Unit Studies

From the brochure …

Studies are shaped around total immersion in a single topic. A common theme is seen as the whole picture, and all subject areas branch out from that, rather than a number of unrelated subjects being studied in isolation. The theme is explored deeply over a period of time, with language arts, science, social studies, fine arts, etc., being integrated as they become relevant.

This is considered quite a natural approach to learning and can be developed to be highly individualised. Saturation within a topic may be reached at different times by individual family members, however. Maths is often done separately with this approach.

Unit studies can be of great benefit to larger families, as topics can be learned together but at different levels.

To Elaborate …

Many consider that the Unit Study approach is most akin to the natural way we all learn. It is said to be the most logical way to teach our children, and tha the reason we don’t all just do that is that we only know how to teach in the way we’ve been taught – which for most of us is the regular school system.

A key object in the Unit Study approach is to move away from the fragmentation that is typical of separate-subject studies. By flowing in and out of subjects spontaneously, the related information gains meaning and purpose, and the knowledge is far more effectively retained.

Unit studies can be approached in three distinct ways:

  • Parent Prepared
    • Decide on an overall theme for study
    • Brainstorm one subject at a time; think how your theme could relate to it
    • Take lots of notes when you’re brainstorming
    • Follow through on the ideas until a well-rounded understanding of the theme is achieved, using a variety of resources
  • Purchased Studies
    • Similar to a parent prepared course of study
    • Someone else has done the brainstorming
    • Someone else has found the relevant resources for you
  • Student Devised
    • The student follows their own interest
    • May need discussion with parent to ensure a well-rounded approach

Unit studies often enable the parent to teach a number of children of differing ages at the same time. Each child researches the topic to their own level of maturity, and works at their appropriate level of expertise.

Parents do not require fore-knowledge of any subject, as they are involved in the learning process too. Learning how to find out and research is seen as essential, and learning is enhanced in response to questions and situations that arise in related areas.

Some Advantages

  • all ages can learn together, at individual levels
  • curiosity and independent thinking are fostered
  • no time restraints

Some Disadvantages

  • may be difficult to assess the level of learning which actually occurs
  • record keeping may require some creative thinking
  • preparation may be costly, either financially or time wise

Personal Comments

We have utilised this method occasionally.

My favourite theme, from a couple of years ago, was “Eagles”. Language Arts was covered in our reading, writing and drawing of the subject, we studied the Science of Flight; the possible extinction of a Tasmanian species brought in studies of the environment, mapping, and scientific research; we looked at the habits of the birds, and their history as icons in many societies around the world. We still covered Maths as a separate subject, but it was amazing just how broad our studies were, based on one little theme.

To be honest, preparing the units of study for one child was much easier than some of the other stuff we’ve done! I have a friend who home educates four children, and she says that Unit Studies have de-sressed and completely rejuvenated their entire home education experience.

Useful Links

  • Design-A-Study
    This Unit Study curriculum was designed by an American former teacher who became a home educating mum. Offerings appear to be very affordable, and resources are intended to allow the flexibility necessary to meet individual learning needs.
  • Barinya
    This is a new find for me, and from the look around the site I’ve had, I’m very impressed. Some very imaginative units so far, and it sounds like more to come – with the added bonus of being Australian.
  • Five in a Row
    FIAR is a very popular unit study approach to early education based on outstanding children’s literature. This christian site has sample pages and a host of other resources. Available in Australia from Home School Favourites.

An internet search will yield additional resources, which you will be able to assess according to your own criteria.

Education is a kind of continuing dialogue, and a dialogue assumes, in the nature of the case, different points of view.
~ Robert Hutchins