May 10, 2010

Simple Unit Study Planning

We love to follow interests and learn deeply about topics in our homeschool. We are what you might call a unit study family for many subjects. Like all homeschool families we borrow from other methods the ideas that work for our family, but one of the foundation stones in our homeschool is learning around a central topic.
Unit studies can be a lot of work, but they don’t have to be! Today I thought I would share a few not so complicated ways to pull together a unit, just by gathering a few ingredients. While we have done units based aroundmsm a topic, book, person, or historical event I have found many of our favorite units begin the same way: We find a good book to read aloud together. This may be a picture book, such as A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle, a biography, or a chapter book, such as our current unit: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. Today my examples will be from our current unit on My Side of the Mountain.
Once we find a book, I have to read it myself. If I have read it in the past, I may just skim it. As I speed through I note down interesting rabbit trails we may choose to explore. We will not get to all of these, but this step is important. You’ll see why in a minute. Part of my rabbit trail list for My Side of the Mountain was:
  • New York
  • Cascade Mountains/Mountain Habitats
  • Survival/Camping Skills
  • Falcons
  • Flowers and Trees
  • Edible plants
  • Fishing
  • Newspapers
  • Maple Syrup
  • Weather
I then narrowed the list down to a few I knew my kids would be interested in. If they develop an interest in something I took off my list we can always add it back. With my short list in hand I head to the library (or get on my library’s website to order books). On this particular day I came home with books about:
  • Falcons
  • Edible plants
  • Weather
  • Camping Skills
I also already had books at home about trees, flowers, and New York. All of these extra books will be put in a book crate for the kids to browse. I may add them to their stack of books for quiet time. If the topic is particularly interesting one day from our chapter’s reading we can grab a book to learn more.
The next step is to decide how much we want to cover each day. In our case we want to finish the book in a month to be ready for our book club activity day. My Side of the Mountain has 22 chapters. I also wanted at least a day to learn about the author. To finish in a month’s time our goal is to read at least one chapter a day.
At this point we chose to include lapbooking in our unit with the My Side of the Mountain Project Pack from Hands of a Child. Sometimes I create our lapbooks, other times we make a notebook or even write about the book or a favorite character. The lapbook will be our means of recording what we learn and will be used in our state portfolio review as well. I looked at the table of contents and found there was at least one lapbook piece for each chapter, which makes my life easy. A few minutes spent printing and we are all set. We just grab the appropriate minibook for the day’s chapter after reading and talking about our story.
I also have a few activity ideas we will do along with this unit. If we get to them great, if life is too busy then we won’t worry about it! They are simple things such as:
  1. Cooking over a fire.
  2. Bird-watching.
  3. Identifying the flowers and trees in our yard.
  4. Putting up a tent in the backyard.
  5. Taking a hike at the local nature preserve.
The last ingredient of our unit study pie is a gospel focus. With each unit I try to have a scripture or theme to discuss related to our unit. My Side of the Mountain offers several obvious ones, from food storage and emergency preparedness to trusting God to provide for our needs and prayer. When we are discussing each chapter I try to ask what my kids think about how the main character did in our theme area. That usually turns around to discuss how we are doing in the same area.
That’s it! Just a few basic ingredients can make a unit study that your family will enjoy and remember for years to come. I hope that every family takes the time, even if it is just once in a while, to enjoy a homemade unit study tailored just to their family’s tastes.
You can visit Tristan and her family at their blog, Our Busy Homeschool.

4 comments - Add a comment below -:

Mariel said...

Love it!

Dana ♥ said...

We also center our History and sometimes Science around a good book. We haven't done many lapbooks, but the last one we did was at Easter and the kids loved it. For our latest History unit, we had a coloring book that the kids loved working on.

Great Post Tristan. I loved reading about your "unit study pie". ☺

Tristan said...

Coloring books can be fun, that is one thing my kids can do on the lapbook pieces. I also have some non-coloring children who are happier to have me print pieces on colored paper instead. ;)

Unit studies have really saved my sanity with so many kids wanting to 'do school'! Instead of working from several different levels of science books all on different topics, and several levels of history all in different time periods, we just find resources to fit everyone together. Hooray for simplifying!

teresa said...

thanks, Tristan, for this post. It was very useful and informative.