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Unit Studies for Homeschool

There are a number of different types of unit studies for homeschool families to use. Let's see how 8 different families study the Civil War with different unit study approaches.
Your curriculum will be different depending on which of the type of homeschool unit study is chosen. For this example we have outlined the activities of several different families. All of them are studying the American Civil War. Notice how different their units are.

Comparison of Different Types of Unit Studies for Homeschool

Example: Civl War Unit Studies For Homeschoolers

Literature Based Unit Studies

Armani is on the couch reading the novel Across Five Aprils while her brother, Ahzier, is in the easy chair enjoying Rifles for Watie. During their Civil War Unit Study, they will each read five or more books. Armani is stretching her own writing ability by developing a fictitious story about a girl whose father was a Civil War soldier. Ahzier is writing a comparison of two generals; one on the North and one on the South. In addition, they are both developing an annotated bibliography of all the books they have read this year.

Hands On Unit Studies

A few blocks away, another family is also studying the Civil War but using a different approach. If you looked into their window, you might see Samarah and Zachary re-enacting Picket's Charge with Zachary's army men. Zachary is also memorizing the Gettysburg address which he will recite at their homeschool talent night. Ivonna has been working on a backdrop for his act, as well as baking hard tack to distribute. Elijah is in his bedroom making a poster for a fugitive slave.

Integrated Unit Studies

Several miles across town JoNay and Jovonne are sitting on their deck planning their integrated unit study with their mother. With this approach, all subjects are integrated with the main theme of Civil War.
  • For social studies they will create a chart comparing the cultures of the North and the South.
  • Their geography lesson will involve the development of topographical maps of major battles.
  • Writing will include writing and printing a Civil War Era newspaper with current event articles.
  • Their science study will include types of energy as they explore some of the modes of transportation at that time.
  • Art appreciation will look at paintings from that era.
  • They will begin basic photography, which was a new invention at that time, for their own art lessons.

Advanced Unit Studies

Now let's listen as Aiyen, a talented musician, is playing Civil War marches on her grand piano. She is doing an indepth study of the music of both sides, and writing a research paper comparing the philosophy and theology of a number of battle marches that were popular with the soldiers.

This type of unit study used by older homeschoolers integrates two different themes: in this case the Civil War and music. Sometimes it is confused with the integrated unit study discussed above.

The difference lies in the depth of research expected. Aiyen's paper comparing the messages of Civil War marches is a topic that very well could be the start of a master's thesis. This is appropriate for a scholar with her lifelong interest and commitment to this subject. However, it would not be reasonable to expect every student to work at this level for every unit study. After all, could you write a master's thesis every month?

Learning Tree Unit Studies

Elaya and Alyah are developing a Learning Tree Unit Study, which combines a number of elements from other unit study methods. This is a model based on the organic model of a living and growing tree.

The roots of the tree are the resources and experiences used. Elaya and Alyah are reading different fiction and non-fiction books, watching a documentary, and planning a field trip as the root of their unit study.

The Civil War theme is the tree trunk, and the branches are the branches of knowledge gained. The branches on their tree include:
  1. Causes of the Civil War
  2. Views of slavery
  3. Major military campaigns
  4. The effect of the war on private citizens.
The leaves are the facts and information they gain from their study. They are counting the number of pages read to represent the leaves of the tree.

Some families might create leaf shapes from index cards to make a stack of Civil War Facts.

The fruit of the tree is the academic work they produce. Elaya is writing an analysis of the book she is reading. Alyah is making their family tree which documents they have ancestors who served on both sides. They earn points for all the work they do. To keep their unit study balanced, a minimum number of points are assigned for each the different branches, and the different endeavors (roots, leaves, fruit).

Traditional Textbooks

Emma is sitting at her desk in her bedroom reading the Civil War chapter of her full colored textbook. Her mother appreciates the fact that the textbook has age appropriate information and she doesn't have to spend time on the internet and at the library searching for materials on one subject at the right age level. Her mother pays the extra money for the teacher's guide, which includes lots of ideas for additional activities, so Emma can also enjoy some hands-on activities occasionally.

Her brother Ferdinand is in his bedroom studying Ancient Egypt from the textbook she used last year. While their academic studies don't always allow them to explore the same subjects together, their mother says the time saved allows her to coach their volleyball team instead. And that is an activity they all look forward to.


Grace is lying on the grass outside answering questions about Civil War politics in her worktext. These consumable booklets each contain approximately the same amount of material as a traditional textbook chapter. However, questions and activites are interspersed between the reading. Quizzes and a unit test are also in each booklet. Grace likes how portable the worktexts are: she can do them in the car, on the lawn, at the dentist office. She has developed a comfortable routine and always feels a unique sense of satisfaction when each worktext is completed.

The Sky Is The Limit

This quick over-view describes some of the popular approaches and unit studies for homeschool. There are curriculum options available using each of these types of curriculums.

Many homeschoolers purchase (or develop) their academic subjects using more than one approach in a single year. Or they may find as the years go by that they prefer one approach for certain subjects and grade levels, yet find a different approach meets their needs for a different student or subject area.

The combination of options available for purchase are endless. And, of course, if someone develops their own curriculum it would be a truly unique unit.

Even families purchasing the same unit study curriculum would end up with a different study, given the dynamic nature of unit studies. In reality, there are probably no two homeschooled students who had exactly the same course of study.

That's one of the fun things about homeschool!

Kids don't come one-size-fits-all.
Neither should their curriculum.

What's Your Favorite Approach? Why? New families might benefit from your insight.

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