Unit Study Techniques to Enhance Any Homeschool Style

Austria, Teenage girl lying and reading book on jetty
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Our family has always been very eclectic in our homeschooling style. That’s because I like to take my favorite elements from each homeschooling method to blend into a uniquely personalized style that suits my family.

I may choose a few aspects of the Charlotte Mason style, a little classical scheduling, and toss in some unschooling concepts. Add to that my varied taste in curriculum and we wind up with a homeschool that is eclectic in both style and resources.

I’ve noticed over the years that the overreaching homeschool style in our conglomeration tends to be a unit study approach. The unit study mindset appeals to me because it’s a hands-on, cohesive approach to homeschooling that allows for interest-led learning within a parent-led framework that gives me the peace of mind of knowing that my children are covering the topics that they “should know” by most standards.

No matter which you prefer as your primary method, you can mix in these unit study techniques to enhance any homeschool style.

1. Make connections between subjects. The primary idea behind unit studies is to tie all learning for each unit of study to a central theme. This may seem impossible to do with other homeschooling styles, but once you get the hang of it, you may find that it’s surprisingly simple. It’s just a matter of paying attention and teaching your kids to do the same.

You might point out to your children how the event you’re studying in history relates to scientific discovery that you recently read about in your science text or how the Pythagorean theorem that you’re using in math was developed by the Greek mathematician, Pythagoras about whom you learned when you studied ancient Greece.

The Charlotte Mason philosophy of education embraces the idea that education is the science of relations and children are capable of making their own connections when they have the appropriate knowledge and experiences. So, Charlotte Mason purists may balk at the idea of pointing out connections to children, but I’ve found that doing so demonstrates the idea and helps them learn to make the connections on their own.

2. Add related reading. No matter what your homeschool style, one of my favorite ways to enhance learning is to read related books. If we’re studying World War II, we might read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. If we’re studying the American Revolution, we might read Johnny Tremain.

Your homeschooling style or your particular curriculum may already include assigned reading, and you don’t want to overload your student, so consider adding just-for-fun books. Your student might enjoy series such as You Wouldn’t Want to Be…, Who Was…, or Horrible Histories.

Also, try audio books. You and your kids can listen in the car as you run errands or travel to homeschool outings. Your kids might enjoy listening to them while they do other quiet activities like drawing or constructing with LEGOs.

3. Try some hands-on projects. They are a hallmark of a unit study approach, but it’s easy to add hands-on learning activities to any homeschool style. I know I’m always touting such projects, but that’s because they add so much fun to what your family is studying and aid in retention by engaging your kids in the topic at hand.

Two of the most important things to remember about hands-on projects is that they don’t have to be complicated and you don’t have to do dozens of them. Choose one project that doesn’t sound too intimidating for one aspect of what you’re studying. For example, if you’re studying a certain region in your history lessons, try a salt dough map. You can add to it little by little over the course of the chapter or unit.

If you’re studying volcanoes in science, try a simple baking-soda-and-vinegar volcano.

Learning about a particular artist? Try replicating a painting in his or her style.

You can even enjoy some hands-on math projects. If your children are studying bar graphs, do a simple survey of friends and relatives, asking them to name their favorite flavor of ice cream and tallying the results to depict in a bar graph.

4. Capitalize on your student’s interests. One of my favorite benefits of following a unit study approach has always been being able to follow my students’ lead on topic choices. It’s been well over a decade ago, but still one of my favorite unit studies was on the topic of horses, chosen because my daughter, in 3rd or 4th grade at the time, as fascinated by all things equestrian.

No matter which you identify as your primary homeschooling style, it’s easy to take a tip from unit study junkies. Capitalize on your student’s interests by creating a learning rich environment. Make note of the upcoming topics in your chosen curriculum and provide resources on those topics. If your elementary student is being introduced to chemistry, consider purchasing a small chemistry set for fun, interest-led experiments.

If the Civil War is being covered in your history text, consider checking out some biographies of key figures from the library or purchasing a kit to make a model canon.

If you’re an unschooling family, you’ve probably already got a handle on this, but in case you’re new, consider current events and seasonal events and activities when strewing resources throughout your home.

5. Take a related field trip. We used to culminate nearly every unit study with a field trip of some sort. No matter how you homeschool, field trips are a great way to achieve first-hand understanding of one or more of your topics of study. If your student’s social studies text is covering community helpers or recycling, consider a trip to the police department, fire station, or recycling center. 

If you're learning about pilgrims and are close enough, take a visit to Jamestown or Williamsburg.

 

There are so many wonderful components that make up each of the various homeschool styles. Unless you're a true purist of your preferred homeschool method, don't be afraid to mix in your favorite elements from the others.

Approaching almost any style with a unit study mindset allows for following your student's interests down rabbit trails, making connections that you might have missed, and adding in captivating extras such as great books and field trips.