Get To Know Us

Get to Know Us

Karen thinks you don’t know us very well.  Michelle thinks you’ve picked up a few hints here and there. Hint: if you’ve ever gotten an e-mail with “warmly” as a closing, it’s from Karen. If you’ve been toodling around our blog at all, you’ve probably figured out that Layers of Learning is run by two sisters: Karen and Michelle. On second thought . . .maybe you haven’t been able to figure out anything of the sort. It took me a search (on my own site) to find the link just above. Our site has gotten awfully messy. We’ll blame it on Karen.  She was the one who stuffed everything under the bed when we were kids.   Then again, it’s Michelle, in fits of misguided neatness, that keeps removing all the links and junk in the sidebars. Never mind though, we’re doing a major overhaul . . . more on that … click to read more

How To Use Writing To Learn Thinking

I’ve always wanted my kids to be thinkers, not the sort of people who can be led around by the nose by advertisers, politicians, and people in authority. I have been homeschooling since 2003 and my two oldest boys are now 19 and 18 respectively.  They are thinkers.  So I’m going to tell you now how to use writing to learn thinking.  It’s not as hard as it sounds. You do this: Have the child summarize information he’s read into his own words. Write down the summary. Give his opinion of the reading. But the process takes years so here’s the progression in more detail. Start with Narration Narration is an effective technique to use with younger students, up to about 4th grade or until your child can write comfortably on her own. It’s also really simple and requires no preparation for the teacher. All you do is read aloud a … click to read more

How to Subscribe to Layers of Learning (Or any other site)

So you like our site and you want to read our articles, but you forget, get lost on doing other things.  We know, you’re busy.  But there’s hope!  Here is the lowdown on how to subscribe to Layers of Learning (and any other sites you want to keep up with). This site, and nearly every other site, produces something called an RSS Feed.  RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication.  It means that our blog puts out our articles that can be picked up by a third party reader.  This is what our feed looks like in its raw form.  An RSS reader grabs that raw data and turns it back into something pretty. This is lucky for you because it makes it super easy to keep up with our blog posts. There are two ways. First Way: Email Inbox Subscribe to get emails from us in your inbox.  You will … click to read more

Teaching Kids to Write a Story

Teaching kids to write a story is about a lot more than just saying, okay let’s all write a story.  Real authors plan their plots, think about their character’s motivations, think about character roles, create a world, and begin with a problem and a solution to that problem before they ever start to write.  Even if much of that happens in their heads.  It’s these tools, this knowledge about planning, that makes for a real writer. For years now I’ve felt frustrated that we give kids substandard tools when asked to perform tasks.  We hand them dinky, kid sized hammers when they build their first bird house.  They get gifted these cheapo brushes and horrible watercolor trays to learn to paint with.  We even hand them stupid plastic knives and then tell them to practice cutting up vegetables, as if it’s even possible. No wonder so many kids feel talent-less. … click to read more


Have you ever made a quadrama?  I try to fill our home school with lots of projects to make the learning as memorable as possible. . . always looking for things that stick in their minds!  We do lots of reading and I have my kids make book projects of their choice about the things they read.  Today my daughter finished reading Mummies in the Morning by Mary Pope Osborne (we love the Magic Treehouse series!).  It was time for a book project!  {Oh, and to find out more about book projects and other things we do to encourage reading at our house, go take a peek at our Bookworms page.} She decided to craft a quadrama for her project since a pyramid is the perfect shape for a book about Egyptian pyramids.  She loved the project so much though, that I predict many more quadramas in our future, whether … click to read more

Old School Spelling

Every single one of the English topics we study has been approached higgeldy piggledy from the very beginning, and that includes spelling.  Recently, like two weeks ago, recently, we went back to doing old school spelling.  We start with a pre-test on Monday, practice all week, and then have a test on Friday. My kids, shockingly, are loving it.  In fact, I asked Isaac what homeschool thing we’ve done lately that he likes (in hopes of inspiration for a post) and he said “spelling”.  I pressed him for why he would say spelling.  Does any kid ever say, “You know what I really liked today?  It was my spelling practice.”   No, they do not.  He couldn’t give me a reason so I am forced to speculate. Old School Spelling We’re using this ancient little brown speller that was written for one-room schoolhouses back in 1928.  It smells strongly of … click to read more

Travel Diaries

Travel Diaries

The inspiration for these travel diaries that I’m doing with my kids right now are based on a few truisms in my personal life. I loath crafts.  LOATH them. If we have a craft scheduled into our day, I will put it off until last and then find a way to not have to do it.  To me they are not fun, they are stressful.  Crafts with kids are something akin to getting your teeth drilled at the dentist, except the dentist really isn’t that bad. Karen and I were talking about that the other day.  Do you know that if she has a craft scheduled to do with her kids she actually has to exert self control to make herself make them wait till their seat work is done?  They use the craft as a reward.  I know.  Crazy. Also, I realize that Karen and I have created a curriculum that … click to read more

A Lego Christmas Tree

Harrison had a vision of a Lego Christmas tree.  He built all the Lego ornaments and then scouted out the yard looking for the perfect tree. We live on ten treed acres in North Idaho so there were plenty to choose from. Then Harrison came to me, got my attention, which is a chore sometimes, and showed me his plan and his Lego ornaments. We got Tim, CJ, and Garrett to help.  Harrison is the baby and a naturally very sweet child.  So if you want cooperation all you have to do is say, “Harrison would like it”.  Everyone in the family melts and drops what they are doing and goes to help Harrison.  That might turn out bad at some point.  But that’s the way it is. So there we were in the field digging out a baby Douglas Fir, which in spite of its tender age had very … click to read more

Southwest Black Bean Chicken

ISO: A Dinner That Cooks Itself. I’m feeling desperate.  We’re getting into another busy sports season in our family {four kids in basketball . . . YIKES!} and that means crock pot dinners at our house.  Either that or pizza every night, and I can’t handle the mom-guilt that comes by pizza night #3.  By the time we’re winding up our school day I’m simply too tired to figure out what we’re having for dinner anyway, so it’s better all around if I’ve got that particular hurdle squared away early in the day. Enter Southwest Black Bean Chicken. Yes indeed, it practically cooks itself.  And it’s ready whenever we are, just a-waitin’ in the crock pot for us in between homeschool and dashing off to sports. Southwest Black Bean Chicken Ingredients: 1 small bag frozen corn or 1 can of corn 1 can black beans 2 large frozen boneless skinless … click to read more

History Detective

Try out this history detective approach for your next history lesson.  Let your kids sleuth out the truth about a historical event. I’m a big believer in keeping a historical framework and teaching the history of the world in the order it happened, but that doesn’t mean my kids have zero choices when it comes to learning.  Each unit we do has all kinds of events that happened during that time period.  I almost always sit down with my kiddos as we start a unit and we glance through it together.  They choose some explorations and books they are interested in and we begin to form a unit.  As my kids get older (I’ve got a middle schooler and a high schooler now), I want them to do more of their own research and independent learning instead of relying so much on our read alouds and discussions.  Don’t get me … click to read more