Layers of Learning Curriculum

Cover-1-3The Layers of Learning curriculum is a course that covers the scope of history, geography, science and the arts in a four year period.   The program is intended to be repeated every four years, with new projects and ability-appropriate assignments being selected the subsequent times through.  A student will complete four years of Layers of Learning, then repeat, doing different and more involved projects than the first time through, plus adding more advanced reading and writing assignments.  Then the whole thing is repeated again at yet a higher level in the high school years.

Altogether a student starting the program in 1st grade would complete it all three times by graduation.

How It Works

The Layers of Learning Curriculum is a complete curriculum for history, science, geography, and the arts.  It is written as a guided tour and not as a series of activities which must be completed.  You do not have to read every book or do every activity.

It works equally well as an idea book or supplement to another curriculum either in a homeschool or traditional school.  It can also be used by parents to supplement a public school education or as a summer time curriculum.

Unit 2.8 screenshot

This is a double spread page from Unit 2.8. This page is from the geography section about Germany. You can see a recipe to make Bavarian pretzels, an idea for a Berlin Wall field trip, and an Exploration to learn about German composers and music. There are also sidebars on this page that talk more about German foods and more about the Berlin Wall, including web links to a Wikipedia article on the Berlin Wall, a Berlin wall paper craft, and a speech by Ronald Reagan. When your kids are little you might do the Bavarian Pretzel recipe and then when they get bigger, the next time you go through this unit in four years you can focus more on the Berlin Wall and skip making the pretzels. Or you can skip all of this altogether. There are several more pages of projects and information and links about Germany in this unit. You’ll just browse through and find the things you like best and do those.

This course utilizes hands-on, experiential learning.  It gives students an opportunity to express what they are learning through projects, writing assignments, and discussion. Throughout the course there are:





. . . along with reading lists and suggestions for library searches. An EXPLANATION is us telling you information about the topic at hand or us telling you about teaching philosophy or strategies. EXPEDITIONS are ideas for field trips that give meaning to the subject matter. Though we will recommend at least one in every unit, no one could possibly do so many.  Pick the ones that are most meaningful to you.  EXPLORATIONS are activities, crafts, or projects that make the reading you’ve done memorable. Here again, we will give ideas for more activities than you will want to do; this is so you can choose your favorites.  EXPERIMENTS are used for the science topics and ask the questions what, why, and how. While we give procedures and expected results for most EXPERIMENTS, as a teacher you should guide the kids to find many answers on their own and allow them to explore alternative procedures or expand the lesson where it’s safe to do so.

I want to emphasize again that Layers of Learning is a pick-and-choose curriculum.  You choose which books, field trips, crafts, discussions and sidebars you engage in.  You choose how long you spend on each topic.  You choose, in spite of our colored level-indicating smileys, which activities are appropriate and interesting for you and your kids. 


We’ve divided each year into twenty units of history, geography, science, and the arts. For a forty week school year this means you could spend on average two weeks on each unit, several hours a week on each topic.  For a shorter school year some of the units can be abbreviated or skipped.

Here is a printable Units At A Glance where you can view each of the topics in all Four Years.


The Parts of a Unit

At the beginning of each unit we have LIBRARY LISTS, which give you specific books to look up and search terms to use at the library.  You may want to purchase some of the books, but it would be far too expensive to buy them all.  The Library List is not a reading list of material to get through.  It is a list of the best (in our opinion) books out there on the topic to expand your knowledge.  The books we recommend are completely optional . . . You don’t have to read a single one to use our program if you don’t want to.  You can substitute with other books you can find on the topic or read nothing at all.

Unit 1.18 Library List screenshot

This is what the Library Lists at the beginning of each unit look like. There is a section for history, geography, science, and arts. Within each section you’ll see books and authors. Some of the books have a very brief description. All of the books are marked with smileys in yellow, green, and/or blue. The smileys tell you what level the books are written for. Yellow smileys are for the youngest kids (1st through 4th). Green smileys are for the middle grades (5th through 8th). And the blue smileys are for high school kids. You go through this list and search your local library for the books listed. You can also search your library with the search terms we provide for each section and find stuff not on this list. Once in a great while we’ll note when we think a particular book is worth buying. Most books aren’t necessary to own, especially for those of us on a budget. That’s why the book list is also flexible. Just do the best you can with each topic based on what your library has.

Each topic starts with a brief explanation to get you started followed by the . . .


And finally we will list . . .

ADDITIONAL LAYERS and other interesting sidebar items which are related topics that you may wish to explore with your children on your own.  These sidebar items are actually our favorite part of the course and one of the things that make us so uncurriculumy.  We highlight important people associated with the topic, just enough to get you interested to go learn more.  We give fascinating tidbits of information that will make you go, “no way, I  am totally looking that up.”  But best of all it is in the sidebar that we ask  the questions that matter.  “Why should I care about the Romans” is answered when we ask you hard questions about ethics, morality, world view, religion, science, and human behavior in general.  There really is no point studying something that doesn’t change you, make you better, or increase your self-awareness.

The Point of An Education

Education is really about enlightenment, arriving at and understanding and becoming committed to the Ultimate Truths of the universe. We’ll help you do that for yourself so you can do that for your kids.  But while we ask the questions, we don’t answer them.  There is no such thing as dictated or spoon-fed enlightenment, you have to think and ponder and work it out for yourself.  Besides there is no way we claim to have reached Ultimate Truths ourselves.  We would never presume to tell you what to believe.  We respect you more than that.

I can think of a few places where we put our two cents in, but we try to be very clear about when we’re doing that.  Some of the sidebars are EXPLANATIONS, these are our teaching philosophy or beliefs, they are nearly always our opinion, rather than facts.

Teaching History

Topics begin in the furthest past for which we have records. For those who wish to cover the history of the creation and earliest man as told from a Biblical perspective, spend time on this information before you begin the course. For others who wish to include evolution or cave men, do likewise. We do not address either viewpoint.

A map of ancient Egypt to color.

A map of ancient Egypt to color.

In general, each topic should take about two weeks to cover, spending between 2-5 hours a week reading, doing projects, and writing.  You can spend one day a week on history and work for two or three hours at a time or break your time up into two or more days with shorter periods.  We recommend a children’s encyclopedia of world history as a basic overview of each topic.  We like both Usborne’s Encyclopedia of World History and the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia.  In addition, you will need to purchase or use the library for more books on each topic.  We recommend specific books that we like, but also give lists of terms to search for when at the library. Some topics (like ancient Egypt) will have more material available than you can possibly cover, while other topics (like Assyria) may be non-existent or very sparse in terms of resources at the library.  Don’t worry about it.  You can always take extra time on the plentiful subjects and cut short the sparse ones.  Spend some time reading about each subject, then do an expedition or exploration or two and finish up by writing about the topic.  Put all the work in the child’s three ring binder in sequential order.

It will take four years to cover all of world history.  The first year is ancient history from about 5000 BC until approximately 400 AD.  The second year is the medieval period from around 400 AD until the start of the Reformation and the age of Exploration.  The third year will cover the Renaissance and Colonial Period until the American Revolution. The fourth year covers from the new Republic of America through the early 2000’s. Once you have completed four years, you’ll start over at the beginning.  You’ll cover all the same major topics, but on a more advanced level.  The second time through your student will be reading much more independently and writing reports more independently as well.   Repeat the cycle in the high school years as well.  Many of our projects, discussions, experiments, and writing prompts are written especially for high schoolers.   You should expect more reading and writing from your teens than from kids in younger levels.

Teaching Geography

Though geography and history are naturally linked, we feel geography deserves its own course and emphasis. Throughout the history portion of the outline we give directions for creating historical maps to go with your history studies, but the geography section of the outline is devoted to modern concepts, countries, and states.

A mapping activity to learn about longitude and latitude. 

In the first year the student will study geography concepts.  In the second and third years the student will study individual countries around the world. And in the fourth year students will study the 50 United States, including an in-depth study of their home state. Like the history study, the cycle will repeat every four years, with more depth and outside reading for the older student.  

Every home needs to have a student atlas and a globe if possible.  Our favorites are My First Atlas from Hammond and the Student Atlas from DK.  Keep a notebook with three sections: concepts, world, and U.S.  You’ll want to spend between one and three hours a week on Geography depending on the topic, how many EXPLORATIONS you want to do, and the ages of your students.

Teaching Science

The Layers of Learning program covers the four major branches of science including biology, earth science & astronomy, chemistry, and physics in four years.  We spend five units from each year on each of these broad topics of science.  Then the four year cycle is repeated.  This program is focused on hands-on experiences rather than theory and math, though the whys behind each experiment are explained and the topics are presented in an orderly, logical manner.  We recommend purchasing a basic science encyclopedia like Science Encyclopedia from DK for a basic overview and information on nearly every science topic we will cover.

Dissecting a frog during homeschool science.

Dissecting a frog during homeschool science.

Keep a notebook with experiment write-ups, drawings, diagrams and captioned photos of experiments performed.  You will want four sections: Biology, Earth Science, Chemistry, and Physics.  Spend between one and three hours on science a week; perhaps an hour or two on reading and a half to one hour on EXPERIMENTS or EXPLORATIONS.

We steer clear of both evolutionism and creationism, as both, at this point, are scientifically unproven theories.  They are both faith-based rather than science-based. We think faith is wonderful, but we believe it’s best taught by parents.  So insert your beliefs where you find it to be appropriate.  We make an effort to ask thought provoking questions on every topic clear through the curriculum to help your kids define and internalize their belief systems, but we never give the answers to these questions.  It’s your job to guide your kids in this area.  Read more about how we handle science.

Teaching the Arts

Spend one day per week on doing art or music.  You’ll need between one to two hours a week for this.  The Layers of Learning program has explorations touching on drawing skills, watercolor, sculpture, art appreciation, artist studies, creativity, and crafts.  We also spend time on music skills, music appreciation, and poetry, plus plays and literature.  In addition, we highly recommend that you get a collection of a variety of music to play while working at home or while driving in the car.  Every kid can benefit from music lessons.  We recommend a couple of years of piano or other instrument lessons if possible, whether or not your child is musically inclined.


Keep a portfolio of your child’s art or take photographs to keep in a notebook.

Organizing Your Notebooks

It’s a good idea to keep notebooks of your kids’ studies through the years. There are several ways you can organize these notebooks.

  1. You can have one notebook for each year, with tabs marked “History,” “Geography,” “Science,” and “Art.”
  2. You can keep mini-notebooks on each discrete unit.
  3. You can have three different notebooks and keep the same notebooks for four years. You would have a history notebook with sections for “Ancient,” “Medieval,” “Colonial,” and “Modern;” a Geography notebook with sections marked for “Concepts,” “World” and “United States;” a science notebook marked with sections for “Biology,” “Earth Science,” “Chemistry,” and “Physics;” and a portfolio or notebook for art projects.

It doesn’t really matter which method you choose, or if you come up with your own method, what is important is keeping a record and creating a way to show off and treasure your child’s work. There’s nothing so discouraging as writing something great or completing a cool project only to have it thrown away and be found no more forever. Besides, it’s proof for the local school system.

Other Topics We Don’t Cover

We don’t cover systematic math, writing, grammar, foreign language, or many other topics, though we do offer lots of EXPLORATIONS that touch on these things.  We include everyday math, lots of writing activities, and smatterings of foreign words.  But none of these are complete without a separate course.  Topics like writing, foreign language, and math are daily and need separate comprehensive courses to teach them.

Year OneYear TwoYear ThreeYear Four


Read More About Our Curriculum

How we handle science.

How we handle science.

The four year rotation and how we incorporate this into our curriculum.

The four year rotation and how we incorporate this into our curriculum.

Is Layers of Learning Christian or Secular?

Is Layers of Learning Christian or Secular?


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5 Responses to Layers of Learning Curriculum

  1. Sarah says:

    I was wondering if you could give some examples of how you schedule your time for teaching one unit with all those subjects. Even though I’ve been homeschooling for a few years now, scheduling and fitting all the needed subjects in is something I still struggle with. I realize that different schedules work for different families, but it helps to see what others do to use as a springboard for ideas.

  2. Sarah says:

    We have really been enjoying your curriculum. I like having it to follow as a guide. My challenge comes when something during the week derails the lesson for that day, getting us off track with that one subject but not the others. How do you reconcile days like that? I want to teach them all the lessons (it helps me be better about being consistent), but missing a lessons really throws me off. Any suggestions?

    • We schedule a day into our week (Friday for us) with no history, geography, science, or arts. It’s just an extra empty hour. Then if we fall behind on anything, whether it’s a Layers of Learning lesson or math, we use our extra time to catch up.

      Karen taught me a trick to keep track. She writes out her lesson plans and then as she completes things she just highlights them. It’s really easy to glance back and see what you missed. It also helps you stay accountable and on track.

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