My children and I love working with Unit Studies. I homeschool five children and my kids prefer a unit study adventure over using workbooks. It definitely makes learning fun for everyone in our home.
We have been doing unit studies for at least four years. It started off with doing two a year in addition to our curriculum. A few years later we included two days a week for doing unit studies and was able to accomplish four new subjects each semester. We found we liked them so much that we now do them for one to two hours a day, everyday. Sometimes we even do two different unit studies in one day. We still use a blended approach with other curriculum, but I am learning that many homeschool families have turned to this as their sole method of curriculum.
What is a unit study, you might ask? A unit study is simply an in depth look or investigation of a subject. So often the school work we give our kids skims over the surface of a topic. But a unit study is the opportunity to learn more about that topic, to become a semi-expert in it. A unit study is like digesting a meal rather than it just passing through, if you get my drift. A unit study can turn learning about a subject into an adventure. A unit study covers a topic from lots of angles: history, science, grammar, math, life skills, art, music, etc. It can be taught to various ages and skill levels at the same time. It shows you how everything in life overlaps. So the bible is applicable to everything. Science is applicable to everything. Life skills are applicable to everything, and so on. Because you use so much of your brain and different senses and methods to learn the information, it helps the student retain what they have learned. By the time they are through with the unit study, they have actually lived and experienced a part of that idea or subject.
You can buy pre-made unit studies or you can make them yourself. You can find free unit studies too. I highly recommend using all of these ways to acquire unit studies to enhance your homeschool adventure. I will list resources for these at the end of this article.
Evaluate how you want to spend your time, and how much time and money you have to invest. Making your own unit study will still cost you something, and it could cost you more in regards to your time, than buying one on sale. I definitely see advantages to buying many of my unit studies in regards to the worksheets and resources are all in one place and I can get started right away, rather than starting at zero. But sometimes, the subject we want to study is not available and it works out to do it myself.
Making your own unit study is definitely an outlet for your creativity! Nobody knows your kids better than you do. You can incorporate your kids interests and learning styles into the unit as you design it. The amount of creative work involved is on a spectrum, and you can make it as simple or as involved as you wish. You can do it all yourself, or use others ideas and worksheets or templates to blend with yours, or totally rely on others pre-made guides. The best way to decide which way to go, is to look at the needs of your own family and decide what is the best fit for you.
You can make a unit study on any topic. Let me repeat that. You can make a unit study on any topic!!! You can also make your study last as long as you want it too. Mini units cover material for one week, or you can stretch them and do them one or two days a week and make them last for four or five weeks. You can also make a larger unit to cover daily for an hour or two, and make it last four whole weeks. You can also build on this and make units last for several months too.
My personal preference is two hours a day for four weeks, or about 20 hours of learning, as the kids really get into learning the material and retain what they have learned. We also include making lapbooks, going on outings, movies, and family adventures to make the unit even more fun and educational.
It takes me about six hours to put together a unit study and lapbook materials for my kids that will last about four weeks of learning. This is from scratch. If I have a folder of info already started, I have completed units in less time. But allowing my self six hours is a safe number. I usually split this time up and will work on the research for the study 2 hours at a time for three days. I try to complete my research for the study at least a week before we want to use the unit study. This way allows me to feel confident in what we are doing.
I am glad to share with you how I create my unit studies. I get a head start on them as I keep a box full of file folders labeled with different topics we are interested in learning about. Some we will study this year and some we will study in the future, possibly next year. As we go along through the year, I put any materials I come across on those subjects into the folders. If I see worksheets, book titles, movie titles, news clippings, scripture verses, science experiments, recipes, crafts, field trips, or questions the children ask, these things all go into the folder.
The open box helps me keep the folders all in one place. It is easy to pick up the box and move it to another room, the table, or store in a closet. Then when I have time, and we are about a week away from studying the topic, I am able to spend a short amount of time putting it together into a unit study. This will really take off. I have three boxes now with over 100 topics I have started.
When I am ready to start working on my unit study, I pull out my folder if I have started one. I use a three ring binder, plastic pocket pages, and dividers, etc. If I don’t have dividers available, post-it notes work just fine. I label the binder with the name of the unit study, such as Robots, Blue Birds, USA, Japan, Hotdog, Human Body, Solar Energy, Ten Commandments, Volcanoes, and so on.
For example, I recently made a unit study on Volcanoes. Into my binder I put my lesson plans, library book and video lists, craft instructions, science experiment instructions, math ideas and worksheets, history, vocabulary definitions, websites, and scriptures into my binder. Then I put an example of all the worksheets I had gathered.
For each child, I paper clipped their packet of worksheets together, and put this into their folder. The file folder is used to hold the worksheets temporarily while we do the unit study. Toward the end of the study, we use the file folders for lapbooks, or shutter books. Basically you fold the file into a shutter fold. Then you cut, glue, staple, and create this wonderful scrapbook of the unit study the children just did. This gives each child a hands on keepsake folder of their learning adventure. You can also notebook your worksheets and projects instead of lapbooking them.
Here are the steps I use to create a Unit Study:
1) Select a Topic
A) What are your students interested in learning about? Make a list of potential subjects you would like to research and teach them through using unit studies. You may find the topic already in your current curriculum and want to expand on it. Or it may just be a topic your students are interested in.
What are your learning objectives and what media will you use to reach your goals?
What do you want to achieve? How do you want to go about it?
Make a list of our goals and objectives.
You can use the library and the internet to find just about everything you need.
C) Make a list of your resources.
Some items you might use as resources might be books you have on hand, videos, games, field trips, websites, movies, virtual field trips, craft supplies, interviews with people who know the subject, TV programs, community programs, the library, the computer and internet, a jar with field trip money, or some money you have saved for supplies, a closet or drawer full of crafts materials you’ve recycled, a science kit, an art kit, a knowledgeable neighbor or friend, etc.
2) Make A Plan And Write It Down
Make a plan and organize the information and resources you are putting together. There are several ways to make a plan to organize your information.
A) For a month long unit study, divide your subject into four sub-themes, one for each week of study. Decide on a title for each sub-theme.
Make a map, chart, or a calendar for your study. You can use a blank monthly calendar, or just use a sheet of paper to write out your plan. Decide how many hours each week you will do your unit study, and what subjects you want to cover during those hours.
Here are several free planning forms for menus, schoolwork, and unit studies.
Here is a link to a unit study map you could use.
C) Write your plan. If you are doing a month long study and have divided it into four sub-themes, you can make a mini-lesson plan for each week of your unit study.
1) To make a mini-lesson plan, use four sheets of paper, one for each week.
2) Across the top of each page, label the week such as week 1, week 2, week 3, and week 4.
3) Write your Topic and Sub-Theme in your heading at the top.
4) Down the side of each paper, label the following headings that you want to cover in your study: bible, vocabulary, language arts, science, geography, math, history, life skills, arts and crafts, music, field trips, etc.
5) Next to each heading, you can now add information or materials that correspond with your topic in that subject area.
6) Put the information in a binder, folder, basket or box to store everything in.
Inside my binder, I include plastic sheet protectors and dividers to help me keep items organized. I use the sheet protectors as pockets too. These are sturdy enough to hold small books and DVD’s and make it handy to keep everything together. I usually use four dividers and label the dividers with the name of the mini-lesson plan or sub-theme for the week.
3) Select subject areas and resources for your unit study.
1) Establish 5 to 10 vocabulary words for each week of study. Make four separate lists that relate to each week of your sub-theme. For example, if your unit study is about the Fall Season, you may have divided it into subthemes such as Fall Weather Patterns; Fall plants, Animal Changes in the Fall ; Fall Activities; etc. So the first week your vocabulary words would pertain to Fall Weather Patterns, etc.
2) Have the children learn the spelling and the meaning of the vocabulary word. You can have them look up the meaning in a dictionary, or you can provide definitions for them. Throughout the week, play games, draw pictures, do cross word puzzles or worksheets, use letter tiles, and rewrite the words in different activities to help them remember the words they are learning.
Here you will cover lots of areas such as reading, writing, grammar, etc.
1) Reading Books:
a) Locate books that relate to your subject. They could be: Bible, Fiction, Non fiction, Biography, Picture Books, Easy Readers, Family Readers, Leveled Readers, Poems, Song Books, Cook Books, Magazines, News Papers, etc.
b) Depending on skill level of your students, help them pick one or two books for them to read for each week. Also pick a family reader for your study. You can pick one for the whole unit or pick one for each week of your unit study. It is up to you.
2) Writing, Grammar, and Copy work:
Use both the bible, and a book you are reading to accomplish these goals.
a) Include copying a bible verse each week related to your topic of study. Toward the end of the week, dictate the verse and have the children write it down. Help them where they are struggling with their grammar.
b) Each day you work on your unit study, or at least once a week, based on the child’s skill level, have the child write a sentence or a paragraph about what they learned from the lesson. You can also have them copy or rewrite a paragraph from a book you are reading. You can also read a paragraph aloud to them and have them write down in their own words what you have said. This will be a great activity to build their writing and story telling skills.
c) Have the children write a letter telling someone about what they are learning. Or have them write a letter to someone who is knowledgeable on the topic and see if they send back a response. For example, if the unit study is on car racing, have the children write a letter to NASCAR or to INDY Speedway or even to one of the drivers who race the cars and ask for information about their sport.
d) For younger children have them work on the Upper and Lower case letters from the Alphabet and relate them to the topic. For example if you are studying Veterinarians then the younger children can work on the letter V v or all the letters in the word, etc.
e) Have the children write their vocabulary words in a sentence. This maybe used for copy work too. You may have already located sentences with the word in them and the children can copy it into their notebook or on a piece of writing paper.
1) Is your Topic a science subject? If so, then great, science will be really easy to cover. If it is not, then what science subjects can you find that are related to your topic?
Be creative on this. If your subject is famous artists then maybe you could find science experiments on mixing paint ingredients, or colors, diseases related to some of the past paint ingredients such as lead poisoning, etc. Or can you find an experiment where you cook with edible paint? Or make bathtub or face paint? How about finger paint and let the kids learn how to mix the colors or thicknesses and use different kinds of items to paint on? Or how about using different items to put the paint on with, such as brushes, fruit or vegetables, leaves or grasses, sticks, etc.
2) Put together at least four different science experiments related to your topic. You could do one experiment each week. I personally like to include lots of science experiments and will try to include at least three a week in our studies. I like to do a science experiment , recipe, or a craft everyday following our lesson.
3) Have each student keep a journal of the experiment using the scientific method to record how the experiment was done and their findings.
1) What math problems can you locate or create that relate to your subject based on the skill level of your student? Is there adding and subtracting or multiplication involved? What about algebra or geometry?
There are lots of free resources available on the internet to help you create math challenges for your student. One great site to check out is http://www.math-aids.com
2) Use a graph to learn how different concepts are different or related.
1) Is your subject history? Great, you got it covered. If your subject is not history, then what is the “history” of your subject, because everything has a history!!!
When did it start? Who did it? Who was it? Who invented it? How do we know about it? How was it used? What was going on in the world at that time? How has it changed? Who has been affected? Did it lead to war? Did it change governments? Did it change economies?
2) Draw a history timeline to help reinforce your student’s learning. Locate worksheets and coloring pages with pictures about the subject or key people involved.
1) Where did this subject occur? Did it happen in several places? Did it migrate or travel to other places over time? Where is it used now?
2) Use a globe, an atlas, and maps and locate and discuss where this occurred.
3) Use blank maps and have the children color and label them.
4) Make crafts with the continent or country shape, such as dough maps or paper mache globes, etc.
5) Play geography games and puzzles to reinforce learning.
G) Arts and Crafts
1) What famous artists have created art related to your subject? Include at examples you may find.
2) Put together at least four crafts you can do with your children related to the subject.
Possible art and craft options:
- Recycle household materials to make your crafts.
- Use play dough, salt dough, or clay to create projects.
- Create a diorama of one of the books or stories they are reading about.
- Drama is a form of art. Are their any plays written about your subject, and can you make a simple costume or prop to include in acting out your scene? You may want to recreate the play as part of your unit study. Or if there are no plays available, have the students write their own play. Also if your topic relates to a story in the bible, have the children act it out and make props or costumes as desired.
- Make a puppet and retell part of the lesson.
- Paint, Draw, Color, Cut, Glue, etc. to enhance the learning.
- Use craft kits that relate to your subject. You can work with rock jewelry, leather, material, macramé, needle crafts, dyes, wood crafts, and so much more.
1) Are their any songs written about your subject. If so, try to include at least one to four in your unit study. Music re-enforces learning and this is a great way to help the children remember your topic.
2) One place to look for educational songs about different subjects is
I) Life Skills and Cooking
1) Are there recipes that relate to your unit study? If so, try to include at least one recipe for each week of your study.
These can be snacks, deserts, breads, entrées, anything you want. If your unit study is about a special group of people during a time period, have a celebration at the end with food, decorations, and games related to your study. Invite friends and family for the festivities.
2) Are there things about Life Skills or Home Steading that relate to your topic? For example, if your study is about pioneers, help the children learn about baking sourdough bread, cutting firewood, or making soap, or tending gardens and animals. Life skills are needed for our children to develop into responsible adults. Incorporating life skills into the children’s studies helps them relate why it is important.
J) Field Trips
1) Are there places you can visit that relate to your topic? Contact them for information on prices and schedules. Some are free and some will cost for admissions. Also some are available year around and some are only able to be done during certain seasons.
2) Set dates to visit one to four places that relate to your topic.
3) There are lots of virtual field trips available on the internet too, and these can be a wonderful resource. Don’t forget to add at least one of these into your unit study adventure.
Make a lapbook from the worksheets, quizzes, copy work, art, experiements, etc. that you completed during your unit study.
Here is a link for lots of free templates and worksheets you can use in your lapbooking project. Many of these are shape books that you can personalize with your unit study and will give your lapbook project lots of character.
Here is a link to show you more about lapbooking.
L) Other Resources
What other resources are available to work into your unit study learning adventure?
1) DVD and VHS
Movies and Documentories that are available and related to your topic.
2) Computer Games on the internet or on CD-Rom.
Are their computer games or learning sites that relate to your subject? If so, include a few of them for the children to explore. For example, if your subject is about GERMS, the children can play computer related learning games about washing their hands, or games put out by Universities, schools or health departments, etc. Believe it or not, there are lots of computer games like this on the internet and my kids have learned a lot by playing them.
3) Get togethers with friends and family can be another way to reinforce what you have learned. You can share foods, customs, gifts, or displays of your projects that are based on your unit study.
Some internet resources for FREE Unit Studies and Lapbooks:
My favorite unit study free resource.
My favorite lapbook and template free resource.
this is my site and I am beginning to post the units we study, and several I have made.
When buying pre-made units, you can buy study guides/manuals and worksheets in printed form, or you can save lots of money buying them on CD or in downloadable E-book format. The added benefit of the CD and E-book is that they come with links to websites, blogs, videos, virtual field trips, quizzes, and more, as an added bonus. You can copy off whatever parts, library lists, templates for crafts, coloring pages, notebooking, copy work, math, science, timelines, pictures, clip art, or worksheets you choose. You can copy the whole thing and put it in a binder too. I have been able to aquire many of these CD, download E-book format units on sale for $5.
My favorite authors to buy pre-made unit studies from currently include:
Price range from $5 to $15.00 She runs a $5 sale every Friday. She has written over 30 unit studies that last for four weeks; and has written over 40 unit studies that last one week. Her four week studies are called Unit Studies and come in Cd-rom or download format. Her one week studies are called Down Load and Go and are in download format. I love her products. They are very easy to teach and come with all the internet links, craft templates, worksheets, and lapbook templates you need for the study. She really encourages making lapbooks as part of your unit study.
Hands Of A Child
Prices range from $5 to $35 They also run a $5 sale every week. They have free products too. They have way to many products to mention. Very professionally done. They also sell lapbook kits to go along with the unit studies, or if you buy it on Cd-rom, it comes with the templates for lapbooking and crafts. These are available in bound hard copy print, Cd-rom, and e-book /download formats.
They will also custom make unit studies for you for a reasonable fee. So if you want to have a special one done, just let them know, and they will do exactly what you want. The research they put into their products is hands down the best and most inclusive I have seen.
They also have a unit study co-op. You take on a volunteer job, such as locating copy work for the study. Others have various positions too, possibly as many as 12 or so jobs available. Then everyone sends in their research. The co-op then mails the completed unit study out to all the members. A great resource if you have the time to participate.
Prices range from free, to $1, to $35. I seldom spend more than $7 on an item though. These are written by various professional publishing companies, and by teachers, and moms. These are in download format only.
Priced around $25 and free shipping. These are very nicely done. And if you need to achieve badges in your scouts troop, these correspond to earning them. They come in a hard copy and are ready to be put into a binder when you receive them. Writen by Sharon Gibson who is a member of our local Hendersonville Homeschool Association.
Homeschool In The Woods
Prices range around $15 to $20 for unit studies. These come in Cd-rom and download format. They also offer some free products. These are terrific. The templates and graphics are fantastic. They also have several other products, maps, activity packs and more and prices on these vary. A wonderful product you and your kids will truly enjoy.
Some unit studies are so well done, from beginning to end, they captivate the childrens’ and parents’ interests. I think it is crucial to keep mom interested too. Her excitement helps build the anticipation and momentum of the learning atmosphere with the children. If mom is bored, uninterested, or preoccupied, the potential of the moment will be missed. I can’t say enough about this. Unit studies really are fun for mom’s too! When I put my energy into doing unit studies with my children, learning comes alive and is retained and becomes exciting for the whole family.