The Heart of Dakota program is a comprehensive, Charlotte Mason oriented curriculum in 12 volumes that can be used for preschool through high school. Many of the courses can be extended to cover older students by using additional resources; schedules for those resources are in an appendix in those books.
Titles and grade levels covered are:
- Little Hands to Heaven, ages 2-5
- Little Hearts for His Glory, ages 5-7
- Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory, ages 6-8
- Bigger Hearts for His Glory, ages 7-9 (extending to ages 10-11)
- Preparing Hearts for His Glory, ages 8-10 (extending to ages 11-12)
- Hearts for Him Through Time: Creation to Christ, ages 9-11 (extending to ages 12-13)
- Hearts for Him Through Time: Resurrection to Reformation, ages 10-12 (extending to ages 13-14)
- Hearts for Him Through Time: Revival to Revolution, ages 11-13 (extending to ages 14-15)
- Hearts for Him Through Time: Missions to Modern Marvels, ages 12-14 (extending to ages 15-16)
- Hearts for Him Through High School: World Geography, ages 13-15 (extending to ages 16-18)
- Hearts for Him Through High School: World History, ages 14-16 (extending to ages 17-18)
- Hearts for Him Through High School: U.S History I, ages 15-17 (extending to twelfth graders)
- Hearts for Him Through High School: U.S History II, ages 16-18
In this review, I will cover the series up through the Hearts for Him Through Time courses. I review the high school courses in a separate review.
The courses are biblically based and are written from a Protestant point of view. While this is obvious in the bible lessons, it also underlies history, science, and other subjects.
Each volume is a one-year curriculum, divided into 33 to 35 units, each of which will take one week to complete. The large book for each course is your primary resource. It lays out daily lesson plans that really cover everything that you need for that level! The subject areas covered and the amount of emphasis upon each vary from volume to volume as is appropriate for each level. Instructions for learning activities are written out in each book.
While some of the activities at lower levels for math and grammar direct you in the use of other resources, at upper levels most of the math and grammar is learned through other resources. Read-aloud assignments also rely upon other books.
In every volume, each daily lesson plan is divided into two parts: Learning the Basics and Learning through History. Each subject area is presented in a box with between nine and twelve boxes per daily lesson plan. This makes it very easy to see what needs to be done for each area. Lessons begin with history each day. The Learning through History parts of the lesson on the left-hand page are designed like a unit study. Daily assignments for history tell you which pages to read in the history book or Bible storybook (or your own Bible) and the key idea upon which to focus. That key idea is also incorporated in Bible, art, thinking skills, science, or some of the other lessons for that day. Learning the Basics activities on the right-hand page don’t necessarily relate to the theme, but they cover language arts, math, and other necessary subjects. For all subject areas, specific pages (tracks in the case of audio CDs) are assigned in each day’s lesson plans for the other required resources. This is a huge time saver.
The guides from Bigger Hearts for His Glory and up require a separate set of student notebook pages. These are printed in full color and are not reproducible, so a set will be needed for each student. These pages include map work, graphic organizers for students to complete, plus space for writing assignments.
Beginning with Bigger Hearts for His Glory, extension resources and activities are listed so that you can accommodate older learners and teach more than one child the same subject matter, at least part of the time. Reading schedules are included in an appendix in each volume rather than within the lessons.
Author Carrie Austin says that completing all of the activities should take about 1½ hours a day for Little Hearts, 2 to 2½ hours per day for Beyond Little Hearts, and about 3½ hours per day for Bigger Hearts. It becomes much more difficult to predict time requirements for upper-level volumes. This is because students do more independent work and you will be making a number of choices depending upon the needs of each student. Although the assumption is that you will complete all subject areas each day, you will find that skipping a subject now and then won’t cause lasting harm, particularly in the first three volumes.
Science experiments and activities are included in all volumes, and you are referred to other books for additional science reading at each level. Science notebooking assignments are added beginning with Bigger Hearts, while recording data and observations with lab work are added at upper levels. In the elementary grades, science focuses on fewer topics per year than we typically find in textbooks, but science lessons do a great job of covering those topics interestingly and in-depth with plenty of observation and experimentation.
For the youngest levels, hands-on math activities are given in the manuals, then assignments are made from Singapore Math books at the appropriate level. Upper elementary through junior high levels drop the hands-on activities for math but continue to provide Singapore Math schedules. Math assignments are very specific with alternative page assignments at the back of the book for the different levels of Singapore Math books that you might be using. (You can substitute another math program if you prefer.)
Little Hands to Heaven
Little Hands to Heaven serves as a preschool program teaching letters, sounds, numbers, pre-reading and pre-math skills, music, art, and Bible—all with lots of physical movement and hands-on activity.
Little Hearts for His Glory
In Little Hearts for His Glory, the subjects and skills covered are history, Bible, storytime, science, phonics, math, art, dramatic play, music, thinking skills, and both fine and gross motor skills. History readings come from the Christian Liberty Press (CLP) books History for Little Pilgrims and History Stories for Children as well as a Bible storybook. Children learn a great deal of Bible history and U.S. history with brief introductions to a few other people and events.
Minimal instruction is given for phonics within Little Hearts. Instead, suggestions are made for the number of pages or lessons per day to complete in Reading Made Easy, Sound Bytes Reading, or The Reading Lesson. You may also use another phonics program of your choice.
Appendices in Little Hearts include a list of optional literature supplements for each of the 34 units and a “Rhymes in Motion” section with rhyming songs that incorporate large muscle movements. Math specifies assignments from either Essentials Kindergarten Math A & B or Primary Mathematics 1A &1B (both courses are from Singapore Math). Among the other resources that you need are some storybooks, Rod and Staff preschool workbooks, a handwriting book from either the Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting series or A Reason for Handwriting series, and the appropriate Christian Liberty Press science text for kindergarten, first or second grade.
Beyond Little Hearts
Beyond Little Hearts covers history, Bible, devotions, geography, timeline, art, science, poetry from classic poets, grammar, spelling, literature study with read-aloud books, math, and music. The overall plan is very similar to Little Hearts, but the level of difficulty and time required for each subject are greater.
Required history resources include three CLP titles with an early American history theme. “Poetry and Rhymes” appendices in both this and the Bigger Hearts volumes present one poem for each unit.
Beyond Little Hearts offers reading plan options depending upon whether a child is a beginning, emerging, or independent reader. For beginners, either Reading Made Easy or The Reading Lesson is recommended. For emerging readers, there is a substantial appendix with a very detailed, annotated list of books that gradually increase in difficulty, plus a schedule suggesting exactly which pages to read on which days. For independent readers, you are directed to use Drawn into the Heart of Reading. Spelling lists (two for each unit) are found at the back of the book along with an annotated bibliography of storytime read-aloud books that correlate with each unit. Copywork and beginning grammar are also included within language arts coverage.
Bigger Hearts for His Glory
Bigger Hearts for His Glory again advances in difficulty and skill levels as well as in the time required for lessons. While each day’s lesson is still presented on two pages, there are now ten boxes per day with a smaller font size used to fit more information. Bigger Hearts covers history, biblical character traits, history, timeline activities, art, geography, math, hymns, English, spelling, vocabulary, and classic poetry. It has literature study plans for read-aloud books. For science, students learn from real books and experiments, responding with oral narrations and the creation of a science notebook. Options for teaching cursive handwriting are included.
For English, lesson plans are included for your choice of two levels of Rod and Staff's English courses: Preparing to Build: English 2 or Beginning Wisely: English 3.
The study of American history continues up through the 1970s using more of a biographical approach. A separate set of full-color notebooking pages is used to reinforce history and geography. These gorgeous notebooking pages promise to make the notebooking assignments easier than before since students get to work on pre-printed pages rather than from scratch.
As with Beyond Little Hearts, there is a detailed schedule of reading for emerging readers that gradually increases in difficulty. For independent readers, you are directed to use Drawn into the Heart of Reading: Level 2/3. Other resources are referenced, but they are not absolutely essential.
Dictation passages, spelling lists, and suggested read-aloud titles are found in the appendices. The read-aloud books are much more than supplemental bedtime stories. These are carefully correlated with the rest of the program to cover different genres of literature and to teach story elements, character traits, and narration skills.
Preparing Hearts for His Glory
Preparing Hearts for His Glory adds beginning research skills and guided written narrations. For Bible, students study and memorize the Psalms with the aid of musical selections from a CD. History and geography stretch from creation to the end of the twentieth century using A Child’s History of the World along with other resources. Science studies correspond loosely with history studies. For example, the study of the stars correlates with reading about the magi mentioned in the Bible as well as with the study of ancient civilizations where astronomy played an important role. For science, students read biographies of Columbus, da Vinci, and Einstein. Students are expected to do more independent study at this level than at younger levels. Reflecting increased emphasis on academics, Preparing Hearts for His Glory has weekly science experiments with notebooking, questions, and narration activities.
Hearts for Him Through Time: Creation to Christ
Hearts for Him Through Time: Creation to Christ follows the same layout, expanding student research skills and building independent reading and self-study into lessons for all students. Self-study assignments include reading, listening to audio CDs, written assignments, projects, timeline activities, copywork, map work, drawing, and more. Science continues with weekly experiments and notebooking while adding written lab sheets that help students comprehend the scientific process. Science addresses living things with Exploring Creation with Zoology 3, Exploring the History of Medicine, Plant Life in Field and Garden, and other resources. Creation to Christ covers both ancient and biblical history using resources such as Genesis: Finding Our Roots, The Story of the Ancient World, both Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome from the Streams of History series, and A Child’s Geography Vol. II.
Hearts for Him Through Time: Resurrection to Reformation
Hearts for Him Through Time: Resurrection to Reformation continues to move students toward more independent learning. This level also turns attention toward becoming a Godly young man or woman with a biblical Christian worldview. To that end, it leads students in a study of Philippians along with either Boyhood and Beyond or Beautiful Girlhood. History study uses a distinctly Christian approach to cover the period from the Resurrection through the Reformation. Earth science is the theme for science studies with different options available depending upon which books have been used in previous years.
Hearts for Him Through Time: Revival to Revolution
Hearts for Him Through Time: Revival to Revolution begins with the mid-1700s and continues through the 1900s. While it covers some world history, U.S. and church history dominate. Optional study of the 50 states is included. Science highlights inventors and physical science, and an advanced option for science is offered. Some of the key resources are George Washington’s World, The Story of the Great Republic, The Growth of the British Empire, Who Is God? And Can I Really Know Him?, What in the World? Vol. 3, The Story of Inventions, and Four American Inventors.
Hearts for Him Through Time: Missions to Modern Marvels
Hearts for Him Through Time: Missions to Modern Marvels covers the 1890s through modern times. In this volume, U.S. history is interwoven with world history along with stories of Christian heroes and modern missions. A President Study and an optional Individual State Study are included. Science topics focus on an introduction to chemistry as well as on creation versus evolution from a Christian viewpoint. Additional math options with schedules are provided for students who have already completed the sixth level of Primary Mathematics.
I like the way Carrie Austin has combined elements of unit study, living books, and textbooks in a format that makes it very easy for the parent or teacher to know exactly what to do each day. Art and math lessons might take a little more preparation time than other subjects, but other than that, lesson prep time is very minimal. The variety of learning methods should appeal to children of various learning styles.
While courses follow a historical chronology, you can begin at any level. For each course, you can purchase the main lesson plan book by itself and gather the other resources on your own, or you might want to purchase one of the economy, basic, extension, or deluxe packages from Heart of Dakota. Package options become increasingly complex as you move up to higher grade levels. See the publisher's website for all of the options.