How to Build Unit Studies

By Sharon Gibson, Homeschool Legacy and Once-A-Week Unit Studies

By this point you’ve probably already discovered unit studies and are fascinated by their many advantages and creative possibilities. Now you’re ready to get down to brass tacks and find out exactly how to fit it them into your homeschool lifestyle. So, let’s get started!

To begin, you have a few options when it comes to unit studies. Some parents design their own. The benefit here is you can truly tailor a unit study to suit your children’s individual interests. While somewhat labor intensive to prepare, it is doable.

Other parents opt for prepackaged unit studies that provide a springboard of ideas from which you can launch into partially preparing your own. There are even a few gems out there that pretty much do it all for you, allowing you the opportunity to just grab & go!

Some families use unit studies as their main curriculum, while others choose to supplement their curriculum with the creative, hands-on activities unit studies afford. Still others use them as an occasional and delightful change of pace. Their flexible nature allows you to decide what works best for your family.

Scheduling will vary according to each family’s needs, as well. Those who use unit studies for a major portion of their curriculum might complete their Bible, reading, math, grammar, spelling, and writing assignments on alternate mornings, reserving their afternoons for unit study assignments, which often concentrate on science and history. Once early childhood language skills are established, however, grammar, writing, reading, vocabulary, and even spelling can also be woven into their unit studies.

I have scheduled unit studies differently from one year to the next. Some years we spent every afternoon doing unit study activities, while others just two or three afternoons a week. And there were years, as circumstances warranted, when we opted for a more literature-based approach, eliminating the hands-on activities altogether. But for the most part, what worked best for us was to complete our regular school subjects three days a week, have a light “3Rs only Friday,” and one “unit study day” each week.

We chose Wednesday as our unit study day because it gave us a nice mid-week breather from school as usual. We dropped our regular, daily subjects and focused entirely on that week’s unit study topic, while alternately weaving Bible, reading, writing, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, geography, science, history, etc. into the unit study topic.

So, let’s take a look inside a unit study day and give you a child’s perspective of what one might look like for your family. Each academic subject we cover through a given assignment will be noted in parentheses. But what is an equally important, and a not-to-be-missed facet of the day you are about to “experience” is the relationship building that is going on, by engaging the whole family in the learning process. For the most part, only the level of difficulty regarding each child’s reading selections and writing assignments will vary. Otherwise, everyone is involved in the assignments together. I love that! Let’s see what you think…

It is the second week of our Revolutionary War study. Last week Mom had us learning about different events leading up to the war, so we could better understand the colonial mindset and why the colonists were so mad at King George. (History)

Today began with a family devotional that taught us about the Great Awakening of the 1700s and the Black Robe Brigade! That sounded scary to me, but Mom explained that it was just the name given to the daring, black-robed colonial ministers who had courageously preached liberty from the church pulpit. We talked about the important role they played (and each of us should play) in bettering their communities and encouraging their citizens to stand up for freedom. We also learned about a famous pastor named, Jonathan Edwards, a popular and effective evangelist of his time. We ended our devotional reading the third chapter of Revelation and discussing the direct connection between the health of a nation and the spiritual health of her churches. (Bible/History)

Mom had some chores to do, so my brother and I each picked a book from the basketful Mom brought home from the library earlier in the week. I love to read so it was hard to choose, but I finally I decided on If You Lived in Colonial Times, and my big brother, who is an artist, of course chose The Art of Colonial America. Afterwards, we explained to Mom what we had learned from our reading. Tomorrow, I think I’ll read a book I noticed in the basket about colonial Williamsburg. My brother has decided he’s going to read the one about colonial craftsmen. (Reading/History)

Our focus this week is to learn about the life and times of colonial Americans, so we discussed some vocabulary words they used a lot back then. Mom had each of us look up a word in the dictionary and explain its meaning; one was “tyrant” and the other was “tyranny.” Then we took turns looking up some of King George’s intolerable acts and describing them to Mom when we were done. Boy, King George sure was a TYRANT! No wonder the colonists were so mad at him!

(Vocabulary/Research/History/Dictionary Skills)

Mom likes to get the hard stuff done before lunch, so we had to do a writing assignment. I DREAD writing assignments! But I will say this about Mom…she does at least TRY to make them a little fun. And today’s writing assignment really was fun! We learned that newspapers were the colonists’ primary source for finding out what was going on back then (Did you know they didn’t even have radios, or TVs, or computers?). We also found out that newspapers were so expensive that most people couldn’t afford them. Instead, a person, known as the Town Crier, would ring a bell to announce the news of the day. Wow! I thought that was only done back in the middle ages! Anyway, Mom had us each pretend we were colonial reporters writing a newspaper article about one of King George’s many intolerable acts and how it would affect us colonists. My favorite part was when we got to dress up like the Town Crier, ring a bell, and shout our news to our family. (Writing, Grammar, Spelling, History, Public Speaking, Drama)

While we ate lunch, we all watched a documentary about the important roles Christians can and should play in a republic. (Civics)

After lunch, mom surprised us by having us make and play a real, honest-to-goodness, colonial children’s game! It was fun and sort of like playing horseshoes. My brother can’t wait for us to teach Dad how to play it when he gets home from work tonight. (History/Culture/Arts & Crafts/Fun and Games)

For our last assignment of the day, Mom gave us each a map and had us color and label the thirteen original colonies. Boy, some of those states are so small it was hard to find room enough to label them! When Dad gets home, my brother and I have decided we’re gonna see if he can name ’em all! (Geography/ History)

We ended our day with my favorite part of every school day, curled up on the couch reading a great book together. Mom usually picks a classic or other award-winning book…she says it will make us better writers if we are exposed to excellent literature. This week’s read-aloud isn’t an award winner, but it’s still fun. It’s called “Can’t You Make Them Behave King George?” My brother and I talked about how much fun it would be to get in a time machine and go back to visit the colonists, but since we can’t,

I guess unit studies are the next best thing. (Literature/History)

If you missed the earlier posts in this series, check them out! Sharon has already introduced us to What is a Unit Study? and how unit studies can be a great help to your homeschool with Unit Studies to the Rescue!

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