Unit Studies for Homeschool

8 Types of Unit Studies

There are different types of unit studies. Let's see how 8 different homeschool families study the American Civil War with different unit study approaches.

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I do not get any commissions for recommendations for any programs. I only write reviews on programs I have used. See statement at the bottom of this page for more information.

1. Literature Based Unit Studies

Literature is the Backbone
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.

Where Can You Find Literature Based Unit Studies?
Sonlight Christian Homeschool, and Five In A Row, and Kaleidos Language Arts are three different programs with literature based unit studies. Most unit studies will include literature, but these in particular are centered on literature.

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2. Hands-On Unit Studies

The emphasis is on doing
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.

Where Can You Find Hands-On Unit Studies?
Konos has been called "the granddaddy of unit studies." Since 1983 they have provided hands-on, activity based units so all kids in a family or co-op can study together. You may buy a complete volume (one year curriculum) or "Konos In A Box" which has the curriculum guide AND teaching resources for one unit.

MatchCard Science is a hands-on science unit study consisting of 12 six-week units.

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3. Integrated Unit Studies

All Subjects Combined
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 the Civil War.
Where Can You Find Integrated Unit Studies?
This question is a bit tricky. Almost all unit studies are integrated to some extent; and virtually none are comprehensively integrating everything.

You will find a majority of unit studies are organized around history/language. As a result, the science and math are often not included, or included to a lesser extent. You will find many unit studies that have a discovery-approach to history; and then resort to text-based studies for science.

My Fathers World, and Five In A Row, and Konos probably have more integration that includes science that most of the others. See also Tapestry of Grace below. Few of the major unit studies have math included.

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4. Advanced Unit Studies

Researching one topic through the lens of another topic
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?

Where Can You Find Advanced Unit Studies?
Most advanced unit studies are either 1) Do It Yourself (their family makes their own) or 2) Single unit studies. For instance, you might get a book or curriculum specifically about music in the Civil War era.

Many of the families who use this approach are classically educated and choose to create a unit study by expanding one of the topics in their regular course of study.

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5. Charlotte Mason

Short structured lessons and an emphasis on observation
Jaxson and Tiana's mother starts the day on their back porch reading devotions. Having studied the writings of the 19th century educator, Charlotte Mason, she oversees short structured lessons in grammar, science, math, and history every morning.

Between subjects, Jaxson and Tiana read "living books" on history and other subjects. They both have different books on the Civil War they read silently. They avoid worksheets and drills. Instead, they narrate back to each other and their mother what they read in their books.

Afternoons are committed to studying nature, both indoors and out. They draw, sketch, collect, sort, and photograph. This method is used to strengthen their ability to observe and classify.

Later in the day they put those observational skills to use in discussing the Civil War. They are looking at a book on news articles from that time period. How were the views of the North and the South different? How were they the same? How would the lives of children been affected where they lived?

The majority of Charlotte Mason programs are for students in K-8th grade.

Where Can You Find Charlotte Mason Unit Studies?
Charlotte Mason in a Box from Queens Homeschooling, and My Father's World, and Five In A Row are three curriculums specifically designed around the Charlotte Mason method.

Ambleside Online is a free K-12 curriculum dedicated to the Charlotte Mason approach.

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6. Classical Studies

Based on the classic trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric
The classical method applied by Lorienna, Robert, and Elisa is not specifically a unit study. While approaching the topic of the Civil War, their family will study it through the lens of the classical trivium.

Based on the classical method as described by Plato, the backbone of the trivium is the study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Lorienna is studying at the grammar stage which is which emphasizes the acquisition of facts. She is memorizing the timeline of Civil War Battles and making a map showing where they were located. Since Robert is at the logic stage, he is writing a paper on the causes of the Civil War. At the rhetoric stage, Elisa is preparing a speech on how current events mirror some of the issues faced by people prior to the outbreak of war.

Where Can You Find Classical Unit Studies?
Tapestry of Grace is one of the few programs where K - 12 can all study the same material at the same time. Classical Conversations is another classically oriented curriculum, with less emphasis on units and instead is structured around the weekly community meetings. Classical Conversations is multi-level in the elementary years but has distinct grade levels from 7th grade and higher. Classical Academic Press provides specific non-integrated subjects from a classical perspective.

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7. Unschooling

Real Life Learning
There are no specific units in an unschooling family. Lila and her family homestead and she spends much of her day tending their garden or making the soaps they sell. After attending a local Civil War re-enactment, she has become curious about the war. She has chosen a Civil War biography for her early morning reading time. During breakfast, each person shares what they have read. She found out her great-great-grandfather served in the war and her father says he will get out the family geneology to find the details that evening.

Where Can You Find Unschooling Curriculum?
"Unschooling Curriculum" is actually an oxymoron. There are numerous others who have written about their experiences or their recommendations. John Holt (1923-1985) is considered the father of the unschooling movement. His books would be a logical place to start. Search for other blogs and resources for "unschooling."

"Surviving the Applewhites" by Stephanie Tolan is a humorous but positive fiction book for kids about an unschooling family.

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8. Single Subject Unit Studies

Multi-Level Teaching for One Subject
Rose and Nicole are both making their own lapbooks to record the activities they have done while studying the Civil War. They have added important generals, as well as the presidents, to their timeline. While listening to audio books about the Civil War era today, they made notebooking pages about the firing on Fort Sumter. After they have finished the audio-book, Rose will work in her sticker book of families in the Civil War, while Nicole will be cooking Southern foods she has not had before.

Where Can You Find Single Subject Units?
The Mystery of History is a unit study that only covers history. Like other unit studies, they recommend related literature books, maps, and craft-like activities. Some consider this "unit study lite." This isn't meant in a deragatory way, because some families have expressed a desire for unit studies that are not integrated and allow families to separate out the language arts for individualized instruction. (Of course, to confuse the issue, you can now get Mystery of History curriculum which DOES integrate other subjects. But most people using MOH don't use the full-integrated curriculum.) Unlike most other unit studies, MOH does provide quizzes and review tests. MOH can be multi-level with 2nd through 9th grade learning the same material (and can be adapted for older or younger.)

MatchCard Science is a hands-on unit study which provides a systematic study of all science subjects. It has hands-on units, mastery review, and is multi-level for your 3rd - 8th grade students (adaptable for older or younger.)

Kaleidos Language Arts, mentioned above, is also a subject-based unit study centered on classical literature and creative writing.

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9. Text-based, Single-Grade Curriculum

Annual texts for each subject at each grade
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 Emma used last year. Meanwhile, Grace is lying on the grass outside answering questions about Cold 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.

Many educators don't consider Emma, Ferdinand, and Grace to be using unit studies. For one thing, they are all studying different eras of history. For another, very little flexibility is provided in their studies. However, since texts are divided into chapters and units, one can technically still call them unit studies. And their mother says the time saved allows her to coach their volleyball team; an activity they all enjoy.

Where Can You Find Textbook Curriculum?
Here's an easy answer: just about everywhere! On-line stores like Schoolhouse Publishing, Rainbow Resources, Christian Book Distributors, and Amazon can provide you with a mountain of textbooks and workbooks (and other resources as well.)

Your local homeschool convention or curriculum fair will likely have vendors from many textbook companies.

The Learning Tree Model of Unit Studies

An Organizer for Any Unit Study

Learning Tree Model

Elaya and Alyah are developing a Learning Tree Unit Study, which combines 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 roots 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 demonstrate the amount of work they have put into the unit. They are counting the number of pages read to represent the leaves of the tree. They also get leaves for time spent doing other activities.

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).

The Learning Tree can be used with any of the types of unit studies to demonstrate the students' participation in their own learning. Read more about Learning Tree Model of Unit Studies.

Please Note:
I do not get any commissions for recommendations for any programs. The only money made through this site is direct sales of my materials, and there are no commissions or advertising dollars involved with the other programs. For comparison, I only write reviews on programs I have used. There are no "Switch & Bait Reviews" here, where negative information is given about a program and then a more positive review about another in order to earn a commission. All programs above are valuable options; and I view other homeschool providers as my colleagues not competitors. This information is provided to assist families to find the best option for them.

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