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Beginner’s Guide to Unit Studies

I couldn’t figure out why it was so difficult for me to write this post…I love unit studies.

Researching them, designing them, planning them, and teaching them are some of my favorite things. Why should it be so hard to write about them?

Then I realized…it’s because I’ve got so many ideas for units I want to write floating around in my head (and my Pinterest boards) that I want to write those. And I will.

And as I do they’ll be available on my blog and in my store!

Beginner's Guide to Unit Studies

 

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But first, I’ll reign myself in so that we can continue this series of posts about homeschooling methods.

What Is a Unit Study?

A Unit Study is a planned unit in which all (or almost all) subjects studied revolve around one topic.

This means that language arts, math (or math practice), reading, history, science, geography, Bible, music, art…they’re all rolled into one study.

This way, you can capitalize on your child’s interests and the connections found in the study to teach the skills they need to learn.

Think about it: your child can learn to write a sentence or paragraph with Pirates or Princesses, or learn about history and science with Astronomy or Ocean Life.

There are plenty of Unit Studies that are pre-planned in various ways (you’ll find everything from, “here’s a list of resources, go for it!” to each activity planned out for you, day by day, in an open-and go format).

However, it’s also fairly easy to plan your own, once you get the hang of it.

 

And I’ve even included a handy-dandy Unit Planner at the end of this post, free and easy to use. So keep reading!

How Does a Unit Study Work?

It works a bit differently for everyone; because it’s such a flexible method, you really can do whatever you want – whatever works best for your family – with it.

However, here’s an example of what a day looked like for us during a study on Christopher Columbus:

Spine

We started out by reading a chapter from Pedro’s Journal, which is a story written in journal form from the perspective of a ship’s boy aboard the Santa Maria.

Pedro's Journal: A Voyage with Christopher Columbus, August 3, 1492-February 14, 1493Pedro’s Journal: A Voyage with Christopher Columbus, August 3, 1492-February 14, 1493

It’s a great adventure, and was written in the words of a boy near my son’s age at the time, so it also provided a great segue into our studies for the day.

Application

We talked about what we had read and tried to imagine what it must have been like as a boy aboard a ship sailing toward a completely unknown destination.

Today we can map the globe to the inch, thanks to modern technology, but 500 years ago, people weren’t convinced that they wouldn’t fall off the edge of the world.

Geography

We compared modern maps – physical, political, and topological – to maps of the late 1400s and early 1500s.

Adventures Around the Globe: Packed Full of Maps, Activities and Over 250 Stickers (Lonely Planet Kids)Adventures Around the Globe: Packed Full of Maps, Activities and Over 250 Stickers (Lonely Planet Kids)A History of the World in 12 MapsA History of the World in 12 MapsThe Golden Age of Maritime Maps: When Europe Discovered the WorldThe Golden Age of Maritime Maps: When Europe Discovered the WorldThe Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco da GamaThe Last Crusade: The Epic Voyages of Vasco da Gama

It’s really quite amazing to see the difference!

History and Science

To find out how sailors of that era navigated, we built models of things like a sextant and an astrolabe and had fun practicing with them.

Taming the Atlantic: The History of Man's Battle With the World's Toughest Ocean (Biography)Taming the Atlantic: The History of Man’s Battle With the World’s Toughest Ocean (Biography)Navigation Through The AgesNavigation Through The AgesT Is for Tugboat: Navigating the Seas from A to ZT Is for Tugboat: Navigating the Seas from A to ZVoyages, the Age of Sail: Documents in American Maritime History, Volume I, 1492-1865 (New Perspectives on Maritime History and Nautical Archaeology)Voyages, the Age of Sail: Documents in American Maritime History, Volume I, 1492-1865 (New Perspectives on Maritime History and Nautical Archaeology)

We read up on what people in the 15th and 16th centuries knew about astronomy and how they combined that knowledge with geography and other subjects in order to navigate.

Math

He practiced figuring out speed on the ocean by using a traverse board, which offered both geography and math review.

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Life Skills

We ended the day with a compass course to practice navigation and orienteering (my husband joined in on that one, since he’s much better at orienteering than I am!) and writing an entry in his journal, as the ship’s boy on one of the other ships.

By using this method, we were able to study many subject areas (even the ones my son was convinced he didn’t like) and had fun at the same time – and he learned the material.

Ten years later, he can still converse about it, even though we’ve barely touched on it since.

Unit Study Resources

Unit Studies Made EasyUnit Studies Made EasyUnit Study Journal (Unit Study Adventure)Unit Study Journal (Unit Study Adventure)

You really have several choices on this one; there are many free units available, with different levels of preparation needed on your part. Check out my Unit Study Pinterest board for ideas – I keep it updated!

Konos:

Konos is pretty much the grand-daddy of all homeschool curriculum, as it was the first curriculum to be published specifically for modern homeschoolers back in 1984.

The Prairie Primer: A Literature Based Unit Study Utilizing the Little House Series
By Margie Gray / Cadron Creek Christian Curriculum

No other stories have captured the hearts of 8- to 12-year-olds quite like the Little House on the Prairie series. Now these time-honored tales serve as the basis for a comprehensive homeschool unit—including cross-curricular studies in Bible, literature, science, art, creative writing, cooking, and history! Features twelve 4-week lesson plans for use with grades 3 to 6. Additional materials required. 283 pages, softcover from Cadron Creek.

In the Hands of a Child:

Hundreds of notebooking and lapbooking units designed by a trio of homeschooling moms!

Tapestry of Grace:

Tapestry (TOG) is kind of a hybrid between Classical and Unit Studies. It is strongly based on the Classical Method, but is formatted more as a Unit Study.

Island of the Blue Dolphins Novel Literature Unit Study and LapbookIsland of the Blue Dolphins Novel Literature Unit Study and LapbookLewis and Clark Expedition Unit Study: Time-line Game, Board Game, Lapbook, Classroom Activity, and Two BooksLewis and Clark Expedition Unit Study: Time-line Game, Board Game, Lapbook, Classroom Activity, and Two BooksHarry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone Unit Study (Harry Potter Unit Studies) (Volume 1)Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone Unit Study (Harry Potter Unit Studies) (Volume 1)Baseball: History, Softball, & Legends of the Game (Unit Study Adventure)Baseball: History, Softball, & Legends of the Game (Unit Study Adventure)Gardens: History, Gardening, & Plant Science (Unit Study Adventure)Gardens: History, Gardening, & Plant Science (Unit Study Adventure)George Washington: Unit Study Curriculum Guide (Heroes of History) (Heroes of History Unit Study Curriculum Guides)George Washington: Unit Study Curriculum Guide (Heroes of History) (Heroes of History Unit Study Curriculum Guides)

There are lots of other unit study curriculums out there, but these are some of the more popular options.

I encourage you to check out what else might be available – I add new things all the time, and you might just find something you love!

And don’t forget the free planner below!

Related Posts:

Traditional Homeschooling

Classical Homeschooling

Charlotte Mason

Unschooling and Delight-Directed Learning

Eclectic Homeschooling

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