If you’re like most homeschoolers, you’ve recently started your school year or will be starting it soon. But regardless of the time of year, there may be a place for unit studies in your homeschool.
For many homeschool families, unit studies (themes or topics that integrate a range of subjects and learning styles) play an essential role. Even though my kids are grown now, I don’t think my family could imagine homeschooling without unit studies. For us, unit studies were a way to bring a subject to life through living books rather than textbooks and a way to add hands-on activities to to any subject.
Some families aren’t comfortable using unit studies all the time but use them as a break from their regular schooling when they want to add some excitement or delve into a special area of interest for their child.
If you find that a traditional learning style doesn’t work for your child or family or just want to change things up a bit every now and then, you might want to consider unit studies.
Why Use Unit Studies?
Unit studies work well for multi-level learning. You can often read books or do activities together when the book or activity will work for more than one age. Otherwise, you can work on complementary activities on the same topic, allowing the younger child to feel a part of the unit. Like Montessori education, unit studies naturally encourage cooperation and older children helping younger children.
Unit studies use library books or books you’ve purchased on a particular topic rather than textbooks. They’re often called “living” books – and they really do bring a topic to life much better than the condensed information presented in textbooks.
We used unit studies for science, social studies, art, music, literature, reading, health and safety, and religious education. Our unit studies didn’t cover math, phonics, grammar, or spelling, although we often did unit-based activities in those subjects as well.
Unit studies are interesting. They encourage creativity and learning through discovery. For the greatest interest and fastest learning, try an interest-based unit study centered around your child’s favorite topic at the time. But you can still follow your child’s natural tendencies even if your topic isn’t solely interest-based.
We used KONOS character-based unit studies. We would focus on a character trait such as attentiveness, responsibility, or courage. One year when we were studying orderliness, for example, we spent two weeks mainly focusing on planets and seasons, a week on sequencing and house construction, two weeks on animal classification, two weeks on plant classification, and a week on rock classification. During other units, we emphasized social-studies topics like settlers or the Revolutionary War or our nation’s government.
Of course, you don’t need to have unit studies based on character traits. You can just choose a particular topic and create activities based on that. For preschoolers, you can even center activities around seasonal themes. When Will was a preschooler, our Montessori activities weren’t theme-based except for Montessori-inspired holiday activities. Christina had some theme-based Montessori activities to fit in with our unit studies. Both ways worked wonderfully.
Retention of knowledge is better with unit studies.
Unit studies are much more effective than reading a textbook and memorizing information for a test. Both the interest and hands-on learning involved in unit studies increase retention of knowledge.
Individualized- and hands-on learning fit well with unit studies. You can make your unit studies as hands-on as you wish. If your child or children prefer reading together or alone, you can allow extra time for that. You can adjust your unit studies for visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners. You can use Montessori materials and activities that fit with a particular unit. When my children were a number of different ages, we brought out hands-on Montessori materials to add to our study of vertebrates and invertebrates, constellations, or whatever our topic was.
Whether you like field trips, traveling, learning through music, doing hands-on projects, or whatever you enjoy as a family, you can make it a part of your unit studies. In short, unit studies work well with the freedom of homeschooling – the freedom to fit your school to your home and your family.
Worries about Learning Gaps
Often parents’ biggest fear about unit studies is that there will be gaps in their children’s education. With all the knowledge available today, it’s impossible for there not to be gaps with any type of education. Even when I was going to school, we seemed to study the early explorers at the beginning of EVERY year. And I NEVER studied World War II until college – because we never got that far in the textbook!
Considering that no one can know everything, I felt most comfortable homeschooling my children with a greater amount of hands-on learning, reading books that were more interesting than textbooks, helping my children be more creative and develop analytical skills, and individualizing our learning style for my children. If I wanted to be sure we didn’t miss something, we would read a more thorough book on a particular topic.
Both Montessori education and KONOS use timelines, and we found that timelines really help tie everything together. I highly recommend timelines of historical events to fit everything into place – whether or not you’re using unit studies!
Posts with More about Our Use of Unit Studies:
Unit Studies Posts by Theme:
If you’re interested in trying a unit study, here’s an alphabetical listing of theme-related posted I’ve published with lots of resources. (Alphabetized according to bold print – with some grouping of posts.) I add to this list as I publish new posts on unit studies.
Astronaut Unit, Montessori-Inspired Astronomy Activities, Montessori-Inspired Star and Constellation Unit, Montessori-Inspired Moon Unit, Montessori-Inspired Solar System Activities and World Space Week 2012 Blog Hop
Talking with Children about 9/11 – Ideas and Activities (Community Helpers)
Montessori-Inspired Dinosaur Unit, Montessori-Inspired Dinosaur Fun with Printables, Water Beads, and Glass Gems, Montessori-Inspired Dinosaur Activities Using Dinosaur Replicas, and Make Fossils from Montessori at Home!
Dr. Seuss with a Touch of Montessori, Montessori-Inspired Dr. Seuss Activities, Montessori-Inspired One Fish, Two Fish Math Activities at PreK + K Sharing, Montessori-Inspired Lorax Activities, Cat in the Hat Practical Life Activities, 50+ Montessori-Inspired Dr. Seuss Activities
Montessori-Inspired Music Appreciation, Montessori-Inspired Music Appreciation: Peter and the Wolf, Montessori-Inspired Music Appreciation: Swan Lake, Montessori-Inspired Music Appreciation: Carnival of the Animals, and Montessori-Inspired Activities for the Tortoise and the Hare
Activity of the Week – Montessori-Inspired Spring Activities, Free Spring Printables and Montessori-Inspired Spring Math Activities, Montesori-Inspired Spring Playdough Activities, Montessori-Inspired Spring Themes and Activities
Montessori-Inspired State Box – Colorado (Booking Across the USA)
Resources for a World Travel Unit Study, Continent Map Work, DIY Pin Maps, Montessori Continent Boxes, DIY Cosmic Nesting Boxes, Map Towers, and “Me on the Map” Activities, Montessori-Inspired Study of Africa, Montessori-Inspired State Box – Colorado
Unit Studies, Holidays, and Calendar Observances Organized by Monthly Themes
Holiday-Themed Posts (Starting with New Year’s)
Groundhog Day: Groundhog Day Activities for Your Classroom or Homeschool
Chinese New Year: Montessori-Inspired Chinese New Year Activities
President’s Day: Montessori-Inspired Activities Teaching about Money and Presidents, Montessori-Inspired President’s Day Activities, Free Presidents’ Day Printables and Montessori-Inspired Presidents’ Day Activities
Valentine’s Day: Turning Valentine Crafts into Montessori-Oriented Activities, Montessori-Inspired Valentine’s Day Activities, Kindness Challenge #2 – Montessori-Inspired Kindness, Montessori-Inspired Valentine’s Day Activities (2012), Montessori-Inspired Valentine Math Trays and Valentine Ideas Blog Hop, Montessori-Inspired Hundred Acts of Kindness Project, Homeschool Valentine’s Day, Montessori-Inspired Transferring Activities for February, Water Pouring and Water-Bead Pouring
St. Patrick’s Day: Homeschool St. Patrick’s Day, Montessori-Inspired St. Patrick’s Day Activities, Montessori-Inspired St. Patrick’s Day Activities (2012), Montessori-Inspired St. Patrick’s Day Math Activities at PreK + K Sharing, and 40+ St. Patrick’s Day Sensory Tubs
Earth Day: Free 3-Part Recycle Cards, Montessori-Inspired Earth Day Activities, Montessori-Inspired Activities for Earth Day Every Day, Montessori-Inspired Earth Day Activities (2012), Montessori-Inspired Lorax Activities, Free Earth Day Printables and Activities, and Montessori Inspired Arbor Day Activities
Arbor Day: Montessori-Inspired Arbor Day Activities
Memorial Day: Montessori-Inspired Memorial Day Activities
Flag Day: Kids’ Flag Day Activities on Pinterest
Father’s Day: Montessori-Inspired Father’s Day, Talking with Children about Death: Creating an “I Remember” Book (with free printables for children who’ve had a special male relative die and for children from military families and other families separated by distance), and Montessori-Inspired Father’s Day (2012)
Halloween: Montessori-Inspired Pumpkin Activities, Homeschool Halloween, Montessori-Inspired Pumpkin Unit, Montessori-Inspired Halloween Activities, Halloween Grace and Courtesy, Montessori-Inspired Friendly Ghost Activities, Montessori-Inspired Halloween Activities (2012), Montessori-Inspired Skeleton Activities
Thanksgiving: Montessori-Inspired Gratitude Activities, How to Help Your Child Feel Comfortable Greeting Relatives, Table Setting, How to Teach Your Child Table Manners for Holiday Gatherings, Homeschool Thanksgiving, Activity of the Week – Montessori Thanksgiving Noun Sorting Work, Montessori-Inspired Corn Unit, Montessori-Inspired Thanksgiving Activities, Kids in the Kitchen on Thanksgiving, Montessori-Inspired Thanksgiving Math Activities, and Thanksgiving Grace and Courtesy
Advent, Christmas, and other December Holidays: Activity of the Week – Montessori-Inspired Decorating the Christmas Tree Activity, Activity of the Week – Gift Wrapping Work, How to Use Godly Play at Home During Advent, December Family Activities, Turning Christmas Crafts into Montessori-Oriented Activities, Montessori-Inspired Christmas Activities, 50+ December Family Activities, Montessori-Inspired Christmas Activities (2011), Holiday Manners, How to Prepare a Special Kids’ Table for Holiday Gatherings, Homeschool Christmas, Montessori-Inspired Christmas Playdough Activities, 40+ Christmas Countdown Activities, Montessori-Inspired Christmas Crafts, Montessori-Inspired Nativity Activities, Montessori-Inspired Hanukkah Activities, Christmas Around the World: Scotland, Montessori-Inspired Christmas Language Activities (my monthly post at PreK + K Sharing), 40+ Christmas Sensory Tubs, and Montessori-Inspired Christmas Scavenger Hunt, and Montessori-Inspired Kids’ Gift Wrapping Activities.
See follow-up post: How to Create a Unit Study.