The Problem: New homeschooling families are often overwhelmed with just the idea of homeschooling all of their children at the same time. Some will begin homeschooling one child one year and add another the following year. That, in itself, can add the problem of having to plan your schedule around the school’s schedule because at least one family member goes to school. One of the big benefits of homeschooling is to be together as a family and to schedule life around the home and the education of the children. If the family “brings school” home and sets up a school schedule with textbooks for each subject for each child, teaching multiple children in a family would be very tedious and overwhelming.
The Solution: Unit studies — This is a method of study that allows most of the curriculum to center on a topic of interest to one or more members of the family.
For example, in the state of Washington, the homeschool law delineates eleven required subjects for students K-8: Math, Reading, Writing, Grammar, Spelling, History, Social Studies, Health, Science, Occupational Education, Art/Music. If your state does not specify subjects or classifies them differently just modify your list. Most of these subjects can be covered well by using this method. Exceptions include math, grammar, and early reading skills. In those cases, you would need a curriculum that follows a “scope and sequence” – a list or chart that shows what will be covered and in what order. Since math builds on skills, order and practice are important. I would include these subjects in a unit study so that your children understand that knowledge and skills are not separate, but unified.
Steps in Forming a Unit Study:
1. Choose a subject. Keep in mind the longer you want to stay on a subject, the broader the topic.
2. Use a “Mind Map” or “Web’ to brainstorm the different parts of the unit.
3. Based on # 2, decide how long to study this topic. For beginners and younger children, I would begin with a two-week unit study. Later, larger topics / longer studies may be planned. Older students could use this method and follow the scope and sequence of an American History book to “complete” this required high school subject with a series of unit studies.
4. Make a list of subjects and plan activities to cover each of the subjects.
5. Gather materials – personal library, public library, Internet, local attractions etc.
6. Evaluate – during longer studies, you should periodically evaluate what has been learned and what remains to learn. You may decide to shorten or lengthen the unit study.
7. End the Study with a Culminating Activity – this could be a notebook, video documentary, display or a play for Dad and other family or friends.
Homeschooling parents can use the unit study method to keep everyone learning about the same topic using age-appropriate materials you own or you can get from the library. While there are many products available that have ready-made unit studies, I personally like the flexibility of planning my own unit studies. In my opinion, aside from academic excellence, the greatest benefit of the unit study is building family unity.