April 20, 2017

5 Days of Popular Homeschool Teaching Methods~Day 4: What is Unit Study? {5 Days of Homeschool Blog Hop}

Popular Homeschool Teaching Methods: Unit Study
Welcome to my fourth installment of my Popular Homeschool Teaching Methods series! I hope you ahve been enjoying my discussion this week. Thus far, we have spoken about why knowing your teaching method style is important, and I have explained what the Charlotte Mason and Classical method are all about. I also have mentioned that I have not yet shared the style that our family relates to the most yet--could it be today? Let's talk about another of the popular homeschool teaching methods: Unit Study!

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What is the Unit Study teaching method?

Before we go any further, let's take a minute to talk about what a Unit Style teaching method is all about. In the unit study method you find find the following to be true:

You will study a central topic over many subjects
This means that rather than having curriculum for each subject, you will have a curriculum that works for ALL (or almost all) of your subjects. You will study your topic throughout your day.

You will have a vast number of resources to use
In a unit study style, you will be making use of fiction books, non-fiction books, encyclopedias, maps, internet, videos, and more as your primary sources, rather than sticking to just a text.

Your school day may not involve as much classroom time
With the unit study, you may be out and about exploring with field trips, or nature study. You also may not run a full day like you find in a more classical style. There will be a lot of work on research or projects, rather than class time.

Students usually will have projects or notebooks for work, instead of worksheets or tests
Two popular systems for showing work in the unit study method is lapbooking and notebooking. These are a type of continuous scrapbook that documents your studies. There will also be a lot of projects involved.
Working on final project for study on Daniel Boone--drawing a muzzle loader and labeling all the parts
Your topic isn't rushed, and allows for extended learning
Unlike the classical method, there isn't a "time limit" to your learning (X number of lessons to complete), and you are allowed to spend time on rabbit trails. It's not about quantity of what gets done, but the intense study on a topic--regardless of how long it might take! There is no magic "done" amount.

Easy to work in fine arts into your study
Unlike some methods, Unit Study is ideal for incoporating the fine arts like music and art into your study, without needing separate curriculum.

Easy to teach more than one grade at a time
Unlike the more grade leveled approach of Classical, Unit study method allows for multi-level learning, as one topic can be created to be grade appropriate, allowing for multiple students to be working on the same thing at the same time.

Much Teacher involvement and Lesson prep
Unlike many methods, unit studies requires someone willing to be actively involved in teaching and especially preparing for the units. There is a lot of gathering of materials and prep work involved, with much less independent work (especially in the elementary levels).

To put it more succinctly, the unit study method takes a specific area of interest and use it as a spark to develop an in-depth study that spans across all the major subject areas – Math, Language Arts (reading, writing, spelling, grammar), History, Science, Art, etc. The main idea behind this method is that we as human beings tend to learn more when we are actually interested and engaged about the topic--thus the goal is to completely immerse the student into a particular topic to allow them room to explore it however they desire!

What Does Unit Study Look like?

For this, I'm going to turn it over to a friend and fellow blogger who to me, really displays what Unit Study is all about! I asked her some questions about unit study method in her home--so I'm turning it now over to Michelle of Delightful Learning!

Me: Have you always done this style?

Michelle: We started our homeschooling adventure using a Charlotte Mason inspired literature based curriculum. I quickly fell in love with reading historical fiction books to learn about History, and the extensive reading of living books established a love of reading in our homeschool. We have used a variety of literature based curriculum, but our primary curriculum has been Sonlight.

Me: What made you change?

Michelle: Because I am a creative type who likes hands on projects, I was drawn to unit studies and fell in love with the Five in a Row curriculum because we got to read timeless books and do fun projects with them!

Me: How has using this style helped YOU as the teacher?

Michelle: Using this style has helped me as a teacher because I am a creative type, and if I am passionate about what I am teaching, my children will be more inspired to learn.

Me: Do all your kids use that style?

Michelle: For our together time, yes. But, each child has independent work with a different style.

My 12 year old has been using a Classical approach to history with Veritas Press Self-Paced History. He loves History and remembering facts, dates, and events comes naturally to him.

My 10 year old daughter needs a more gentle approach with the Charlotte Mason method. She uses Math Lessons for a Living Education and loves the short daily lessons, for example.

My 6 year old's learning style is kinesthetic, so hands on learning with Unit Studies is perfect for him. Unit Studies are a really great way to bring learning alive. I get excited thinking about the things we can DO when we read a book or study a topic in a way that I can't with any other style.

All my kids love the Charlotte Mason approach with living books, short lessons, narration, and time spent in nature, and this ties in nicely with unit studies, but we are not purists for obvious reasons - Charlotte Mason did not approve of unit studies!

Me: What does it "look like" in your classroom doing this style?

Michelle: We spend a lot of time reading a variety of books, discussing topics, and doing a few hands on projects. I try to stick to projects that have educational (or nutritive!) value but some things we do just for fun or to create a memory. We follow a unit study guide/manual, but I love to tweak and add my own creative flair to the study as I am inspired.

Me:What is your go-to curriculum (if any)?

Michelle: We are finishing up a year long unit study on the Little House on the Prairie books using the Prairie Primer by Cadron Creek. But, my go-to curriculum for unit studies has been Five in a Row. We will be using Beautiful Feet (Geography Through Literature) this coming year to study geography, and then Winter Promise (Children Around the World) along with Five in a Row to study cultural geography the next.

Me: Do you see yourself using it throughout the rest of homeschooling?

Michelle: I see myself using a unit study approach up through the end of Junior High.

We will probably go back to a literature based curriculum in high school. Hands on projects will become more sophisticated science and history projects that my students will work on independently and any rabbit trails will be ones they go down themselves. (Hopefully they will be inspired to do that after their experience with unit studies!)

Because Unit Study is a method that a lot of people have dabbled in, I put forth the following question to people who have used it before...What is your favorite/least favorite thing about Unit Studies?

Carol of Home Sweet Life says: My favorite thing about using a Unit Study is not needing to do anything else for school that week. My least favorite thing about Unit Studies is feeling like there are too many hands-on projects planned for most of them and where will we put them all when we're finished?

Cassandra of A Glimpse of Normal shares: My favorite thing about Unit Studies is being able to dive in deeper to a subject that interests my kids.

Kelly of God's Writer Girl's Blog agrees with Cassandra: I agree with Cassandra. I like utilizing Unit Studies because it allows me to explore topics that I know are of interest to my child and will keep him engaged in the learning process.

Annette of A Net in Time says: the 1000's of rabbit trails.... hard to stay on topic, fun to run down trails.

Cristi of Through the Calm and the Storm confesses: I just can't get into the Unit Study mindset because it seems like they either requires too much planning work for me or too much teacher-involvement while doing the study. (Most of my kids are not self-motivated to do work on their own, especially if it's rather open ended.)

Jennifer of Thou Shall Not Whine agrees with Cristi: That is me too. I love the idea, but it's just too much for me. I've tried it a few different times over the years, not going to do it again. I check out too many books, don't read them all, and end up with too many library fines!!!

Lori of At Home: Where Life Happens says: My favorite thing about a unit study is getting to focus, really focus, on a singular topic or area. It can be tailored to my children and each child's particular interest and learning style, especially when we put them together ourselves. When it is a bought one, my favorite thing is that they have often located various links and items that I might never have found on my own, thus really opening up the options. My least favorite thing about a unit study (when prepared by someone else) is that there are so many options and my kids all want to do a different option. It is easy to over-extend myself and the unit.

Susan of Homeschooling Hearts and Minds explains: I love unit studies and I would have loved to have been able to learn that way as a child. But my children do not like unit studies. They want to know when English is done and now we are doing science. They also want clear lines between what is "school" and what is their own stuff. They actually hate it if I turn their interests into a "study", even if it is as simple as doing some fun activities and watching some documentaries. It's not so much that they won't do it or whatever, but it doesn't bring them joy to do things that way. They would much rather get what has to be done done and then have as much free time as possible to explore their personal interests. 

What Resources are there for the Unit Study Method?

I know this is a lot to take in, but I wanted you to see that Unit Study method is honestly one of the THE most popular of all the methods, because of the relative freedom it gives the parent and child to move to topics that the child has interest in. But as you can see, there are certain aspects that can be a deterrent--primarily that of it being very teacher dependent, requiring a lot of prep time.

Now, if creating your own study across the major subject areas isn't quite your cup of tea--maybe you don't feel "creative" enough--there IS Unit Study curriculum out there that take the guess work out of your hands! I want to touch on a few of my favorite ones that I have explored or reviewed over the years we've been homeschooling.

*Five in a Row
If you have an elementary student and you enjoy or think you might enjoy unit study, I highly recommned the Five in a Row curriculum series. Your topics to study are actually children's books--and each book is spread out over the major subject areas for you to explore further...and no guess work! The book shows you exactly how you can do that! 

Working on his Rain Forest lapbook
I can't say enough for lapbooks. I have done MANY of them over the years and continue to do them because they are so effective for recording the information you are learning during a unit study. I wrote a blog post L is for Lapbooks, where I spend time sharing some that we have made, and go into a bit more detail about how and why we do them. Pinterest is a GREAT resource for finding different lapbooks to fit what you are studying, AND as long as you have internet, paper, and a printer, they are pretty much--free! 

One of my FAVORITE companies for lapbooks is Home School in the Woods, because they do all the hard work for you--you simply have to print off and use what they have created to teach your topic! I have reviewed two of their products for unit study. The first was a unit study on US Elections, and the other was a study on Ancient Egypt. You can find links to all posts relating on my blog to lapbooks by CLICKING HERE.

A FREE resource for lapbooking and unit study materials is HomeschoolShare.com. I regularly use this site to find resources for any of our unit study topics. 

*YWAM Publishing
If you want to create a history based unit study, I highly recommend checking out YWAM Publishing and their Heroes series. Not only can you find a top of the line biography for your base resource, but they have already created an entire unit study curriculum to go with the biography! These unit studies are geared towards the 10+ age range, yet like most unit study material could definitely be adapted to work with whatever grade level you have. We have reviewed two of their Heroes in History series (David Crockett and Daniel Boone), and are getting ready to start our third one to review on Orville Wright. 

*Homeschool Legacy
Homeschool Legacy is another unit study curriculum company that is popular for those who want guidance for their topic. We have reviewed two of their history unit studies: Pirates or Privateers and Revolutionary Ideas: The Story of the American Revolution. In these unit studies, you are given even lesson plans for going through the topic, as well as suggested literature, geography, video links, projects, and more.

Used notebooking to record our fieldtrip 
One of THE BEST resources for unit studies, is Notebooking Pages. This resource provides hundreds and hundreds of themed blank pages that can be used for recording information from unit studies. These are ideal for those parents who might prefer to create their own, rather than use a purchased curriculum. They are also great to be used for when you want to adjust the work for a grade level, as many of their collection contains primary lines. I regularly check out NotebookingPages to pull what I need for our studies. In fact, I didn't realize how much I was going to need this website until we reviewed it last year. You can read my blog post about it here: The Homeschool Product I Didn't Know I Needed

Now there are some boxed curriculum which are also along the unit study method--but they aren't a COMPLETE unit study. Typically you need to add math or science to them. However, I recommend them for someone who doesn't want to be printing out all their material. Make sure you check out My Father's World and Notgrass History for other boxed unit study ideas! We have used both with great success! Sonlight would be another program that I would count as having Unit Study elements--like in their literature studies.

Last Thoughts About Unit Study Method

As you can probably guess, Unit Study is something that our family is drawn too. We have had phenomonal success whenever we choose to do a unit study. In fact, we used the unit study style from My Father's World for three years, and more recently have switched to Notgrass History for my oldest son's core. But, this still is NOT the teaching method our family uses, because we are not unit study purists. While I can take a topic over most of the subjects, I just can't truly stick to spreading it out over them all, nor do I just go free-for all in what we study. I do like having a "completion" time or amount. I have absolutely no problem with all the teacher prep required, nor am I against the projects. I love them! But like other homeschool parents have mentioned, I just don't know what to do with all the STUFF that comes from unit study projects--I don't have space to display or keep them! So I can't just do one right after another. I do LOVE lapbooks and notebooking as the way to display the knowledge they have gained and regularly use this, but we just don't do unit study for everything...we have a different teaching method preference--and one I will explore more tomorrow, as I also wrap up the series.
Don't forget to check out what some of the other series were over the 5 day blog hop! Here are some to get you started:

Thanks so much for bearing with me as I have blogged through this Popular Homeschool Teaching Method series! I know I haven't gotten them up on time, but I hope they have still been useful to you! You can always start at the beginning on my Popular Homeschool Teaching Method landing page, and check out ALL of the topics I have been sharing this week!

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