The Unit Study Approach

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Unit studies allow us to pursue a topic in depth, while maintaining the interrelatedness of the disciplines. For example, you could develop your child’s recent stamp collecting interest into a unit study by incorporating or covering appropriate literature (reading), monetary equivalents (math), geography, different currencies over time (history), classification (science), art, and communication skills by requiring a report (writing/grammar) or speech. Unit studies typically take advantage of hands-on activities, field trips, and other forms of investigation.

“So just what is the Unit Study Method? A unit study is simply an extensive study of one topic (or unit) and the integration of all subjects (social studies, science, language arts, math, Bible, music, art, etc.) around that topic. This allows the child to see the purpose for learning because the disciplines (subjects) are applied and the knowledge is interconnected, creating a more logical and natural way to learn. It is the opposite of the fragmented method of spending 50 minutes on history, which is totally unrelated to the next 50 minutes of science, which is totally unrelated to the next 50 minutes of literature, and so on.” – Vicky Goodchild, The Simplicity of Homeschooling

There is no shortage of resources when it comes to purchasing pre-planned unit studies or helps for developing your own. Chances are you, too, will incorporate at least one unit study during your family’s homeschooling adventure. The following are unit-study features that can be implemented in any method of educating:

In-depth studies. So many times when following a typical scope and sequence, we only scratch the surface of a topic before it is time to move on to the next one. Whatever our styles, in a tutorial situation we can stay with the same subject matter until all of our questions have been answered and our curiosity is satisfied. As a result, we will have become intimately familiar with our subject.

Investigation. The one who does the research is usually the one who learns the most. Children are more likely to want to participate in finding their own answers when it pertains to a topic of their interest. We can provide ample opportunity to investigate all that the library has to offer.

Application of the learning tools. One of our goals is to help our children develop their skills. Skills are usually best developed precept upon precept, line upon line. But this does not mean that they have to be applied to an arbitrary topic dreamed up by the curriculum provider. Writing finds new life when the person performing the action is writing about something they have been investigating and in which they have an interest. Reading can take on a life of its own when an interest is fed with stage-appropriate (or maybe just a little advanced) literature. We can also have our children apply the skills they are developing in math to situations that hold their interest.

Family time. History, literature and the arts are examples of areas in which the entire family can learn together. Assignments can easily be fine-tuned to fit each child’s level while everyone studies the same topic.

Further Reading
  • Creating Your Own Unit Studies
    “With just a few resources you can put together your own units and track what topics you have covered through the years. The biggest fear of those who are debating about using the unit study method is fear of leaving something out. I’ve found three ways to deal with this fear. Use a scope and sequence, find a resource that covers the breadth of a subject for a particular age child and set up a multi-year topical plan.” Ready to create your own unit studies? Beverly S. Krueger shares how it works in her home.
  • Free Unit Studies
    We can all use fresh inspiration and these free unit studies may be just what we need!  From our DIYHomeschooler site.
  • The Gift of “How to Learn”
    Article by Jessica Hulcy, co-author of KONOS, on one of the advantages of the unit study method.
  • Homeschool Unit Study Planner
    Forms from Donna Young.
  • Keeping Unit Studies Simple
    Many homeschool moms have “burned out” using unit studies. “It doesn’t take long to learn that a few wrong notions have led to their planning nightmares.” Ideas to help you plan appropriately from Kathryn L. Stout.
  • Planning a Unit Study
    Welcomed help from Highland Heritage. Includes definitions and ten practical steps to help you incorporate unit studies into your homeschool.
  • Power of Homeschooling
    “Rote memorization of textbook material is no replacement for thinking skills and logic when it comes to leading a satisfying and fulfilling adult life. If the knowledge isn’t there to stay, there is no foundation or framework to build on for the rest of their lives…. If the framework isn’t there, the new information isn’t connected to anything, and it is difficult to use new information in a meaningful way.” Amanda Bennett makes the case for unit studies.
  • Prepared Unit Studies
    Compiled list of prepared unit studies at our DIYHomeschooler site.
  • Thoughts on Unit Studies
    One of the common criticisms about unit studies is that there is no organizing principle and that the children are not being encouraged to work at an appropriate level of study. The ideas in this article by Susan Wise Bauer, a classical education advocate and author of “The Well-Trained Mind,” might help you eliminate these concerns as you incorporate unit study ideas into your educational mix.
  • Unit Studies
    Unit study freebies, how-tos and our own units at our DIYHomeschooler site.
  • Unit Studies Made Easy
    Includes wide margins for note-taking, plenty of quotations to spur interest, samples of unit studies for inspiration and a resource list. Covers integrating subjects, scheduling, the use of projects, and record-keeping. Truly an invaluable resource for the homeschool handy-mom!
  • What is a Unit Study?
    “Once a family begins to use unit studies, the natural versatility and flexibility of the unit study will lend themselves to many educational ideas.” Article by Gail Kappenman.
  • What is a Unit Study?
    An in-depth look from Amy Pak.
  • What’s All This Fuss About Unit Studies?
    “The purpose of an education should be that we can enjoy God’s world and better be used for His purpose for each one of us.” Jennifer Steward explains how she and her family use unit studies to achieve that goal.
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