Unit Studies – More Q & A

A few more questions have come up regarding how I organize and plan our unit studies.  You can find the first post at Unit Studies Revisited and the follow-up post at Unit Study Questions Answered.  As long as you keep asking questions, I’ll keep answering.  🙂

“To clarify, it sounds like you do one unit at a time, either a science-based one or a history-based one. Is that right?” Yes.  I have tried doing two at the same time – history a couple days a week, science a couple days a week and it never worked out well for us.

“I really want to do unit studies, but feel pulled toward a full curriculum so I’ll be sure not to leave anything out.” So many people – and I mean almost every one I talk to – feel like a prepared curriculum (ie. A Beka, Sonlight) gives them “everything” they need.  In other words, once their child is finished with 12 years of a particular curriculum, they will have learned all there is to know.  Certainly, your child WILL have a very solid education, but there is always more to know, no matter what curriculum your child uses.

Others really WANT to do all that certain curriculum choices offer, but find the assignments overwhelming and impossible to fit into a normal routine.  I have never wanted my children to literally be “doing school” for six or more hours a day just to say we got it all in.

Unit studies are a wonderful way to get learning in without being overwhelmed.  When we can learn about a science or history topic, complete research on that topic, include wonderful literature (reading skills), writing assignments, drama, speaking, etc.  – in other words, pull in all sorts of academic areas in one sha-bang (yes, that’s my own made up word) – then we’re getting SO much of what the boxed curriculum choices have to offer, but in a more compact, doable way.  In a way that is drastically more interesting and fun as compared to most boxed curriculum choices.

Will I leave things out over my children’s education?  Certainly!  (As will all curriculum choices.)  There’s way too much knowledge to be gained in this fast-paced world of ours.  I’m doing my best to give them solid instruction in the basics – readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic – AND preparing them with the skills they need to be able to find information they need to know.  At the same time, hopefully giving them a lifetime love for learning that will spur them to keep on gaining knowledge their whole lives.

“How do you decided what you are going to do each day? How do you break that down?” That’s a tough question to answer.  Let me say again that on most days we complete Bible, math and language arts lessons separate from the unit study, so they come first.  Afterwards, we jump into the unit study time.

So, on a typical day you might see us sitting together to read from the Bible, trudging through our Saxon lessons, going over multiplication flashcards, completing a grammar lesson, practicing spelling words, writing or typing something, and reading from a good book.  After the “main stuff” is out of the way, you’d find us doing one thing or another having to do with our unit study.  This could include one or more of the following: reading a book, researching on the internet, completing a lapbook activity, working on a project, performing an experiment or putting on a play.

How do I choose what we’re actually going to do each day?  Hmmm…that’s hard to explain.  If you remember the main unit plan I make, you’ll remember that I jot down activity ideas.  Well, over the weekend I try to sketch out a basic plan for the upcoming week.  It’s nothing fancy, just quick notes about which math lesson we’ll aim to complete each day, which grammar lesson, what writing projects… and what unit projects.  I simply look at my unit plans and jot down things I think we can tackle for each day.  Those plans don’t always work!  Some days we get so involved in a project (or the opposite) that my good intentions don’t happen.  That’s okay with me, though, I just readjust as the week rolls on.

Also remember that I said in the first post that I rarely ever complete everything on the unit plan list.  As we actually dive into a unit, I often realize that there are way too many ideas, or some of the ideas won’t fit like I had imagined, or I just don’t like them anymore.

No unit study day is ever the same.  (See, I told you this was hard to explain.)  If one day finds us reading a book and completing a lapbook activity, the next day might find us choosing final projects and diving into them, while the next day might find us cooking a themed meal for dad.  One thing I can tell you clearly, (and I hope it helps in some way bring a real answer to the question) in planning, I TRY to plan for about an hour’s worth of unit “work”.  My kids give up on me after an hour.  😉

If I’ve made this muddier than it is clear, please keep asking more specific questions so I can try to pinpoint a better answer.

“When you choose your artists/composers for the year, how do you choose?  Do you tie those studies into the four year history/science cycles?  Nature?  Seasons?  Holidays?  I’m getting really bogged down with how much there is to do!  So many options, so little time!”

You’re exactly right – so many wonderful learning opportunities with so little time to fit it all in!

I don’t have a four-year plan for artists or composers.  As I’m planning my year, I’ll pull out the NaturExplorers units that I hope to use monthly for nature study and see if there are artists or composers included that we haven’t studied yet.  I try to tie nature, artists and composers in together.  That doesn’t always work and that’s okay with me.

On months where I need to fill in, quite honestly, I just pull out my Discovering Great Artists book and my Great Composers Dover coloring book and choose someone we haven’t yet studied!  There is no rhyme or reason to my choices.  This is one area where I don’t worry about choosing particular artists or composers to go with our time period or unit.  You could, though.  It’s just something that hasn’t seemed overly important to me.  (Nor have I had the time to research who fits with which time period.)

As for nature study, I usually pick a monthly theme from the NaturExplorers units.  I try to choose a topic that will go well with the season.  Sometimes we ditch the topic of the month and just walk, or something else grabs our attention and we go with it.

I wasn’t really good at including artist/composer study until last year when I decided to set aside an entire day for these things.  One day a week, we only do math and a tad bit of language arts, then spend the rest of the day learning about our artist, completing art projects, learning about/listening to our composer, going on a nature walk and maybe completing some sort of experiment that goes along with our nature topic.

Whew!  Another long post.  Are you still with me?

How are your unit studies going?


  1. Just wanted to thank you for yet another great post with a ton of good tips and great information. By reading your blog this past 6 months or so, you’ve given this rookie HS mom way more confidence to look outside the box of regular cirriculum and kind of do my own thing…with unit studies. Thanks again, Cindy! You rock!! 🙂

  2. Sounds great! Thank you for sharing more about your unit studies. The ideas are wonderful help to me a s I am evolving more and more in that direction.

  3. Wonderful post as usual!! I so look forward to reading them! I too, do science and history units and alternate them. We tried to do science a few days a week and history the others, just didn’t work well for us at all. I rather enjoy focusing more attention on one subject! Have a wonderful week and once again thank you for your information!

  4. Thanks for more and more information on Unit Studies! These posts have been great!!! We have finally taken the leap just this week beginning our first unit study. They project I had my daughter work on was Volcanoes. I just gave her the topic with a few suggestions she could take or not, a deadline and off she went. She wanted to present today (She started this project last week) and did a great job!! I have a question though. How do you gently ‘help’ improve the note taking, information and presentation? I know some will come with practice but… I don’t want to stifle her enthusiasm yet want her to improve. Thanks for any suggestions!

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