Homeschooling Plans for 2017-2018 {featuring Sonlight and Heart of Dakota}

Hello, friends!   So, it’s an exciting time of year for many homeschoolers as the Spring planning season is upon us.  Catalogs and Vendor Halls and Conferences, OH MY!

This year, I spent most of January and February praying, researching, and planning.  This was mostly done while feeding a precious baby in the middle of the night.  *wink*  We had a beautiful baby boy join our family in December through adoption and it has been a wonderful whirlwind!  I haven’t done babies for 8 years… but we are back in the swing.  And loving it!

I realized quite quickly, however,  that I couldn’t possibly put together all my own plans this tear.

And actually,  I didn’t want to.  We prayed for years for this baby in my arms (yep typing one-handed…) and I want to spend as much time as possible holding, cooing, and cherishing and as little time possible planning, printing, scheduling.

I previously used and reviewed Sonlight and Heart of Dakota.  

So, I already knew I liked these curriculum choices.  
I knew Heart of Dakota would give me what I needed.  I knew Sonlight would enrich our learning with wonderful literature, meaty history books, and some great maps, vocabulary ideas, and discussion prompts.

So – this year, we are doing Sonlight Core B+C along with Heart of Dakota’s Preparing Hearts for His Glory together as a family.  All three of my bigger kids (age 12, 10, 8) will be doing these programs together with their individual Language Arts, Math, and Reading mixed in.

There two major differences between HOD and Sonlight that I’d like to mention with regards to implementing the programs in the home:

  • Sonlight gives a weekly grid style schedule of readings from wonderful books.  These include the subjects of Bible, History, Geography (mapping), and Literature.  There is usually a poetry book or two mixed in.  The Teacher’s Guide includes discussion questions, maps, and vocabulary words.  There are very few (if any) hands on activities or projects in the program (though you could add your own and many people do).  It is pretty much all reading, mapping, discussing for Cores in Sonlight.  This does not include Science.  One weekly grid is shown on one page of type.  It is historically based (so everything revolves around an historical time period).
  • HOD gives a full-out daily program schedule/outline including: Scripture memory, Bible Study, Literature,  History, Geography, Science readings, notebooking activities, plus experiments, poetry and poetry assignments, narration prompts,  hands on activities and history projects, crafts, recipes – not to mention individual assignments that include copywork, art, sketching … there are just way more things ‘to do’.  The daily spread takes up two pages of print.  (See my snapshots in this post.) It is historically based also.

So, you can see how these programs could definitely compliment each other if you want a really rich curriculum for your kids with lots of reading and activities added in.  

(P.S.  I actually plan to write a post completely comparing and contrasting these two very popular Charlotte Mason-friendly, books-based homeschool curriculums really soon…)

Can I just interject with my two cents for Canadians?  

I know one of the biggest stumbling block for SO MANY Canadian Homeschoolers wanting to use programs like these is the seemingly overwhelming amount of “American” content.  I’m in this boat as well (being Canadian) but haven’t found this to be a huge issue – you can navigate around it or you can go with it…

For example: Fellow Canadians – If you love Sonlight or Heart of Dakota but fear getting all messed up when it comes to years that focus on American History, let me encourage you.  First of all -worry about one year at a time.  Don’t start worrying about 4 years in the future.  Secondly – We actually ended up doing a massive amount of American History over the past two years and we LOVED IT. Don’t write it off so quickly!   

I would highly recommend just doing the year or two of American History and adding in some Canadian History books… American History is FASCINATING and so connected to our own history.  Thirdly – If you really don’t want to do the American History years, there are ways around it by staggering and slowing down and adding in your own content to ‘skip’ forward in most literature based programs.  Don’t let it stop you from looking into these amazing programs just because they are American and you are Canadian.  *smile*  Ok, I’m done.

OK… back to the plan…

A good friend was selling the Sonlight B+C Teacher’s Guide for $20, so I happily bought it from her.  (Thanks MC!)  I then took the required books we already owned off the shelf and ordered the rest of the required titles from Amazon.  For a couple hundred dollars Canadian, I had a Sonlight Core.  B+C is a bit young for our age range but it uses the same spine as Heart of Dakota Preparing Hearts for His Glory – A Child’s History of the World.  They also cover the same time period – a sweep through all of history!

So that is how I ended up with 2 programs.  You don’t need both.  One would MORE than suffice… but I’m always filling in space and reading through the Summer and adding titles for Morning Time or evening reading.  Our kids are accustomed to a ton of read-alouds, so getting lots of reading in isn’t usually a problem.

Also, in a nutshell, I’m a little crazy.

Here’s a peek at the Teacher’s Guide and books for Preparing Hearts for His Glory:

This is a bunch of the titles from the ‘basic’ package.  Draw and Write through History is optional but I knew my daughter would love it as an independent History study (it’s scheduled in the guide).

So, we absolutely LOVE the Hero Tales series (there are several volumes) from Dave and Neta Jackson.  Volume 1 is included in the Preparing Hearts curriculum, but we own all 3 volumes.  These are treasuries of inspirational devotionals based on the lives of heros of the Christian faith.  Super well done and very engaging.  I definitely recommend them for any family looking to learn more about faithful servants of God who have lived in the past and enjoy meaningful family devotions.  So inspirational and also challenging! 

A Child’s History of the World is a wildly popular history narrative among Classical and Charlotte Mason-inspired home educators.  I like it.  I don’t LOVE it because to LOVE it, it would need to be Christ-centered, which it is not.  It is a narrative of history and so well written, but written in a secular/neutral perspective, so I need to add commentary here and there.  Still, a wonderful living book.

Grandpa’s Box is a spine too – and it is a creative walk through the redemption story using a Grandfather’s heart-warming chats with his grandchildren. He focuses on the idea of Spiritual Warfare through the Christian perspective using the carved pieces he has created to illustrated the various parts of the account of Christ.

More titles recommended by Heart of Dakota for Preparing and a few of my own choices mixed in.

The Science package from Preparing Hearts.  I’m missing one title from the One Small Square series… still on its way.

All the Science is done with living books, notebooking pages, narration, and one experiment per week to go with what you are reading and studying.  Science is scheduled into the guides but it is optional – I think you’d be missing out on a huge part of the program, however, if you didn’t do the Science portion.  It coincides with the historical timeline and time frame.

I’m used to doing a lot more outdoor, hands-on Nature Study but this works for us in this season.

A peek at the Heart of Dakota guide for Preparing:

The two page spread show ONE DAY of the program.  It is very detailed.

A look at one day of the schedule of Preparing from the HOD website:

The Preparing Teacher’s Guide is very comprehensive.  I actually LOVE the layout.  Having a two page spread for each and every day is so simple and easy to follow along and check off boxes as we go.  There is enough detail to make it that I actually don’t have to do any planning.  (How many times have I purchased programs then had to add 70% more to make it enough to amount to something worthwhile…?)
I do add ideas for videos we can watch or additional maps or books to read, but I don’t need to.  The program is beefy enough already, especially with language arts, math, and various other things mixed in naturally.
The categories include things like:  Reading through History, Research, Vocabulary, Storytime, History Projects, Geography, Poetry, Language Arts, Bible Study, Independent History Study, Math, Science prompts for reading/notebooking/experiments, History Notebooking ideas and written narration prompts, and more…

If you really want to see what these guides look like close up, you can download a free week of any of the levels at the Heart of Dakota website.

A look at the Teacher’s Guide and titles for Sonlight Core B+C:

*NOTE – our collection of books and Teacher’s Guide are from a few years ago.  There are differences with the current Core B+C available through Sonlight.  Both programs are awesome and will be very similar but I wanted to note that there are differences between what you see here and what will be on the Sonlight website right now.  πŸ™‚
Alright, I need to be completely honest, I’m a bit nostalgic about Sonlight.  
Sonlight was the first homeschool ‘curriculum’ I ever bought when I started homeschooling.  The older two children actually worked through Core A (then called Core K) and Core B about 5 years ago.
ONe of my biggest regrets is selling our books to Core B.  I have purchased back most of the titles sice then.  (ha…)
So, it might seem odd to you that 5 years later, we would be picking up and doing Core B+C.  Well, the thing is… Sonlight, in my opinion, is a very advanced program.  The books are rich and can be enjoyed by all ages.  My now 8 year old remembers nothing of the program and my now 10 year remembers very little.  I was basically reading through the books for my eldest and many were read exclusively with my eldest.  I also believe I had the 2008 version and this is the 2012 version.  So, the titles have changed.  There are only a few of the same books and actually none of the read-aloud novels are repeats at all. (Not sure how that happened...!)
I could have placed my kids higher up in Sonlight, but this Core is so lovely and fits beautifully with Preparing Hearts – so we went with it and I’m very glad we did.  The books are so rich…
Having said this, if we were to do Sonlight again next year or the year after – I’d leap them up to the Eastern Hemisphere Core.  *smile

In the top photo: The Teacher’s Guide, and several core books.  One core not photographed is A Child’s History of the World.  Bottom photo: Many of the read-alouds scheduled in Core B+C.

How we will use Sonlight:

So, although I LOVE Sonlight, I’ve never been very good at following their schedule… I want to follow it… but our family doesn’t seem to be able to do it that well.  

It looks like this –

This is a screenshot taken from the Sonlight samples section of their Core B+C listing on their website.  This is the most current format of their Teacher’s Guides.

I LOVE that everything is so beautifully laid out with map prompts and timeline suggestions, and a wonderful daily mix of quite the ‘feast’ of literature.  The problem for us occurs usually with the read-alouds… my kids aren’t the best at reading only one chapter a day of a novel they love.  They will beg to read more of the titles they love and less of the titles they don’t love as much and it takes only a few weeks for us to get that beautiful schedule all muddy.

So… what I’ve learned to do is relax and use the guide as what it is A GUIDE and not worry so much if we get ahead or behind.  I just work through and add checkmarks where we’ve read the given title and discussed the questions/maps/timeline figures.  Slowly but surely, it all works out.

Readers and Reading Titles:

Alright, these are now the individual readers the kids will (hopefully) be using.  I’ve chosen them based on their personal level, interests, and based also on the book lists I trust for readers.  I used Sonlight’s Grade 3 and Sonlight Grade 4 readers as a guide as well.

The kids will always read WAY more than their assigned readers, but these are books we will be intentional to read aloud together (the kids reading to me for the younger two) in order to improve our reading skills and comprehension.

Some of the Assigned Readers For Alex (grade 3):

Some of the Assigned Readers For Audrey (grade 5):

Some of the Assigned Readers For Simon (grade 6/7):

Individual and Additional Studies:

*Deep breath*

Alright… so if you are still reading this post… BLESS YOU!  I know, I’m long winded! But it’s homeschool planning… c’mon!

I always get asked what we are doing for individual studies, so I thought I’d better add it here.

As for individual work, the kids are doing quite a bit of Notebooking, Narration, and some writing and projects, etc. through Heart of Dakota.  For example, every week they will do Copywork of the memory verse selection in their Common Place Notebooks, a Science Notebooking page, a Science Exploration page, etc.

Here’s the other stuff we are doing:

Language Arts:

I really love Christian Light Publications.  They offer such Godly, wholesome books and resources.  I have ordered many books from them and always wondered about their Language Arts and Math, which I’ve heard great things about from friends.  Just as a side, their Bible Curriculum looks amazing… I’d consider using it as a guide for family discussion and study or even allowing the kids to do their own level and then narrate aloud for some of the questions rather than having them become exasperated with too much ‘writing’ (for the boys anyways).

So, this year, we are doing Christian Light Language Arts with all three big kids.  

It isn’t how we have typically done Language Arts in the past, but I actually love it.  This is a workbook based Language Arts program that is extremely open-and-go.  In these grades it includes spelling lists and activities, penmanship, grammar, and writing (though minimally).

My Workbook-loving daughter THRIVES on these because she adores working independently and following a checklist type system.  If she can do a test, score perfect, and get stickers and checkmarks, she’s a HAPPY GIRL.  (So, you Charlotte Mason people out there can see how CM’s methods of Language Arts wouldn’t be as exciting for this type of learner…)

You can very easily work through the lessons just by following each step consecutively.  The lessons say things like, “Go to page 62, cut out your spelling list, keep it somewhere safe… or, Underline the common nouns, circle the proper nouns…”  etc. (See a sample here.)  Some kids love this style.  It is helpful for parents (like me!) who just want to open and go with certain subjects and also offer the kids a chance to take some initiative and work independently.

My boys are a bit reluctant to this style of learning, but they are reluctant to a lot of things that look like ‘school’.  (So… yea…)

I find this style of Language Arts helps with getting through content in a logical manner in which they can measure their progress.  So, reluctant workers can see they need to accomplish Lesson 5 and can visibly understand how much is included in this work.  Sometimes I compromise and do a bit orally rather than having them write as much as my daughter likes to write.

This is much different than the super free-spirited style of Language Arts we’ve embraced in the past where my kids would always be asking me, “are we done yet?”.  Now, they can see when they are done and it isn’t me making it up as I go.  It is a book telling us when we are done for the day.  It’s kind of nice.

The ‘tests’ have actually been enjoyed by the kids (go figure, after 7 years of never implementing a single test in our homeschool… they LIKE it…).

I’ve seen progress already in my youngest son’s handwriting and the kids’ spelling overall.

The boys do willingly accomplish these books and my daughter enthusiastically embraces them.  She woke up one Saturday recently and begged me to ‘let her do her tests’ because she was SO looking forward to them and didn’t want to wait until Monday.  *HAHA!*  I love her.  Her brothers just think she’s completely nuts.

More Language Arts…

Copywork has somewhat run its course in our home.  I think my kids are actually getting tired of it and I am a little bit as well.  However, they will do one copywork assignment per week based on the scripture memory work for the week. This they will copy in their Commonplace Book.

Dictation has been of huge benefit to our children over the years.  I know they have learned a ton from it because I didn’t do any other spelling for years and my kids are decent spellers.

For Dictation, we are using the Dictation Day by Day passages at the back of the Heart of Dakota Preparing guide for Alex.  This is a resource that is available for free online.

We are also using Spelling Wisdom and Using Language Well for Audrey and Simon.  A review of this Simply Charlotte Mason resource is coming next week.  These are dictation exercises (Spelling Wisdom) coupled with short, easy grammar lessons that go with the dictation.


We have done Teaching Textbooks for Years and will continue to use Teaching Textbooks for as long as it is working well for our children.  I love this program because I have the option of implementing the computer-based program or the kids can opt to do their workbooks.  If the children did the computer program, it would be entirely independent.  
They are touch and go with the computer component but I do encourage them to use the computer based part of the program because it is what the program is based upon and it cost me a fortune!   It’s also really well done and engaging.  Mind you, once you own the CDs, you can use them over and over and add students as needed.
To be honest, part of me wishes I had of never bought the textbooks, but rather, just bought the CD-Roms.  The reason is because it would force the kids to use the computer program and simply write questions in a spiral notebook.
The computer takes a little longer, yes (their biggest beef) but that’s because you are actually covering the material more thoroughly.
This year, Simon is in Math 6, Audrey is in Math 4, and Alex is in Math 3.

 Individual Task Books:

I adopted the Spiral Bound system for daily planning/records of the kids’ individual work a few years ago.  It’s helpful in letting them know what is expected of them individually.   I’ve adapted it as we go along.

Typically, parents would write out what is needed for the task list the next day (like a daily hand-written bullet list).  I LOVE the idea of hand writing their work but, boy, have  I have struggled with actually getting 3 lists written out every night.  I either forget, can’t remember what to put on the list,  or write the wrong thing.  I als find it very repetitive as they do much of the same thing every day.

This year,  to simplify, I created weekly grids for each child to be able to easily see and check off the work they need to do every day of the week.  There is a little space for me to jot in specifics too.  These print outs get glued into or taped into their little spiral notebooks.  A fresh one goes in each week.

This is for their individual work and does not include our family learning, which makes us a good portion of our day.  That information is in my own planning binder (the Teacher’s Guides).

Here is what Audrey’s looks like close up:

Planning Tools for your Homeschool:

I love using the Plan Your Year resources.  They are a great planning springboard and super helpful.

You can see my review of Plan Your Year right here.  It is honestly a great resource – one of the best I’ve seen for planning homeschool.

Plan Your Year Ad

I’ve also shared Morning Time resources many times before and highly recommend the Your Morning Basket resources!

Check out my reviews and posts:

A Review of Your Morning Basket

Our Morning Basket

Your Morning Basket Ad


  • brett wiuff


    This post is very interesting to me! I am expecting my 5th baby at the end of the summer and already in planning mode for next fall (c:. I will have an 11yo, 9yo, 6yo, 2yo, and newborn. I am trying to implement the easiest plan for us to be successful since I am a better starter than finisher when it comes to my homeschool plans. I have been comparing HOD, Sonlight and SCM for us next year, so I have enjoyed reading your reviews. My question is, how are you planning on getting both HOD and Sonlight done?? We have tried HOD in the past and it always felt stressful to finish the boxes and we were at "half-speed" for so long that we only made it through unit 10 (of Bigger) before we couldn't do it anymore. I would like to try Preparing or a Sonlight core but fear it will be too much for us. SCM sounds doable, but I don't know how much extra time I will have to research more literature to read if we want or need it. Anyways, super curious as to how you plan to implement BOTH! Thanks!

    • Cassandra

      Hello Sara! πŸ™‚ Congrats on your upcoming miracle. πŸ™‚ Babies are THE BEST. Sounds busy busy. To be honest, we do quite a bit of reading aloud together as a family (our strongest point of our homeschool) but we don't often follow through with all the hands-on activities (our weakest point right now…). I find the actual reading required in HOD to be quite minimal on a daily basis. We are adding family novels and bible and poetry almost every day to the already required readings. This is where there is room for Sonlight because Sonlight (BLESS THEM!) is just reading and discussion and maps at best. So, I have decided to use all the books from Sonlight Core B+C as our read-alouds and am using the guide (remember I got it for $20… I would NEVER buy a full Sonlight curriculum full price to do as an add-on…) as a go-along to our reading. Because the guide offers so much great information about the books, maps, interesting points, discussions questions, vocabulary… it makes our read-aloud time much richer. Also, HOD Preparing Hearts and Core B+ C use the same core book – a Child's History of the World. So, I can use the notes from Sonlight to supplement HOD. Make sense? I hope so! πŸ˜€

  • brett wiuff

    I have one more question. Is there a post that explains how you went from the kind of schooling you liked during the SCM history course you did to changing to using both Sonlight and HOD in one year? I feel like I am deciding between slightly different philosophies (even though they say they are similar). Especially the combining all children into one time period (SCM) and diving them up into age appropriate guides. The SCM history guide seems simpler, but i don't want to miss all the good books assigned in the others. I think with a new baby i will be setting myself up for failure if the planning is either too complicated or require too much from me. Does that make sense?

    • Cassandra

      I didn't really write a post about it at that time as our sweet little adoptive son had just arrived and I was too busy holding, kissing, feeding… πŸ™‚

      However, I can share here – basically, I found the SCM just wasn't giving us enough. I like the layout of the family guides (SO EASY) but the reading wasn't really giving us enough meat for our day. For example, in one day, you are only given 1 reading assignment. So you would read 1 chapter from a book and discuss/ask for a narration. That's pretty much it. Every day it rotated from History to Geo to Bible. I was looking for something a little more in depth that I didn't have to add a million things to. HOD gave me that. Although there are often projects we don't really do (go figure), they are there for the taking. In one day of HOD we will do scripture memory work, a poetry assignment, a history reading, a geo project, a Science reading and notebooking page, and then our Math and language arts… plus reading of the 'story time' book (family novel). It's giving WAY more for the schedule. It's totally doable though for us.

      Also – wanted to add… you can easily combine kids in Sonlight and HOD. I am. Mine are 12, 10, 8. And they do the same 'core'. It's ok. It works. I would never (at this age anyways) try to do all separate cores for the kids. It would be nuts. Too much reading!!! Besides,. I like the idea of family learning and sitting around the table together. We've done that since they were just tiny and it is sort of what they are used to doing. So, you could easily do the same with your kids. Choose a core or a program that suits you middle child /youngest child and beef it up for your eldest… ? It works… πŸ˜€

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