May 8, 2012

Unit Studies

Apparently several readers want to know more about how other people homeschool.  The nitty-gritty of it.  I'm the same way.  I always think it is interesting how people take the concept of homeschooling and make it work for them.  I am not an expert on any style of homeschooling but if I had to give myself a label, I'd say we are Unit Studies Homeschoolers.  (If you put something in capitals it makes it look like a real thing.)

So how does that play out in real life?

I start by deciding what we're going to study for the year.  Yes, the whole year. I am not an unschooler, but I do try to honor my children's interests by including more science and creating (arts/crafts) than I would if left to my own wants and desires.  My children love science.  I do not.  My children love to make art.  I do not.  But I am learning to love science.  I used to look at the state's curriculum and match it a little (for example, when the state core said to classify rocks, I classified animals so that my kids would get the concept of classification) but I don't anymore.  It isn't a bad idea, though, especially for new homeschoolers who aren't sure where to start.

Last year I noticed that I had been spending way too much time studying American history and not enough time broadening my children's understanding of the world.  Seeing that problem, I decided to fix it by using The Well-Trained Mind's rotation approach to history and science.  With this rotation method you start with ancient history and natural science (observable, since technology was limited in ancient times).  That made sense to me. 

Once that was decided, I headed to the library.  Actually, the library webpage.  I requested every book I could find about ancient times.  When the librarians had collected them all for me, I went and checked them out, brought them home, and spent several hours reading through them to find the highest quality and most appropriate books for my children's ages.  I then wrote those titles and authors down in a word document according to geographic region.  Voila--my history curriculum for the year.  (As in, I spent all of February and March putting this together because we started the 2012-2013 school year on April 23rd--first year we're trying out year-round!)

After that, my homeschooling buddy and I divided the year into eight week sections.  Six weeks for activities, one week for a field trip, and one week off.  Then we decided which area of the world to study for those week groupings.  I know some people study world history chronologically and that makes wonderful sense, but my brain doesn't work that way.  Too much jumping around.  So instead, we are studying history by geography.

The first 3 weeks were Mesopotamia so I requested the books off my master list that covered Mesopotamia and I looked through them and found activity ideas for that region.  So far we've made chariots, watched a video about making bricks (the plan was to make bricks, but the plan changed), made and painted a salt map of the Fertile Crescent, and played a game where we bartered.  Next week we are talking about laws and writing some cuneiform in clay and making a shaduf.

I also use some of my favorite online map sites to get free outline maps for the geography portion of our units.  Sometimes I find coloring pages online (type in Ancient Egypt coloring pages--you'll be amazed) or a youtube video that fits in with what we are doing.  Since my children are still young, we primarily read library books about a subject and then make crafts/food/science projects that go along with the info in the library books.  Easy peasy. 

For science I do, in general, exactly the same thing.  Since I wanted to study natural science, I picked a few topics that I knew my children would like.  We started with the weather.  I requested all the books about weather I could find, and then found a few good ones.  Actually, weather is a great place to start if you don't have enough money for a full-on curriculum because there are two books that I found that incorporate experiments and activities into every chapter.  I don't even have to go searching!

Once I picked a central text to follow (Wild About Weather by Ed Brotak), I  found additional library books to supplement each concept and gathered the supplies I needed for the experiments.  Then I put together a very general 8 week calendar, and a very specific 2 week calendar of what I was going to read and do on each day.  Since it is springtime, hiking trumps just about every other activity so I worked our school days around our hiking days.  I do history activities one day a week and science activities another day during the week, and the rest of the days we do our basic math and grammar but read history and science books during bedtime story time.

 Some might argue that true Unit Studies incorporate all the subjects into one theme, and by studying history and science separately (most of the time) that I am not truly doing unit studies.   That's true.  I just don't know what, exactly, it is that I'm doing!  Thematic studies?  I do history, art, and geography together.  It is all reading based.  Maybe that's what they used to call Social Studies?

Regardless of what it is called, that is how I do it.

Andrea is a homeschooling mother of five; ages 8, 7, 5, 3, and 15 months. She is a "retired" school teacher who still teaches a class or two at the local university, is the RS president, and maintains two blogs (more-or-less). She is constantly in danger of losing her sanity altogether. She loves books, books, and more books! She also loves writing, cooking, hiking, dancing, singing, hanging out with her family, and anything pro-redhead. You can read more about her homeschooling efforts on the blog Frolic and Farce.

4 comments - Add a comment below -:

Dana ♥ said...

I love unit (or themed) studies too. I tend to group things the way you do. I don't combine every subject in our studies.

We've had the most fun when we've used themed studies. We've gotten away from those as of late. Thanks for this post, it's got my wheels turning again... :)

Anonymous said...

We do school in a similar way too. Combining as many things as possible is great because my kids usually have more interest that way.

I'm glad you mentioned doing history the way you do, instead of strictly chronologically. We've been doing it chronologically for a few months and even I'm starting to get confused with all the jumping around! I'm going to switch it!

the sleepy time gal said...

very helpful. we're exploring ancient egypt ourselves at the time being.

Andrea said...

We'll be doing Ancient Egypt in a few weeks. It is my daughter's favorite--all those fancy things to talk about and make!