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 Homeschool Planner.  It’s a 99¢ download and you can go grab it now and print the pages we’ll be using so you can follow along.

You will need to unzip the file, then open the “Homeschooling” folder and then the “Guided Layers of Learning Planning” folder.  The three files inside are the ones you will need.  Alright, so let’s get on with how to plan a Layers of Learning unit in three steps.

Three Steps

There are three 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
  3. Put your plans into a weekly lesson 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, but we provided 40 weeks worth.  Even if you homeschool year round you probably don’t do more than 40 weeks of school. Just print out enough sheets for the number of weeks you want to have school. If you need more help with that read Karen’s guide on Planning Your Homeschool Year.

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.  We wrote the curriculum to last two weeks for each unit.  If you are schooling for less than 40 weeks, some of the units will have to be cut down to just one week if you want to complete all of the units in one school year.

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.


We put the last line in the pacing guide for “specials.”  You put any school subject you like into that space.  Usually we put in the extra subjects each of our kids is studying that year.  This coming year I have two beginning piano students and two learning Spanish with Duo Lingo.  I don’t need lesson plans or pacing guides for those subjects, so my Pacing Guide in that section will either be blank or include extra things I want to remember to teach.

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.

We recommend you plan just one unit at a time.  This way you won’t feel guilty if you get behind and you can plan for your real life circumstances of the moment. I don’t know about you, but in August I rarely know how my October will be going. Planning one unit at a time helps you feel more relaxed about getting things done and prevents you from buying supplies you never use because you didn’t get to that exploration you planned months ago. 

Layers of Learning can be a grab and go curriculum if you have some basic art supplies and paper on hand and deliberately choose the explorations that you have stuff for or that only requires printables from the unit.  But it’s a better, more full curriculum if you do some initial planning.  After your initial planning session for each unit you shouldn’t have to do any further day by day planning.

Unit Planner

For this step you use the unit planner.  Print out one set of Unit Planner pages for each unit you will cover this year.  For me that’s twenty copies, one set for each unit.

Learning Goals

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.”

At the top of the Unit Planner write in your learning goals under “Things from this unit I want my kids to know.”  That direction will help you choose books, explorations, and sidebars that do the job you are hoping to accomplish.

Unit Planner top close up
In Unit 4-1 I want my kids to know what the constitution is and what it says. I also want them to understand the principles behind American government. My kids range from 9 years to 15 years so we’re hitting meatier things.  If I had only little children I would probably focus on the structure of the government . . . three branches and all that.

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 Homeschool 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.

Memorization Station

The sidebars of each unit have “Memorization Stations.”  I am going to chose something from history for my kids to memorize while we are on this unit.  They should learn the Preamble by heart, so that’s on our memory work.  I won’t choose memory work from the other subjects for this unit because one thing at a time is enough for us.  Having the “Memorization Station” space helps me to remember to keep memory work on the radar.


Explorations and experiments are the activities portion of the curriculum, the bulk of what makes up the book.  When we wrote the units we more or less did one exploration per event or personality or concept.

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.

We left you with just three spaces in the Unit Planner for explorations.  Choose three or (less!) hands-on activities to do for each subject in each unit.

Go back to your learning goals at the top of the sheet.  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 three or four 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.

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 decided for this unit to use the government match game as a quiz at the end of the unit.  There was another exploration I also really wanted to do (“Parts of the Constitution”) so I will be assigning my kids to each do that (it requires quite a bit of writing) on their own time.

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.

Step 3: Weekly Planner

The final step is to enter your plans for each unit into your Weekly Planner.  For this you’ll also need to get out your pacing guide.

how to plan a Layers of Learning unit and year Weekly Planner
The colorful tabs that run down the left hand side are editable so you can put in all your school subjects for the year.  Mine say “Writer’s Workshop”, “History”, “Geography”, “Science”, “The Arts”, “DADA”, and “Specials”.  DADA stands for Defense Against the Dark Arts.  Specials are subjects unique to each child.  I do not plan for math.  We just do the next lesson in the book.  If  you have more subjects to plan for, put all of the Layers of Learning Subjects in one row.  But keep it doable!  Remember you do not have to learn everything in one year.

So if you scheduled two weeks for Unit 4-1, you have to fit all the stuff you planned into those two weeks in your Weekly Planner.  This helps you distribute the work load so none of your days become undoable.  It will also help you to see if you need to cut something out or if you end up with a free day (Yea!).  To see how a week actually goes in my homeschool read A Week With Layers of Learning.

how to plan a Layers of Learning unit and year
Notice that many squares are blank in this planner. Do not attempt to do every subject every day. Pace out your work so your school day doesn’t stretch out to dinner time and beyond. I usually plan for about an hour or two of Layers of Learning work each day. Karen does more like three hours a day. The difference? She and her kids like projects while I like printables and discussions. Projects take more time, but they are memorable and fun for hands-on learners.

Very Important!  Leave the Weekly Lesson Planner undated until you actually begin work on that week.  That way if/when life gets in the way, your plan isn’t blown out of the water, you just get back on track with the next week when things calm down again. You can take as long on each unit as you need to.

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.  Remember the three steps.  Figure out your pacing, then plan each individual unit, and finally, write it 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.

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4 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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