Unit Studies vs. Textbooks

July 23rd, 2014

unit-studies-vs-textbooksToday we will have a show-down: unit studies vs. textbooks. After reading this article, you will see the obvious fact that unit studies are superior in every way. I’m of course excluding math, which needs a proper program for progressing through skills with repetition. But there is no reason why a homeschooling family should need to use textbooks during the elementary years in any other subject. Here’s why:

1. With unit studies, an expert who loves the topic is writing about it.

If you check books out of the library about a topic, those books are written by an expert who loves that topic. Not so with textbooks. With a textbook, an author writes about lots of topics in a superficial way, and you don’t feel their passion dripping off the page like you do with real books. When a person has spent years thinking about a topic and studying it, what they write will be completely different than a person who is churning out writing to fit into the grid of a textbook. When you interact with an author with a passion for birds, for example, you start understanding and loving birds more. Their passion spills off onto you, and learning is much easier.

2. With unit studies, you go more deeply into each topic instead of skimming the surface.

In a world of mass schooling where you don’t know what kids have learned in history and science from year to year, you have to hit all the topics, just in case they missed something the previous year. Mass schooling is like that. The teacher does not know what the student has previously taken in the content areas of elementary grades, because textbooks vary from school to school and state to state. There is one chapter on astronomy, for example, year after year. How much astronomy can you cover in one chapter? Wouldn’t it be better to do a whole year of astronomy, going in depth and actually learning the fascinating intricacies of our universe, and then you don’t need to cover it again, because it’s a part of who your children are? Do the same thing with each topic in science, taking a month, several months, or a year to splash into the topic until you have mastered it to some degree. Superficial learning is for people unfortunate enough to be in a mass schooling situation, not where we know exactly what our kids have learned because we taught it to them ourselves.

3. Textbooks are a failing system. Don’t imitate a failing system.

The school system is churning out half-illiterate kids. The textbook system that is being used is a failing system. There is no reason to be enslaved to a system that is a failure. Textbooks are notorious for being dry, and kids have to cram for a test and promptly forget the material. Not so with unit studies, which always have a “bring-it-to-life” component where you experience the topic. After interacting with the topic in tangible ways, the students find it easier to remember the subject they are studying.

4. You can accelerate your education through unit studies.

I will write a whole article about this tomorrow, but suffice it to say that you will finish all your sciences in-depth while relaxing at your own pace. You don’t have to spend bazillions of hours going through every tedious page of those heavy textbooks that cut off the circulation in your legs as you read them. You can do LESS and get AHEAD and retain more knowledge, having fun doing so. Imagine doing less work and having more energy to enjoy your learning so that it’s not at a frantic pace.

5. Textbooks chop everything into separate subjects that don’t inter-relate.

When you splinter your learning, chopping it up into bits during the day, it’s almost like a schizophrenic merry-go-round, where you are just checking off everything as it goes by in a blur. Why not step off the merry-go-round, delving into only one topic, and having all the learning revolve around that? After doing math in the morning, we spend a wonderful oasis of time splashing into ancient Greece, reading Greek mythology, re-enacting famous works with minimal props, writing fun skits to show the grandparents, and painting Greek pottery patterns on clay. The kids love it! They are living it, which is why they remember it. It’s alive, and you can allow your mind to dwell there for several hours a day instead of forcing your mind to focus on disconnected pieces.

6. With unit studies, you have less to do, and you’re smarter at the end.

You greatly simplify your life by doing unit studies. You don’t have to study something over and over and over superficially. Because you have studied each topic in greater detail, you have a greater amount of retained knowledge than you would have through textbook study. (The only exception to this is high school textbooks, which go much deeper into a topic. Elementary-aged school textbooks never go deep enough to give a child a fundamental grasp of each topic.)

7. With textbooks, each of your kids has a tall stack of books to do by themselves in the solitary confinement of their bedrooms.

With textbooks, the kids feel chained to their room, unable to get out until they have jumped through all the meaningless hoops dictated by committees that randomly decided what THEY wanted your child to learn. Don’t you want control over what your children learn? Don’t you want to decide? We as parents are not too stupid to make these decisions. As long as we cover all periods of history and all science topics at least once, it doesn’t matter how we do it. By the way, the schools don’t really teach much history any more, and almost no geography. Take matters into your own hands. Forge your own path.

8. Family unity is established through unit studies and not through textbooks. Create memories with your family.

When all the brothers and sisters are learning about the same topic on their own level, they have shared memories and can help each other learn the material. With field trips and hands-on learning, there will be more laughter and a feeling of togetherness. Older children can help younger children, and everyone benefits. The shared memories create a sense of family identity.

Come back tomorrow to see how you can accelerate your children’s education through unit studies.

Unit Studies 101

Day 1: What is a Unit Study?
Day 2: Unit Studies Accommodate All Learning Styles
Day 3: Unit Studies vs. Textbooks (this post)
Day 4: Acceleration Through Unit Studies
Day 5: How to Put Together a Unit Study

Unit Studies Accommodate All Learning Styles

July 22nd, 2014


Unit Studies are wonderful at accommodating all learning styles. When you tie all your learning together into one theme, you make it come to life for your auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners. You splash yourself into that topic, grabbing great books and DVD’s about that topic. Let’s say you are studying sharks. You choose books that go in-depth on that topic. Grab a book about sharks and open it. Someone who specializes in sharks wrote this book. If you were reading information about sharks in a textbook, that information was not written by someone who loves and studies sharks; it was written by a person who writes about all topics with generalities.

Learning Styles

In case you are not familiar with learning styles, you will find the three main learning styles below. Auditory learners learn best through their ears, visual learners acquire information through their eyes, and kinesthetic learners understand a topic through hands-on learning. All students master material best through hands-on learning (imagine learning how to drive a car without actually doing it!), but some students prefer to do fewer real-life projects.

1. Auditory Learners

Now read that shark book to your kids. They hear the information from a living book that sounds like it’s coming from a deep sea diver instead of a classroom teacher. DVD’s are also auditory, as the kids can listen to the sloshing sounds of water when a person is in the deep ocean, being circled by shark fins.

2. Visual Learners

The visual learners see all the large, gorgeous shark pictures. Because the pictures are so lovely, your kids are able to identify different kinds of sharks because they are paying attention to the large and gorgeous details. No textbook can possibly have as many gorgeous pictures about sharks as a shark book does. The textbook doesn’t have enough space because it has to cover so many topics in a superficial way that is insipid, boring, and impossible to remember.

3. Kinesthetic Learners

Your kinesthetic or tactile learners love to do hands-on activities. They can go to a city aquarium and see live sharks being fed. The students can watch first hand as the shark’s torpedo-shaped body cuts through the water with alarming speed.

Do you see why unit studies are so brilliant? All of your students can use their best learning style, plus they have a chance to experience the topic.

Come back tomorrow to see why unit studies are superior to textbooks in every topic other than math.

Unit Studies 101

Day 1: What is a Unit Study?
Day 2: Unit Studies Accommodate All Learning Styles (this post)
Day 3: Unit Studies vs. Textbooks
Day 4: Acceleration Through Unit Studies
Day 5: How to Put Together a Unit Study

Unit Studies 101

July 21st, 2014


Over the next 5 days, I will be giving you a crash course on unit studies in a series called “Unit Studies 101.” By the end of this series, you will understand why I love unit studies so much, and why my students are so far ahead in their content areas of learning. My kids are able to retain their learning with much greater efficiency, and all while having fun and not being rushed!

Here is a preview of what will be coming up this week:

Unit Studies 101

Day 1: What is a Unit Study? (this post)
Day 2: Unit Studies Accommodate All Learning Styles
Day 3: Unit Studies vs. Textbooks
Day 4: Acceleration Through Unit Studies
Day 5: How to Put Together a Unit Study

What is a Unit Study?

A unit study is an educational approach where you integrate all your subjects into one theme. This is ideal for many homeschool families who teach kids of multiple ages, and they want to focus on one time period or topic in science at a time. For example, if you are learning about Ancient Egypt, you tie your history, literature, art projects, writing assignments, and field trips into that time period. Retention is higher when learning is approached this way, and all learning styles are addressed.

A lot of people think that unit studies are something that people add on to an already overloaded curriculum. But no; this is not the case. It replaces the other curriculum except for math and learning how to read and write. You can choose a spine or backbone to your study of history or science if you want (by using a pre-made curriculum), or you can use books from the library alone.

Unit studies simplify your homeschooling significantly. After the kids do math first thing in the morning, you are only doing one theme for the rest of the morning. You don’t feel rushed to splinter the day into tiny bits that are almost schizophrenic. If you have 4 kids, you don’t have to teach 4 different science books. Instead, you go deeply into one topic until you master it, then move on to another topic. You will cover all your sciences in depth way before the kids in the schools. Simple. Deep. Fun.

Where is the Joy in Your Homeschooling?

If you have no joy in your homeschool, you are probably using a method other than unit studies. Unit studies are the most effective, long-lasting, and fun way to teach any topic. Your kids will laugh and have fun while splashing into the theme of the unit. Brothers and sisters aren’t isolated into the solitary confinement of their rooms to do their work separately while yawning. Instead, the whole family does read-alouds and dramatizations of the themes being studied so that relationships between family members are built.

Come back tomorrow to see how a unit study addresses every learning style for your students.

This Unit Studies 101 series is linked to Hopscotch with iHomeschool Network:


Summer Beach Scavenger Hunt (free PDF)

July 7th, 2014


Here is a fun Summer Beach Scavenger Hunt for you to print out:

When you’re at the beach, you hear the sound of waves lapping against the shore, and you smell the salt water sprayed all around you. Why not capture some of those things in photographs? My husband and I took the following beach photos. We took many photos of footprints, for example, and we chose the best one, where my husband decided to get the waves of the ocean in the background. You can also give prizes for the best photos in each category of your scavenger hunt. Here is a list of some things that you would find on a beach:

Summer Beach Scavenger Hunt

1. Footprints in the sand

2. Seaweed

3. Driftwood

4. Seashell or sea urchin


sea-urchin5. Smooth rock

6. Feather

7. Crab shell

8. Sand castle or fort

9. Barnacles

10. Seagull


11. Moss

12. Large rocks jutting into the water

13. Clouds on the horizon

14. Pile of natural items from the beach

15. Holes in the sand

16. Insect

17. Tangled hair

18. Sand dollar

19. Sea foam


20. Sunset


Kings of Israel Unit Study

June 11th, 2014


In our Kings of Israel Unit Study, we filmed every single king of Israel and Judah, describing their lives, and whether each was good or bad. We had paper plates left over from our Moon Unit Study, and we added black construction paper eyes and mouth to four of the plates.

  1. Half white plate / half black plate: The first part of this king’s life was good, the second part bad. These were great kings most of their lives, but either arrogance or foreign wives caused their hearts to turn away from Him.
  2. Half black plate / half white plate: The first part was bad, the second part good. These kings were usually horrible, and then something bad happened to them and they repented and turned back to God.
  3. Black plate: These kings were bad all the way through. All 20 of the kings of the ten Northern tribes of Israel were bad. Jeroboam (the first king of the Northern kingdoms) built golden calves at two high places to prevent the Israelites from going to Jerusalem. Yes, the tribes of the North thought the Lord Almighty was a cow. This wasn’t the first time. Remember the golden calf at the bottom of Mount Sinai?
  4. White plate: These kings were good all the way through their reigns. When they sinned, they repented, and they never turned away from following the Lord. My three favorite good kings were David, Hezekiah, and Josiah.

We filmed this thorough analysis of the kings of Israel and Judah, with my kids dressing up as each king. Athaliah was a wicked queen from the South, and Jezebel was a wicked queen from the North. So my daughter got to play those two parts. This half-hour video is a whirlwind tour of the kings of Israel and Judah, and you will understand Scripture in a fresh way. To watch the Kings of Israel Unit Study, join the Unit Study Treasure Vault. 100% of the profit goes to feeding my children, pictured above, as well as paying bills.

Faith and Prayer

June 9th, 2014


Faith and prayer go hand-in-hand, since it’s impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). You wouldn’t be praying if you didn’t believe God was listening. So maybe we should start this discussion by asking, “What is faith?”

What is faith?

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 ESV

Faith is when you know for sure that God’s Word is true, and you act on it. You have a conviction that God can never lie, and that if He says something, it is true. The King James Version says that faith is the “evidence” of things not seen. I have plenty of tangible evidence of God in my own life, but that evidence became a reality because I trusted God in the first place.

How does faith start?

Your first prayer (the one for salvation) is done in faith. This faith is given to you by God as a gift, so you did not drum up any faith on your own. It is a present.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8 ESV

So the initial seed of faith is planted in your heart by God, and it grows from there.

Can you pray without faith?

Yes. Even though it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6), if you recognize that you have no faith, you can ask God to give you faith.

“…If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:22b-24 ESV

This man wanted his son to stop being tormented, and even though he was asking Jesus to heal his son, his words showed a lack of belief. Jesus healed the boy anyway, showing that people don’t have to have faith to be healed. Jesus never failed in being able to heal someone, because He is God.

But if you doubt God, why should He answer you?

If you understand who God is, why on earth would you ever doubt Him? I’m talking about God’s Word. You insult God by doubting Him, because you make Him out to be a liar. It’s a slap in His face. This is why, for example, if you ask God for wisdom, He will for sure give it to you. But if you don’t believe He can give you wisdom, you will not get wisdom from God.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:5-8 ESV

You see, this verse says that wisdom WILL be given to you if you ask God. That’s what God’s Word says, and God is not a liar. So I ask God, and He gives me wisdom. (More about that here: How to Pray for Wisdom.)

Can faith move mountains? How?

Faith is compared to a mustard seed, which is quite small. My sister gave me a pin with a vial of mustard seeds. If you click on the picture, you will see the size of the individual mustard seeds as compared with my hand:


Jesus says that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, we can move mountains.

And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. (Matthew 17:20 NASB)

I’ve pondered this passage for a long time, and I’m thrilled to tell you what I’ve learned. The reason faith only has to be a tiny seed is that God does the work. The Holy Spirit will bear witness that God’s Word is true, and you will be able to rely on God’s Word more and more as you purge sin from your life and yield to Him. The more you know God, the more faith you will have, because God is incredibly stable and reliable, and He reveals Himself to us as we spend time with Him.

God plants the seed of faith in us, and it grows as we learn to trust Him. Besides studying Scripture to get to know God and delight in Him, prayer has been the greatest vehicle through which I have grown in my faith. This is because the more I trust Him, the more He answers my prayers, and the more He answers my prayers, the more faith I have. The key is aligning my will to God’s heart, and then the impossible happens all the time because my will and God’s will are the same.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him. I John 5:14-15

For more explanation about this passage, read Does Praying Boldly Imply Presumption?

For a free prayer e-book, like my Prayer Page.

I also have 11 free prayer audios here: Prayer Audios (Scroll down to the audio section to download the audios.)

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