Thursday, September 3, 2009

Guest Post: Unit Studies-- Are They All Created Equal?

First of all, let's define what a unit study is and what its
benefits are to your homeschooling family. Unit studies are
in depth studies on a particular subject that are a fun
approach to learning. They can be based on literature,
social studies or science, and the other core subjects are
generally found interwoven into the studies with research
based hands-on projects. Some are short literature based
units intended for one semester or over the summer study
while others are complete 180 day curriculum. They may
include recipes that were suggested in a book or different
projects to enhance the study. Some are skeleton outlines
that you have to fill in as you go along while others are
completely organized and very user friendly. Some are
geared for boys and some for just girls while others are
intended for all of your children to enjoy learning together
and encompasses all learning styles and ages and both
genders. Some are independent, internet-based, research
curriculum. So, to answer the question, “Are they all
created equal?” The answer is NO! Let me show you what I
mean by sharing a few thoughts about the ones that we used.
Please understand that these are just my opinions and we
only did a few unit studies.

Before we get into the different styles of unit studies,
here are some reasons for you to consider using them:
1. Unit Studies are cost effective and planned out
for you saving a lot of headaches. Generally, they have a
teachers manual and workbooks, but sometimes they are just
student workbooks.
2. They make the homeschooling day easier for the
mom with several different age levels to teach. After the
initial “together time” at the beginning of your school
day, you can assign different project to the children based
on their abilities and styles of learning.
3. Everyone is on the same page simplifying things
for mom. You aren't teaching several subjects at once. This
leaves more time to concentrate on one child with spelling
or Math while others are busy elsewhere working on assigned
projects in another part of the house.
4. Unit studies are time effective for the busy
homeschooling mom. After your initial studies together in
God's Word and other subjects assigned, the children are
generally done by noon compared to other school days when
they would have to sit hour after hour struggling with
boring busy work. Learning is engaged more with the unit
studies and that makes for a happier home school because it
is easier to speak the learning languages using the unit
studies. The mom knows what kind of project to assign
because she knows her child and knows what he or she is
capable of doing.

That said, let's take a look at the unit studies. There are
a lot of excellent character and role training based ones
that have been highly recommended by some of my friends.
For example, several of my friends who had girls liked the
Far above Rubies series and the American Girl series. We
used The Prairie Primer (geared for 3rd -6th grades) when
our oldest son was in 5th grade. It was very interesting,
hands-on, and went along with the Little House on the
Prairie book series. You can purchase the Primer for around
$40 plus the books that are about the same price for the
set. (Check CBD or Rainbow Resource Center
www.rainbowresource.com for the things you will need.
Rainbow Resource is a wonderful catalog that has well over
1300 pages. I highly recommend that you subscribe to their
catalog.)

Another 180 day curriculum unit study that we absolutely
loved was the A World of Adventures series. This series was
an absolute blast...and they have an e-mail loop that you
can join to answer your questions and interact as you go
along. Volume I, A World of Adventure, begins with creation
and works its way through the Renaissance and Reformation.
Volume II is called, A New World of Adventure, and covers
the founding of America through the American Revolution.
Volume III is called, Westward and Onward, and covers the
Westward expansion and beyond. You can check sample days out
by going to www.Learning-Adventures.org

Sometimes unit studies will cover only one subject. For
example, We used the Homeschool Huskies series which were
short, 8-12 week, hands-on unit studies for boys. (The one
for the girls was called Homeschool Ponies.) The cool thing
about these studies is that they included iron-on patches
that were earned as incentives as they went along. My
boys liked because the lessons are short and manageable.

Another unit study we bought but did not use was a Eye on
History, World War I, from Instructional Fair, an eyewitness
account of different events surrounding certain parts of
history. Short and interesting! Great for an upper middle
school – high school boy.

And finally, one last style of unit studies was the Amanda
Bennett series. We did not care for her style of material
presentation because it was just the skeleton outline and
you had to fill everything in yourself as you went along.
We found them to be difficult to follow without particular
guidelines how to utilize the studies. Perhaps it was the
difference in the way that we learned, but this style was
not the right one for us. Others really like her unit
studies. Every family is different in their approach to
learning.

I realize that I did not touch the TRISM unit studies,
KONOS, Weaver, or others that were literature based, like
the Further Up and Further In series, but there are
literally hundreds of unit studies and other curriculum out
there to choose from. It would take a week to review them
all!

A bit of advice regarding choosing unit studies is to think
about what you are really wanting to accomplish before you
buy! If it seems overwhelming at first glance, it probably
will frustrate you all year. Let someone else buy it! If
you want to just see how your children respond to unit
studies, then choose a short literature based one to do over
the summer, like the C.S. Lewis series or something similar.
Do not overwhelm yourself by trying to do everything that
is suggested. Pick and choose the activities that your
family will enjoy and be flexible! Whatever you do, remember
that you are in charge of your homeschool and if you do not
want to do a particular activity then you as the principal
and teacher have the executive privilege to scrap any idea
that you want in favor of something else! Your children will
not be harmed in the process. Mine certainly weren't!

Until next time, have a wonderful homeschool day!

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