5 Tips for Unit Study Planning

How to Plan a Unit Study 

If you haven’t already met, allow me to introduce you to Unit Studies. You may be wondering what a unit study is and why I want to help you plan one. If so, read on for the scoop... 

The Basics

The unit study method uses a natural way of learning to incorporate “school subjects” around a theme or topic.  Because there is a logical connection between subjects in the world around us, this organic approach allows children to make those connections and expand their learning naturally. 

The Benefits

This method plays nicely with others. If you enjoy the ideals of Charlotte Mason, you will find that many of her methods can be incorporated into your unit study based homeschool day. If you feel that the memory work of the Classical Method is valuable, add it to your unit study. If you are certain that child-led, delight-directed learning is right for your family, dive right in. 

In other words, build your unit studies around the learning styles of your children and the philosophies or teaching methods that make sense to you. 
You can take advantage of your child’s natural curiosity and plan one unit study at a time based on current interests, or plan a year of unit studies in advance.

Unit studies can be as spontaneous or as scheduled as you need them to be. 

Five Tips for Planning Your Unit Study

1) Pick a topic:

The theme of the unit can be based around a scope and sequence or curriculum guide or can be decided together with your children based on their interests.

Don’t forget to outline sub-topics and school subjects you can include. Many times these will come to you quickly while you are planning or through discussions with your children if they plan with you.

2) Set Goals:

Create both short term goals and long term goals. Write out objectives for each unit; those are your short term objectives. General goals may be pretty clear by the time you get to this step, but make your objectives specific and attainable.

To create long term goals you may want to consult a guide that gives you a general idea of the skills you want your children to master or be introduced to during the school year. These are usually based on grade or age and are simple to refer to if you are teaching multiple children at different levels in order to track the skills you are targeting throughout the school year.

Some home educators use their state’s standards. Others refer to a typical course of study such as the one available online from World Book  and the Core Knowledge Foundation or resources written by educators like Ruth Beechick and Katherine Stout. Choose guidelines that you are comfortable with based on your homeschool philosophy and worldview.

3) Choose Resources & Activities:

Choose resources that you will use to help your children learn about the topic. You may want to first list resources that you have on hand. You may already have games, music, art, books, DVDs or streaming videos, websites, reference books, or experts in that subject available. 

Be sure to incorporate quality books written by experts or lovers of that subject. Seek out those types of materials that will engage and inspire your children.

Then make note of items you will need to obtain to make your unit study complete.

Choose which types of activities you want to add to your unit. Field trips, nature study, projects, crafts, and activities are integral learning tools that you need to include in each unit of study. These are not just extras to make learning "fun". Your children are learning and developing higher thinking skills while they are doing and planning the activities.

Remember to always keep in mind the primary learning styles of your children and their ages when planning.

4) Schedule

By now you probably have a good idea of whether your unit will be one you spend a week with or one that you will take more time to delve into. Write out a tentative schedule for each day and organize your activities accordingly.

We always started out with a library trip where the kids and I hunted down resources on our topic. The kids benefitted from having input into the learning materials we used and our library day tradition is a wonderful memory for my homeschool graduates.

Be sure to leave yourself a buffer in case your child really wants to spend more time on something. I encourage you to practice being as flexible as you can. Striking when a child really desires to know about something enables us to take advantage of the best learning tool we humans have – curiosity.

5) Keep Records

Decide how you'll document the work your child has done in each unit. State laws may have requirements you need to follow, but many states allow you to choose how you will keep records. Homeschool record keeping can be casual or formal.

Student-created records like a nature notebook, history timeline, or a portfolio of their work provide an additional component to your unit study and relieve the homeschooling parent of much of the work of “grading”.  This also eliminates the burden to the student of having the work they were so excited about critiqued. There are ways of assessing a student’s mastery without emphasizing test grades and competition.

A student portfolio can include many things you can look at objectively to assess your child’s progress: creative writing, copy-work, worksheets, digital photos of projects and experiments and artwork. These will all look different from the beginning of your school year, leaving you and your child a way to look back and review at all they learned.  

One last "tip" for planning and using unit studies: don't get bogged down in perfectionism. Your unit studies, like your homeschool, will be as unique as your family. The best criteria for determining if your unit studies are "perfect" for your family is that you see your children loving learning and discovering new ideas every day.  
Written By: Merit Kirkpatrick


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