Layers of Learning creates family-style homeschool programs. Founded by two sisters and long time homeschoolers in 2008, Layers of Learning believes in:
- Perfect for multiple ages and abilities
- Reading and writing integrated into every subject
- High interest and fun
- Flexible to your family’s needs
Watch as Michelle explains:
Who Uses Layers of Learning?
Layers of Learning is meant to be used by the adult, not handed off to the child like a textbook. The parent/teacher chooses specific elements from the guide book and makes up his or her own lesson plans.
At the beginning of each topic, there is a short introduction. This is mostly meant to be a quick refresher or intro for the adult to enable a discussion. If you want to read it aloud with your child you can, but it’s not necessary.
How is it organized?
First Into Years
The curriculum is divided into four “Years.”
We work through history in order. Ancient history in Year One. Medieval History in Year Two. Colonial History in Year Three. Modern History in Year Four. This is the typical order for Classical and Charlotte Mason style homeschooling. We like its orderliness. History becomes comprehensible when you learn it from back to front, without skipping about. And as a teacher, you’re confident you’re not leaving awkward gaps in your student’s learning.
Geography starts with learning concepts and skills in Year One. Then it moves on to studying countries around the world in Years Two and Three. Finally, we go in depth, learning about the United States in Year Four. The concepts learned in Year One get used in the remaining three years.
Science includes all four of the major disciplines in each year: biology, physics, earth science, and chemistry. Each discipline gets five units out of the year. Science is organized differently from every other curriculum out there. Read more about why we chose this method.
The arts moves through history, more or less, chronologically, following the history units. We do step out and do units like “poetry” and “fairy tales” out of order now and then.
Writer’s Workshop is a dedicated writing program consisting of nine units, Word Work (a spelling and vocab program), and a special Research Paper unit for older teens.
Then Into Units
Each year is divided further into twenty units.
Every unit has a full history, geography, science, and arts section.
Download our Units at a Glance, which shows the topics for all eighty units of the Layers of Learning Curriculum.
When you finish the four years, you start over again on Year One. Only now, your kids are four years older than the last time you did it. They can read harder books, write longer reports or papers, do more involved projects, and generally learn at a higher level.
But If It’s Only Four Years, How Can It Work For Kids From 1st To 12th?
This method is called the four-year rotation.
In this video, Michelle shows you how to plan a unit, which will help you see how the organization of a unit works.
Can It Really Be Done With Multiple Ages at Once?
Yep. It’ll be easier to explain if we walk you through an actual unit. Since you can actually get Year One Unit One, a.k.a. Unit 1-1, for free and see the whole thing, we’ll use that one to show you.
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Get Unit 1-1 for free. Get Your Free Unit
Start With the Library List
Right at the front of every unit, we include a library list.
The library list includes books, and sometimes movies, we reviewed for each topic in the unit. We made an effort to seek out the best books for each level of learner, from kids sitting on your lap while you read to them up to high schoolers digging deep into the Great Books.
Next to each book in the library list, you will see colored smiley faces.
These tell you at a glance what level of reader this book will appeal to.
You choose the books you think look interesting, or use the search terms at the top of each list of books to find others at your local library. The library list is there as a resource and a guide, but you do not have to choose books off this list.
During reading time, you assign your kids books you have picked out. This way they’re getting the information at their level, even if you have four or five or more levels of kids in your home.
Next, Choose Your Own Learning Adventure
The bulk of each book is made up of a short introduction of the subject followed by what we like to call explorations, expeditions, and experiments.
- Explorations are activities, mostly hands-on.
- Expeditions are field trips.
- And experiments are science projects.
They too come equipped with smileys to guide you in choosing appropriate activities for your kids.
Choose one or two activities from each section (history, geography, science, arts) to do with your kids. This is the part where you all work together, no matter the ages.
For example, in Unit 1-1 we have a “Cylinder Seals” activity where kids make their own seal and press it into clay. We labeled it with the first two levels of smileys. But if you have an older, high school student as well as a younger one, she can join in. Her outside reading will have given her a greater understanding of the ancient culture that made these seals and the activity acts as a memory aid and hook for the reading.
Many of the explorations can be adapted by giving more writing to older students or expecting a higher level of work.
On both sides of every page, we have sidebars. These give ideas for taking off on tangents or finding more resources to expand your learning. This is one of the main places where you “Layer” your learning. The sidebars include things like famous people to learn more about; web sites that have games, activities, lesson plans information, or videos; writing activities; and additional layers of learning in a related topic.
Read through the sidebars to see what you would like to include in your family learning.
Here’s a recap.
- When you first plan a unit to do with your kids, you go through the library list and find books and videos to get from your library.
- Read through the explorations and choose one or two from each section (history, geography, science, arts) of the book to do with your kids.
- Read through the sidebars and see if there are any web sites you would like to visit, videos to watch, or tangents to take off on.
- Write these ideas into your planner and schedule out the unit.
For lots more insight about how to plan your Layers of Learning Units and your whole year, go visit this complete Layers of Learning Planning Guide.
Weekly Lesson Planner
This Layers of Learning Planner is for sale in the catalog for just 99¢. It includes these weekly planner pages, with much more space for detailed lesson plans, plus dozens of other pages for all sorts of housekeeping and homeschooling tasks.
How Much Time Does Each Unit Take?
We wrote the units intending them to take two weeks each. That means spending two to three days on each subject during the two week period.
But many Layers of Learning families like to spend three or four weeks on a unit. And you may come across a unit that only takes you a week to finish. You should set the schedule that works for you.
How Do I Schedule Out Each Unit?
Here is what a subject-of-the-day sample schedule might look like. This is how Michelle has been scheduling her homeschool for years. It’s orderly, simple, requires no planning, and keeps the pace varied.
If you were following this schedule you would study history on Monday for an hour or two. Then you would study geography on Tuesday, science on Wednesday, arts on Thursday, and Friday would be a flex day to work on a project started earlier in the week, do another project, spend more time reading, or just have extra time off.
Karen doesn’t do her homeschool on the subject-of-the day schedule, she likes to have multiple subjects each day, scattered about as she likes, with no regular pattern. She just plans out each unit, deciding which subjects to cover each day. Her schedule might look like this:
Lots of Layers of Learning families like to keep a schedule where they do history until they are done with history, then do geography until they are done with geography, and so on, keeping each subject separated. This takes the pressure off. You don’t have a definite schedule, instead, you just carry on until you’ve exhausted a subject then move on. That sort of schedule might look like this:
Arrange your schedule however you like. It might take a bit of experimentation to see what works best for you.
How Much Time Should I Spend on Each Subject?
One to two hours per day should be spent on Layers of Learning as a family.
Often, especially for kids who are reading independently, each child should also be assigned individual reading and writing assignments that will take 1-2 more hours per day depending on how old your kids are.
Use the individual reading as fact-gathering time, the projects as a way to cement the learning, and the writing as an assessment or evaluation of the learning.
We wrote a helpful post that takes you through a week in our homeschool using the Layers of Learning Curriculum so you can see how it plays out.
But It’s Super Flexible
You don’t have to follow the two-week schedule. The units have plenty of material to extend them into three or four weeks if you’re really into the subject. And then some of the units, you may get through in one week.
- You decide how long to spend on a unit.
- You schedule the days you do each activity.
- Use it as your main curriculum or use it as an activity supplement to another curriculum.
- Use all of the subjects or just part.
You can also choose to study two or more subjects each day, instead of doing one-per-day.
So now we’ve covered how the curriculum is organized and how you use it, but what about the contents?
Our Basic Philosophy
The reason we study these subjects, history, geography, science, and art, is to become more enlightened. In other words, to understand ourselves and our world; to be able to think. As we wrote Layers of Learning we kept that in mind. This is not a spoon-fed style of learning. You can’t read the passage, fill in the blanks, and get an A.
This curriculum asks the student to do these steps:
- Read books by authors who care about their subject matter, absorbing ideas and opinions from many sources.
- Observe cause and effect relationships and connections between events and ideas throughout history (this includes science, geography, and art, which developed during history).
- Discuss ideas with a mentor.
- Create projects that require thinking from the student and not regurgitation.
- Write about their own ideas.
Throughout the curriculum, we ask questions that are intended to make the student think. As often as possible, use these questions or others that occur to you, especially once your kids reach their teen years.
Encyclopedias to Keep On Hand
For each of the four subjects, we suggest getting an encyclopedia to have on hand, just in case you need a spine to help you provide a richer overview of the topic. It’s also nice for when you can’t find many books at your library. First, grab the Correlation Charts from this post so you can see at a glance which pages in the encyclopedias correspond with each unit. You’ll find more fun extras on that page too.
We present the history in chronological order, starting with the fertile crescent and ancient Sumer. We don’t do cavemen or creation. We begin with the historical time period of the world from around 5000 BC because that marks the beginning of civilization.
Layers of Learning is extremely thorough. We include topics like ancient North America and medieval eastern Europe. This is good because kids get a much more complete view of world history instead of thinking, for example, that all of ancient history happened around the Mediterranean Sea.
But it can be tough too because some of these topics are short on library resources. For that reason, and for convenience in case you miss the library trip, we recommend a basic history encyclopedia to keep on hand.
Usborne Encyclopedia of World History
Usborne has enough information to interest high schoolers, but still lots and lots of captioned pictures for your younger kids.
Your History Seems Very United States-Oriented
It is. We’re Americans and so we wrote our curriculum with an American audience in mind. The first two years of the curriculum are universal, but the second half of the third year and the fourth year have a lot more U.S.-focused units in them. We know we have a nice lovely bunch of homeschoolers from the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and dozens of other countries around the globe, so we’re planning on doing some history and geography for other countries.
Geography is the study of modern nations, peoples, and lands. Just as history is the study of everything that ever happened, geography is the study of everything as it is now.
In the first year of the Layers of Learning Curriculum, kids learn concepts like map projections, latitude and longitude, land formations, creating maps, and the continents and oceans. The second and third years are studies of individual countries around the globe. Not every country is covered (there’s not enough room) but we hit every continent and major culture region. As in history, Layers of Learning is extremely thorough. We have units on the Caucuses and Tanzania as well as the tried and true France and Germany.
Each geography unit includes projects and recipes that help kids understand the culture of the country. The units also include a map of the country with places to label.
You will need an atlas to complete the maps. Below is our favorite atlas plus a globe. Globes are nice because they allow kids to see the world as is really looks, and not the distorted view you get from a flat map.
DK Geography of the World
The DK Geography of the World combines maps with information about the countries around the world including what makes each culture unique.
While not absolutely essential, a globe is very nice to have. This one is up to date and easy to read.
Layers of Learning science covers all four of the major branches of science: biology, earth science, chemistry, and physics. The experiments and outside reading are thorough enough for high school, but we include plenty of interesting fun for your younger kids as well.
We present the science from a factual point of view. In other words, we keep science in its realm, explaining the observable phenomenon of the universe. Every other curriculum seems to take either a “creationist” or a “secular” point of view of science. But to us, this seems absurd. Science, by its very nature, isn’t supposed to have a point of view.
Let us give an example. Here are three ways to present information about a turtle.
- The turtle’s shell evolved to protect it from predators.
- The turtle’s shell was created to protect it from predators.
- The turtle’s shell protects it from predators.
Only the third example is scientific. We can actually observe that the turtle’s shell protects it from predators, but that’s all we really know. We can’t possibly know, from science alone, how that shell came to be. Even evolution, an overlying theory of the diversity of life, only explains a mechanism by which it is possible for the features of living things to develop, but it does not specifically explain the turtle’s shell. You, personally, may think you know how the turtle’s shell came to be, but science doesn’t know. So we present only the scientific facts and don’t speculate about philosophy related to science in the units. (The philosophy stuff does appear in the sidebars in the form of questions for you to ponder with your kids.)
Feel free to supply your point of view to your own kids. In fact, that’s your job as a parent. We have no vested interest in whether your kids grow up to be creationists or evolutionists or whatever.
We do present the theory of evolution and the standard age of the earth in the units, but we also point out weaknesses and problems, not just in these two areas, but in many areas of science. We’re a little irreverent about science. We love it, but understand that it’s not infallible. We encourage you and your kids to question everything. Because it’s only after you’ve realized that everything you thought you knew might be wrong, that you can really know what you believe.
Science books tend to be especially hard to find for all ages. Very few people write interesting books about science; almost no one writes about chemistry. You’ll want to have a science encyclopedia on hand to fill in the blanks when there’s nothing at the library.
DK Encyclopedia of Science
This book is aimed at kids from 5th grade up to 8th grade but is easy to use with all ages.
Home Science Tools
Many of the science experiments use just household items, but sometimes we recommend chemicals, dissections kits, and things like that. You can get any of the science supplies we use from Home Science Tools.
The Layers of Learning Curriculum has art explorations touching on art history, painting, drawing, poetry, literature, crafts, sculpture, plays, music, and music appreciation.
We take art in chronological order for the most part. So the first unit deals with cave painting and by Year Four we’re learning about modern art.
For most units, it will be handy to have an art book that contains a collection of great art through history so you can pull it out and show your kids the paintings or read snippets about artists.
Where do I start?
The short answer is, wherever you want. But if you want to take advantage of the organization that gives you the peace of mind that you’ve “covered everything,” you should go in order. Even if you start out with Unit 3-11, move through the units in order from that point on.
Starting With a Firsty
If you’re just starting to homeschool a first-grader, start with Unit 1-1 and work through the units in order, starting over in 5th grade with Unit 1-1 again.
Starting With an Older Child
If your child is older and you want to start using Layers of Learning, we still recommend you start with Unit 1-1. History should always be taught in chronological order. Also, our science units build, relying on earlier knowledge the child has gained.
But if you have been using a curriculum that already teaches history chronologically, then you can pick up with our units wherever you left off.
And if your child comes across gaps in science you can fill them as you go.
Teaching Multiple Ages
If you have two or more children of different ages then you still just teach them all together. Pick a Year or Unit of Layers of Learning, based on whatever your children have learned previously, and begin with it. Kids are very capable of assimilating information and putting it in the right boxes even if it’s sometimes given to them higgledy-piggledy. They won’t die and neither will you if they somehow miss learning about the Aztecs or learn about plants twice in a row.
Don’t forget the point is to teach them how to think. For that they need facts, but not every fact.
What if I don’t want to do the units in order?
Then don’t. We won’t ever know.
Not everyone can stand that much order in their lives. Or maybe what you really want is to use our hands-on activities and book lists to supplement another curriculum. Go for it, use our units in their order.
Lots of people are also using only part of the units, just science, for example.
You can use the curriculum however you like.
Teaching the Units
There are three essentials when learning a unit.
- Library List
- Show What You Know
This is the lesson portion, where you are gathering facts. You read books from the library list, watch videos, or learn about the topic in some other way. You’ll use the library list, the introduction to the unit, and perhaps sidebars during this step. You can have your children take notes or make illustrated fact sheets at this point.
Next, do hands-on projects. This step cements the information in your student’s mind. It also helps the student understand at a deeper, more personal level. Reading about oxidation and reduction and making it happen in a test tube involves learning on completely different levels. Remember the hands-on learning portion does not have to cover every concept you learn about. Most of the fact-gathering happens in the Library List portion.
Show What You Know
The last step is writing about the information in some way. It might be a summary paragraph of the information from an encyclopedia, a lab write-up, a caption on a picture, a report, or an opinion paper. There are “Writer’s Workshop” ideas in the sidebars that provide creative and varied writing projects, but one of our favorite methods is narration.
Writing is important because it helps the child to learn to have and express thoughts. As you practice and the child matures he or she will be able to not only tell what was learned but also tell an opinion on the information. In other words, writing helps one process information.
For the teacher, writing can provide an effective assessment tool. You can tell how much your child has absorbed and understood by asking her to write about the topic.
You can also write occasional quizzes for your children to help them learn to take quizzes if you like. But our favorite kinds of quizzes are the ones that are games.
Most assignments, no matter the subject, should have at least a small writing element. It is when writing that you think for yourself. Kids need to learn to have thoughts about what they’ve learned and then reproduce those thoughts on paper. For some kids this comes naturally, but not for all. It takes practice.
So create notebooks for your kids. It is easiest to have one binder for each school year that contains all the Layers of Learning work your kids do. Have tabs in the notebook that are labeled “History,” “Geography,” “Science,” and “Arts.” You can get printable notebook covers to put at the front of your 3 ring binder.
Put any printables you complete, notebooking pages you create, narration pages, and reports or papers in the notebook in the order they are completed.
Digital or Paperback?
We produce both paperback and digital copies of our units. If you’re waffling about which to choose, let us give you the lowdown on the choices.
You use a digital planner, digital shopping list, and your phone is your life.
Read on your computer, tablet, or phone
Links can be clicked on from inside the pdf
Get it instantly
Can be printed if desired
You use a paper planner, paper shopping list, and your phone is an accessory, but not your whole life
Write in your book, add sticky notes, hold it in your hand
Includes the digital pdfs as well
Updated links are available on every product page
Get digital instantly and get fast shipping on paperbacks
No need to print
If you plan to go paperless (aside from printing worksheets for the kids) you will need a program or an app that can read PDF files. For your desktop or laptop get Adobe Reader.
For your phone or tablet, we wrote an article about how to use a tablet with Layers of Learning units.
Printing the digital units
Of course, you can print the digital units, which saves $ on the front end but can cost big $$$ in ink. We recommend the Epson EcoTank printer. This is the printer Michelle uses at home. Printing with it is super cheap because it uses tanks instead of cartridges. And it does double-sided printing automatically, sucking the sheets of paper back into the printer and getting the backside with no effort.
Free Unit to Try
If you’re still with us, you must be interested. Why not get an entire unit to see what the curriculum is really all about?
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Go check out more Layers of Learning how-tos to make your homeschool even better.