Regardless of what methodology you normally use for your homeschool, unit studies can provide you with a nice break from the norm sometimes. They are especially nice whenever you’re trying to teach your child(ren) to think a little more about how the different parts of life actually fit together, and they can also give you a break whenever you’re faced with the doldrums.
So, how do you decide what subjects to pursue whenever you’re ready to do a unit study? Well, take a look at your child and see what he/she is deeply interested in. Those are the subjects to pursue with your unit studies. Another way to decide what would make a great unit study is to look through your year’s studies and notice if there are any “holes” in subject matter that you think should be filled. Once you find that “hole,” you can find a unit study on that topic, and take a week or two to teach it. For instance, if your child finds black holes fascinating, but your science text book covers them in just a paragraph or two, then there is the perfect opportunity to do a unit study on astronomy.
Once you’ve figured out what you’d like to do a unit study on, all you need is a little time and creativity, and you can create your own unit studies. Assembling your own curriculum around one topic sounds difficult, but if this wasn’t the case, then educational companies such as “Teacher Created Materials” wouldn’t publish and sell as many great unit studies as they do.
There are 2 main drawbacks to designing your own unit studies. First of all, it takes time. If you’re a busy parent, this could be enough of a reason to take a trip to your nearest teachers’ supply store with your credit card in hand. Secondly, it may require access to a couple of grade-level subject books (ie science, language arts, or math) so that you know which skills are typically covered at a particular grade level. If you have a good library with an educational books department, then you may also have the perfect excuse to spend a long Saturday with a pocket full of change at the library with a stack of books. Another idea is that if you have a good set of Internet research skills, you can spend your Saturday tucked away at home.
Now that we see the drawbacks, what are the benefits of a unit study? You can teach whatever your heart desires. Plus, if you decide to create your own unit study, you’ll find that it is cheaper and more economical than tracking down a pre-made unit study. Furthermore, nobody knows your child as well as you do, and therefore nobody can prepare a unit study for your child as well as you can.
Whenever you’re creating your own unit study, you need to keep in mind that your unit study needs to cover all of the subjects that you’d normally teach, unless you plan to skip a specific subject and keep working through your regular curriculum for that subject. However, to create a complete unit study, you need to include the first 2 subjects from the following list and as many of the other subjectss as you can logically fit in there too. Now for the list:
(1.) Math – You need to create math problems at your child’s level. For instance, if you’re working with a young child on a unit study about baseball, then you can practice addition with bats and balls, write a story problem that talks about number of pitches thrown until the team reached the final out, etc. However, older children would need something that is more on their level. For instance, you may discuss the speed of the bat, distance the ball travels, or the number of hot dogs that individual team fans eat.
(2.) Language Arts – This area includes reading, comprehension, grammar and writing skills. While you don’t need to include every one of these items in every unit study that you write, you should have your child write something about the topic. A great suggestion here would be to have your child read a book about the topic then write a narrative telling you about what he/she read in the book.
(3.) Science – Sometimes a unit study lends itself quite easily to science, but other times you’ll find yourself having to work a little bit harder. For instance, a unit study on bugs will let you off the hook since the entire unit study is about science. However, if you are doing a unit study about ancient Egypt then you may need to take some time to look at the creations of the Egyptian engineers, study mummification, think about ancient medicine, or consider the tools that the Egyptians used to do their work.
(4.) Social Studies or Geography – This may be your main topic, but if it isn’t, then you’ll need to work some information into your topic. Some questions that can help you here include: Where was your topic first seen or invented? What culture surrounded the time or event? Where did this take place? You may also want to learn more about the people of that time period and place.
(5.) Art – Take time to draw, build, act, design or create. You could design a Roman mosaic, sketch an insect’s genetic makeup, build a temple from clay or LEGOs, create a tapestry to illustrate the unit that you’re studying (felt shapes work for quick tapestries when needlepoint takes way too long), or paint the flowers that you’re learning about.
(6.) Music – Sometimes music fits into a unit study nicely. For instance, you could always listen to some folk music while you explore the civil unrest of the 1960s. However, if you’re studying something more scientific, then you may need to work a little harder to fit music into that unit study.
(7.) History – Adding history to a unit study should be relatively easy, regardless of the topic. You could simply research when an event began or an item was invented or you could talk about the events and times that affected an item’s inventor.
(8.) Physical Education – Here again, you may need to be a bit creative. However, when you discover that physical education fits into your unit study, then you should definitely use it! For instance, if you’re studying the ancient Greeks, then you could run footraces like they did.
If you’re still not certain what to do for your very first unit study, try “following” your child(ren) around for a couple days and watch what they do. For instance, if your child spends all of his/her time engrossed in books, then think about a literature-based unit study (ie how books are made). On the other hand, your child may spend his/her time outside digging for rocks. Then why not do an archeology or rocks and minerals unit study?
Of course, there are some topics that you can use numerous times as your child(ren) grows older. These include:
(1.) Animals, horses, or mammals
(2.) Baseball, basketball, fencing, or sports in general
(3.) Cooking or catering (which may include business and economics information)
(8.) Historical cultures (ie medieval history, ancient Egypt, etc.)
The spark of a unit study is lit whenever your child(ren) mentions an interest. Whenever they do, you need to write it down somewhere. Keep a running list of interests and you’ll soon have more than you’ll know what to do with. However, even if your child only shows a deep interest in one or two topics, you should take time to explore those. You may discover that you’re able to create several unit studies based on the first one as new interests are developed.