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What is a Homeschool Curriculum Spine?

Updated on November 30, 2012

A Backbone for Your Homeschool Studies

In homeschool circles, you may have heard the term "spine" and quickly realized that it has an alternate meaning outside of human anatomy. A spine is a living book that is used as the basis of your study.

Usually each subject area would have its own spine. So you would have a history spine, a science spine, and an English spine, for example.

You could have a history spine that you use for the entire year or for a term or for just a few weeks.

For example, when we studied American history, our primary spine was the Children's Encyclopedia of American History. But as we studied different periods within American history,we had other books the temporarily took over as curriculum spines. For the Civil Wartime period we used The Civil War for Kids: A History with 21 Activities . And for World War 2 we used World War II for Kids: A History with 21 Activities.

A Spine Offers Structure

The main thing is that the spine is the backbone of your study. Just as the spine offers structure and support to the human torso, the homeschool spine gives order to the curriculum.

When studying any broad topic, there are various ways of dividing and ordering information. Using a single spine gives you a set order to follow. By going through the spine in order, you know that you are hitting the main points of your topic and are not leaving out huge gaps.

Spine = textbook?

You may think that a spine sounds like a textbook. But there is a difference.A textbook is all you need. Everything is there -- timelines, photos, text, facts, and comprehension questions. But a spine is the starting point for your studies. The assumption is that you will not only use the spine but that you will be adding in other living books to flesh out the study beyond what the spine can offer.

Our Spine for WW2 Studies

World War 2 For Kids History Spine
World War 2 For Kids History Spine | Source

Advantages to Using a Curriculum Spine

1.  You know what order to teach the material.

By following your spine, you know step one and the following steps.

2.  You know when you are finished.

Sometimes a unit study or theme can go on and on. There are so many tangents to explore. By using a spine as the foundation of your study, you know when you've completed your topic.

3.  The spine serves as a bare minimum.

If life gets messy or is filled with transitions that disrupt your homeschool plans, you can stick to the spine and omit the extras. Using a spine gives you assurance that you've covered the foundations.

What to Add to a Spine

If you do want to supplement your homeschool curriculum spine, here are some ideas:


Do you use a spine for your homeschool curriculum?

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How to Use a Spine to Plan Your Own Unit Study

Look at your spine and the divisions of it, probably chapters. Divide the content into daily reading assignments, maybe a two page spread or a part of a chapter. Then intersperse the reading with additional activities to complement the reading.


In the spine, the first area of study is algae. Then the book moves to protozoa. 

  • Day 1 read four pages in the spine about algae.
  • Day 2 do an experiment with algae.
  • Day 3 write a notebooking page about what you've learned.
  • Day 4 read three pages about protozoa.
  • Day 5 watch video about protozoa.
  • Day 6 write a report on protozoa.

This is merely an example, of course. But it shows how the order and content of the spine serves as the foundation of the unit study. I know exactly where to go after each chunk is done -- go on to the next topic in the spine. Easy.


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      9 years ago

      I actually use a curriculum as our spine, Robinson's Self-Teaching Curriculum. I just adapted it to fit our personality and needs, because the rigidity of it doesn't work for our family.


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