During my second year of homeschooling, a friend invited my girls over for a playdate. I will never forget the sound of my youngest, as she yelled across the house, “Mom, they get to make stuff and go on field trips for school! Why do we have to write in workbooks?” Curious about her statement, I asked how they did their daily schooling. Unit studies! Unit studies? What was a unit study? With pure excitement, I sat as my friend opened up a new and exciting way of educating my girls. From that simple playdate, the next fourteen years were mainly unit study centered.

So, what is a unit study? It is a method of themed topic teaching. All areas of learning—Bible, history, science, health, and the arts—center around a chosen topic. Math and language are taught separately. The positively brilliant part is the ease of education of all our children at the same time on the same subject. An example would be while studying pioneer life: toddlers could build a log cabin with sticks. Elementary age could design a diorama complete with a log cabin, while high school students could research what materials were used in constructing a log cabin.

Unit Studies are extremely flexible since you are in control of how much or how little goes into each one. If you have no interest in laying out your own unit study, many popular curriculum companies have ready-made materials.

Let me explain by telling you about a unit study we did one year. Our topic was the Civil War, so:

  • History was exploring plantations and battlegrounds
  • Science was picking cotton and touring 100-year-old cotton gins
  • Math was figuring out the weight of cotton and bales of hay
  • Art/crafts was quilting, cooking over an open fire pit, and learning about guns

To understand how unit studies aid in providing an excellent education, let’s think back to what our goals are as we strive to be good teachers. First is expanding the knowledge base of our children; knowledge that goes beyond a workbook and delves into real life experiences. Real life experiences help your child retain and easily recall new information. Research shows that when a child is involved in “real” learning, they are enthusiastic about learning. Discovering new interests and seeing unique opportunities opens a world of unlimited resources for their growing minds. Meeting people of the past and viewing their vast expertise and skills firsthand is priceless. Actually using their senses to plow a field, smell the dirt, and steer the horses beats any workbook page!

In the end, the goal as their teacher is to provide resources and opportunity for development of new interests. With each new experience, we hope to ignite a spark for learning in our children. Using unit studies is one small tool that can change how your child views learning!

Copyright 2017, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Nancy Fileccia is a sixteen-year homeschooling mom. She is co-owner of A Journey Through Learning Lapbooks with her friend, Paula Winget.