How to Use a Spine Book When Homeschooling

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Written by Sara Dennis of Classically Homeschooling.

Have you ever heard of using a spine book when homeschooling? It’s a simple concept. You choose one book, or curriculum, that you use as the launching point for your studies. Kids read a small section of the spine, then take off and do additional research on the topic of interest.

Rabbit trails quickly become the basis of your homeschool!

How to Use a Spine Book When Homeschooling

Break Down the Spine

Breaking down the spine sounds terrible, doesn’t it! But it’s really not that bad. You just divide the pages of the book evenly over the time you’ll be using the book. For instance, a 180-page book may be divided into sections of 5 pages to read each week.

Another option is to divide the book into topics. The first quarter we’ll study the Ancient Egyptians. In the second quarter, we’ll explore the Ancient Chinese. The third quarter will be devoted to the Ancient Greeks. And in the fourth quarter, we’ll study the Romans.

Once you have your plan, either schedule the readings to be done once a week or at the beginning of your topical study.

Read the Spine

The spine is designed to give you a good overview of the topic you’re studying. A chapter about the Egyptians may touch on the geography of Egypt, their religion, a brief overview of their history, pyramids, and mummies.

Have your child read the spine!

Likely you’ll find your kids fascinated by one aspect of the Ancient Egyptians. For instance, one may want to learn more about the mummies, another adores Egyptian jewelry, and the third is curious about Egyptian mythology.

Take note of these interests; you’ll be running with them in a moment!

Now if you’re using a curriculum as a spine, for instance, a math textbook, you’ll read the text instead of your children. Again pick out the concepts you’d like to focus on such as circles, diameters, circumferences, and pi.

You’re ready to research!

Research, Research, Research!

Take your kids to the library and help them find the section on Ancient Egypt. Encourage them to browse and find a few books that pique their interest.

You can also search for fun math and activity books to cover the concept of circles while you’re at the library.

And don’t forget to search Amazon to find books on the topics in which you’re interested. Search Pinterest for fun activities. Ask friends for recommendations.

Check to see if you can find lapbooks and notebooking pages for the kids as well.

How to Use a Spine Book When Homeschooling

Read Books, Complete Projects

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to read books and complete projects. Read about how the Egyptians mummified their Pharaohs, and try mummifying a chicken. Try your hand at creating Egyptian jewelry.

Draw circles using a compass. Measure the circumference. Measure the diameter. Calculate pi. Send the kids off to find out if the altering the size of the circle will change pi.

Reading books and completing projects is the fun part of homeschooling!

Record Your Studies

Don’t forget to keep a record of your studies. Have the kids write about what they learned each day in a notebook.

Here’s a quick guideline for expectations. Feel free to adapt the expectations for your kids! I have a little second grader who loves to write. She’ll happily write pages if given a chance. I’ve also known middle school kids who loathed writing. One good paragraph is plenty for an older pencil-avoiding child.

  • 1-3 sentences for 1st and 2nd graders (and encourage your kids to dictate while you write if needed)
  • 1-2 paragraphs for 3rd-5th graders
  • 1 page for middle school kids

Encourage your kids to draw pictures of their studies as well.

Write down the various projects you’ve completed, and take photos of them. It’s easy for old projects to clutter up our storage rooms and closets. But it’s just as easy to take a picture to memorialize the project for eternity!

Create a Portfolio

Gather all the pages, pictures, and lists into a 3-ring binder. You can divide the binder by topic or file your children’s work by date.

Keep a list of all the books your kids have read during this time. You may find it comes in handy later when they’re trying to remember that excellent book they read about Ancient Egypt.

You’ll end up with a fantastic record of your children’s studies!

I like to keep a portfolio for each child, but you can also create a family record of your studies. It’s your choice.

Using a spine book when homeschooling is a great way to add variety, interest, and spice to your homeschool. Just choose a topic, read some background information, and have fun with hands-on projects and rabbit trails.

Do you use spines in your homeschool?

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  1. We’re using a spine this year for middle school American history. Our spine is the DK Children’s Encyclopedia of American History. My 7th grader and I read that together once a week. This book helps set our pace and introduces key events and people. For map work, we use Map Trek US Edition and some historical US atlases. We have a read-aloud time once a week during which my daughter and I take turns reading from these three resources: Great Events in American History, Uncover Exciting History, and In God We Trust. These three books teach us about our nation’s Christian heritage. Finally, my daughter chooses several books of historical fiction or biographies to read about the time period. This method of studying history has helped my daughter who did not like history to better enjoy learning history.

  2. Thanks! This reminds me of the process Helene Hanff used in 84, Charing Cross Road, using Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch as the “spine.”

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