A large timesaver to our homeschool was adding unit studies. My family uses unit studies a little different than many homeschoolers. After spending countless hours researching the unit study’s place in homeschool and watching other parents implement it into their schooling, I create the perfect way to implement it into our home education.
What is a homeschool unit study? It is an in-depth study of a specific topic employing various sources of introduction, investigation, and exploration. Unit studies allow educators to focus on one topic while applying various branches of learning such as math, writing, and reading.
Making your own unit study is rather easy and doesn’t take much time. Parents and teachers can customize unit studies to the student’s interests. We will dive into creating unit studies, ideas for topics, and assessing learning.
Unit Study Approach
Here is our approach to unit studies.
- Think of topics your child is interested in exploring or topics to cover from their education plan.
- Brainstorm ways to teach it that incorporates various learning methods (video, activities, projects, worksheets, field trips, etc).
- Create a lesson plan.
I’m going to be honest, the traditional unit study approach incorporates multiple subjects into one topic. Though we do indirectly incorporate other subjects into our units that’s not our sole purpose. We use curriculum for language arts and math. So, learning is pretty much covered in those areas. We use unit studies to teach Science and Social Studies.
Initially, when I started homeschooling I had scheduled “class” time for Physical Science, Animal Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, History, and Geography. The difficulty was having enough time to give attention to one subject without having to rush to the next. I felt like I was in a traditional school rodeo all over again.
Now we use unit studies and focus on exploring one unit at a time. Our schedule is broken into 6, 6-week sessions. We complete one unit study each session. We dive into our unit studies and focus on exploring and investigating questions. Example: I wanted to do a Physical Science Unit. In one unit we explored and investigated 7 different physical science principles.
So, if I want to focus on matter. I might question: What does matter look like? Can I make it look different? How can I make matter move? My lesson plans would place information in front of the kids to help them answer these questions. Because the plans will include a lot of hands-on research my kids retain the information.
Incorporate Multiple Subjects
Unit studies are easy to incorporate multiple subjects. This is really good for kids who are reading and know basic math concepts. After this, it is very easy to incorporate multiple subjects into one topic. Here are ways to create a unit study and combine other subjects:
- Reading, Writing, & Language Arts: Students can read books and journals or answer questions regarding what they have read. You can also have students read books and then ask them to demonstrate knowledge through creating a project. A great way to exercise comprehension. Students can research and then write an essay and use editing and proofreading skills. Or go back in their journals and highlight identified parts of speech.
- Science: There are so many science experiments and projects to learn about various topics. You can always ask students to name “matter” that was talked about, compare mass and volume, what state of matter something is, or create an atom model for molecule discussed.
- Social Studies: Everything has a history. Researching the history of anything through books or documentaries. Learn where it started or where it’s popular and using the map or globe to find the location. Talk about the city, country, and continent.
- Art: Be creative through coloring worksheets, drawing, or redesigning an item. Create what you are learning in a 2D or 3D form. Use photography to investigate animals, plants, or other topics
Homeschool Schedule Using Unit Studies
Everyone has a different homeschool schedule based on their state’s requirements. Let’s talk about how you can create a homeschooling schedule to accommodate unit studies.
I started my family’s homeschool scheduled based on sessions for our unit studies. Because I had 6 subjects I want to cover (through the unit study approach) every year. This is the first step. Decide what subjects or topics you want to cover for the school year.
The second step is to determine what you want to teach in each subject. If you are following a learning sequence for your state or if you have developed your own this is the time to see what skills your child will be learning next.
Another tip is to listen to your kid’s interests. My kids have been asking about dinosaurs and I decided to create a unit study around these animals. I can use dinosaurs as an entry to teaching them about lifespans, habitats, and so many other concepts within animal life science.
The third step is to plan how you will teach that skill. What books will you use? What worksheets? What documentaries or videos? What projects? What activities? What assessment?
Then you will need to create an outline for each unit and determine how much time you will need to devote to each unit study. For my family, we do unit study as a full school day once a week. It allows us to really engage in the topic. There are semesters when it isn’t possible to dedicate a full day so we will have two mini-sessions throughout the week.
Journaling is very important for unit studies. They document the work that students are completing. It’s also a way to organize information in one location. We prefer lapbooks (folders) or binders because different types of information can be stored. I tell my kids it’s their investigation binder. They think it’s fun to gather information to answer questions.
Here’s how we use journaling with unit studies.
- Notetaking to be used as a study guide and for copy work practice
- Essays for answering questions prompted by the lesson
- Sometimes I create my own questions to be answered after a lesson versus giving a worksheet
- Art drawings
Record keeping is vital for many homeschoolers. Here is how you can maintain good records when using the unit study approach:
- Create detailed lesson plans for each class that contains the concept being taught. If you are teaching a specific core concept, list it in the lesson. At a minimum the lesson plan should have the following sections: Title, description, concepts taught, demonstration of concepts learned (Students will be able to:), and list of activities to complete the lesson.
- Title your lesson plan. For instance, Matter Unit Lesson 1 and so forward.
- Record in your planner the title of the lesson and date(s) the lesson was completed. You can also record the dates that you worked on that lesson. Example: Matter Unit Lesson 1, Dates Worked: 01/01/2020 -01/03/2020, Date Completed 01/03/2020.
Unit Studies for Kindergarten Homeschool
Wanting to use unit studies for your kindergartener? There are a lot of topics you can choose from. Here are a few topics for Kindergartens.
- Earth & Space: It’s great for students to understand the world around them and starting with broader concepts like space is great. Students can learn the names of the planets and their locations. They can create the solar system. Then move on to learning which planet they live on and create 3D models of Earth. There are many documentaries about Earth and Space. Pinterest is a great place for activities.
- History: This is a great time to explore the superheroes of Earth. You can read books and explore maps to investigate the superheroes of Earth.
- Animal and Plant Science: Pick an animal and plant and explore their life cycle, how they eat, where they live, etc.
- Colors beyond primary
- Patterns and Sequencing
- What animals and Plants Need?
- Sunlight (shade, effects, how it works)
- Force: Push & Pull
- Comparing Weight and its effects on speed and force
1st & 2nd Grade Unit Study Topics
In addition to diving deeper into the topic above. Here are a few topics that are great for 1st and 2nd-grade students.
- Blending colors
- The science of building/construction
- Story writing
- Human body systems
- Continents and Earth’s bodies of water
- Fire Prevention
3rd – 5th Graders Unit Study Topics
Here are some additional topics for 3rd through 5th graders. Remember you can always select a deeper study or different angle of a previous unit study.
- Periodic Table
- United States Geography
- Matter and how to change it
- Writing drafts and edits
- Persuasion (debate and public speaking)
- US Presidents
Create Free Homeschool Unit Studies
The best way to get free homeschool unit studies is to create them yourself. They are very easy to create. With books from the library, online videos, and Pinterest’s activity ideas you are sure to have a unit together in no time.
Assessing learning isn’t any different with unit studies. How would you assess learning in other learning systems? Observation, assignments, quizzes, worksheets, tests. These can all be applied to unit studies. I’ll save my opinion about tests for elementary kids for a later post.
The other awesome part is that parents can assess students through direct application. Projects and experiments provide a great opportunity to assess your student’s learning. Make sure you are providing enough challenge in your units to add rigor to your child’s learning.
Are students successful with homeschool unit studies? Yes, success in homeschool unit studies is natural. Exploratory learning has a high success rate. Parents should make sure that they are using unit studies that will cover content that is deemed necessary for success. These requirements may vary from state to state and homeschool to homeschool.
How do you homeschool multiple children? Unit studies are a great way to homeschool multiple children. It allows for a common theme with varying levels of application.