Should You Use Unit Studies?

How to Create a Unit Study
Montessori Monday – Open and Close

Should You Use Unit Studies

Regardless of the time of year, there may be a place for unit studies in your homeschool.

We combined a trip to visit grandparents with Will's interest in Ancient Egypt and a visit to the Milwaukee Public Museum. Terry, Christina (2) and Will (7), 1992.

We combined a trip to visit grandparents with Will’s interest in Ancient Egypt and a visit to the Milwaukee Public Museum. Terry, Christina (2) and Will (7), 1992.

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.

Our homeschool had lots of reading, sometimes even in a treehouse. Christina (2) and Will (7), 1992.

Our homeschool had lots of reading, sometimes even in a treehouse. Christina (2) and Will (7), 1992.

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.

Will (14) and Christina (9) in the 16-foot walk-through heart at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, 1999. This inspired a mini unit on the heart.

Will (14) and Christina (9) in the 16-foot walk-through heart at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, 1999. This inspired a mini unit on the heart.

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:

How to Be a Relaxed Homeschooler

How We Homeschooled

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.

Africa: Montessori-Inspired Study of Africa, Montessori-Inspired Continent Activities Using Replicas – Africa, Montessori-Inspired Little Passports Activities – South Africa.

Anatomy: Montessori-Inspired Heart and Circulatory System Activities, Montessori-Inspired Skeleton Activities

Animals: Living and Non-Living, Plant and Animal Sorting, Montessori Animal Classification, Montessori-Inspired Animal UnitsMontessori-Inspired Zoo Animal Unit, Montessori-Inspired Zoo Animal Unit (2012),  Montessori-Inspired Frog ActivitiesMontessori-Inspired Insect Unit, Free Ladybug Printables and Montessori-Inspired Ladybug Activities, Montessori-Inspired Caterpillar-Butterfly Unit, Montessori-Inspired Bird Unit, Montessori-Inspired Arctic and Antarctic Unit, Montessori-Inspired Continent Activities – Penguins of AntarcticaMontessori-Inspired Life Cycle Activities, Shark Unit Study,Montessori Care of Pets, Montessori-Inspired Pet ActivitiesFree Alligator Printables and Montessori-Inspired Alligator Activities.

Any Theme: Free Counting Book Printable for Any Theme

Apple: Montessori-Inspired Apple Unit, 30+ Apple Sensory Tubs

Arctic and Antarctic: Montessori-Inspired Arctic and Antarctic Unit, Montessori-Inspired Continent Activities – Penguins of Antarctica, Kids’ Winter Activities Pinterest Board

Art Appreciation: Montessori-Inspired Art Appreciation, Art Appreciation and Creation for Kids, Kids’ Art Appreciation Pinterest Board

Astronomy: 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 Blog Hop, Montessori-Inspired Astronomy Units, Astronomy Unit Study Pinterest Board

Autumn Leaf: Montessori-Inspired Autumn Leaf Unit

Bird: Montessori-Inspired Bird Unit, Montessori-Inspired Life Cycle Activities, Bird Unit Study Pinterest Board

Books: Montessori-Inspired Dr. Seuss Activities, Montessori-Inspired Eric Carle Activities, How to Help Your Child Treasure Books, Simple Tips for Organizing Your Homeschool Library, Montessori-Inspired Ideas for Enjoying Books with Your Child or Students, Montessori-Inspired Activities for the Tortoise and the Hare, Goodnight Moon Resources and Activities, Montessori-Inspired Activities for Mike Mulligan and His Steam ShovelFree Mitten Printables and Montessori-Inspired Mitten Activities, Literature-Based Activities Pinterest Board

Caterpillar-Butterfly:

Community Helpers: Talking with Children about 9/11 – Ideas and Activities, Free Police Printables and Montessori-Inspired Police Activities, Community Helpers Activity Trays and Sensory Tubs, Free Fire Safety Printables and Montessori-Inspired Fire Safety Activities, Community Helpers Pinterest Board

Construction: Montessori-Inspired Construction Unit, Free Construction Vehicle Printables and Montessori-Inspired Construction Vehicle Activities, Construction Unit Study Pinterest Board.

Corn: Montessori-Inspired CornUnit

Dental Health: Montessori-Inspired Dental Health Unit

Dinosaur: 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!, Dinosaur Unit Study Pinterest Board.

Dr. Seuss: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, 30+ Dr. Seuss Inspired Phonics Activities.

Election: Montessori-Inspired Election Unit

Eric Carle: Montessori-Inspired Eric Carle Activities

Fall: Montessori-Inspired Autumn Leaf Unit Montessori-Inspired Fall Activities, Montessori-Inspired Fall Playdough Activities, Fall Activities with Water Beads

Farm: Montessori Grammar Farm,Montessori-Inspired Corn Unit, Montessori-Inspired Farm Unit, Safari Ltd. Farm TOOBS and Keys, Free Farm Printables and Montessori-Inspired Activities Using Farm Replicas and Printables, 40+ Farm Sensory Tubs, Inexpensive, Simple-to-Prepare Montessori Grammar Farm, Farm Unit Study Pinterest Board

Frog: Montessori-Inspired Frog Activities, Kids’ Frog and Leap Year Activities Pinterest Board

Fruit: Montessori-Inspired Fruit Unit, Montessori-Inspired Food Art, Kids’ Food Fun Pinterest Board

Gardening: Activity of the Week – Friendship Flower Activities, Free Montessori Botany Materials for a Gardening Unit, Montessori-Inspired Gardening Unit, Montessori-Inspired Flower Activities, Free Flower Printables and Montessori-Inspired Flower Math Activities, Gardening/Botany Unit Study Pinterest Board

Insect: Montessori-Inspired Insect Unit, Free Ladybug Printables and Montessori-Inspired Ladybug Activities, Insect Unit Study Pinterest Board

LEGO: Free LEGO Printables and 70+ Lego Learning Activities

Little House on the Prairie: Little House on the Prairie Unit Study

Money: Montessori-Inspired Activities Teaching about Money and Presidents

Music Appreciation: 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, Montessori-Inspired Activities for the Tortoise and the Hare, Montessori-Inspired Activities for Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Montessori-Inspired Music Appreciation: The Sorcerer’s ApprenticeMontessori-Inspired Activities for Casey at the Bat, Montessori-Inspired Music Appreciation: My Name is Handel, Montessori-Inspired Music Unit Studies, Kids’ Music Activities Pinterest Board

Native American: Montessori-Inspired Native American Unit

Ocean: Montessori-Inspired Ocean UnitMontessori-Inspired Beach Language Activities, Montessori-Inspired Resources for World Oceans Day, Montessori-Inspired Ocean Math ActivitiesShark Unit Study, Montessori-Inspired Turtle Activities, Ocean Unit Study Pinterest Board

Olympic: Montessori-Inspired Olympic Opening Ceremony Activities, Montessori-Inspired Olympic Math Activities, Montessori-Inspired Olympic Unit, Montessori-Inspired Activities for Winter or Summer Olympics.

Patriotic: Montessori-Inspired Patriotic UnitMontessori-Inspired Fun with Golf Balls and Ping Pong Balls, Montessori-Inspired Memorial Day Activities, Montessori-Inspired 4th of July Activities

Pets: Montessori Care of Pets, Montessori-Inspired Pet Activities

Photography: Montessori-Inspired Photography for Kids, Go on a Smile Hunt with Your Child

Poetry: Montessori-Inspired Poetry Activities, Kids’ Poetry Activities Pinterest Board

Pond: Montessori-Inspired Pond Unit, Montessori-Inspired Frog Activities, Montessori-Inspired Turtle Activities

Pumpkin: Montessori-Inspired Pumpkin Unit

Rainbow: Montessori-Inspired Rainbow Activities, Montessori Color Mixing Activities – Rainbows of Color, Rainbow Unit Study Pinterest Board

Rocks and Minerals: Rocks and Minerals Unit Study, Rocks and Minerals/Geology Unit Study Pinterest Board.

Shark: Shark Unit Study

Spanish: Montessori-Inspired Spanish Activities, Montessori-Inspired Snowman Spanish Color Activity, Montessori-Inspired Little Passports Activities – Mexico, Montessori-Inspired Color Tablets, Yarn Balls, and Spanish Colors, Free Spanish Printables and Montessori-Inspired Spanish Color Activities, Foreign Language for Kids Pinterest Board, Kids’ Cinco de Mayo Activities Pinterest Board

Spider: Free Spider Printables and Montessori-Inspired Spider Activities

Spring: 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 Life Cycle Activities, Free Kite Printables and Montessori-Inspired Kite ActivitiesMontessori-Inspired Activities for Casey at the Bat, Kids’ Spring Activities Pinterest Board

Squirrel and Nut: Montessori-Inspired Squirrel and NutActivities, Outdoor Acorn Math Activities

States: Montessori-Inspired State Box – Colorado (Booking Across the USA)

Summer: Montessori-Inspired Summer Playdough Activities, Montessori-Inspired Activities for Casey at the Bat, Top 10 Summer Themes for Preschoolers, 20 Outdoor Phonics Activities, Summer Fun Pinterest Board

Teddy Bear: Montessori-Inspired Teddy Bear Activities, Kids’ Teddy Bear Activities Pinterest Board.

Transportation: Montessori-Inspired Transportation Unit, Montessori-Inspired Activities for Pre-Schoolers: Car Parking Game, Free Transportation Printables and Montessori-Inspired Transportation Math Activities, Montessori-Inspired Construction Unit, Transportation Unit Study Pinterest Board

Vegetable: Montessori-Inspired Vegetable Unit, Kids’ Food Fun Pinterest Board

Weather: Montessori-Inspired Cloud Unit, Montessori-Inspired Weather Unit, Montessori-Inspired April Showers Activities, Weather Unit Study Pinterest Board

Winter: Montessori-Inspired Snowman Color Activities, Montessori-Inspired Snowman Letter Activities, Montessori-Inspired Winter Activities, Montessori-Inspired Winter Playdough Activities, Montessori-Inspired Winter Math Activities, 25+ Snow-Themed Sensory Tubs, Free Mitten Printables and Montessori-Inspired Mitten Activities.

World Travel: 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” ActivitiesMontessori-Inspired Study of Africa, Montessori-Inspired State Box – Colorado, Montessori-Inspired Little Passports Global Adventure

Zoo: Montessori-Inspired Zoo Animal Unit, Montessori-Inspired Zoo Animal Unit (2012), Zoo Animal Unit Study Pinterest Board

Unit Studies, Holidays, and Calendar Observances Organized by Monthly Themes

January Themed Activities for Kids

February Themed Activities for Kids, Montessori-Inspired Transferring Activities for February, Water Pouring and Water-Bead Pouring

March Themed Activities for Kids

April Themed Activities for Kids

May Themed Activities for Kids

June Themed Activities for Kids

July Themed Activities for Kids

August Themed Activities for Kids

September Themed Activities for Kids

October Themed Activities for Kids

November Themed Activities for Kids

December Themed Activities for Kids

Holiday-Themed Posts (Starting with New Year’s)

New Year’s: Starting and Nurturing New Year’s Traditions and Preparing for New Year’s Family Celebrations

Epiphany: Family Christmas Celebrations through Epiphany and Celebrating Epiphany with Your Child

Martin Luther King Day: Montessori-Inspiration for Martin Luther King Day, Montessori-Inspired Peace Education Activities, How to Prepare a Peace Corner, Montessori-Inspired Respect for Diversity

100th Day of School: Montessori-Inspired 100th Day of School Activities, 100th Day Activities – Free Printable Extensions for the Hundred Board

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, 40+ St. Patrick’s Day Sensory Tubs, St. Patrick’s Day Playdough Activities, Montessori Color Mixing Activities – Rainbows of Color, Kids’ St. Patrick’s Day Activities Pinterest Board

Lent: Montessori-Based Lenten Activities, Homeschool Lent and Easter, Lent Pinterest Board

Easter: Montessori-Inspired Easter Activities, Montessori-Inspired Easter Activities (2012), Free Spring Printables and Montessori-Inspired Spring Math Activities, Homeschool Lent and Easter, Free Easter Egg Printables and Montessori-Inspired Easter Egg Activities, Easter Egg Rainbow Practical Life and Sensorial Activity, Easter Tree Sorting, Math, and Decorating Activity, Montessori-Inspired Easter Egg Sound Shakers for Babies and Toddlers, Kids’ Easter Activities Pinterest Board

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 Montessori-Inspired Earth Day Activities, Montessori-Inspired Arbor Day Activities, Kids’ Earth Day Every Day Pinterest Board.

Arbor Day: Montessori-Inspired Arbor Day Activities

May Day: Montessori-Inspired May Day Activities

Cinco de MayoMontessori-Inspired Spanish Activities, Montessori-Inspired Little Passports Activities – Mexico, Montessori-Inspired Color Tablets, Yarn Balls, and Spanish Colors, Free Spanish Printables and Montessori-Inspired Spanish Color Activities, Foreign Language for Kids Pinterest Board, Kids’ Cinco de Mayo Activities Pinterest Board

Mother’s Day: Montessori-Inspired Mother’s Day, Montessori-Inspired Mother’s Day (2012), Mother’s Day- and Teacher’s Appreciation Gifts for Kids to Give, Handprint Keepsake for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or Grandparents Day, Kids’ Mother’s Day Activities Pinterest Board

Memorial Day: Child-Led Patriotism, Montessori-Inspired Fun with Golf Balls and Ping Pong Balls, Montessori-Inspired Patriotic Unit, Montessori-Inspired Memorial Day Activities,  Patriotic Practical Life and Math Activities, Kids’ Patriotic Activities (U.S.) Pinterest Board

Flag Day: Kids’ Flag Day Activities on Pinterest,  Patriotic Practical Life and Math Activities, Kids’ Patriotic Activities (U.S.) Pinterest Board

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), Montessori-Inspired Father’s Day (2012), Handprint Keepsake for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or Grandparents Day, Father’s Day Ideas Pinterest Board

4th of July: Child-Led Patriotism, Montessori-Inspired Fun with Golf Balls and Ping Pong Balls, Montessori-Inspired Patriotic Unit, Montessori-Inspired 4th of July Activities, Patriotic Practical Life and Math Activities, Kids’ Patriotic Activities (U.S.) Pinterest Board

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, Free Spider Printables and Montessori-Inspired Spider 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, Thanksgiving Grace and Courtesy, Montessori-Inspired Native American Unit, Free Turkey Printables and Montessori-Inspired Turkey Activities

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 (Part 2), 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 Activities and Free Christmas Printables, 40+ Christmas Sensory Tubs, Montessori-Inspired Christmas Scavenger Hunt, Montessori-Inspired Kids’ Gift Wrapping Activities, Hundreds of December Holiday Activities for Kids, Christmas Countdown Activities {with Lots of Free Printables}, Montessori-Inspired Christmas Cards and Crafts, Montessori-Inspired Set-Ups for Christmas Playdough Activities, Christmas Gingerbread Man Fine-Motor Activity or Craft, Montessori-Inspired Christmas Craft – Painted Wooden Ornaments, Free Christmas Tree Printables and Montessori-Inspired Christmas Tree Activities.

See follow-up post: How to Create a Unit Study.

Have you used unit studies?

How to Create a Unit Study
Montessori Monday – Open and Close
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