We just finished our second year of homeschooling. Hooray! This year I had a 1st grader and a Kindergartner and I'm proud to say they both did great!
Every year we use an "open and shut" curriculum. This means that the whole curriculum is essentially already put together for you. Math, science, history, etc all planned out so that all you need to do is open the curriculum book and do what it says. I like this because it means our curriculum is nicely intertwined. Reading books can related to what we are learning in History for example. That being said, I don't always use an "open and shut" curriculum exactly as they say. Often times I swap out a phonics curriculum for one I like better. However, I generally use most of what is laid out for me.
This year the "open and shut" curriculum we chose what Heart of Dakota. Normally we use Sonlight but this year I wanted to try Heart of Dakota a try as it's cheaper and it's more intertwined with the Bible. Being a Christian family, I liked the idea of having the Bible woven throughout our curriculum.
As I mentioned Heart of Dakota is comprehensive curriculum. It includes: Bible, History, Science, Math, Language Arts, Spelling, Art, Geography, etc. Now that may seem like a lot of subjects, especially for a Kindergartner, but remember often times these subjects work together. For instance, geography may be as simple as locating Plymouth Rock when we are reading about the Pilgrims during History. Your children can get a thorough education all with this one curriculum and it won't feel like you are wading through many subjects.
I'm a list person. I find them easy to read and they get the point across quickly. Therefore, I'm going to give you my personal list for why I do and do not like Heart of Dakota. For reference just in case it matters, we used Heart of Dakota's Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory this series is recommended for ages 6-8 year olds. We used the bulk of the curriculum for both my 6 year old (1st grade) and 5 year old (Kindergarten) although we tailored their math and reading to their specific grade levels.
Heart of Dakota
Price - It's affordable. The main instructor's guide is only $58. This is pretty cheap compared to other open and shut curricula.
Length - Heart of Dakota is built for 34 weeks of school. Now this is a benefit for some families but my state requires 180 days of school per year. This works out to 36 weeks of school. Therefore, I find it annoying that a curriculum plans for only 34 weeks. I talked to HOD about this and they say that they plan it for 34 weeks so that families can work in field trips and such. This is a great idea but I take the opinion that field trips should be built into school days or as add-ons. I don't like getting into the mentality that going to the zoo counts for a full day of school. I know some disagree with me in this and that is fine. That is why homeschooling is great; it can be tailored to each family's preferences.
Hands On - By hands on, I mean that this curriculum is more than just reading out of a textbook. Heart of Dakota, makes use of interesting ways to learn worlds, remember continents, and so forth. Once again, this can be a benefit for some families and not for others. I personally do not like all the "fluff" of the hands on stuff. I know they are helpful and some children benefit greatly with hands on and creative teaching. I however, do well with just blazing through books and my oldest child is the same way. My second born (my Kindergartner) is not quite the bookworm that his brother is and I do have to make sure to come up with creative ways to teach him at times but in general I don't need to do activities like making a floor size map and having my kids "travel" to different continents. Once again, some families love the hands on stuff, others do not.
Layout - Heart of Dakota's daily lessons are not listed on one sheet of paper like some curricula. Instead it is spread out between two pages per day. One page has the Learning Through History which contains what to do for History, Poetry/Rhymes, Bible, and Science. The facing page has Learning the Basics which contains lessons for Language Arts, Read Aloud's, Phonics/Reading, and Math. This is great for families who like to break up the school day or for those who like clear definition between subjects (whereas sometimes things can get lost on a list). For those who like to see everything on one page, it can be annoying. It's a minor cosmetic thing and it's easily fixed by writing out your own lesson plan. In case you didn't guess, I do not care for the lay out but as mentioned, this isn't that big of a deal. I already have to write out our lesson plans since I "tweak" a few subjects so it's not a hassle for me to fix the layout to my preference.
Books Through History - Now I can't speak for the other grade levels as we've only just used Beyond Little Hearts for His Glory but at least in this year's curriculum the history books order drives me batty. Heart of Dakota strives to keep the reading in chronological order. This is a good thing and it's nice that they want to make sure we have reading to go in the correct order or our timeline. However, it's horribly annoying to start one book for one week and then put it down, pick up another book the next week and read that one, switch back to the first book and then start another book. We had 3-4 history books to read this year and we essentially jumped around all of them (sometimes not even in the order that the book provided!) I would have much rather read one book solely on Pilgrims and then moved on to a new book about pioneer. Now if you don't mind reading multiple books at once, this probably won't bother you. I on the other hand, do not like having multiple books open and jumping around in my reading.
Bible - At least for our grade level, the Bible really consisted mostly of memorization. Memorizing Bible verses is great of course but I prefer more of a curriculum when it comes to Bible. I want my kids to learn the who, what, why, and how's of the Bible; not just to learn how to spit out verses.
Tailor to Your Child - Like many curricula, Heart of Dakota gives you options when it comes to subjects like Math or Phonics/Reading. They know that children can be at different levels (especially in the early years) and therefore they want to supply parents with options so that they can choose the correct math or reading books for their child. This is great because my children currently are ahead of their grade levels in math and phonics/reading. If there was no options, it would be very boring for my children or I'd have to essentially build my own curriculum for those subjects.
Website - Like most curricula, Heart of Dakota is primarily bought online. Unfortunately, their system can be rather confusing. With the Basic, Economy, and Deluxe packages plus the Choices you can be left confused as to what you need to purchase. I'll help break this down for you. (Once again, this is for the Beyond Little Hearts and it's possibly things are a bit different in the other grade levels) The Basic package is your Instructor's Guide and History Books (needed), The Economy Package is your Math, Science, and Bible. (needed, although they have decided to leave this as it's own package in case you are using a different curriculum than what they recommend). The Deluxe Package is a choice between boy, girl, or classic readers. These books are the "read aloud's" these books are for the adult to read to the child. They are not deemed necessary but are good for introducing the different literature genres to your child. The Choices are the phonics/reading books for your child (needed unless you are doing your own thing). Now I understand that they have such a messy website because they are taking into account that many families tweak curriculum and they don't want to force families into buying books that they do not want. However, it does add to the mess. I think I'd rather see things listed all under one package as "needed" but you buy them individually with perhaps the Deluxe Package in it's own add on for those who want to increase the book reading.
Overall, I liked Heart of Dakota. I really enjoy curricula that involves lots of literature. However, due to a few things like the jumping around in books and the fact that the deluxe package doesn't work through the same areas as history (the deluxe read aloud's didn't involve pioneers at all but rather were just great books in the different literature genres), we will be switching back to Sonlight. I did pick up a few things that I liked from Heart of Dakota. We now have a new science curriculum that we love for instance.
I do think Heart of Dakota is a great curriculum, particularly for those with younger children as young kids often do not want to sit through tons of reading and would rather lots of hands on activities. It is just not for my family.