write a comparison paper between Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith and Oedipus Rex. After reading, The Hobbit, they could write a paper showing Bilblo going through the Hero's Journey. If your student, isn't a writer give them a different type of final assignment. A project maybe or something more hands-on.

In the end, make the study meaningful and memorable. Enjoy this time with your teen. You are doing more than studying a book; you are making memories.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Beefing up HOD Beyond for a 3rd Grader

Originally, I had intended to use Bigger for my 3rd grader this year. This is our first year with Heart of Dakota so after some thought and prayer I decided to go with Beyond and move into Bigger in 4th and Preparing in 5th. That way we wouldn't be in CTC until 6th grade. I also made this choice because I didn't think he was ready for the writing aspect and the more Charlotte Mason style of narrating required in Bigger. But in doing so, I knew I would have to make some changes since he would be at the higher end of the guide. Here are the additions I've made to the curriculum.

Bible Study/Music:

The HOD Bible study and audio CD are great. My son learned the Bible verse with no problem. I did make him a Bible verse puzzle. We did it on Day 3 & 4 which really aided memorization. The great part is how the Bible integrates with all the other subjects.

In addition to the curriculum, I added more songs to Bible time and a read aloud to each day. Monday: Children Demand a Verdict, Tuesday: Egermeir's Bible Story, Wednesday: Morning Bells (part of HOD), Thursday: Great Treasure Quest, Friday: Is the Bible Personally from God. We also use the Bible verse copy work that I made at We do this M-TH. If you have a student who hates to write, only make them write one sentence a day but in their very best writing. If, on the other hand, your student loves writing, you can have them do the whole verse each day or a couple times a week.


At this point in history, I have not added any text to the already great texts used in HOD. In fact, the American Pioneers and Patriots book (Christian Liberty Press) is a 3rd grade book & Stories of the Pilgrims is a 4th grade level book. In my opinion (as someone with a history degree and a previous middle school teacher), most of these readings are on a higher level than a 1st or even a 2nd grader will completely understand. They may sit for it and be able to narrate back some of what they learned but a 3rd grader really will gain more from these readings than a younger child would. If I do add more to the readings, it will be Light and the Glory for Children and the other 2 subsequent books. We do the history activity as written each week. Make sure not to miss it.

I have added some history worksheets to our week. Someone created and posted history note booking pages for Beyond in the HOD yahoo group. They are a great review and assessment of what was read all week. I will give this either on Thursday or Friday. They can be found at:


We have really been enjoying the geography in HOD and do every activity. Geography is only offered once a week which I think is just a enough in these early elementary years. For the 3rd grader, I have added Map Skills published by Instructional Fair (Carson Dellosa). It is a very inexpensive book and my son loves doing them. (We did the 1st and 2nd grade book last year.) We just do one page a day on the same Geography day in the HOD plans. We also include extensive use of the globe and as we move more into the United States we will use the US map and be learning the placement of the states and learn the capitals. 

Poetry & Rhymes:

We follow the poetry lesson plans closely to how they were written. I see the weekly poetry as exposure not mastery. Some of those poems would be hard to memorize in a week. If it is a long poem, we focus more on the first stanza though I will read through the other stanzas periodically. For doing the poem copy work, a HOD mom has made up some copy work pages. It can also be found in the HOD yahoo group files section. For the 3rd grader, you could have them write an entire stanza each day or the entire poem depending on their writing ability. For my 3rd grader we usually do one line a day and focus on one stanza.


The science exploration lessons and experiments have been a hit with my son. He is very excited when it is a science day. We follow the lessons as written, but I have included doing a lab sheet when we have an experiment. This is great preparation for middle school/high school science. Another HOD mom has prepared these sheets and are available in the HOD yahoo group files under Beyond. I have added Apologia Zoology 1 into our week. We do it twice a week. However, we do not do all the experiments and activities in Apologia as it would be far too much work for my guy in addition to the HOD Science and lab reports. Get additional books from the library on the topics your child seems most interested.


We follow the art section as written. I really love how these activities are incorporated into the week and integrates with the rest of the weekly lessons. In addition to the art activity, we might add an art project from Abeka Art Projects on Fridays. Once a week, we do a few pages from How Great Thou Art curriculum using I Can Do All Things. I tried using this curriculum with my son when he was 6 and in 1st grade. He hated it! Now he is really enjoying it which shows how we need to be in tune with our children's likes and abilities and be ready to make changes as needed.


My older son started studying Latin last year and my younger one sat in on the classes and watched the videos too. He did learn a little, but I was more interested in exposure for him. This year,  the 3rd grader is using Prima Latina (the 9th grader is using Visual Latin). We are taking it slow doing it twice a week and going through a lesson every two weeks. He's picking it up and doing great with it. We will continue with this same book in the 4th grade. I would not consider doing this program earlier than 3rd grade.


For storytime, we don't necessarily pick a book from Carrie's list. It is not that we dislike the choices (quite the contrary), but we may not have the book or be able to get to the library to pick one up. We just pick a book from the same genre and it works great. At the beginning of the lessons, it is a biography. We read a book on Benjamin Franklin. We finished it in 9 days. So we started a second book on Sacagawea. We will have it finished before moving on to the next genre. We follow the lessons plans and I write in a composition notebook his answers to the questions in the lesson plans or his oral narrations. He can draw pictures in there too which go with his book.

Language Arts:

We do not follow the Language Arts lesson plans as we have other curriculum that works well for us. For spelling, we use All About Spelling and for grammar First Language Lessons. In addition, we use Abeka Language 2 book for writing and some worksheets for the struggling reader. If you use the curriculum suggested by HOD, start using Rod and Staff grammar in 3rd grade and do the higher level spelling lists at the back of the Beyond manual. Keep a list of words your student misspells in his writing during the week and learn those as well.

Handwriting is covered in the copy work we do in other subjects. He just has to understand that the copy work isn't busy work or just a way to learn his poem or Bible verse. It is to practice his handwriting. So, he needs to take his time and do his very best handwriting. We decided to hold off on learning cursive writing until his printing is better. We used Handwriting Without Tears last year which was great. And next year for teaching cursive, we will be using Cheerful Cursive. Other 3rd graders might be ready for cursive this year.


We do not follow the mathematics recommendation of Singapore math. We use Math-U-See. My son is in the Gamma level this year learning multiplication.  He also practices his math facts using several different means. Spend this year getting math facts cemented and use a math program that works best with your child's learning style at their own particular level which does not have to match their grade level.


My son is an emerging reader even in 3rd grade. He has a medical eye issue that required surgery. He is finally able to use his eyes together and focus. His reading development has been slower than average but he is still doing great and he should catch up this year. We follow the emerging reader schedule but not faithfully. In addition, to the emerging readers we still practice our Abeka phonics charts and read out of another additional book along with the Emerging readers. He does some worksheets for the struggling reader as well. If you have a 3rd grade independent reader, put them into DITHOR. I would wait to put a student in DITHOR before 3rd grade. If you have an independent 1st or 2nd grader, have them read books from the 2/3 list and let them narrate, but I wouldn't put the stress on them into starting DITHOR before they are ready.

I hope this helps those of you attempting to use Beyond with an older student. Feel free to leave questions on the blog or email me privately.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

HOD Beyond Week 1

This was the big week we were waiting for--our first week using Heart of Dakota. I'm happy to report that our week went smoothly and we had a lot of fun too. I've had to add to Beyond because I am using it with a 3rd grader (Comedian R) but I still think it is a good fit for my guy. There will be a later post on how to beef up Beyond for a 3rd grader.

In storytime, HOD begins reading a Biography. To introduce that a biography is a book on a person's life, they have the students go to their room and pick 5 items that tell more about them. My son picked out an American flag because he is an American, green shamrock beads because green is his favorite color, a Superman figure because he wants to be a superhero when he grows up, a Lego Ninjago figure as he loves playing legos, and a rubber lizard just because he likes it. We are reading a biography on Benjamin Franklin. The Story of Benjamin Franklin: Amazing American by Margaret Davidson. You don't have to use the title suggested in the curriculum. It just has to be a biography. All the activities and questions are generalized to work with any biography.

In history, we learned about the Spanish pioneers as they crossed the Atlantic on their way to settle St. Augustine in Florida. In geography, the curriculum says to make an outline of the world with masking tape. I just got out my large laminated world map which worked great pointing out the continents. In this picture Comedian R is jumping on one foot from each continent that I call out.

In science this week, we learned about ocean currents and whale blubber. Here he is with his paper boat making currents with a small dropper. By the way, the dropper was too small and the index card boat became water logged too soon. We got out a small plastic boat and used a turkey baster to make the current and we sailed the boat around the bathtub.

In Beyond, you start building a timeline. The curriculum suggests taking a piece of paper and creating a grid of centuries and then drawing a picture for each point on the timeline. Instead, I had this drawing paper and decided to make a more longitudinal timeline.  Comedian R is not an artist and does not like drawing pictures. So, when we can, we will find pictures to put on the time line. His brother (Creative C) helped him with the fort drawing on the timeline this week.

The last activity of the week (Day 5), we were to make a coat of arms. As it happens, I will be teaching a class on medieval times in co-op this semester so I had a book just on coat of arms. I took some thin cardboard and traced an outline of the shield. We cut it out and then traced the shield outline on the piece of construction paper. Then cut that out and glued it to the cardboard. Using just water colors we used stencils to make the figures to create the coat of arms. We glued an empty toilet paper roll on the back for a handle.

We also had a breakthrough this week. My guy tied a shoe for the first time. FINALLY! Admittedly, I haven't had him work on this as much as I should as he doesn't wear laces in his shoes at this point. Overall, it was a great week.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Setting up Workboxes for the New School Year

Last year I set up our workboxes and wrote about it last fall. This year I knew I wanted to use the workboxes but with some improvements. Attending Sue Patrick's seminar really gave me some ideas.

For my elementary student, I used the traditional workbox system using the shoe rack and shoe boxes. This is the same set up that I used last year.

This is what I did different this year. First, just like Sue suggested, I made him a way to 'clock-in & clock-out.' It seems silly and a waste of time but the younger kids really like it. If it gives them a reason to be excited to start school each morning, then that is something to utilize. My son really does enjoy 'clocking in and clocking out.' He even does it on the weekends when he is doing chores. You can use anything to make these. I just took a letter size envelope and cut it to look like a pocket. Then I laminated it. Using an exacto knife, I opened the slit. For his time card, I printed it on card stock and then laminated it.

Last year, I had a chart where he put the numbers after finishing the box. This year I decided to make the strips. It tells him what box to work on, when to take a break, do activities, play instrument, do lunch, etc.

When he is finished with a box, he places the completed label on the box. This is different than Sue Patrick suggests. In her book, she says to place everything back into the box and then stack them beside the students desk or with younger students put all the boxes into a large rubbermaid container. To me this just wastes time. I usually use a lot of the same materials everyday. So it makes sense to place everything back into the box and replace the box on the shelf for tomorrow.

I am pretty much doing the same thing with my high school student. He uses magazine files on his book shelf instead of the shoe rack. This fits into his room and works much better for an older student. I am using the strips with him too. Works great!

We have also started doing Centers which is another part of Sue Patrick's system. I will explain better how I have i instituted that in another post.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Re-visting the Workbox System Part I

Last August just before we started our new school year, I decided to give the Workbox system a try. I even wrote three posts about workboxes which you can find below (fall 2011). It's a great organizational system and I highly recommend it. Now I could have said that last year just from reading the different Workbox blogs. So what is different this year? Why am I revisiting the Workboxes? Well, because I actually got to meet Sue Patrick and attend one of her seminars.

What I found out by attending one of her seminars is that the Workbox system is not just an organizational system; it is a whole new way of presenting information. Sue Patrick came up with this idea because she had a severely autistic child. She used this system to begin teaching him basic things at the age of 12-18 months and on to the present at 17-years-old where he is a regular high school student with a drivers license and taking a Senior's course of study. Although, as Sue has said, if you only use the workboxes to organize your current curriculum, you will already be better better organized, the kids will work more independently and you will get more done in less time. But don't you want to do even more for your kids?

Sue made a statement that I just loved: "Don't asses them on their weaknesses but on their strengths." For example, if you have a reluctant writer (and in my case my son is dysgraphic) then don't put the majority of his assessment on writing. And that is exactly what the traditional school system does in testing our kids. So with the Workbox system, Sue is trying to get homeschool parents/teachers to think outside the box and be creative in finding ways to assess/teach our kids. In doing so, we not only assess our students more accurately but they too have a much better time with school and end up learning and liking it so much more.

In her seminar and book, Sue goes through how to improve your current curriculum to work better for your student. She shares what to put in your 'Centers' time which will reinforce learning and assist in assessment. I've taken her ideas and applied them to my own homeschool with my 3rd grader and 9th grader this year. In Part II, I will share a couple of those ideas.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Helpful Resource: ICR Education

Homeschool Teachers, if you are not signed up with ICR (Institute for Creation Research) go ahead and do it today. You will receive their two free periodicals, Acts & Facts and Days of Praise. They They also have some more education related resources. There are science curriculum supplements called Science Education Essentials (available for purchase), a new education blog hosted by Dr. Rhonda Forlow, and an online video program called Thats a Fact.

Monday, July 30, 2012

My Reasons for Switching to Heart of Dakota

I am a curriculum junkie, I admit it. I've tried lots of them. I'm subscribed to the different curriculum review boards and I love looking at new curriculums. In January, I usually begin figuring out what we will use the next year. We never use exactly what we used the previous year; although, I do seem to be nailing down what works best for us...finally--after 8 years of homeschooling!

This year I looked into using a more prepared curriculum for my youngest son who will be in the 3rd grade this coming year. We contemplated My Father's World for about two months. In fact, I was just weeks away from making my order. Then on a whim, I decided to go check out Heart of Dakota because I had heard that the two curriculums were similar. Within a couple hours of looking, reading and spending time on the message board; I made a complete turn around on my curriculum decision. We are going to use Heart of Dakota.

A couple months ago, I was at our local homeschool book store and I noticed a couple with some Heart of Dakota curriculum and they were trying to figure out some things. I thought I'd be helpful (I do try to do that when I can) and spoke to them about HOD. Since I've been homeschooling for so long and am now switching to HOD, they wanted to know my reasons why. The bottom line is (drum roll)--this curriculum does what I always try to do except it's even better.

Here are my reasons for switching to Heart of Dakota:
1. The philosophy of HOD matches my philosophy (mostly). You won't find a curriculum that is 100% perfect, but that is what's so great about homeschooling. You can change it to make it work. It mostly follows a Charlotte Mason philosophy mixed with a Unit Study focus.
2. It is obvious that the author, Carrie Austin, has experience both in the classroom and homeschool. She has a masters in education and you can tell by the way she put this program together that she knows what she's doing.
3. It is going to make my life a whole lot easier because most of the planning is already done. All I have to do is put together my Language Arts and Math lessons (since we use something different than the HOD recommendations) and any additional elective-type classes like Latin.
4. I love the book choices. They were books I would choose. When I look at the book choices of My Father's World and even SonLight, my choices fell more in line with HOD. (Of course, some book choices coincide with all three of these companies.)
5. The Biblical philosophy is apparent throughout the curriculum. It isn't just included in a separate Bible class but is integrated throughout all the subjects.
6. For me this year, the price was right. I had a lot of the books already and the rest I can get at the library. Mainly, I had to get the teacher's manual. The few books I decided to purchase I got with a couple gift cards that I had.
7. The way subject matter within the lessons all flow together so seamlessly from subject to subject as the learning is extended (unit-study style) is phenomenal.
8. It just looks fun. My 8-year-old is going to have a great time with this curriculum.

This Fall my 3rd grader will be using Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory. This level is recommended for ages 6-8. My guy will be 8 most of this year and so falls into this level no problem. I could have placed him in Bigger Hearts for His Glory but decided to wait. Since this is a new curriculum and style for him I knew it would be best to hold off. He isn't big on writing yet and he is reading at slightly below level due to a medical eye condition. I think Beyond will work great with him in conjunction with the extras I've thrown in there. This year I plan to blog about our adventures with HOD so stay tuned.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Learning to Love Discipline

I find with my boys that they hate discipline as they take it very personally. Most of the time it is more like correction than anything else. They aren't in trouble; I am not upset with them and yet it is like the end of the world. Today in reading my Bible, I came to Proverbs 12:1--Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (ESV) In all truth, no one really likes to be corrected; but as illustrated in this verse, we learn from discipline. And the true goal of the disciplinarian is that those under their care learn to self-discipline. I pray today that my children learn to love discipline that it will bring them to knowledge.

This past week, my husband and I have been discussing making a chore chart for the kids and starting this new school year right--not only academically but spiritually (which I will get to in another post) and also diligently--more discipline. So today I typed up a chart with their daily and weekly chores. We sat the boys down and went over it together. Needless to say, they were not thrilled to learn about MORE chores and less game time but honestly we weren't asking for much. We will just keep on with the discipline and pray that in time they recognize the knowledge they have gained.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

I've been involved in a lot of recipe exchanges this summer between different mom groups and homeschool groups. The great thing is that my cooking has been infused with exciting new delicacies. I know the men in my household have enjoyed it. And I have become more enthusiastic to cook than I had been for the last several months.

One of the recipes I tried was for chicken pot pie. I've never made my own pot pie before, but I've always meant to try. This is a very easy recipe that does NOT include making your own crust--although, I'm sure you could and it would be even yummier. I tweaked the recipe a little and it turned out great.

2 (9") deep dish pie crust--thawed. (in frozen section of grocery store) You need a bottom and a top.
2 cups cooked chicken cut into pieces
Mixed vegetables (either a 15 oz can or frozen) drained
a few cooked potatoes cut up (use the microwave)
1 (10.75 ounce) can of condensed cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
a tablespoon of dried rosemary (this is a key ingredient)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. Thaw the pie crusts or bake fresh.
3. Precook the chicken.
4. In a bowl, combine all the other ingredients together and then add the cooked and diced chicken.
5. Pour the mixture into the pie crust. Place the other pie crust on top of the filled pie. Seal the edges together and poke holes in the top crust to vent.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

This will serve 4-6 people.

To keep the calories and fat content down, make sure to use lean chicken breast, 98% fat free cream of chicken soup, and fat free milk. It's still just as delicious.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Planning for Next Year—Preparing for High School

Summer is the time when all of us teachers—home and traditional—get ready for the next year. Honestly, I usually start planning in January but this year I actually started researching curriculums and such in November. I suppose part of it is that we will begin high school next year. How is that possible? It seems only yesterday that we started our homeschooling journey with a 1st grader and a baby. Next year they will be in 9th and 3rd grades.

At this point, I've picked my curriculums and I have just been getting my yearly lesson planning done. I did this last summer and it was a lifesaver during the school year. We had a lot of disruptions to our school year last year and it was great to be able to go back to the plans, see where we left off, and go from there.

Of course, this year is different because I'm not just planning for one school year but essentially for the four years of high school. I need to be sure to a certain extent that what I am doing this year will lead into what credits we need for the sophomore year and so on until we graduate. That has been more of a struggle. And it seems as soon as I have something settled in my head of what we are going to do that I lose confidence in that idea and try something else. It has been exhausting and we haven't even started yet.

Thankfully I have everything set. Most of my curriculum is purchased and most of that is also planned. In about five more weeks we start our next year and the next great adventure. I'm looking forward to it...I hope they are too.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Blueberry Picking

Since moving to NC, we have wanted to do some fruit picking in the spring and summer. It's very agricultural around here and we were always hearing about the great fruit picking. Finally last weekend, the pastor's family at our church invited us to go blueberry picking with them. Interestingly, the blueberry farm was only about 5 miles from our house. So we are definitely planning to go back in a couple weeks.

We only picked one full basket worth of blueberries. And we used every one of them. We of course ate them right out of the container. But I also baked a blueberry pie with a crumb topping. I made blueberry muffins twice (2 different recipes). My husband made us blueberry pancakes one morning. And last night I made a blueberry-pineapple smoothie. It's been such fun trying new things with these huge, fresh blueberries. I can't wait to go back and get some more.