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Deciding Between Combining and Uncombining

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Dear Carrie

Deciding Between Combining and Uncombining

In January we’ll start our new school year. I’ll have a ten year-old daughter and an almost eight year-old son. We’ve used Heart of Dakota (HOD), from preschool through Preparing Hearts. I’ve had no problem timewise doing two guides, especially since my daughter is getting more independent. However, I think I’d like to combine the two for history and science. Honestly, my son’s been secretly listening to his older sister’s books for years! I REALLY want to stick with HOD! So, if I combined my 2nd and 4th graders in Creation to Christ (CTC) for history and science ONLY, how would I do it? How would I modify written work, notebooking assignments, etc.? His handwriting is NOT great. I go back and forth on this. I honestly am okay keeping them uncombined if you think that’s better. Combining has been smooth sailing. Maybe I shouldn’t rock the boat with uncombining!


“Ms. Please Help Me Decide Between Combining or Uncombining”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Decide Between Combining or Uncombining,”

Combining and uncombining can work within Heart of Dakota (HOD). However, the target age ranges of the guides really do matter. One thing I think all of us go through as our kiddos are getting older and are gaining independence is that our momma’s heart longs to stay with our oldest and keep on learning and sharing with that child. (The subject matter just gets so interesting that we don’t want to allow that child to head off without us!) Yet, as our children mature it is so important to allow them to be more mature and to treat them in that manner without having little ears listening in to all of the more grown-up topics and heart issues that come along with that maturity.

Our littler ones deserve the same focused attention our older ones received.

It is also so important to give our littler ones the same focused attention that our older ones received, and having an older one moving into the guides from CTC on up allow us to do just that! This is because as our older ones take over more of their own readings, we have more time to spend with just our little ones… bonding and making individual memories with them too.

Our guides speak to a more clearly defined stage or age of children, both in ability and maturity.

You will find this to be very true as you head into CTC on up, as we definitely wrote these guides with the target age range on the guide in mind and we meant to let our kiddos head off more on their own. This means that we’re not writing with an eye toward kiddos beneath the age range, but instead are really targeting the range of ages on the guide both in ability and in maturity. This makes our guides really fit a narrower age range well. It also makes the guides speak to a more clearly defined stage or age that the child is in at that time.

Combining a young child beneath the target age range of a guide  with an older child impacts reading skills and maturity.

So, if you choose to have a young one (beneath the target age range of the guide) combined with an older one just listen in, you’ll find over time that you’re having to read aloud material we never planned to be read aloud (simply to keep your young one in the loop). You’ll also be exposing your child to content that we never intended for a child beneath the age range of the guide to be hearing, simply due to the maturity needed to handle the subject matter in the guide.

The spiritual maturity and depth of faith of a child should also be considered when contemplating combining.

Another thing to ponder when looking at combining is how much spiritual maturity and depth of faith a child should have before being exposed to the content in each guide. In my mind, it is very important for a child to have an excellent foundation in the Bible and in what he/she believes before heading into anything involving ancient history and the Reformation! This means that kiddos beneath the age range of a guide will also not have the spiritual maturity we are looking for them to have in place prior to moving into the historical time period in the guide. This is really something that easily gets overlooked in placement but that makes a huge difference in a child’s reaction and understanding of many difficult times in history!

When a younger child ‘listens in’ to an older child’s guide, much of the experience we have planned for that child to gain is lost.

So, while I can understand your thoughts on combining your kiddos to have unity in your history study, I also want to encourage you that listening in to an older child’s guide leaves out much of the experience we have planned for that child to gain from using a particular guide. As an example for you to ponder from my own experience, I’ll share that my oldest son did Sonlight Core 1 as a first grader. As a part of that core, he was to listen to A Child’s History of the World. My oldest read at age four. He was able to read huge classic chapter books off his dad’s shelf (like the unabridged copy of Moby Dick) before he was turning seven. Of course, I took this book away midway through and told him Daddy’s shelf was off-limits! But, my oldest son was just an amazing reader!

As subject matter got harder, more violent, and more mature, I began asking whether just because my son “could” read this , “should” he?

So, as we journeyed through grade 1 of Sonlight, he read more and more of A Child’s History of the World himself. He had a great understanding of the world and could really comprehend the readings. So, we kept on going. As a couple of years passed with Sonlight, however, I realized that the subject matter just kept getting harder, more violent, and more mature. I began asking whether just because my son “could” read this type of more mature material, whether he really “should” read that type of material.

Maturity plays a huge role in how much children can truly “take in.”

By the time we were in third grade, my philosophy was shifting drastically. I began realizing that there were many things that required a depth of faith he didn’t have (at age 6, or 7, or 8, etc.) to bring to the study of those types of books. I also made a shift away from Sonlight for this very reason. There is much more to reading than simply being able to read and comprehend! Maturity plays a huge role, and even mature kiddos need to grow up to really “take in” what they’re reading on a deeper level!

Books that would have been a joy for an older reader were just so-so for my son.

So, my next choice was to use Ambleside Online. We did years 3, 4, 5, and part of 6 in full. While we moved to a more Charlotte Mason approach with Ambleside, and the readings were less lengthy, we still ran into much maturity needed in the readings. Books that would have been a joy for an older reader, were so-so for my son. He used Ambleside on grade level and had no problems with the level of readings. However, in looking back, I can see now that reading books like the unabridged Robinson Crusoe as a 4th grader left less of a good impression than they would have left if my son were much older and more mature when he read them (both in age and in his faith).

My son brought a maturity to reading A Child’s History of the World when he was older that made a big difference in the depth of his understanding of it.

Through Ambleside, my son read A Child’s History of the World (again). What a difference in his understanding now that he had matured several years! Every light bulb in his mind was going off like crazy! He brought so much maturity to the reading, and it made a big difference in his understanding. He was making connections all over the place and his thought process was much, much deeper.

My son had an amazing year in CTC as a 7th grader, and his love for history and reading returned.

With this in mind, as I completed the writing of Creation to Christ (CTC) for my next oldest son, I chose to leave Ambleside and have my oldest son do CTC as a 7th grader. Even though technically the readings were “below” his level by a long shot…what an amazing year he had! He deepened his faith and love for the Lord through his first really Biblical tour through the ancient time period! He understood and enjoyed what he read so much more than he had with Sonlight or Ambleside. Blessedly, his love for history and reading returned.

As my son did RTR for 8th grader, I no longer thought he had to be challenged in every area to have a great learning experience!

The following year I had him do Resurrection to Reformation (RTR) as an 8th grader. Again, I couldn’t believe how much the study deepened and matured his faith. It was a turning point in his education and a turning point in my thinking. No longer did I think that he had to be challenged in every area to have a great learning experience. For the first time, I realized how much a mature faith meant to a study of a historical time period!

Combining just to combine is not worth it.

So in comparison, when we look at having your nearly 8 year-old, second grade son do CTC next year, in comparing it to the experience my 7th grade son had, you can imagine my hesitation in ever recommending that option. “Could” you do it, with a lot of tweaking? Probably. “Should” you do it? In my opinion, “could” and “should” are worlds apart, and I wouldn’t advise you to do it simply based on whether it “could” be done. Combining just to combine is not worth it.

Families combining children who are within the target age range of the guide do this quite successfully. 

What we discover time and again with HOD, is that those families who pull up a child who is outside of the age range of an HOD guide (simply for combining with an older sibling) often can only make it work in the younger guides. After that (usually by CTC) it becomes next to impossible to do this type of combining well. They eventually either end up splitting their kiddos  and moving the young child back down to a guide where he/she truly fits on his/her own, or they end up moving away from HOD. On the other hand, families combining kiddos who are actually within the target age range of the guide are able to do this quite successfully.

When you ask us about combining, we are being realistic about whether this is a plan that will work well for you for the long haul!

So, it is not that we don’t recommend combining, but rather that we don’t recommend combining kiddos outside of the age range of the guide. In all honesty, we are looking toward the future and being realistic about whether this is a plan that will work for you well for the long haul! The wonderful thing about posing your combining question here is that when we advise you, we are looking down the road to the “graduation from high school” finishing line with HOD. The advice we’re giving you is to keep you from burning up your HOD options and leaving you in a pickle!

I wouldn’t be in a hurry to grow your younger son into an upper guide just for combining’s sake.

Simply listening in to an older child’s reading is by no means the same as actually “doing” everything that goes with those readings. Pulling a child back a guide is hard to do, and allowing a young one to hear everything an older sibling is reading (without doing any of the skills involved in those readings) is just stealing your thunder for the future when your younger child gets there. Spiritual maturity and depth of faith play a huge role in the appropriateness of historical subject matter. I wouldn’t be in too big of a hurry to grow your young one into an upper guide just for combining’s sake. He will get there sooner than you’d like already. So, I’d not rock the boat by combining; rather, I’d keep on with your smooth sailing and enjoy the trip!



PS: Here are some threads to ponder as well:
Why don’t you recommend having children younger than the target age range of the HOD guide simply listen in with the older student’s guide?

What would my child be missing out on if I did choose to combine him/her in a guide that doesn’t fit him/her well on the placement chart?

How will we be learning as a family if we do separate guides?

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