The idea of Unit Studies as a style of homeschooling makes a tremendous amount of sense. Studying one particular “unit” over the course of all relevant subjects, depending on your child’s grade level, does more than just instill knowledge. It helps to satisfy curiosity, teach organization of depth of research and could be a great way to stay on track, especially for those children who are just naturally busy or always want to do things the fun way.
Unit Studies consist of taking a particular theme and then fashioning all subjects around that. For instance, you might be studying one of the Little House on the Prairie books. You could then take the Little House theme through every subject. It’s easier than you think, once you start doing some research, and there’s absolutely no doubt that it’s really fun, too! For children who really like to “stay the course” when they’re interested in something, this is a win. It works pretty well for the homeschool mom also.
Why Choose the Unit Studies Style?
One of the things that make the Unit Studies style so appealing for some homeschooling parents is that you can combine so many different curriculum pieces and unit study resources to create the overall approach. You might choose some attributes of the Charlotte Mason Method with the Montessori Method, while still others will take on a kind of unschooling approach for some units. That’s the beauty. You can literally craft a curriculum that works for your child any way you want. There are even free unit studies to be found online.
This style is an excellent place to utilize lapbooking or notebooking. These are both interesting ways to do Unit Studies while also allowing your child to keep a sort of “running workbook” for the information they’re covering. These are a great place to incorporate timelines, word wheels, vocab cut-and-paste activities, and much, much more. A simple search on Pinterest reveals tons of lapbook and notebook plans, printables, and other freebies that really spice up any unit. There are even free unit studies to be found in their entirety online.
Some curriculum companies cater to the notebooking and lapbooking homeschoolers, offering resources you just need to print and put together. This is a great way to move forward as you are preplanning which themes you’ll be covering.
Advantages of Unit Studies
The homeschool Unit Studies style is more than just a path to learning. It actually encourages your child to do their own research, sometimes resulting in their own unit study, which should always be fostered as a worthwhile skill all by itself. As they move forward with this, they’ll also find it to be fun and exciting, as each new adventure uncovers something new. Best of all, there’s no specific “length” on any given subject matter. So long as the child is learning, exploring, researching, and showing interest, you can continue to build and expound on favorite topics.
For instance, my own daughter enjoyed reading college-level science books that we would find at local thrift stores and yard sales. We never made use of the whole book, but she would always find something interesting to learn about. Provided she was moving forward with new content, I refused to stop her journey. This gave way to many art projects, as she would copy illustrations from those books that she really liked. It was like a homeschool curriculum that she made up!
If you are homeschooling more than one child, you’ll find Unit Studies blend in well for various age groups. It’s also a perfect option for differently-abled children who might otherwise have trouble following along and keeping up with different subjects. This allows learning to continue without changing the specific train of thought within the Unit.
Since Unit Studies are geared towards these different age groups, it can be a great option for elementary all the way through middle school. As children get older and start processing information a little differently, you can always incorporate things like essays, book reports, or even speeches to determine their true level of understanding of a subject. They don’t have to be pages and pages long. Just enough for you to be content in knowing they understand the information studied.
Disadvantages of Unit Studies
Some Units are easy to tailor across every single subject, whereas others may leave you lacking with regard to specific skills. During some Unit Studies, you might have to choose a separate activity for math, and for others, science and language arts might need to be addressed differently. However, with just a bit of planning, things can move along very smoothly. A workbook for grammar can be an excellent addition in upper elementary levels, as you want to make sure your child has a firm grasp and command of language before they start high school.
Some resources offer pre-made lesson plans for Unit Studies, which have their good and their bad points. It’s great for saving time planning out how you can take a theme across all the subjects you have to cover, but at the same time, it might not be so easy to find every resource listed in the plan. Again, planning ahead is key. Read weeks ahead, if using these premade resources, and choose to skip over the ones that use items you most likely won’t have on hand.
The opposite disadvantage to pre-planned material is the fact that making lesson plans yourself is extremely time-consuming. Planning out a year’s worth of Unit Studies for your family can take a toll on your time, so keep this in mind, especially if you are attempting to homeschool and work at the same time.
Is the Unit Studies Style Right for Our Family?
If you have a large family, the Unit Studies style is definitely a good option because it allows the whole family to work together on the same topic or subject matter. Not all the children will be doing the same thing, but that’s another great thing about large families and this style. The children can tutor and mentor one another. This helps not only to create deeper bonds between siblings but also to learn how to offer and give assistance when it’s needed.
Unit Studies is a perfect solution for families using a different style who have just reached a point that a break is necessary for the routine. Almost every homeschooling family reaches that point. Sadly, some will succumb to the desire (and sometimes the pressure from friends and family) to just put their children back in public school. The good news is, sometimes all it takes to break that monotony is a few weeks of unit studies, where learning is FUN again! And if your children really like it, there’s no need to go back.
Knowledge gaps are definitely “a thing” that happens with the Unit Studies style if you’re not really careful. To fully address this, make sure you aren’t leaving out whole subjects at any point. It’s easy to skip over math sometimes because it can be harder to make it “fun,” but it is necessary for life in general and should never be dropped for very long. These gaps can not only stop the learning process in that subject, but they can create confusion and a great lack of self-confidence when you try to pick it back up again. Especially in math, constant repetition is crucial!
We also have to take into consideration those families who truly enjoy and flourish in a more structured learning environment. Some children love the freedom to explore new learning avenues, whereas other children spin out of control under such situations. Of course, you can always create that kind of structure, especially with lapbooking, but you must also consider that another homeschooling style might actually be better for you than this one. The truth is, only you can make that call because you know your child (and yourself) better than anyone!
Unit Studies Style Curriculum & Resources
As I mentioned earlier, choosing a curriculum for the Unit Studies homeschooling style can be really easy, especially with the “pick and choose” option. It’s especially worthwhile for the homeschool that must adhere to a budget because you can literally source information from just about anywhere, so long as it fits your theme. Here are just a few of the many resource opportunities you can take advantage of when you choose to homeschool using Unit Studies:
- The public library
- The internet
- Kindle & Nook freebies
- Thrift store & rummage sale book racks
With Unit Studies, you can let your imagination run wild. Anything that can fuel a potential learning experience can easily be incorporated into this style, so feel free to experiment. Still, if a specific curriculum is something you feel better about having on hand, here are a few companies that we suggest you consider:
- Classical Conversations
- Homeschooling Today Magazine
- Homeschool.com - The #1 Homeschooling Community
Unit Studies Groups & Co-ops
This is an excellent homeschooling style for making use of groups, co-ops, and clubs! Most who follow the Unit Studies style really appreciate the opportunity to join in with other homeschooling families for field trips, sporting events, and special activities such as cooking classes and art projects. To find a group, co-op, or club near you, you can refer to social media, your local newspaper, or word of mouth resources within your own circle.
Special Consideration for the Unit Studies Style
If you live in a state where record-keeping is a necessary component for homeschooling, you want to make sure you have a way to keep track of what you’ve covered, how you’ve covered it, and possibly even grades or test scores. Since different states require different information, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with exactly what is required of you. This is pretty easy if you choose lapbooking or notebooking, as mentioned previously, but if your state requires more intensive records, be sure to do whatever is necessary. Actually, well-detailed record-keeping should be part and parcel of any sound homeschooling method, regardless of state requirements.
A handy rule of thumb for any curriculum, but especially for Unit Studies, is the number of hours it takes to constitute high school credit equivalents. Generally speaking, about 90 hours make up one-half of a high school credit. Make sure to keep a tally of the time you spend on each topic, which makes recording your child’s progress so much easier. This is another factor, however, that can be determined on a state-by-state basis, so checking your guidelines is never a bad idea. This is especially true if your child will be going on to college immediately following graduation.
To find the very best resources and to examine a vast number of curriculum providers, you’ll definitely want to take advantage of one of our seven regional Great Homeschool Conventions. These events are regional, which means people come from all over the United States to attend. To make it easier for homeschooling families to attend our events, we offer hotel discounts, military personnel discounts, and active clergy members receive free admission.
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