First of all I would like to start off by saying that I LOVE Unit Studies!!! I think it has something to do with my obsession with organization. It's like putting "same" items into a clear plastic container and placing a "label" on it regarding the common contents (it's a thrill every time). The same idea is with unit studies! You have one common subject, for example BUTTERFLIES and you teach all your subjects through it (and your binder/notebook/composition book is like your clear plastic container and YES you can label it too! I love labels!). It's like a neatly packaged portfolio of work with a common theme. (Am I speaking Greek here or are there others out there that have this O.C.D. ~ Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ~ behavior as well. It can be healthy! Or at least that is what I am trying to convince my hubby). After a few weeks and you are done covering your subject, you have a great memorial to the time you spent with your children and something for them to look back on with pleasure. I think of them as learning scrapbooks and I save every one of them. Would you like to try one?
Supplies: Pencils, Colored Pencils, Glue Sticks, Paper, Scissors, Notebook/File Folder/Composition Book, Quality books that teach about the subject you choose.
Okay, now for an example... We will use the subject of butterflies again (let us do an elementary aged study on this one). You can put aside a week or two (depending on the attention span of your children, YES I know that varies depending on the subject matter) to study butterflies. I do most of my teaching through unit studies though I do sprinkle in other curriculums that I deem too "yummy" to pass by (or something I don't have the capacity or desire to teach and someone else has done a beautiful job of doing it for me...) and I will go over those gems later on. I also have a math curriculum, foreign language and Bible study that we continually do before we begin our unit study work for the day.
To begin, you will want to use a 3-ring notebook, file folder or composition book to put ALL your work into per student. This will be the "learning scrapbook" that I spoke of. Remember to have your child decorate and label their own according to the subject of study. Younger children may draw a picture of a butterfly and paste on cover while an older student may want to do a scrapbook page of butterflies to decorate their cover.
The first step would be to find a "living book" (for you Charlotte Mason fans out there, unit studies is a perfect companion to that style of teaching/learning) regarding butterflies to teach about. For younger children (4-8 years) it would simply be a picture book such as "Are you a Butterfly" by Judy Allen and perhaps an easy chapter book such as "Caterpillar Green"by Marla Martin. Read a few chapters a day to the children from the chapter book and do some butterfly activities (see below) and place in binder/notebook/composition book each day. YES, it's that easy...
Perhaps I might have my students copy (copywork) a short poem about butterflies making sure the student is writing in their best writing and copying all the proper punctuation (you have just done your penmanship subject and language arts in one swoop). As you read the above books, make note of harder words to spell and have the child copy them down in their notebook as their spelling words for the week. Perhaps at a young age, "wing", "larvae", "fly", "nectar", "flower" and "butterfly" would be a good week's worth (you have just completed your spelling subject for the day and having them study the list every day is spelling for those days as well). Perhaps you can splurge on a "Butterfly Growing Kit" to do as a science project. A great way to showcase God's creation! At this point you can parallel a biblical lesson on how the old chrysalis or cocoon dies away and a new creation is born! Draw a butterfly and label the parts (science and nature). Paint a colorful butterfly (you guessed it ~ your art for the day). Make butterfly shaped sugar cookies (you're catching on... home economics, math and family bonding along with a nice dessert for papa when he comes home!) Read about monarch butterflies and where they are from and where they migrate to and draw/label routes on a blank map (you just did geography and it didn't even hurt!). You can find a book on "How do draw insects" and include the students drawing of a butterfly (art again) in their notebooks as well. I can go on and on but I think you understand by now!
It is all about quality books and gleaning all the goodies from them while adding the morsels of information into your "scrapbook of learning". It's THAT fun and THAT easy and is VERY productive!
I hope you try one and see how much more interesting it is to homeschool using the Unit Study method. Your children will cherish the time together and you will have a blast reading "living" books and learning with them. I will be posting some unit studies in the future ~ hope to see you there!
For more information on Unit Studies, I highly recommend this book:
Everything You Need to Know about Homeschool Unit Studies by Jennifer Steward