Texas Home Educators 

What About Unit Studies By Sue Schrowag

Many homeschool moms have questioned me lately about how we "do school".  After some quick thought, I would have to say we are heading toward a unit study approach using a wide variety of resources including living books, life experiences, and yes, even textbooks. I naturally gravitate toward Amanda Bennett, Valerie Bendt, and Ruth Beechick.

Susan Simpson of Common Sense Press has written a brochure called "Choosing Curriculum That's Right For You". She divides education into three approaches. One called the Application or Applied Approach fits our family the closest. "Let's look at the study of ducks…(it) may begin because the teacher has decided that it is time to learn about ducks, whether the child has expressed interest in them or not. The teacher will find books on ducks and maybe a read-aloud novel that includes a duck character. A published curriculum on ducks may be used. The teacher will present certain facts about ducks that she determines are important.
Age-appropriate activities will be included to reinforce this information. The family may visit a duck pond and then write Grandma a letter about the trip. The student will be working on math, and  language arts or reading while this study is taking place. These subjects may or may not have anything to do with ducks."

What is a Unit Study Anyway?

"A unit study is taking a theme or topic (a unit of study) and delving into it deeply over a period of time, integrating language arts, science, social studies, math, and fine arts as they apply."
- Definition from Elijah Company catalog.

"It is simply a study that focuses on one topic at a time…It can be a brief topical study or a life-long quest. It can be tailored to meet the needs of individual families." -
Valerie Bendt

"Unit study appears under many different names and disguises but can be recognized by the presence of a unifying theme … In my experience, God's direction is much more evident when we design our own unit studies than when we use formal curriculum. As we choose topics and activities, we are more open to God's leading than when we work with curriculum that has already been designed by someone else." 
- Cathy Duffy

"A unit study can be anything you want it to be…You get to decide. There are no rules!" 
- Jennifer Steward

There are three main ways to teach a unit study: 

1) Purchase a complete unit study (Alta Vista, KONOS, Prairie Primer, Weaver)

2) Use a prepared topical guide (Amanda Bennett, Kathleen Julicher, Jennifer Steward)

3) Create your own from scratch

We have used all three ways. When we create our own, we use a textbook or other resource for a basis or starting point. Then we add hands-on projects, field trips, lots of library books, written reports, and many times a book study (especially historical fiction or biographies!). Our unit studies can cover history, science, Bible, literature, art, music, some arithmetic, and other elective subjects. We still use a "set" curriculum for arithmetic, grammar, and other language arts to be sure to cover all the necessary skills.

Sometimes we study a subject the boys are interested in like space or computers. Other times, it has been elections, gardens, birds, and slothfulness. Although the boys thought the bird study would be boring, they were watching birds at the bird feeder through the binoculars and trying to identify them with our "field guide" for months afterwards.  They also remember the nasty habits of the sloth, but don't always remember to apply the life principles they learned. (I have the same problem!)

This school year, Levi (6 years old) has studied dinosaurs, space, and currently both gardening and the Civil War. For gardening, we started by reading a unit in Bob Jones Science 2 and Your First Garden Book by Marc Brown. Levi has chosen several projects to do from that book. We have already planted flowers in our window boxes and vegetables in our garden. The study will continue as we water, weed, and watch our garden grow.  The older boys are also in on the gardening project. All the boys are studying the Civil War, but at different grade levels. Jesse and Jonah (high school) are using The War for Southern Independence by Jeffrey
Murrah. It revolves around Christian biographies and a southern viewpoint. They will create a unit study notebook including maps, reports, and other research information. Levi has read several books including one on Robert E. Lee and the ironclads. He is making a Civil War alphabet book and has already included a map, flags, and drawings. The whole family watched the video "Gettysburg" (which is Northern-biased). This summer we will have the privilege of sightseeing
in Virginia and other states where we plan on visiting Civil War sites.  With a unit study approach, school doesn't end in May. Although our formal schoolwork stops, we continue our life learning experiences all summer long!

One of the unit studies we are planning next school year will use a new book by Ruth Beechick; GENESIS: Finding Our Roots. The course consists of six units organized around Genesis 1-11. Fields of study include theology, history, geography, literature, linguistics, science, art, and even a bit of arithmetic. Some of the interesting topics are dragons, dinosaurs, world myths, and star constellations. This is a hardback book with beautiful ancient art prints.

Unit and Integrated Studies / Living Books Resources

Alta Vista - Bible-based science / social studies curriculum
Beautiful Feet - history guides
Valerie Bendt - The Frances Study Guide
How to Series: How to Create Your Own Unit Studies
Success with Unit Studies
The Unit Study Idea Book
For the Love of Reading
Amanda Bennett -Unit Study Journal
Unit Study Guides like Baseball; Dogs; Gardens
Biblical Holidays by Robin Scarlata
Books Children Love by Edith Wilson
Castle Heights Press - Kathleen Julicher
One Week Off series
My First Unit Study
The Classics series by Helping Hand
Classics At Home by Ann Ward
Common Sense Press book study guides
Considering God's Creation by Eagle's Wings
Five in a Row series by Jane Claire Lambert
For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
GENESIS: Finding Our Roots by Ruth Beechick
Any other book by Ruth Beechick
Guide to History: Design-A-Study by Kathryn Stout 
Homeschooling Today Magazine
Institute in Basic Life Principles- Character Booklets series
KONOS - character qualities and biographies
Learning Language Arts through Literature
Learning with Literature: Farmer Boy by Candace Seale
Let the Author Speak: A Guide to Worthy Books Based on 

Historical Setting by Carolyn Hatcher 
Life In America series by Ellen Gardner
Charlotte Mason - any books
The Prairie Primer by Margie Gray
Progeny Press book study guides
Steward Ship - Jennifer Steward
Everything You Need to Know About Unit Studies
Variety of unit study guides from Steward Ship
Total Language Plus book study guides
War for Southern Independence by Jeffrey Murrah
The Weaver Curriculum - chronological Bible-based curriculum

Written by Sue Schrowang