How to Plan a Layers of Learning Unit and Year

How to Plan A Layers of Learning Unit and Year

Layers of Learning is a little different from a typical curriculum because we give you the freedom to choose books and activities within the curriculum.  You have to think of it more like a huge guided activity book.  But it can be difficult to get your head around how to plan a Layers of Learning unit and year, so we’re going to walk through that process now.

As you gain more experience with homeschool and with using our curriculum you will probably deviate from this process and start doing it your own way, and that’s totally okay.  In fact, Layers of Learning is all about doing education your own way.

The process I’m about to describe is completed using pages from the Layers of Learning Mentor Planner.  It’s sold as a download (as well as a spiral bound paperback) so you can go grab it now.

Before you print the planner, there are several places you can edit in the pdf so you don’t have to write in things like your daily work.

Two Steps

There are two steps to planning a unit and a year of Layers of Learning.

  1. Fill out a pacing guide for the entire year
  2. Plan each individual unit in detail and write it in your weekly planner

Step 1: Pacing Guide

The first step is to fill out a pacing guide.  The pacing guide is just a series of boxes, one column for each week of your school year.  Within each week is a box for each of the Layers of Learning subjects: history, geography, science, and the arts.

Decide on how many weeks of school you’ll do during the year.  A typical school year is 36 weeks.  

Fill in Your Pacing Guide

Next, in pencil, write down the units you will be doing each week inside the box.  This will help you see how many weeks you will have on each unit.  

When we are planning, we use our Units At A Glance to help us fill in our own pacing guides.  All you need at this stage is the topics.

Pacing Guide Filled Out
Here is my pacing guide for next year.  I just wrote in which units and the topics of those units. I made myself a few notes of things I would like to do within the units like “reading and videos” and also things that are extra like “establish patterns and expectations” during the first two weeks of school.

As you fill in your pacing guide you may realize that things need to be adjusted.  That’s why you used pencil.  Go back in and erase and rewrite as needed.

Step 2: Plan Each Individual Unit

The next step is to plan your units.  This can be done all at once in the summer (or when you have a big chunk of time), or it can be done week by week.  This is definitely the most time intensive part of the planning, but secretly, also our personal favorite.  Planning is so much fun.

Weekly Planner

For this step you use the weekly planner.  

Now you get out the unit you are planning for.  Glance through it a bit and think about what topics/information/concepts you really want your kids at their stage of learning to “get.”


Explorations and experiments are the activities portion of the curriculum, the bulk of what makes up the book.  Choose from among these explorations and add them to your planner.

You will be be tempted to think that in order to learn about the structure of government (for example) you must do the exploration about the structure of government.  You do not.  Remember that you can learn these concepts from your reading or from having a short discussion, or from watching a short video as well.  You do not have time to do every single activity in these books.

Go back to your learning goals.  Which exploration or explorations meet those learning goals the best?  Choose those.  You can learn the other concepts from your outside reading, from watching a short video, or the next time you come around to that unit.  In some cases you may decide you really need to stretch a unit to more weeks to accomplish everything you really want to do.  You can do that.  It’s your curriculum.  Just remember that you will probably need to shorten other unit(s) or adjust your concept of how many units you will get through in a year.

As you are planning your activities, write down the supplies you need to gather (things you already own) and make a list of supplies you need to purchase.  It is during this planning stage that I also make all the printables that I want to use.  I store the printables in a basket labeled by week.  Here you can see how I organize my printables for a whole year.

Library List

Next, open to the library list and start choosing books.  I also have my local library’s catalog open so I can search to see what is available right here for free.  If there is a book I really want that my library doesn’t have, I put it on a list to purchase. (The Layers of Learning Mentor Planner also has excellent list pages . . . love the lists).

I only put one book on my library list for this unit, “Shh! They’re Writing the Constitution” by Jean Fritz.  I want to read this one aloud to all of my kids so they all know the story of how the Constitution came to be.  My younger kids struggle with dyslexia and though they can read, it’s not quick, so I keep the reading assignments minimal.  My two oldest boys were voracious readers and all I had to do was fill up our book basket and let them at it.  They read everything they could lay their hands on, no assignments needed.  Tailor your library list to your kids.

You certainly should not be trying to read everything on the library lists.  Remember – the purpose is to love learning, so choose a few engaging books that meet your learning goals for the unit.  Pass on the rest.  You can come back to them the next time you go through the Layers of Learning cycle.

Writing and Assessments

Writing and assessments (tests) are part of education because they are excellent tools to help things stick in the mind.  At the bottom of the Unit Planner is a space to jot down what writing assignments and/or tests you will use to help your kids solidify their learning.  The writing assignments can be part of your Writer’s Workshop or you can do them during Layers of Learning time.  A test could be a simple quiz game, a narration page, or an actual formal test.  It’s just a tool to see what kids remember on their own.

I plan to grade the work that is done under the “Writing Assignments & Assessments” section, but not the other work we do together.

If you don’t know what else to assign, have your kids do a narration page (explained in our Curriculum Guide) or have them do an Illustrated Fact Sheet.  You can use the “Writer’s Workshop” sidebars for inspiration as well.

As you complete assignments in your Weekly Lesson Planner, highlight them.  This will help you see if you have missed something.  It also gives you a sense of accomplishment, like a checklist.

If you have missed something because you ran out of time or someone had a meltdown, you can pick it up on another day . . . or just decide to let it go.  The highlights quickly let you see what you’d still like to accomplish in the week, even if it isn’t on the exact day you planned it for.  (Because, you know, when you planned in the summertime you had no idea you’d be taking 3 kids to the dentist this Tuesday!)

How to Plan A Layers of Learning Unit and Year Re-cap

So that’s it.  Figure out your pacing and write details all down in your weekly planner.  Take the time to plan during the summer (or your school break) and then all through the year school will go smoothly with very little prep time needed.

You might like reading more Layers of Learning how-tos.

Free Unit

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6 thoughts on “How to Plan A Layers of Learning Unit and Year”

  1. Do you have photos or videos of what your kids binders look like? I’d like to show my kids, as an example of how they might look. (I want to get them as excited about this as I am!)

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