The Benefits of Unit Studies
April 11, 2018
Mercy Every Minute  
I never considered myself the “fun” unit study mom. I am still more of a textbook/workbook person. Unit studies don’t always fit with the way our family operates—and that is one of the great things about homeschooling! No matter the method, homeschooled kids excel ( www.nheri.org). However, I know the kids need breaks from the books, and they learn a ton from unit studies—so we occasionally add some in. Here are some we’ve done related to science:

  • Insects: We love raising our own and charting their growth. We have ordered many from Insect Lore. We have raised butterflies, praying mantises, ladybugs, jumping spiders, caterpillars, and any larvae we find in our yard. We mark where we found them (habitat), what they eat, and how they change. We look at anatomy and metamorphosis. We have put specimens in see-through containers and drawn and labeled their parts. We have gone on nature walks and kept nature journals of what we found. 
  • Experiments: We have done many experiments that used household items. This week, we made goop that demonstrated colloidal suspension
  • Gardening: we have planted seeds, watered, photographed, harvested, measured, and monitored growth of all kinds of plants. We have cooked and eaten what we’ve harvested. God’s Creation is truly amazing and worth studying whenever possible. 

Unit studies teach a topic across the curriculum. So, to add to one of the topics above, we have learned about men of science who were also men of God for history. We have found Scriptures on plants, animals, and insects as Bible and copywork. We have measured growth and made charts for math. We have drawn, painted, and sculpted things from nature for art . 

Maybe you are just feeling too overwhelmed to even think about fun unit studies. Embrace your weakness as it compels you to embrace your Savior. Embrace the power of the cross once again. Repent for pushing aside your first love with Him. Submit to His perfect will. You will begin to know the power of His resurrection in your own life. Have you forgotten why you homeschool? Here are some Scriptures about Homeschooling.

I pray that you find a place of real rest in Christ. Lay your stress, your cares, and your pain at His feet. He wants to speak to you, comfort you, and then give you the strength to rise up and keep running the race.

~Deborah 

What about a math unit study? How and Why to Do a Math Unit Study, by Marla Szwast
Art can be added to any unit study subject. See the Light’s black light and fluorescent chalk art lessons and cartooning videos are not only fun, but the kids learn great techniques. 
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Kerry Tittle 
In this short space I don’t know if I can possibly exhaust all the benefits of unit studies! In my twenty-something-year homeschool journey, unit studies have been by far my favorite! They are not only beneficial . . . they are fun!

The best part about unit studies is no one is left out and the entire family is learning.

Unit studies encourage your children to see the big picture of a topic, not just a few paragraphs. We can incorporate the topic into every area of life:
We have sat at the table of Pharaoh with fish and figs (sewing and cooking). 
We have built castles out of art supplies to understand architecture (art and math). 
We have mummified a chicken—Ew! Gross, no! Our chickens have names and die of old age. I bought it in the meat section of the store (science).
We have crossed the Rubicon (or a creek in our back yard) wearing Roman armor made from paper grocery bags (history and art). 
We have watched Mount Vesuvius explode—using vinegar, baking soda, and whatever poor Army men we found under the couch (science and history). 

I could tell you a thousand stories of places we have eaten around the world in our own dining room and places we have visited in our own backyard.

Unit studies help us see how multifaceted any given subject is. Your children are able to develop a mastery of the subject by using multisensory techniques and learn various approaches to studying. This is learning in a fun way rather than trying to retain a bunch of random facts.

On a side note, I do add in a hearty math curriculum to accompany the unit study.

My favorite part of unit studies is the memories that are made with people you love and will only have a short time with. Even when you mess up and Cleopatra looks more like a Picasso painting, it’s still a memory that can be laughed about for years to come.

Train your children up in the way they should go—and have a BLAST with it!


Kerry Tittle is a mother of nine children and a 20-year homeschool veteran. She was the owner of ReformationKidz with her husband Rob until a tornado destroyed their home and business in 2014, taking the lives of Rob and two of their daughters, Tori and Rebekah. Kerry is the founder of  Refined Family , which is created to encourage others to find hope in the gospel in the midst of trials.
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Tracy Klicka
Home School Foundation,   www.homeschoolfoundation.org
My kids are all grown now and have finished homeschooling, but something really interesting has been happening lately with several of them. Whenever they come home, they enjoy talking about our homeschooling experience, and they want to raid boxes filled with old school memories and projects we did in the early years of their education. While rummaging through one of these boxes, my daughter reminded me of one of our unit studies, with her comment, “I loved learning about cathedrals and Renaissance history.” 

She continued, “Remember when we went to the National Cathedral for the Renaissance fair? I remember the singers and dancing and music. I loved building a gothic window out of blocks and putting the capstone in place, and learning about how stained glass is made. That was one of the most fun things we ever did.” Hearing that made my heart sing. More than anything, I wanted my kids to love learning and love our homeschooling journey.

Because of this, I frequently used unit studies during my kids’ elementary/middle school years to learn about a variety of subjects, including history, science, and literature. For those of you who are unfamiliar, unit studies are a memorable way to study several subjects at one time, in an integrated, hands-on unit. Emphasis is placed on doing—observing, creating, dramatizing, building, cooking, drawing, collecting, etc.—all of which reinforce learning a subject more deeply. Whole books (vs. chopped up bits of information in a textbook) help make a particular theme, such as the Renaissance, come alive with stories about real lives and events.

Why did I love unit studies? Primarily because my kids loved them. That’s the short of it, but here’s a longer, more-detailed list of why:

  • Research shows that when a child’s curiosity is ignited, his/her ability to learn and retain information dramatically increases. Unit studies are one of the most natural ways to stimulate curiosity in a child.
  • Unit studies can accommodate several ages/grades at one time . . . perfect for us busy homeschool moms!
  • A small unit study takes only a few days to cover, which enables a family to cover many subjects a month or use as a supplement to traditional textbook learning.
  • Once you understand how unit studies work, it’s not difficult to create your own unit studies. For those who prefer to follow a pre-written plan, however, there are multiple unit study curricula available. The Homeschool Mom has a great list of them HERE. I made up my own and also used a little KONOS, along with Beautiful Feet Books (I love their history and geography studies)!
  • Unit studies are often a springboard for much deeper independent study—my kids frequently branched out to learn more about related subjects (i.e. learning about Colonial America and visiting Jamestown led one of my kids to become fascinated with ships and the science behind them; he spent hours reading many books about them and built several kinds out of Legos).
  • Field trips take on a whole new level of excitement when incorporated into your current unit study theme!
  • Beyond learning several academic subjects at one time, you can incorporate character and skill training by learning about the lives of honorable men and women in certain time periods, as well as learning about responsibility and stewardship while handling craft/building materials.
  • You can do unit studies with other families and share the prep and learning experience together—my kids loved this and we moms appreciated it, too!
  • In an age when so much of our experience is technology-driven, unit studies bring our children back to real life experience—getting them out in the real world and away from phones, tablets, and computer screens. 

I could share so much more about the benefits of unit studies, but I hope this gets you started. I can guarantee you one thing, your child will LOVE them!

Tracy Klicka , the widow of former HSLDA attorney Christopher Klicka, is a homeschooling mom of seven, now adult children. As a seasoned homeschooler and gifted writer and speaker for over 20 years, Tracy has addressed thousands of parents at homeschooling conventions and women’s events, has contributed to Christianity Today , regularly writes for national homeschool publications, and has contributed to her late husband’s books on homeschooling. She currently serves as Director of Development for the  Home School Foundation , the charitable arm of HSLDA , which helps families homeschooling through hard times. She also blogs at  www.TracyKlicka.com  and for HSLDA’s  Everyday Homeschooling   blog column.

She can be reached at  tracy@homeschoolfoundation.org .
Free scavenger hunt sponsored by  SchoolhouseTeachers.com . Someone will win a laptop! Come check it out!
Lainna Callentine, M.Ed., M.D.
Learning can indeed be fun. Sometimes with traditional dry textbooks, our students can become lost in the details of learning and feel crushed by the weight of facts while failing to find their significance in the world around us. A wonderful change of pace could be the addition of a unit study. Unit studies are an integrated way to learn about a variety of subjects centered on a particular theme or topic. From jousting knights to an African rainforest, a unit study can captivate your learners as they dive into a whole new fascinating world. Your students can connect the dots between disciplines like the Bible, history, geography, science, art, and music as they focus on a single topic. Looking around the curriculum circles, there is a wealth of ready-made unit studies that you can purchase. Or for the more adventurous, you can go off road and develop a study around your children’s particular interests. 

Four benefits of a unit study are the following:
  1. Unit studies afford the students the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and engage in hands-on projects and activities within the home and outside the home. For example, if you do a study on bugs, you can go on a nature walk and roll over fallen logs to examine the critters lurking within, or go to a nature museum.
  2. Unit Studies allow you to cater to a multitude of ages and levels of students at one time. Children can learn together and share their discoveries. It fosters collaboration and cooperation.
  3. Unit studies allow students to dig deeper in their understanding of the world around them. In learning, there is a hierarchy of learning skills. Many traditional textbooks only emphasize the recall of relevant facts and understanding those facts at best. However, through unit studies, your students are pushed to a higher level of learning through application, analysis, evaluation, and creativity. The wonderful thing is that the process is not painful for the students.
  4. You create lasting memories. I am blessed with three amazing teenagers. When we look back on their early homeschool years, with smiles and a gleam in their eyes, they recall the wonderful units that they participated in. Their learning is tied around their five senses and the warmth of being together.

When developing your own unit study, be sure to include your students, and don’t be afraid to connect the dots.

Dr. Lainna Callentine is an author, speaker, missionary pediatrician, founder of Sciexperience, homeschool mother, and teacher who has taught many levels. She holds a master’s in education and received her B.A. from Northwestern University where she studied in the School of Education majoring in Human Development and Social Policy. She completed her M.D. and residency training in pediatrics and is a member of Focus on The Family’s Physician Resource Council. The author of an exciting book series and hands-on curriculum for children showcasing the human body called  God’s Wondrous Machine , follow Dr. Callentine at  www.sciexperience.com  and  https://www.facebook.com/Sciexperience/ .
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Carole P. Roman  is the award-winning author of over fifty children’s books. Whether it’s pirates, princesses, or discovering the world around us, her books have enchanted educators, parents, and her diverse audience of children. 
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From knights and castles to insects and spiders, sometimes you just need a fun unit on a random topic. That’s where the Unit Studies and More library on SchoolhouseTeachers.com comes in handy! With dozens of unit studies, ebooks, and articles, you’ll find resources created by The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, World Book, numerous lesson designers from SchoolhouseTeachers.com, and more! Every one of these incredible resources is included with your family’s membership. 

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Contest Corner  
For the month of April

Art Class, from See the Light, is a video-based art curriculum. The lessons are taught by Master Artist Pat Knepley and are designed to teach children incrementally from beginning art skills to advanced techniques. There are nine DVD volumes that are titled The Basics, Shape & Space, Value & Color, Color Blending Techniques, Proportions for Composition, Texture & Form, Perspective for the Landscape, Balance, & Foreshadowing and The Portrait. Each volume contains four primary lessons, so at 36 lessons, you have enough material for a traditional school year. Additionally, there are a few bonus lessons spread throughout the course that are taught by different See the Light artists, so you have more diversity in lessons.

The full course teaches the fundamentals of art and drawing, and the first DVD, The Basics, introduces the student to the basic art materials an artist needs. We spent time learning how to build our toolbox, and how the basic supplies worked, such as a kneaded eraser being preferred to the little pink eraser on a pencil. From there, we started with the foundational technique of drawing different types of lines. As the lessons progressed, we were learning how to draw contour lines, but also training our eyes and hand to work together, so we were looking at the object of our drawing, and not our paper. I think Knepley’s approach of starting simple helps younger children to see that it does take people time and practice to develop skills.

Each volume focuses on one concept, so as you move through the volumes, you are building your skills, but you are also given that time to practice. For example, Volume 3 is all about Value & Color, and teaches concepts of value, shading and shadowing, colors and the color wheel, and complements and intermediate colors. The color wheel that we made is used for future lessons. Then moving into Volume 4: Color Blending Techniques, there is more practice with color, with two lessons on blending with colored pencils, and two that focus on blending with chalk pastels. The entire course uses these incremental lessons, making it easy to build skill and confidence at the same time. (. . .)

We lean towards the Charlotte Mason philosophy in our homeschool, and I feel that having a solid foundation in drawing and basic art skills will be useful not just for the pure beauty of drawing, but also for a Book of Centuries, nature journaling, notebooking assignments and other pursuits. However, I fully believe this video series can be beneficial to homeschool families of all philosophies, large and small. I would recommend Art Class for anyone who wants professional art lessons with a friendly Master Artist from the comforts of their own home.


YOU can WIN all this awesome art set for your homeschool! 

TO ENTER: Click on over to our entry page and follow the instructions! Contest ends at midnight, the last day of the month.
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