I remember when I first started homeschooling, many of my homeschooling friends were talking about unit studies and what they were going to be teaching their kids.
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They were creating fancy lesson plans that made no sense to me an outcast who had no idea of what in the world a unit study was? I was lost and puzzle! until I finally asked.
What is a unit study?
- What is a unit study?
- How does a unit study work?
- How long should a unit study last?
- How to use a unit study in your homeschool?
- How to Plan a homeschool unit study?
- Some unit study ideas
- Benefits of unit studies
- Disadvantages of unit studies
- Other posts you will enjoy…
What is a unit study?
Plain and simple a unit study is a group of activities, books, printables based on a specific theme or subject that you teach your kids about.
Unit studies ‘’as time-specific overviews of a defined topic or theme that incorporate multiple subject areas into the study plan. Sometimes called “thematic units,” these studies often involve multisensory learning where each activity is organized according to the thematic idea.’’Time4Learning
Unit studies give students a chance to delve deeply into a given topic from different angles in order to get a comprehensive understanding of the topic. Studying a topic from different perspectives also helps to retain the learned information better.
Each unit study may incorporate language arts, science, math, and social studies components all in one. The best part of a unit study is that it is child-driven.
Do you really need to use unit studies to homeschool?
Not really but I have to say it does help to focus on one specific subject at the time. If after reading this post you decide that unit studies its not for you then you can just keep on using your books.
How does a unit study work?
Unit study is different from traditional study that involves lectures, reading, textbooks, and worksheets.
A good unit study involves learning about one topic in such a way that it teaches the whole, not just parts of the topic.
Traditional education teaches knowledge divided into different parts like geography, science, history, biology, and art.
So, only in geography will a child learn about the oceans, but didn’t a lot of history also happen in and on the oceans? And aren’t there plant life and sea wildlife in the oceans?
- A unit study tries to incorporate all possible aspects of one topic, explaining the way that it works as a whole.
- A unit study helps students see how the pieces of the whole fit together.
- For example, a unit study about the oceans will teach about sharks, whales, and penguins, warm and cold sea currents, how weather patterns are formed, how explorers discovered lands, the conquests of pirates, and how big and deep the oceans are.
This approach stimulates critical thinking in young learners. Especially if you are homeschooling kids of different ages. Learn here How to Plan Your First Homeschool Year? When You Don’t Know How to Start.
How long should a unit study last?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It depends on the topic and how deep you want to delve into it.
The study of a simple topic can last one week. More complicated topics like world history can last a few weeks to a whole semester. The average for many study units is three weeks.
Preschools usually do a new topic every week.
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It’s probably a good idea to plan your study units so they are long enough to cover a topic properly, but not so long that kids get bored.
Right now I am doing a unit studies on trees and this is going to last only fall weeks since I want to cover the fall season when all the trees are changing and move over to holidays unit study.
How to use a unit study in your homeschool?
Unit studies can be used in different ways. You can decide to use it for one or two subjects only like just history or just science. Or it can make up your curriculum for both science and history.
Your unit studies can make up the entire curriculum for a subject, or your unit studies can provide extra information and fun to your homeschool lessons.
Your unit studies can incorporate language arts and math components or not.
If you are homeschooling kids of different ages read 11 Ways to Homeschool Kids Of Different Ages
You can use unit studies to delve deeper into your existing science or history curriculum.
You must decide how you want to use your unit studies so it can help you with your planning.
How to Plan a homeschool unit study?
Once you have decided how you want to use unit studies, you will be able to choose your topics. In this case, we are going to plan a unit study about plants.
In the video below you will find the main gist of how to prepare a unit study.
This is the same process I follow and I am very happy with.
1. Choose your unit study topic
There are loads of topic ideas that you already are aware of and might be considering, but one way to find a topic that will be a hit with your children is to listen to what they are talking about, what is holding their interest at the moment. There might be a clue for you.
My daughter is into plants and since its fall I thought that an 8 weeks unit study something short that we can work with 2-3 times per week would be a good fit. Sometimes I put some plant sheets on her morning basket so she can color them.
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Alternatively, you can decide on a topic and run it by them. Choosing what unit study to do is an opportunity to make the best of the freedom homeschooling offers you – you can actually choose what you want your children to learn.
2. Use spine books
Spine books form the backbone of a study unit. The spine book is the main resource you will use to create your unit study. The book must guide you through the unit study.
This spine book is your choice and you will have to do some research to find one that gives you all the information you need.
Popular resources that have worked as spine books for some homeschools include Usborne Encyclopedia books, the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia, Homeschool in the Woods as well as the DK series of books from Penguin Random House, but there are many more.
3. Get everything together
Besides that spine book, get all other books as well as videos, movies, games, and project kits together that will fit into your theme.
Here are some ideas of what to incorporate in a unit study. This is just a list to give you some ideas, you don’t have to include everything.
- Reading matter
- Picture books
- Writing projects
- Silent reading/ reading aloud
- Building replicas
- Collecting stones, twigs, grasses, feathers, etc.
- Drama/ reenactments
4. Look at some sample unit studies
Before you start planning out your unit study, if you feel overwhelmed or unsure of how to start, look at some sample unit studies online.
There are loads of resources to inspire you and some of them are free. Here is one of my unit free study Dinosaur Unit Study With Free Printable.
5. Get started
If you have never done one before, then start with a short and simple one that will last for a week.
To begin with, compose an outline of what you are going to do every day, including all reading, videos, movies, and other activities. A simple unit study can comprise reading and writing work, plus a movie or a video.
When you are ready to do a more involved unit study, remember to find ways to incorporate math and language arts into your unit study.
Remember, you don’t have to do everything yourself. There really are loads of resources online to help you. You can even find resources to supplement your unit studies and there are some good ones that are free.
Also, look into this do-it-yourself guide by Valerie Bendt that can help you to put together your own unit studies based on your goals and interests.
The author defines unit studies, explains how to approach unit studies, instructs on keeping records and talks about goal setting. She also covers the library, finishing projects, determining your educational philosophy, and more. The book comes complete with sample units to further assist you.
Some unit study ideas
- Ancient Israel
- Ancient Egypt
- Ancient Greece
- Ancient Rome
- Middle Ages
- The Renaissance
- The Reformation
- Early Modern Period
- Modern History (1900’s)
- Kings/ queens’
- The printing press
- The steam engine
- The lens
- The compass
- The wheel
- The telephone
- The radio
- The computer
- The car, and many more
- Albert Einstein
- Marie Curie
- Isaac Newton
- Charles Darwin
- Nikola Tesla
- Galileo Galilei
- Ada Lovelace
- Stephen Hawking
- Rosalind Franklin, and many more
The abovementioned does not nearly cover all possible topics. It’s best to do your own research and decide what you and your children are interested in.
Benefits of unit studies
With unit studies, children of all ages and different levels can study together, which is a great benefit if you have children of different ages to teach. It saves on preparation time and resources, ending up costing less than a traditional curriculum. Unit studies naturally encourage cooperation between older children and younger children, with older children ‘’teaching’’ the younger children.
If you want your children to get an in-depth understanding of different topics and to retain material longer, then unit studies are the way to go.
Also, a well-planned unit study allows for different learning styles, which is beneficial for each learner.
Best of all, children learn through a variety of resources and activities that make learning fun and helps to instill a lifelong love for learning.
If these benefits sound like something you want for your children, then unit studies are definitely for you and your homeschool.
On the other hand, there are issues to consider before you jump into unit studies
Disadvantages of unit studies
1. Time-consuming preparation
Putting together homeschool unit studies takes a lot of time and effort. Nothing is ready and done for you, you will have to plan every aspect of your unit studies.
You will have to sift through a myriad books and other resources to come up with something that covers a topic and all subjects – it’s not done in a day.
2. You have to be very organized
You have to be very organized. You will need to keep all the resources together and know when to use what and you will have to keep a record of what you have done and what still needs to be covered. If you don’t do this, you can get carried away with one aspect of the unit study and completely forget to include writing arts or math.
3. Can become expensive
With the many resources at your disposal, it’s easy to lose control of how much you’re spending. Unit studies can quickly become expensive. There is a lot of tempting ideas and resources and you can easily get carried away with spending too much.
4. Lack of structure
Unit studies are flexible and some parents don’t feel safe with this approach. They prefer the structure of traditional teaching. If you prefer structure and a more traditional approach to teaching, you may find unit studies a bit chaotic.
5. Are unit studies really for you?
Unit studies are not for everyone. If you are a good planner, can stay organized, and want to delve deep into topics, you and your children will benefit greatly from unit studies. Many families enjoy it and benefits greatly from it, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of homeschooling.
In the end, the success of your homeschool depends on your commitment to your children and the rapport between you and unit studies don’t determine that. You can be a great teacher and your children can learn a lot with or without unit studies.