Layers of Learning

Layers of Learning

Layers of Learning publishes family-style courses written from a fairly neutral perspective covering history, geography, science, art, and composition. The courses, and even the units that make up the courses, can be purchased individually but work well together.

Layers of Learning has laid out a plan for using the courses over a four-year cycle that can be repeated three times with students in grades one through twelve as follows.

  • Year 1: Ancient History, People & Planet, Earth & Space, and Art Beginnings
  • Year 2: Middle Ages History, Mapping Our World, Biology, and Middle Ages Art
  • Year 3: Colonial World History (Age of Exploration through the Enlightenment), World Cultures, Chemistry, and Colonial Period Arts
  • Year 4: Either Modern World or American History, People & Place, U.S. States (still under development), Physics (still under development), and Modern Arts

The cycle can be repeated three times by selecting more challenging resources and activities or those addressing different subtopics in each cycle. Layers of Learning’s composition course, Writer’s Workshop, can be used every year.

Note that American History is set in the modern era and also covers world history. Because there is a lot of overlap in Modern World and American History, you don’t need to complete both during each cycle. However, you might want to switch them for one cycle.

Regarding the courses’ point of view, the history courses begin with early civilizations, avoiding controversies about cavemen and how long people have been around. History courses cover the history of religions, with all religions treated respectfully. Science, especially earth science and space science, presume a universe billions of years old. Some units teach about evolution, but some recommended resources address intelligent design and other theories challenging either traditional Darwinian or Neo-Darwinian models. Occasional warnings in all courses alert parents when content might be too mature for some students or objectionable to some families.

Course Components

Each subject area has an inexpensive guidebook (PDF) that explains how to use all the courses for that subject area.

All courses consist of nine units, each of which should take about a month to complete. Each unit has a full-color mentor’s book for the teacher and a printable pack with worksheets and other pages for students, which you can copy or print for a family or co-op class. (Some printable pages need to be in color.) Complete courses (all nine units) can be purchased as either PDFs or a single paperback book containing all nine mentor’s books. (The printable pack PDF is included with the purchase of every mentor’s book.) Individual units are available only as PDFs.

All five subject areas have another optional book that can be used over all four years: the Art Sketchbook is used along with the art courses, the World Explorer Journal with geography courses, the Science Notebook with science courses, the Book of Years: A Timeline of World History with history courses, and the Writer’s Journal with Writer’s Workshop.

In addition, a free list of online resources for each course provides even more content, such as trivia games, images, articles, online museums, printable worksheets, and extensive YouTube® playlists.

Design of Units

Lessons within each unit follow the same pattern of getting information (primarily from books); an Exploration or Experiment that involves hands-on activity, arts and crafts, a field trip, or other learning activity; and “Show What You Know,” an activity that demonstrates learning.

In the mentor’s book, parents select from an annotated list one or more books to be read at the beginning or throughout the unit. Additional books that are more narrowly focused are recommended within the units. Parents also select activities (called Explorations or Experiments in Layers of Learning). Each unit has more than you can complete in a month, so there will be plenty of skipped resources and activities to use in subsequent cycles. If you prefer, you can spend several months on one unit, using many more books and activities, especially if you don’t think you will be completing that topic again in another cycle.

The library list for each unit has brief descriptions for each book and identifies them with color-coded dots for ages 6-9, 10-13, and 14-18. In the history units, some books are identified as being from the Great Books. Books written on the appropriate levels are not available for every topic, so you will probably want to have on hand a few encyclopedic source books, such as either The Usborne Encyclopedia of World History or The Kingfisher History Encyclopedia for history and The Usborne Science Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia of Science from DK, or The Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia for science. Parents can read books aloud, especially when trying to involve the entire family, but students can also read independently. Some free, online video series are recommended for high school students, such as Khan Academy history course videos and Bozeman Science Resources videos used with the Biology course. Some recommended videos have worksheets or activities you can use.

In each mentor’s book, sidebars like those described below provide many more potential learning activities and aids for parents and teachers:

  • Unit Overview: the first sidebar in each unit lists key concepts, vocabulary, and names of important people.
  • Teaching Tips: occasional tips or ideas that don’t fit elsewhere, such as other resources for learning, practical ways to use Layers of Learning resources, or alternate ways of completing projects.
  • On the Web: suggested topics for internet research or reminders to visit their resource pages at Layers of Learning for links to videos, playlists, web links, and more for that unit.
  • Bookworms: tangentially related books that might be fiction, non-fiction, historical biographies, or picture books.
  • Memorization Station: terms or images with definitions.
  • Deep Thoughts: questions for discussion.
  • Famous Folks: images and brief biographies of key people.
  • Fabulous Facts: bits of trivia or extra information that didn’t fit into the text.
  • Additional Layer: like Fabulous Facts, these are interesting bits that didn’t fit elsewhere.
  • Expedition: field trip ideas.
  • Unit Trivia Questions: a list of questions (with answers) near the end of each unit that can be used as a quiz or for a game.
  • Big Book of Knowledge: a reminder to add to your Big Book of Knowledge (detailed below).

All sidebar suggestions are optional, but they add as many “layers” to the learning as you want.

Writer’s Workshop

Writer’s Workshop differs from the other courses since rather than recommending books to read it includes instruction on composition skills. Sidebars consist mostly of mini lessons that include brief assignments. Frequent exercises also require students to apply what they have learned. It has some instruction on grammar and usage, including some work with sentence diagrams, but that is a minor focus. The exercises and mini lessons can be used repeatedly with different subject matter each time.

Writer’s Workshop units are generally completed one per month like the other courses, and sidebars in the mentor’s books for other courses often suggest ways to apply Writer’s Workshop skills to topics covered in other subject areas.

Layers of Learning has two possible add-ons for language arts. Word Work explains how to teach spelling and vocabulary, and then presents learning games and activities. Research Paper is a semester course that teaches teens how to write a research paper.

Explorations and Experiments

Explorations and Experiments are identified with the same color-coded dots for age ranges as used for the recommended books. Some Explorations might include watching a video or reading from a book. Generally, they involve some type of hands-on activity for which instructions are included—the entire curriculum is loaded with hands-on activities! Typically, the Exploration or Experiment takes one to two hours, and a few will take more than a day because something has to be observed over time or drying is required before finishing an art or craft project.

For all courses, you will need typical school supplies along with other items like pipe cleaners, glitter, spray paint, wiggly eyes, and feathers. Candies, other food items, and kitchen supplies are also used frequently in the courses. Science courses require some specialized supplies, which are listed with each activity since you won’t be doing all of them. For example, the Biology unit titled Biodiversity uses resources such as gingerbread or sugar cookie dough, frosting, a microscope, a prepared slide showing mitosis, gummy candies or miniature marshmallows, toothpicks, licorice, rocks, specimens from nature (e.g., shells, leaves, flower blossoms), a magnifying glass, cotton balls, yarn, and string.

Show What You Know

Show What You Know might involve coloring, drawing, narration (written or oral), entry on a Big Book of Knowledge sheet (from the printables), entry in the Book of Years or other subject area book, playing a quiz game, or taking a test. Possible test or quiz questions are included in the mentor’s book. The Big Book of Knowledge should be compiled throughout the school year. One sheet per unit is used by the teacher or older students to record key information students should know; it might be recorded in the form of writing, charts, diagrams, or sketches. Information from the Big Book of Knowledge can be used for quizzes or tests or with some of the suggested games. You can see images and explanations about the Big Book of Knowledge along with great game ideas on this same webpage.

The Book of Years is a timeline in book format that you can either construct yourself from a PDF or purchase as a spiral-bound paperback from Layers of Learning. It has space on the pages for both writing and drawing information about key events and people for all four years of a cycle. Interestingly, the Book of Years has pages cut below the timeline at the top so that the timeline itself can flip through multiple lower pages of entries from around the world that occur in the same time period. Some timeline tags and images are included in the printables, but you will want to have students draw and write some of their own.

In addition to the Book of Years, Art Sketchbook, Science Notebook, World Explorer Journal, and Writer’s Journal entries, student work, including photos of bulky projects, should be compiled in a binder. Many of the printable pages are preformatted with drawings or graphic layouts so they can be used as notebooking pages and inserted in the binder.


Planners for mentors and students might be a good investment since there are many choices to make and record. You can purchase spiral-bound or PDF books for either mentor or student, or you can purchase the online OneNote Planner that is used by both mentor and student.

Weaknesses for High School Students

The courses seem well developed for younger students with loads of activities and resource recommendations that suit them. While many resources are suggested for high school students, instructions are vague as to how they should be used.

Some recommendations for high school could serve as standalone courses on their own. Two examples are the Khan Academy World History course videos recommended in several history units and a book recommended for the Rocks unit of the Earth & Space course titled Geology: A Self-Teaching Guide by Barbara W. Murck. Occasionally, the mentor’s guide will mention a particular part or pages of a book to read or particular videos from a series to watch, but parents and students are generally on their own to figure that out. For example, specific videos are recommended from Khan Academy’s World History, but no specifics are given for the 336-page Geology book, much of which discusses rocks. In the case of the book, it’s not easy to determine how much a teen should read over the month, and the same applies to many other adult-level books recommended for teens.

This lack of specificity might work well for the self-motivated student who wants to direct his or her own education but not so well for the student who needs more direction. If a parent has time to plan each unit’s work with a teen, then it can still work well, but the busy parent trying to teach multiple grade levels might not have time for that much planning.

The science courses include experiments that can serve as lab activities, and each unit suggests the option of writing up a formal lab report on one experiment, so it is possible for the science courses to serve as college prep lab courses. However, they will probably be less rigorous than traditional courses.


Layers of Learning makes it much easier for homeschooling parents to keep all their children working on the same or similar topics at the appropriate levels, and families can pick and choose which courses or individual units to use. It takes some work to sort through all the options, but it’s less work than when students all work in different programs for different subjects. Layers of Learning also helps bring the family together with read-aloud books, activities, and field trips.

Pricing Information

When prices appear, please keep in mind that they are subject to change. Click on links where available to verify price accuracy.

See the publisher's website since there are so many purchasing options.

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Instant Key

  • Need For Parent or Teacher Instruction: high
  • Learning Environment: family or one-on-one
  • Grade Level: grades 1-12
  • Educational Methods: real books, oral presentations or recitations, multisensory, memorization, lots of variety, interactive, hands-on, game, drawing activities, discussion, critical thinking, creative activities
  • Technology: supplemental digital content, PDF
  • Educational Approaches: unschooling or relaxed homeschooling, unit study, eclectic, Charlotte Mason
  • Religious Perspective: neutral

Publisher's Info

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