What is a unit study?
A unit study is tying as many different subjects as possible around one central theme. A time period, historical event or person, scientific topic, geographical location, or literature book can serve as the springboard from which various subjects branch. In a unit study, subjects are tied together, not studied disjointedly.
Why do unit studies?
Unit studies allow you and your children to be the unique individuals that God created you to be. Textbooks use one teaching style and are geared to one learning style, but unit studies allow you to use various styles and resources. Unit studies aren’t just relegated to books. They can include food, travel, field trips, media, crafts & hands-on projects, even Legos.
Multiple ages can be taught at the same time because age appropriate books, resources, and activities can be provided for each child while the central theme or outline of information remains the same for everyone. For example: If your family is studying the human body, your middle or high schooler could be coloring a page from Dover’s Gray’s Anatomy coloring book, your 5th grader could be making a heart out of modeling clay, your 2nd grader could be coloring and adding the heart to his or her “My Body” model, & your preschooler could be playing with Playdough and heart shaped cookie cutters.
With traditional textbooks, subjects are studied compartmentally. The child may be studying Pilgrims in history and electricity in science. What do Pilgrims and electricity have in common? Absolutely nothing! But with a unit study, subjects all tie into a central theme. If that theme is electricity, scientists such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison, as well as historical events such as the invention of the light bulb could be studied for history. If the theme is Pilgrims, possible science topics could be sailing or agriculture.
While textbooks work great for some subjects and for some families or children, they are not a good fit for the majority. One subject that a textbook is a good fit for is math. Some families are creative enough to integrate math into their units for the entire unit. Some units can easily bring in a few days worth of math. Personally, I feel that math is better taught using a textbook or curriculum and taking a fun break when it can easily work into the unit.
How do I know what to cover when?
If you were to line up the science and history textbooks from the largest publishers of traditional materials, you would discover that the scope and sequence of each one is different. Why? Because there is no set age to study specific science and history topics. For the publishers of textbooks, those decisions are made by very nice people sitting in corporate headquarters that have never met your child. Therefore, the decisions are made for the generic child. My children are not generic and neither are yours! God has a specific purpose for each one them. Personally, I do not want a generic education for my unique children.
A frequently asked question is “Will there be gaps?” The answer is, yes. But the reason is not the method. The reason is there is simply too much information in the world to be covered in a lifetime, much less 13 years. There will be gaps no matter what method you use and any publisher or sales rep that tells you otherwise is misleading you. (Albeit, most publishers and sales reps genuinely believe in their product and do not intend to mislead.)
Do units have to be full of crafts and hands-on activities?
The answer is very simply, no! Your units should reflect who you are as a unique family of unique individuals. Coloring is about as artsy-craftsy as our family gets. Our boys did not like to have art as a separate time, so they would usually color while I read aloud.
How much time should we spend on a unit?
The answer to this question is it depends; it is completely up to you. If your children are really interested in a subject, it could take several months, depending on how much you choose to cover and how deep they want to go. A lighter study can be done in a day or a week.
If you are like me, you will plan way too much to accomplish within the timeframe you give the unit. At that point you have to decide content or calendar. If finishing the content of what you have planned is the more important objective, toss the timeframe out the window. If staying within the allotted timeframe is the pressing factor, trim the unit down; knowing that you can always come back and revisit it later.