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Criteria to Choose Half-Speed in a Higher Guide, or Full-Speed in a Lower Guide

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From Our House to Yours

Hello fellow homeschool moms! If you’d enjoy it, try listening to the audio version of this post by clicking on the link at the bottom!

Criteria to Choose Between Going Half-Speed in a Higher Guide, or Full-Speed in a Lower Guide

On the phone for Heart of Dakota, I am often asked what a good criteria is for determining whether it is better to go half-speed with a higher guide, or full-speed with a lower guide. I have used half-speed pacing and full-speed pacing throughout the past 17 homeschooling years with my sons. My criteria isn’t a set list necessarily, but I will try to describe it here as best I can! (Keep in mind, placement for children with special needs is done on a more case by case basis. It is based more on parents’ preference on personal goals and level of involvement than what I am describing here.)

Criteria for Choosing Half-Speed Pacing

My criteria for running a guide half-speed is dependent on how my child is doing overall. If I can see my child has the skills intact to do a guide well, is trying his best, is choosing a good attitude, is working his hardest, but still just seems to be struggling – not with the skills in a guide – but with completing his guide in a timely fashion – I might go half-speed for awhile. Half-speed seems to help me teach time management skills better, as well as the routine of the guide. For example, I started “Bigger Hearts” half-speed with Riley at the end of his second grade school year. The next school year, I thought we’d start full-speed, but he was not ready. He still needed time to grow in his time management skills.

He loved school! However, using his time well was something he needed to learn. I knew this was an important habit to instill, as it would effect his work habits lifelong. So, we changed to half-speed. We worked on how to better use time (with a timer), how to transition between subjects better (with a markerboard listing of what needed to be done), and how to work through a project in a way that allowed creativity but didn’t let dawdling surface (by talking through the steps of a project, noting what I’d be looking for in the guide as far as assessment, and how to break the project down so he finished in a fairly timely manner). He then easily moved into doing Bigger Hearts full-speed.

Poor attitudes or work habits are character-based problems and are not a good criteria for going half-speed.

Sometimes children are properly placed and have the academic skills and ability to do a guide well. However, pesky things like poor attitude and poor work habits are the problem. If this is the case, and if “character-based” traits such as these need to be worked on, then we do that through focused encouragement and discipline instead of by slowing work to half-speed. Poor habits are not “rewarded” by a lowered work expectation in the form of lessening work in school. Character-based issues are not good criteria for going half-speed.

Criteria for Children Who Don’t Have the Academic Skills to Proceed Ahead to Full-Speed Successfully

A final placement scenario is if it becomes obvious the child does not have the academic skills to proceed full-speed ahead successfully. If this criteria is the case, then doing a lower guide is the better placement. Half-speed will not fix the fact that he or she did not have the skills in place to start the guide. The skills he or she needs are not taught at an introductory level in the guide. They were taught at the introductory level in the previous guide. Therefore, he or she needs to go back and be taught those skills first.

How can you know if this is the case?

Well, the placement chart and the first week of plans can make this criteria clearer. The placement chart skills need to be solidly in place for children to begin a guide. They are not skills to shoot for, to work on developing, or to grow into. Whatever the skills are listed in the column for a guide, the child should possess those skills to begin that guide. Using this criteria, a child will be well-placed for the entire year.

An Example of Criteria for the Storytime of Little Hearts for His Glory

For example, when the placement chart lists the criteria that a child needs to be ready to listen to “Daily read-alouds that are classic short stories that foster listening skills and beginning narration skills” for the Storytime of Little Hearts for His Glory, and a child does not have the attention span to listen to short “classic” sounding books with fewer pictures, that child is better placed in Little Hands to Heaven. I am not talking about being able to immediately narrate well upon these books. Instead, I mean that the child has the ability to listen to the books being read, without saying things like “Where are the pictures?” or “I like this book better because I understand it better,” and that book is a book that has a bunch of pictures, or is a book with a more simplistic plot or storyline.

An Example of Criteria for Reading in Bigger Hearts for His Glory

The placement chart lists the criteria that a child needs to be “done with phonics and be either an Emerging Reader or be Reading Independently to begin Bigger Hearts.” That means a child needs to be able to (at the very least) read the Emerging Reader’s Set of books well. So, if a child is still doing phonics, and cannot read the Emerging Reader’s Set books, he should be placed in Beyond Little Hearts instead.

An Example of Criteria for Copywork in Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory

When the placement chart lists the criteria that a child needs to be “able to copy sentences and study/copy spelling words to begin Beyond Little Hearts,” that means a child needs to be ready to (at the very least) copy 1 sentence a day, as well as do the spelling word activities in the language arts box of plans. So, if a child can only write one word of the poetry, or if a sentence of copywork a day is too much, that child should be placed in Little Hearts for His Glory instead.

An Example of Criteria for Reading in Creation to Christ

When the placement chart lists the criteria that a child needs to be “Reading independently – able to use Drawn into the Heart of Reading (DITHOR) Level 4/5 to begin Creation to Christ (CTC),” that means that child needs to be able to read his history and science well independently, as well as able to read at least 4/5 level books independently with DITHOR to be able to start CTC. So, if a parent is having to read aloud the history and the science, or if the child is unable to read 4/5 level books for DITHOR well, then that child should be placed in Preparing Hearts, or Bigger Hearts instead.

Age is only one part of the criteria in placement.

I am trying to answer this question fully with not just the ages of children in mind. When using the placement chart, a child should not be “growing into” the skills within the columns of a guide. Rather these are the academic skills a child needs to already posses to be able to do the guide properly. Skills cannot be fast-forwarded. If a child does not have them, then a child must go back to get them. Going forward will only cause more skills to be missed. Eventually, a child must drop back to be taught them anyway.

Other Criteria That Impacts Placement

Sometimes when looking at the placement chart, parents think children have skills they actually do not have. When they begin a guide, it becomes obvious they do not have them intact. Therefore, they must be placed a guide back. If children have not had a Charlotte Mason education, or are coming home from public school, or have been used to a textbook-style education, or have been used to a parent doing all of their reading, or have not done many follow-up activities in the form of skill-based learning, then often times it is more difficult to place them accurately, even with the placement chart. It just can be tough to tell which skills they really do have intact.

By completing all the plans in a guide, children are well-prepared for the next guide.

I have not had to drop back a guide, as I have been with Heart of Dakota from the start. The criteria I am sharing here is more for initial placement. Each guide truly does prepare children for the next guide, provided children are doing everything in the guide each day. A word of caution – skipping boxes results in skipping skills. This further results in children not having the skills in place to do the next guide. We have always made sure to do all that is planned in a guide. This ensures our children are learning the skills they need to progress.

In Closing

So, when using placement chart criteria, it is a good idea to really ponder if children have the skills intact to begin that guide, or if they need to go back and solidify some skills first instead. Second, it is a good idea to really ponder if children have the Godly character traits, good work habits, and solid time management skills in place to do their work well – and if not, to use encouragement and discipline to help them learn these skills. If it is a matter of managing time or teaching good work habits, then half-speed can be utilized to help in this training phase. Third, it is a good idea to routinely have children be responsible for all of the work in a guide each day, so they do not fall behind in skills and find themselves unprepared for the next guide.

In Christ,


Click on the play button below to listen to the audio version of this post! Hope you enjoy this! (Note: If you’re reading this blog post in an email and having trouble playing the audio, scroll down to the very bottom of the email and click on the link to this post.)

P.S. Need some help with placement? Heart of Dakota has many placement helps available! I will list them below for your convenience:

  1. placement specialist by phone (call (605) 428-4068 any afternoon Monday through Friday)
  2. HOD Message Board (free to join, please post on the Main Board)
  3. placement chart
  4. catalog (free to order, full of lots of helpful placement information)


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