Exploring Methods for the Early Learner | Unit Studies

exploring-homeschooling-methods-for-the-early-learner

Do you and your kids like hands-on projects? Do you like to lose yourself in your studies, immersing yourself and discovering the many facets of a topic? Do you like to weave together math, science, history, language arts, and more? Do you have two or more kids whom you would love to learn as much together as possible? If you answered yes to any of these questions, unit studies might be a great approach for your homeschool.

A Little Bit About Unit Studies

Unit studies are a bit different than the other methods of homeschooling I will be talking about, as they are compatible with most homeschooling theories or methods. Unit studies can be used as part of the Charlotte Mason Method, unschooling, the Moore Formula, and more. They can also be combined as a stand-alone homeschooling strategy.

Unit studies may be small, lasting only a week or two, or large, lasting for a whole quarter or even a semester. By taking a theme, let’s say the “Human Body,” and stretching it across subject areas, you have the opportunity to dive deep and create a unit of study. You may read about the human body in a book, play games about the human body, build models of the body, read books about famous doctors or people who made great discoveries in health. You may work on exercise and healthy meals, do human body science experiments, or write a fictional story about how the immune system works. You can explore vocabulary, and even use math by measuring the length your small intestine would be if you stretched it out and more.

One of the best things about unit studies is that you can include the whole family in much of the activities, slightly tweaking assignments for varying ages. It cuts back on planning and requires less time than covering different topics as separate subjects for each child.

Why Unit Studies

Young children are masters of unit studies. Have you ever watched a preschooler or early elementary child get hung up on something like firefighters? For a time, they are obsessed. They want to dress like firefighters, play with fire trucks, and be a firefighter when they grow up. Any hose-like object becomes a firehose, and no danger is too big to escape their heroism. They want to read about them, watch them, and more. This continues until they are ready to move on to the next new thing to explore — maybe horses.

By surrounding a child with opportunities to learn about something in different ways, often their curiosity is naturally piqued, and they grasp hold of the topic or theme being presented. Children love making connections.

A Day in the Life of a Unit Study Family

As with unschooling, it’s difficult to say what a day in the life of a family following a unit study plan might look like. With this type of homeschooling, the amount of structure varies, and it can be easier to see an overview of a whole unit study, rather than a particular day. For purposes of discussion, I’m packing more in this example day than would actually be feasible. These activities might all be broken up over the course of a week, but I feel it can give you a better picture of what homeschooling might look like.

The family in this example is a family of three, a four-year-old boy (Trent), six year-old girl (Trudy), and seven-year-old boy (Trevor). They are studying about pioneers and the westward expansion.

7:00 a.m. – Everyone is up, working on their chores, and helping to get breakfast rolling.

8:00 – Family worship at the breakfast table, then everyone helps to clean up and get ready for the day.

9:00 – Everyone meets at the table to start the school day with calendar time, math, and any individual lessons. Handwriting might include copying sentences about pioneers. Trevor and Trudy review some vocabulary words from the story they are reading — things like bluffs, spade, foundation, and sprain. Trent joins in mostly for calendar time, but plays with his toys while his older siblings finish up.

9:30 – Everyone gathers around to read The Little House on the Prairie. Today they are reading about building the cabin. Trent plays with his cars while he listens, Judy colors, and Trevor just sits and listens.

10:00 – It’s time to do some brainstorming and planning. Trevor and Trudy are asked to use a mind map to brainstorm how they would build their own log cabin, what materials they would use, etc. Trevor writes a paragraph and illustrates it. Trudy writes a sentence and illustrates it. Trent talks about his cabin with his mom and draws a picture.

10:30 – They all go out and measure out the size of a typical cabin built by pioneers, and do some math from the reading. For example, if Pa built the cabin three logs high all the way around, how many logs did he use in all four sides?

10:45 – The children come inside and start to build log cabins out of Lincoln Logs.

11:15 – It’s time to make lunch together. The family has been cooking recipes out of the Little House on the Prairie cookbook a couple days a week for lunch. Today they read about staples from the country store, and are working together to make hasty pudding to go with the rest of their lunch. While they cook they talk about how it would have been different to cook on the frontier vs in modern kitchens.

12:00 p.m. – Lunch

12:30 – Everyone helps clean up.

1:00 – Quiet time. Everyone picks their own books to read. Mom reads to Trent. There is a basket of books about pioneers that the kids like to pick from to look at and read during this time.

2:00 – The afternoons change. Sometimes they do art, sometimes science experiments, sometimes field trips or music lessons, etc. Today they are going to start a new project. They are going to make plans for their own prairie garden just like Ma had. They will measure and plan, and if they get everything ready on time, they will get to go to the store before supper to pick out everything they need to start their garden.

This would end the “school” day and the day would continue as normal afterward.

Materials, Resources, and Curriculums for Unit Studies

Often people who do unit studies write their own. You can also find several free unit study ideas and curriculums by searching online, and there are several boxed curriculums and resources that make it easier. Please feel free to comment below to suggest other resources and ideas.

Amanda Bennett Unit Studies – Some pre-made unit studies of all different lengths: a great and inexpensive option to dive in with unit studies based on your state requirements, your child’s interests, or any timeline you may be following.

Konos – A full unit-study based curriculum that focuses on character traits.

The Weaver Curriculum – A unit-based curriculum from Alpha Omega publishing.

Five in a Row – A literature-based unit study approach that begins with Before Five in a Row for your two- to four-year-olds, and continues with Five in a Row for children up to age eight.

Are Unit Studies Right for Me?

Unit studies can work in a lot of different situations, but just like all schooling styles, the question is, is it a fit for you and your family?

  • If you like the idea of everyone in your family learning together, unit studies are a great way to span different ages.
  • If you enjoy diving deep into a topic and exploring things beyond a textbook, unit studies provide a great opportunity.
  • If you don’t mind taking the time to do in-depth projects and field trips, you might have just found your perfect match.

How About You?

Are you thinking about unit studies, but simply aren’t sure? What are your questions? Thoughts? Reservations? Excitements? Are there other homeschooling styles you are curious about for your preschool, kindergarten, or first- or second-grader? Let’s get the conversation started in the comments below!

Find Out More

  1. “What is a Unit Study?” By Amanda Bennett: http://unitstudy.com/blog/what-is-a-unit-study/
  2. One way to plan a unit study: http://unitstudy.com/blog/what-is-a-unit-study/
  3. Another way to plan a unit study: http://www.dummies.com/education/homeschooling/designing-homeschool-unit-studies/
  4. “The Ultimate List of Unit Study Resources”: http://www.sidetrackedsarah.com/2012/08/the-ultimate-list-of-unit-study-resources/
  5. Free online unit studies: http://www.freehomeschooldeals.com/category/unit-study/
  6. More free unit studies: http://eclectic-homeschool.com/free-unit-studies/
  7. Astronaut unit study I put together: https://homeschoolingatjesusfeet.wordpress.com/category/unit-studies/astronauts/
  8. Excellent planning resources and examples from a unit study family: https://www.pepperandpine.com
  9. Unit study resources recommended by SDA Homeschool Families: http://www.sdahomeschools.org/unit-study/
Laura
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Laura is the mother of two preschool boys. She enjoys instruction through reading and books, unit studies, nature, and project learning. Her children are her joy.


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