This article is part of a series for new home educators. In this, and several other articles, we cover What style of education is right for our family? And where do I get our curriculum?
Unit Studies are catching on even in institutional classrooms, as a more effective way to teach. Unit studies integrate several subjects in the study of a certain topic through real books and (usually) hands-on experiences. Studying the topic within contexts and relationships, with varied types of activities, with good literature, and to a deeper level, all contribute to a more memorable (and enjoyable) study. Unit Studies can be parent designed (meaning you make them up for your family) or a published program you purchase (probably written by another home school mom).
Because a Unit Study can be based on virtually any topic and can utilize various methods, there is a wide difference in published Unit Studies and their foundational philosophies. Most are multi-level, rather than individual grade-level based, meaning your whole family is learning together–everyone learning the same topic, each on their own level. This makes them much more family friendly than textbooks/ workbooks or delight directed learning. Mom is not forced to keep up with the many different subjects and topics of many different grade levels. Many of the full curriculum Unit Studies (as opposed to just individual units) are based on a rotation plan of generally about 4 years, and cover all topics in all subjects within that rotation.
Some drawbacks to Unit Studies are: some can be time and labor intensive for mom to plan or gather supplies, the integrating of the subjects can sometimes seem forced, sometimes the activities (and even whole unit studies) can have very little educational value and just be time wasters.
Published Unit Studies give recommended book lists of Real Books to read, to go along with the activities/assignments (along with any background information or other lesson) they suggest. Some list mainly books you can find at your public library and note that you can substitute any book your library has. Others list (and possibly include in their package) books that would be harder to find in your public library, but are more assuring of providing appropriate content than just choosing any library book on the topic. Some are full programs for all grade levels, all subjects for a full year, or even multiple volumes covering all years. Others can cover just one topic, or only include a few subjects, or only cover a couple of grade levels. The ones listed below are more inclusive.
Resources for helping you design your own Unit Studies:
- Unit Studies Made Easy by Valerie Bendt is a guide to creating your own literature based unit studies just for your family. Many of her educational ideas are based on Charlotte Mason’s and Ruth Beechick’s philosophies.
- Design-A-Study guides by Kathryn Stout help you design your own studies/ curriculum in most subjects. They don’t give specific information on creating Unit Studies, but can be helpful guides for those just starting out on their own.
- Annotated book lists, or Books of Books as I call them, can be a great help in designing your own Unit Studies. These are some of our favorite books for helping us choose literature for any type of Real Book education.
A few popular Unit Study programs:
- Tapestry of Grace is biblical worldview based, utilizing classic books of Western Civilization. It covers all grades through high school. Progresses chronologically through history. Science is not included, but history of science is intertwined. Writing program is integrated.
- Far Above Rubies and Blessed is the Man are gender specific unit studies for high school students, based on Scripture – girls, Proverbs 31:10-31, and boys, Psalm 1. All subjects are covered, but they are very life prepatory focused. Though written from a Conservative Christian viewpoint, the author does not make your decisions about these issues for you, she urges you to research and come to your own conclusions.
- KONOS is a hands-on activities oriented Unit Study program, based on character traits, that covers all grades up to 8th, in 3 Volumes covering approx. 2.5 years each. 4 Volumes of KONOS History of the World is available for high school students to complete through independant study.
- Weaver is a more structured Unit Study program based on workpages and grade level oriented assignments. It has 5 Volumes for grade school, and 5 Supplement Volumes for high school. Although there are hands-on activities included, it is more seatwork oriented and “schoolish” than KONOS. Units teach chronologically through the Bible.
Aspects of Unit Studies that are used in Lifestyle Education through Discipleship™ are: focused topics of study (providing greater depth of understanding); family study (everyone learning the same topics together); integrated subjects (where applicable).