Homeschool Curriculum Part 5: Unit Studies

Unit Studies are one of the five main educational approaches for learning. So far we have had an overview of the basics and researching curriculum, plus a more in-depth look at the Traditional, Classical, and Charlotte Mason/Ruth Beechick aka Living Books methods of education.

You have learned that there are five main types of education philosophy and corresponding curricula: Traditional, Classical Education, Charlotte Mason/Ruth Beechick, Unit Studies, and Unschooling/Relaxed Homeschooling. Now let’s explore the Unit Study!

A Unit Study approach believes that when a student can study a topic as a whole over a period of time they will gain a greater breadth and depth of education and understanding. So a child doesn’t necessarily need to know which parts they are learning are considered social studies, history, science, etc. They will just enjoy learning by being captivated by the topic and learning about many different aspects of that subject.

The Unit Study education philosophy involves leading a student to love-to-learn at its core. Starting with a broad topic such as a book or thing, students are guided to discover a variety of educational details. Through quality living books, first-hand experiences, multi-media resources, and overall research kids learn and find answers to their natural questions.

Basically there are two types of unit studies: literature and subject based.

For example, a unit study could center on a quality book, such as Good Night Moon or Little House on the Prairie. Students can learn related social studies, science, history, art/music, geography, handwriting, prepare and eat food, and more – all from that story. By learning age appropriate interrelated details on any given subject, the student receives a thorough education and understanding of that topic.

Another type of literature unit study involves an in-depth focus only on language arts and character development through reading one book at a time. Progeny Press and Memoria Press are good examples of this style of unit study.

A subject based unit study involves learning detailed facts about a subject such as pets, nutrition, the ocean, the US Constitution, or a country.

An example from a Pet Unit Study  is that your child could learn zoology from the natural habit, animal behavior, life cycle, and eating habits of a pet. They can become familiar with the finances involved with the care of a pet for some math. Social studies can be derived from the student learning the differences of that pet living in the wild verses in a home.

Language arts can be addressed through reading different stories and articles for research on that type of pet and then writing a paper or report based on that research. A history lesson can come from discovering the known past of that species of pet, where it originated from, and how they eventually became pets in the first place. Art education can evolve from the student’s choice to draw, paint, or sculpt their pet – learning details about the process of how to create the artwork.

Most Unit Studies will need to be supplemented with a structured math and grammar curriculum. You can still seek opportunities for your child to learn some of these skills within each unit study.  But in order to teach a more systematic education of these two fundamentally basic subjects it would be better to teach them separately. Simply select a core math curriculum and grammar program for your student to follow and work through each year.

As you can imagine, the unit study method is eclectic. You can purchase prepared unit studies such as Common Sense Press and Beautiful Feet Books.  Or you can create your own.

You can select topics ahead of time and do some planning – getting the respective living books, gathering art materials, and arranging field trips. Or you can follow your child’s lead and let them choose the topic each time and begin the research and planning together. If you have more than one child they can take turns selecting a unit study. That way all of your kids will learn together at the same time, just at each of their particular grade levels.

Kids develop a love for learning through unit studies that can last them a lifetime. They will always remember learning about certain topics and reading specific titles due to the combined multi-sensory, emotional, and intellectual experiences. A side benefit is that you can learn to love to teach and coach through unit studies!

Next let’s dive into the world of Unschooling/Relaxed Homeschooling, of which unit studies can be very much a part of!


Paula Smith

I love God, family, friends, and encouraging people. I enjoy helping others in the education world from my experience in my job and from when I homeschooled my kids. As a wife, Mom, soon to be Grandma, and the Education and Homeschool Web Merchandiser, I hope my blog articles are helpful to you as we live life together.

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