Have you ever used a unit study? If not, let me introduce you to one of the most flexible, inexpensive, and creative ideas for a homeschool mom. The unit study approach is a fun way to study a variety of subjects and appeal to all ages.
In a nutshell, a homeschool unit study is centered on one topic and explores that topic with all the senses and subjects! It allows you to really dive into a particular subject matter with your children, learning as much as they can about that topic with a blend of reading, writing, math, science, geography, discussion, hands-on art or craft activities, field trips, and more!
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Let’s take cowboys, for example. Unit study resources would include a great story about fictional cowboys or a true story of a historic cattle drive, a visit to a museum that features exhibits of cowboy life, learning about the cattle industry in the 1800s and today, learning about life on horseback, historic cattle brands and ranches, rodeos, chuckwagons, maps of cattle drives, following directions by the stars, cooking food over a campfire, buying and selling cattle for a profit, and so much more. As you can see from this list, many subject areas are included, like history, geography, reading, astronomy, cooking, business math, and a whole list of hands-on activities!
How about a unit study on cats? This could include a stack of books from the library, God’s creation of animals on the 6th day, animal kinds and species, cat breeds, the care and keeping of pet cats, wild cats around the world, drawing lessons with cats, and of course — cat videos on the internet! There’s a lot of science, literature, art, and hands-on fun to be had.
Road trips and vacations are a great reason to do a unit study! Wherever you’re going, make it educational before or after your trip. Maps, historic markers, museums, food, landmarks, fun attractions. . . all of these are ready-made resources for your study. Collect travel brochures, post cards, and books from your travels. Just a few of our vacations and historic sites that made great study-starteres: Pikes Peak, the Alamo, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home, and the Nao Santa Maria.
Do you see the possibilities? You can create homeschool lesson plans from almost any topic that suits your children’s interests or your lesson planning. And unit studies are applicable to all ages (and even combined age groups).
One thing to remember when considering unit studies is that this is so.not.public.school. You might be tempted to want to “make this count,” and that’s hard to do using the public school scope and sequence. You will be tackling history and science and art and math without a table of contents or a grade-level checklist. But please hear me when I say that it’s okay.Take a deep breath and watch the love of learning grow in your home.
Unit Studies to Purchase
If you’re brand new to unit studies, a ready-made plan is a great way to get started. All you need to do is pay and download, gather your supplies, and get started! Here are a couple of my favorite unit study programs to purchase:
Five in a Row is one of my favorites, and it’s the only preschool curriculum I recommend. The fun thing is, it’s not just for preschoolers; there are many levels of Five in a Row. This curriculum focuses each unit on a different children’s story book each week, and includes different topics to explore. You read a book every day for a week (five days in a row), and notice something different in the story each day. You might explore patterns in the language or the illustrations, learn the story’s geography, talk about a character quality, review shapes, colors, or numbers, and perhaps to a craft or play a game.
The books in Five in a Row lessons are all high quality children’s books, usually found at your local library. Five in a Row studies begin at the preschool level and go to about age 12. And if you want to really expand the hands-on fun, check out the free lapbook printables on Homeschool Share. There are several that go with Five in a Row lessons!
Unitstudy.com by Amanda Bennett is a great place to start. There are two different types of studies on Unitstudy.com: short term and long term. Short term studies are for one week, and the long term studies can last up to six weeks. Topics available include seasons, holidays, history, hobbies, and more. Everything you need is listed in the downloadable PDF from the website, complete with daily lesson plans, book list, website links, supplies, and field trip ideas.
I usually recommend a fun unit study or two from Unistudy.com for families who are transitioning from public school to homeschool. It’s a fun bridge to a new kind of education, and easy for any parent to jump right in!
Beautiful Feet Books offers some in-depth history units, which are wonderful, but you might also be interested in their history of the horse or California history. We have enjoyed the Holling C. Holling geography unit, too.
Earthly Wellness offers a unique set of unit studies on homesteading and natural health. Check out Introduction to Herbalism, Wild Berries, Learn to Homestead, and Herb Gardening!
Free unit studies
- One of my favorite sites for free unit studies is Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool. I have utilized her awesome resources many times!
- Freedom Homeschooling has a great list of seasonal unit studies (plus an entire site of free homeschool curriculum).
- The Crafty Classroom has a nice list of studies, including pumpkins, hummingbirds, mushrooms, and much more.
And a google search for a specific “free unit study” will give you lots more results.
Create Your Own Unit Study
Once you’ve done a unit study or two, you will probably be inspired to create your own! As you can see, they can be focused on a certain time period, a place, a historical event, historical figures, an art, a hobby, an animal, or just about anything worth studying. Start with a theme, and brainstorm from there. You might discover more possibilities than you have time for!
Once you have your theme, write down everything that can be explored: stories to read, movies to watch, YouTube video demonstrations, history, geography, music, math, science, crafts, food, field trips, art, discussion questions, and additional research. Here are just a few ideas in each category:
Books: non-fiction, history, historical fiction, literature, picture books
Movies: documentaries, true stories, Hollywood productions, musicals
YouTube: interviews, how-to, lessons, virtual tours, entertainment, documentaries
History: your textbooks, library books, museums, old journals and diaries, timelines
Geography: atlas, historical maps, current maps, city, state, country, world, navigation, reading a map
Music: learning to play, composers, reading music, listening to different genres, music from different historical periods
Math: measuring, business, building, counting, patterns, statistics
Science: animals, chemicals, weather, astronomy, water, inventions, space travel
Crafts: sewing, painting, drawing, building, scrapbooking, journaling, displays
Food: ethnic foods, cooking basics, tasting new things, baking bread, sourdough, nutrition, historic recipes
Field trips: museums, ocean, river, mountains, train ride, sporting event, bakery, lessons
Art: museum, lessons, composers, famous artists, styles
Discussion Questions: debate, apologetics, conversation, interviews, public speaking
Additional research: using the library, using the internet, creating a book report, writing a research paper, giving a speech, telling a story
When you begin to see how to incoporate a wide variety of experiences into a particular topic, you create a love of learning. Children learn that the world is their classroom, and that classroom is huge!
Year Round Homeschooler has a great post on creating your own unit study + a free planner. Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus has a really nice download for $5.99.
Unit Studies as a Homeschool Method
While some families do occasional unit studies throughout the year based on a holiday or a season, or to break up the monotony of the school year, others use this as their primary homeschool method. If you have a solid math curriculum and teach your children to read, you can accomplish almost everything else with unit studies as your homeschool curriculum.
Unit studies as a homeschooling style truly allows you to have a delight-directed learning environment. This is especially useful if you’ve recently taken your child from an unpleasant public school experience, as it gives them the chance to slow down, and see that learning is truly fun.
If you find yourself jumpking all over the place with your child’s interests, consider building a portfolio of things learned, or creating a history timeline to add your studies to. For instance, put WW2 and ancient Egypt studies on a timeline along with your child’s birthday, Columbus’ first voyage, the birth of Jesus, etc. This helps your child to see the big picture while still following their passions.
Unit Studies for Homeschool Co-ops
If you want to teach a class for your homeschool co-op, look no further than a prepared unit study! So many of them are easily adapted to various age groups and timeframes. Our local co-op is once a week for ten weeks. So if I needed ten lessons, I’d choose the ones that fit best with my class goal, class time limit, cost, and age level.
Five in a Row (mentioned above) is perfect for preschool and elementary co-op classes. Beautiful Feet studies are great for middle school students and high school students. And of course, creating your own with the methods I outlined will give you the ability to create endless co-op classes for your group!
So, your wheels are hopefully spinning by now, but I want to just give you a taste of what’s possible. Take some of these ideas (some have a link), or use them as a springboard for further brainstorming!
- Ancient Egypt unit study
- a human anatomy unit
- Harry Potter
- Civil War
- Little House on the Prairie
- Noah’s Ark
- Jane Austen
- sports cars
- Christmas Around the World
- Medieval weapons
- historic clothing
- different countries
- world geography with food
Unit studies can be lots of fun, and there is really no time limit or age limit! So take a break from your regular school schedule, explore a season or a specific interest, and let your kids loose to enjoy learning!
For more out-of-the-box homeschooling, see my post on Gameschooling, Roadschooling, and Other Fun Methods.