How to Home-School: Unit Studies

This post is the third in a six-part series on “Teaching Methods.”

Unit studies is a teaching method that has two particular advantages:

  1. It allows you to cover a number of different subjects while focusing on a particular topic, and
  2. It allows you to teach those subjects over a broad range of ages and/or grades.  If you are not familiar at all with unit studies, I will explain what I mean.

The particular unit study program which I have had the most experience with is called KONOS.  KONOS is a unit study program that utilizes character traits to teach your child across the various disciplines: history, science, language arts, math and the fine arts, for instance.  Many years ago (1991-92 to be exact) I participated with my daughter in a KONOS co-op.  There were approximately 5 families with 8-10 kids of grade school age (and several more pre-schoolers).  One of the character traits we studied was “obedience.”  And one of the topics we used to study this character trait (to give you an example of how this works) was “Kings and Queens.”

During that unit on “Kings and Queens” we:

  • Studied castles
  • The children made cardboard swords and shields with a coat-of-arms
  • We took a field trip to a medieval festival
  • We learned to play chess

– and that is just a few of the things we did over the course of this study (which lasted approximately 12 weeks).  As you can probably tell, the kids had a lot of fun during this study, and moreover, they learned!  Integrated studies such as these help children to make connections across the various disciplines so that the information isn’t learned and then forgotten.  The children are also engaged in the process because they are having fun, so the subjects they are learning are tied to good memories which allows them to retain what they are learning.

While it can be a lot of fun to use unit studies in a co-op environment, you can accomplish the same engaged learning in your own home with your own children, even if their ages vary widely.  Besides that particular co-op group (which met for one school year), I have been involved in a unit study with just one other family, and I have used unit studies with just my own children.  I have even used unit studies with my kids that I created myself.  (One in particular, a unit study on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea I hope to publish as an e-book and make available on this site.)

Here are several unit study programs you might want to look into to use with your own family, or to use in a co-op environment:    

  •  KONOS –  as I stated earlier, KONOS is the unit study program which I have used the most and I highly recommend it.  The first volume of the core KONOS curriculum has enough material in it to last several years (if you choose to stretch it out as I did) and includes character traits such as: Attentiveness, Obedience, Orderliness and Honor, just to name a few.
  • Weaver Unit Studies – The Weaver Curriculum is a unique unit-based, Bible-centered home-school curriculum.  This family-based curriculum uses the same daily Bible theme as a foundation and then creates lessons for each student.  I have never personally used Weaver but it has been around for quite awhile and is recommended by many in the home-schooling community.
  • There are a number of unit studies written by veteran home-schoolers such as Amanda Bennett and Valerie Bendt.
  • Create your own unit study!  I have done this several times with topics such as: Astronomy; the Human Body; and others.  It will take a little bit of your time but I can assure you it will be worth it.  If there is a subject you want to tackle and you find the traditional methods less than satisfying, follow these instructions to create your own unit study.

CREATE YOUR OWN UNIT STUDY

1) Start with sitting down and making an outline of the topics you would like to cover in your study.  (For instance, when I created a unit study on the “Human Body” I divided it into systems: the circulatory system, the respiratory system, the nervous system, and so on.)

2)  Then check your local library for books related to the topics you have chosen.  You don’t even have to go to the library…just go online and search the library’s catalog.  Check out the books that you will use either as a source of information or that you will read to your children (or assign them to read).

3) Using your outline that you made, begin to list activities you will do together, as well as activities or assignments you may want your child (or children) to do on their own.  I would suggest that you first have a brainstorming session, then come back and polish your list. 

4) Decide how long you want to take to complete your study (I suggest you plan it out by the week).

5) Most of all, have fun with this!

Finally, of all the advantages unit studies have to offer, one of the most important to me has been simply the moments shared with my children.  Implementing unit studies for any part of your curriculum will give you the opportunity to create fun and fond memories.  Moments like that cannot be analyzed, quantified, or graded – they are simply what makes your family unique, special, and stronger.

If you are a home-schooler who has used unit studies with your own children, won’t you share in the comments section what you have used and how it worked out for your family?

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  • Hezpetunia

    We never used “official” unit studies in our homeschooling but I've always loved the idea and want to use it with my kids if I get married someday. It's like real life – everything is integrated!

  • annegalivan

    The integration of unit studies is one of the great advantages. It can really make it easier on lesson planning because you can cover so much material (i.e. subjects) with whatever topic you are exploring. On thing I didn't mention in my post is that, for that reason, it can be great for families with lots of kids, since you aren't making plans for each subject for each kid (something I never wanted to do – with unit studies we all worked, and had fun, together).

    Thanks for the comment!

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