How to Put Together a Unit Study

July 25th, 2014

how-to-put-together-a-unit-studyToday I will show you how to put together a unit study. It’s not as hard as you might think. This is the final post in the 5-day series called “Unit Studies 101.”

Unit Studies 101

Day 1: What is a Unit Study?
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 (this post)

How to Put Together a Unit Study

Step 1: Choose your topic

If you are studying history, you should go in order from the beginning of time to the modern age. You can cover the sciences in any order, but there are some science topics (like simple machines) that are harder than others (like birds). Do the sciences from easiest to hardest. Most science topics are easy, though, when taught from living books and hands-on projects. So start with a science topic your kids are interested in, and progress to every other topic systematically. You can also do a unit study around a novel in literature.

Step 2: Gather books

Pick a book that will serve as a spine for your study, or choose many shorter books from the library. You can get pre-made curriculum that will get you through the whole unit, or you can get simple library books that you can read one by one. If you grab 20 library books about ocean creatures, don’t read all of them unless you really want to. Instead, choose maybe three excellent ones, and use the other books for reference, for hands-on projects, or for looking at the pictures.

Step 3: Bring it to life

When you open the books, ideas will come to you for how you can bring the topic to life. At the minimum, you can watch DVD’s from the library about that topic, and try to find a field trip that will cause that topic to come to life. You can stop there if you don’t have enough energy for crafty things. Depending on the ages of your kids, they can do all kinds of science and art projects on their own.

Examples of unit studies:

1. Owl Unit Study: If you take a look at how I put this unit study together, I started with an overview of owls by showing a video. I encourage parents to check out owl books from the library. To bring the study to life, I encourage people to observe owls in the wild. If you want your children to do a formal study, you can make a lapbook about owls. Or if you prefer to do notebooking, you can color and cut out owl coloring pages, and glue them into your notebook with a description. Then you can have some fun with the topic of owls by making owl puppets or owl cookies. You can finish your study with a dissection of an owl pellet.

2. France Unit Study: We started out by gathering books from the library about France. I embedded a video tour of Paris and of the Eiffel Tower. I threw in some crafts, including a picture of my son’s Eiffel Tower he made out of K’nex. We made an outdoor French cafe in our backyard, and we ended with some French recipes.

I’ve pulled together hundreds of unit studies with thousands of resources to make unit studies a delight in your homeschool. Join the Unit Study Treasure Vault today!

Acceleration Through Unit Studies

July 24th, 2014

acceleration-through-unit-studiesBecause unit studies simplify your homeschooling while going deeper into each topic, acceleration through unit studies is possible. For example, I completed a one-year elementary astronomy course with my children in one month. It was relaxing and fun to only do one topic in our homeschool after doing math first thing in the morning. The rest of the school day was spent splashing into the topic of astronomy.

At elementary ages, I would do either science or history for our unit studies. I alternated between science and history. Literature was usually tied into either science or history. If it wasn’t, I would read the novel in the summer or over Christmas break. For example, I read A Christmas Carol one week during the month of December while the children were drinking hot cocoa by the fire. While studying botany one year, we read The Secret Garden alongside our science study.

Because we have all the time in the world and haven’t chopped up our morning into dinging bells every hour that abruptly force us to change topics, we are better able to have a coherent study. Right now I’m reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin to my kids, so in the evenings, we were watching some Civil War DVD’s from the library. We are plunging ourselves into the time period while munching on popcorn. Our whole day makes sense and isn’t schizophrenic.

Delight goes a long way in how much information we retain from our studies. I have been astounded at the huge majority of facts my kids remember because the grid in their minds is robust in each topic. When you are studying a topic for only one chapter in a boring textbook, it’s hard for your brain to latch onto the information and remember it. If you spend huge amounts of time in each topic, you remember just about everything because you “lived it.” Living something is different than forcing yourself to learn dry facts. Unit studies give you hands-on and living activities that enable you to grasp that topic on a deep level.

So yes, our kids have done acceleration through unit studies. They were ready for high school science before the age of 10. We had gone through all the sciences in depth, sometimes more than once, and I kicked back for a couple of years and didn’t do science because we were so far ahead, and high school chemistry requires Algebra. Instead those years were spent building robots for robotic competitions for their Robotics Club, and they tinkered with electronics with their father. Meanwhile we did tons of history, Shakespeare, and other topics because we had all that extra time left over.

If you are looking to simplify your work in putting together unit studies and would like to have more fun in your homeschool, save yourself a lot of time and effort by joining the Unit Study Treasure Vault.

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-learning-styles

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

unit-studies-101

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:

hopscotchjuly2014

Summer Beach Scavenger Hunt (free PDF)

July 7th, 2014

summer-beach-scavenger-hunt

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

footprints-in-the-sand
2. Seaweed

seaweed
3. Driftwood

driftwood
4. Seashell or sea urchin

seashells

sea-urchin5. Smooth rock

smooth-rock
6. Feather

feather
7. Crab shell

crab-shell
8. Sand castle or fort

sand-castle
9. Barnacles

barnacles
10. Seagull

ocean-scene

11. Moss

moss
12. Large rocks jutting into the water

large-rocks-jutting-into-water
13. Clouds on the horizon

beach-clouds
14. Pile of natural items from the beach

pile-of-natural-beach-junk
15. Holes in the sand

summer-beach-scavenger-hunt-2
16. Insect

insect
17. Tangled hair

fun-at-the-beach
18. Sand dollar

sand-dollar
19. Sea foam

beach-scavenger-hunt

20. Sunset

beach-sunset

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