Are you new to homeschooling? Or maybe you are just exploring your options for homeschooling and you came across the words “unit study” and wondered what that was. Let me give you an explanation.
It can sound pretty complicated.
Unit studies are a set of lessons that work around a central them to create a complex web of information for your child to ingest. That sounds complicated, doesn’t it? But it really isn’t. It is a natural way to learn a lot of information. At first, the information might look like it is all on the topic of the unit study, but it can be so much more. It can lead to deeper understanding and more skills than a typical lesson plan that breaks everything into small chunks, called “subjects” in school.
In a typical school lesson plan, you may be studying one thing in science, another in history. Your reading, writing, and math may have nothing to do with each other. In a unit study, you relate all of those topics.
How does that work? Let me show you.
Let’s say, you just realized you sort of forgot to teach art and you want to really get deeply into it for a bit to make up for that. You might create a series of units each based on a famous artist. Each of those would be a unit study. Let’s say you decide to learn about Georgia O’Keefe, the Mother of American Modernism, first.
For literature and language arts, you and your student read a biography of Georgia O’Keefe. You discuss her life and the book, this counts as a book report. Next, you find on a map the places she lived. Finding both New York and New Mexico on maps counts as your geography this week. Take some time to look at the artwork of Georgia O’Keefe and then use that as a jumping-off point for science lessons. Learn all the parts of a flower for biology and then explore the biomes of the desert in New Mexico.
As your next step, have your child explore making their own art. They might take up-close pictures of flowers and then try to paint them on a large scale. This is not only art but is great for their fine-motor and visual-perceptual skills. Once they’ve made this art, you can measure the real flower and the painted one. Compare the size and calculate the ratio of the two for your math lesson.
At the end of the week, have your child write a paragraph about their favorite fact, work of art, or something else from the week. That circles back around to language arts.
Now, your unit that sounded like it was just a study of an artist has covered art, science, geography, math, language arts, and more!
You can build a unit study around almost anything.
A unit study can be based around a book, a topic, a person, or almost any single thing that has your child’s interest.
Most of our programs here at Five Senses Literature Lessons are written to be unit studies because this is a wonderful way to learn about the world. Instead of breaking it up into smaller subjects, you take a big idea and dive into it from every angle. This means you end up having a deeper understanding of and connection to the material.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.