Unit Studies

Co-op gals – Here’s the basic outline from the unit study presentation.  I posted this same blog last year, but have added some new websites, a section about grades, and a couple of other things.  Have fun learning!

What is a unit study? A unit study is really any subject that you spend time learning about.  Many times a unit study will integrate many academic subjects.  For instance, if the unit focuses on the Civil War, you might plan reading, writing, science, art, music, spelling, Bible, home ec, and other academic assignments, as well as the obvious history lessons.  A unit study doesn’t have to integrate other academic subjects, though.  For example, if you plan a math unit around m&m’s, you may choose to only do math activities and not add any writing, history, etc. to the unit.

Why do unit studies? They can be done with all ages at once, they’re fun, they provide a nice change of pace, they provide more learning in less time, they can be geared towards your children’s interests/talents/gifts, they cover a multitude of subject areas, work can be kept in notebooks or lapbooks which make a nice finished product, they’re inexpensive (or free), they can be fairly hands-on, they involve mom and/or dad in the learning process which excites the kiddos and they promote self-inspired learning and research skills.


What could be a difficulty? It takes a bit more planning and preparing on the part of mom. If you use them as “commercial breaks” from the regular schedule, it could be hard to get the regular schedule going again. There is a ton of information for mom to choose from when planning, so information overload can occur.

How do you plan your own study?

1. Decide on a topic. Science, History/Social Studies/Geography, Literature and Bible topics lend themselves well to a comprehensive unit.

2. Write down your major goals for the unit. You can figure out what you might need to teach by finding a “spine” book (one that you will use as the main teaching book) and using its contents as your goals. Or you can do an internet search. For example: “ocean scope and sequence” will bring up topics about the ocean that your children need to know.

3. Gather your resources

-things you already have on your shelves (teaching guides and reading books)

-check the internet for already made units to give you ideas

-visit the library for teaching and reading books

-buy a pre-made unit if you feel like you still don’t have enough to make a complete unit

4. Chart out your plan. I make a little chart with each subject area (science, history/social studies, geography, Bible, writing, vocabulary, other language arts, math, art, music, P.E./health, field trips, cooking) and just start jotting down my ideas. Most of the time I have way too much, so I start pairing down to the best, most meaningful ideas. Then I decide about how long the unit will be and write out a rough plan of what I’m going to do each day. This always changes when we actually get into the unit.

5. Go for it! Jump into the lessons and be prepared to have lots of fun!! Beware – if you try to plan too much – your kids WILL get bored and learning WILL stop. Think about their learning styles and plan accordingly. If your kids love to talk and move, have them finish off the unit by putting together a video of what they learned. If they love to scrapbook, they would love putting their work into lapbooks. You get the idea. ALWAYS end the unit with a bang – a field trip, a family party that goes along with the theme, or a showcase of their work to grandparents. It makes the unit really stick out in their minds.

6. Keep the work well-organized. Put it all into a notebook, lapbook or colorful folder. They will appreciate looking back through their work. When you present the work in a meaningful way, they respect the work much more! (It would also make a lovely thing to hand over to those well-meaning DPPs if they ever show up on your doorstep!!)


Helpful Websites and Such

The Checklist by Cynthia Downes – www.oklahomahomeschool.com (If you’re worried about whether or not you’re covering what you need to, this could be a helpful resource.)

Unit Studies Made Easy by Valerie Bendt

FREE Unit Sources

Homeschool Share

Oklahoma Homeschool

Do “free unit studies” search on the web

Companies That Sell Unit Studies

Shining Dawn Books

Hands of a Child

Knowledge Box Central

Five in a Row


Heart of Wisdom

Homeschool in the Woods

Learning Adventures

Cadron Creek

Brandenburg Studies

Other Notes

I usually don’t include math and grammar into my units. If I find a really good activity, I will add it to the unit, but I continue with my regular math and language curricula while the unit is going on.

I also keep up with our regular Bible time. I do add extra Bible when it fits with the unit.

I try to keep the books we check out from the library to a minimum. I used to leave the library with stacks of books to go with a unit. That was information overload for my kids. I’m more selective now, choosing only the best informational and literature books.  That being said, I still go home with tons of books.  Often, I’ll allow the kids to choose from the abundance of books the one or two that they are most interested in for “digging deeper” into a subject.

A unit doesn’t have to cover every subject every time. Some units will be heavier in science, others will be heavier in history. Some units will include lots of art projects, some may include none. It all seems to work itself out in the end, especially if you are keeping your eyes open to what you need to include more of in the next unit.

What About Grades?

The first aspect of this is a question I’m always asked – How do you keep grades?  Um, I don’t.  I keep narrative report cards that tell what my children are doing, what they have done well with and in what things they need extra practice.  That’s not to say you can’t keep grades during a unit study.   Giving quizzes or tests based on the info covered would be acceptable.  Creating scoring guides for projects they put together would be acceptable.  For me – at this stage in the game – I just don’t see any purpose for grades.  I expect my children to do well.  If they don’t, they often have to redo or rework things.  Not always, but if the poor work is for a lack of effort, I usually don’t let it slide.  In other words, all their work is expected to be “A” effort and “A” finished product.  I find it much more meaningful to “tell” about their progress than to write a bunch of “A’s”.

The next question is – How do you know what grade your children are in if you don’t follow a graded curriculum?  It’s pretty simple really.  My son is seven, the typical age of a 2nd grader – so I call him a 2nd grader.  In some subjects he might be considered on a 3rd or 4th grade level, in some he might be doing typical 1st grade work.  The grade doesn’t really matter to me as long as I’m giving him things that challenge him to grow at whatever pace he needs.

PLEASE let me know how your units go!! If you already use and love units, PLEASE leave a comment to encourage others!!

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