Disclaimer: I have not received any compensations for writing this review. All views and opinions expressed in this post are my own.
Good evening! I’m back with another post for you. This time, I’ll be sharing with you the homeschool curriculum that I have chosen as our main curriculum. But first, a little background.
I first started researching homeschool curriculum when I was pregnant with The Boy (my oldest). This may sound like I went a bit overboard and started much too early, but I truly enjoy comparing the options, figuring out longterm costs, planning, organizing, and pretty much anything homeschool-related.
Prior to having children, Hubby and I had discussed that I’d like to homeschool our own kids. Hubby was open to discussing the option, but had reservations about homeschooling, especially when it came to homeschooling much farther past the elementary years.
At the time when I got pregnant with our first child (The Boy), Hubby was working full time and a full-time student to boot, so we were living on a very small income. The thought of telling my already-uncertain husband that there were homeschool curriculums out there that could easily range in the thousands of dollars per year was nerve-wracking to say the least.
I wanted to have all of my facts straight and find the least expensive options — while still having something I’d enjoy teaching — before I pulled any sort of dollar amount out of my hat.
That’s how it all began, but as I researched the various options, I came across the idea of literature-based learning, mainly the Charlotte Mason philosophy. The thought of my children learning through real, living books instead of dry, boring textbooks attracted me, and I haven’t shaken the idea since.
Of course, any veteran homeschool family knows that opting for a living book curriculum can tend to get a bit pricey, for the simple fact that in order to learn from living books, you may need to own living books.
On the flip side, one of the best things about teaching from a living books curriculum is that there tends to be fewer consumable items required (meaning most items can be used over and over again with subsequent children).
This will undoubtedly help make the upfront costs more bearable (especially in large families), but for many families, the higher cost can be a deal-breaker. Teaching through living books doesn’t have to break the bank though. There are ways to lower the costs associated with living book curriculums, including getting what you can from your local library, finding books used, or even getting digital books (Kindle, Nook, etc) which can frequently be found at lower prices than physical copies.
I’m getting slightly off topic, but the point I’m trying to make is that once I found out about a living books option, I didn’t want to go back. I simply decided that if we were going to go that route, then I’d need to figure out which of those curriculums were less expensive than the others and which one offered the most options for finding the required books at the library.
Amid this searching, I discovered Heart of Dakota. The more I read about it, studied their curriculum, and poured over reviews for them, the more I liked what I found. The Boy is now 4 years old, so I’ve had a good 5 years to research homeschool curriculums. Over the years, I have discovered a few other homeschool programs that I liked and, when I did, I’d work through recalculating the costs and comparing with choices I’d already looked at.
My top choice of curriculum has wavered more than a few times over the years (just ask Hubby), but I kept coming back to Heart of Dakota. Through this entire process, I created Pros/Cons lists for each of the curriculums I found that I liked. Although there are a couple other options that would be slightly less expensive, I feel that the Pros for Heart of Dakota outweigh the Con of a higher price tag.
Below is what I came up with for my Pros/Cons list, but please keep in mind that what works for one family does not always work for others. Each family needs to research and figure out what works best for them. This list is based on what works best for our family.
- Utilizes living books
- Reasonable prices in the Elementary years (especially if you’re looking on used curriculum sites)
- Instructions for all of the daily lessons are included in the teacher’s guide for every subject
- The curriculum includes a Bible Study portion, especially in upper elementary and above. All grades include verses for memorization.
- The lesson plans are laid out in an easy to follow format covering all subjects for each grade
- Other curriculum choices can easily be substituted. For example, the suggested math curriculum is Singapore Math, but I’m planning to use Life of Fred instead. It is very easy to substitute other options in place of the suggested ones.
- Starting in Preparing Hearts for His Glory (intended for 3rd grade), each unit consists of 4 days of lessons. Prior to that there are 5 days of lessons in each unit. Since I plan to school 4 days a week year-round, this setup works well for us.
- I very much like the curriculum choice suggestions that are made for each grade level, especially in the High School years. The Freshmen year includes a study of World Religions. I think this type of study is important for our children to better understand why we believe what we believe, so these suggestions are a big plus for me.
- If families use Heart of Dakota for the entire homeschool journey as written, students will graduate from high school a year earlier than their same-age peers. In other words, Heart of Dakota has enough programs to cover Preschool through 7th grade (if completed as written in each book, with lower books being 5 days a week and older ones being only 4), skips the usual “8th grade year” and jumps right into High School. This allows the option of slowing down the pace in the curriculum without graduating late, or gives options for students to choose between starting classes at a community college while still living at home, getting a job to save money for college (again, while living at home); or even to take that extra year to study a favorite topic or field of interest in-depth.
- The high school programs include grading rubrics/recommendations. This is a huge plus for me because the idea of homeschooling high schoolers has always made me more than a little nervous. Having available the suggestions for grading and creating transcripts makes this worthy of top-list status for me.
- For the most part, this program is an open-and-go type of program. Occasionally there will be science or craft lessons here and there that will require some materials, but most of the time, those materials will be things that families will already have on hand. The plan for me would be that on the last day of the previous school week, I’d look over what materials will be needed for the following week, gather together what we do have, and whatever we don’t have, I would have the weekend to go out and get it.
- Compared to materials required for some of the other programs I have researched, Heart of Dakota’s materials are fairly easy to find used or at the library. As I mentioned earlier, this is a big plus for my family (and probably most homeschooling families) as we tend to operate on small budgets.
- It has academically high standards, which is very important to me.
- Different subjects are tied to what is being discussed in the History lessons, most often in science and Bible. I like this aspect of their program because I think that people learn things more easily when they can make connections with other information they know or are learning.
- From about 3rd grade and beyond, students can pretty much work independently. There may still be a few lessons requiring a parent to teach or to help, but a lot of it can be done on their own, which frees up time for the parent to focus more on helping the younger students.
- Out of the 5 living book curriculums I priced, calculated and compared, Heart of Dakota was the 2nd most expensive when looking at the cost of purchasing items new. Depending on deals and used prices available at the times when I need each new level, this could be lowered to the 2nd or 3rd most expensive (so middle of the board)
- The high school years are much pricier than the lower grades. They balance each other out slightly, but there’s still quite a jump in cost for new items.
- Every grade has their own topics of study, so it doesn’t really allow for group subjects. This is a con for families who like to do subjects like Science, History, and Bible together.
- It’s pretty parent-intensive in the early grades, requiring lots of one-on-one teaching, which can get difficult if you have several children. This is a slight con for me, but since my degree is in education, I actually want to be teaching my children. I placed it on the con list with the thought that if we had 3-4 children, this might sometimes be difficult to schedule, but it’s low on my list of cons.
- It does not as easily allow for use of the Workbox System — which has long been an idea of interest to me — in the younger years especially.
So those are the Pros and Cons I came up with as I was researching my options. These may or may not be different for your family, but they were based on what was/is important to me and my family.
At this point, my intention is to continue on with Heart of Dakota for as long as God provides the funds for it. I’d love to be able to use Heart of Dakota for all of our years in homeschooling, but for now, we’ll have to take it one year at a time.
In the meantime, I’m always on the lookout for used Heart of Dakota materials to lower our future costs as much as possible.
I know this post got a little long and rambly, but I hope it has been informative and helpful if you are currently in curriculum-search mode. Thanks for reading! Good night!