Homeschooling Methods: An Overview of the Unit Study Approach

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Yesterday I wrote about what our family learned from our experiences using the school-at-home approach in our homeschool. Today I’ll be discussing the pros and cons of unit studies- something still very much alive and well in our homeschool days.

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The unit study, or thematic unit, approach is a homeschooling method that tends to address education in a more cohesive manner than school-at-home. Rather than separating learning into subjects which quite often have nothing to do with one another, unit studies focus on one topic which will cover almost all required subject areas and can literally be absolutely anything the parent or child desires. Some unit studies focus on a character trait. Others will be chosen because of a child’s interest in that particular area. Still others can arise from a piece of well-loved literature. No matter the topic, the main idea of a unit study is to learn holistically. It can be much easier to retain knowledge when it is meticulously explored and not just touched upon as most textbooks will do.

Since this method is so different from the traditional school approach and may seem confusing to some, here is an example of one of our recent days of home learning with an Easter unit study from the Konos Character Curriculum. (I will list each activity under a subject area to illustrate how each subject can be covered while still encompassing one area of study, but it is important to note that I do not plan our days around school subjects. Just as we adults do not break our lives down into “subjects,” it is not necessary to do that with children either.):

Language Arts– copywork (Hot Cross Buns nursery rhyme), rehearsed and performed Easter puppet show they wrote for their younger siblings, listened to the final chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Math– prepared and baked hot cross buns (fractions, measuring)

Social Studies– learned about the origin of the hot cross buns rhyme in England

Science– prepared and baked hot cross buns (effects of yeast)

Art/Creative Expression– drew and colored a picture of a baker selling hot cross buns, performed original puppet show they wrote (earlier in the week they also made the puppets and the puppet theater)

Notice that a few of the activities are classified under multiple subject areas. Isn’t that a more realistic picture of how real life actually is? Sometimes life cannot be separated into single subject areas. Thus, learning shouldn’t be expected to happen this way either.

Advantages:

Unit studies are flexible and can be used with children of multiple ages. All it takes is a bit of tweaking in order to make assignments an appropriate fit for where a child is at developmentally. For example, when studying vultures, my 11-yr.-old researched and wrote a report, my 10-yr.-old researched and wrote a paragraph, and my 8-yr.-old researched and wrote a fact sheet. It can be a very simple thing to change things up a bit depending on what your child is capable of, but it can make such a huge difference in the sanity of your homeschool.

This method is a great way to include your child’s interests in their learning. Not sure how to go about doing that? The library is a great place to start. Check out several books on a particular interest your child has. Read through them together, find some good videos or movies dealing with the subject, and incorporate some artwork into your day. Chances are, this will stimulate your child to ask questions like: Where did this happen? How far is it from us? Can we drive there? How long ago was it? Were you born? Was Grandma? Can this still happen now? Questions like this are an awesome springboard to head back to the library and find resources to answer these specific queries, which will likely lead to even more. This is the beauty of the unit study.

It is much easier for most children to retain learning when it is all-encompassing. If you instruct a student to read Shakespeare, learn about photosynthesis, and memorize important dates in the French Revolution, generally speaking, most students will find this to be an arduous and- dare I say it- boring task. But…if you read through The Little House on the Prairie with your kids and ask them where maple syrup comes from and how pioneers obtained it and what other events were going on during this time period, you’re more likely to get an interested and inspired learner. This is what unit studies are all about.

Disadvantages:

This method does take a bit more preparation than your typical school-in-a-box curriculum. It requires some visits to the library and some knowlege of what additional materials (art, craft, science experiments, etc.) will be needed when, but just remember that the activities you choose are entirely up to you. If you don’t mind the preparation and are a crafty person, then go all out. If you hate crafts and prefer to keep things simple, then keep that it mind and choose activities accordingly. If your children see you are comfortable with what you are doing, they will be comfortable, and they will learn that much easier.

It can be very tempting to over-do a subject area. If you’re anything like I am, sometimes you may go a little overboard in your preparation, especially if you will be covering an interest of your own. I’ve been known to plan enough activities for a 12- hour school day and will have to trim them down- a lot- in order to make them more realistic. Keep in mind that simple really is better.

It can be hard to let go of a subject area that has lost your child’s interest but has kept you enthralled. Remember that this is your child’s education. If they lose interest in something, it’s probably time to change gears. You can always study it on your own in your free time. (If you’re lucky enough to have any!)

Have you used this method? Do you have any additional pros or cons? Feel free to leave a comment! Next week I’ll give an honest review of the unschooling approach. Hope to see you there!

 

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Author: Shelly Sangrey

I'm Shelly, a Christ-following, homeschooling Mom of eleven children ( okay, not ALL children. My oldest is 23.) I met my husband right after graduation, and we've been together ever since. Though my life can be hectic at times... okay, ALL the time, I wouldn't change it for anything.

12 thoughts on “Homeschooling Methods: An Overview of the Unit Study Approach”

  1. You’ve done a great job describing this method! We use it as well, but I always get nervous that they will have gaps in their math and language so we do more traditional curriculum for those on the side. Thanks for sharing this post at my Lifelong Learners Link-Up Party at DesperateHomeschoolers.com!
    Tina

    Liked by 1 person

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