Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Our Journey from Textbook to Unit Study - Part II

For those of you who may not know what a Unit Study is, let me explain. Instead of having several different workbooks with different subjects and topics for each individual child to learn, a unit study will take one topic and use it to incorporate all the subjects for several different age ranges. For instance, if you were to do a study on the Civil War, your English would be to read a book such as "Across Five Aprils" and you would possible write a paper explaining the style in which the book is written. Spelling would consist of words used in articles about the war or from the Gettysburg address (which you may have your children memorize for Social Studies). You may study human anatomy or the development of modern day medicine in science. Most of the books you use would be found in the library. You would do various hands-on projects, such as, recreating a battle using civil war action figures or you would create a large map illustrating General Sherman's march, etc. Baking "hard-tack" (a soldier's food staple) would be a fun thing to do in the afternoon as well. The list goes on.

Unit Studies rarely contain Math, so you have to supplement that course with a textbook or something similar.

I've always been fascinated by the Unit Study concept. My hesitation came as a result of the overwhelming projects often suggested and the lack of pre-planned lessons from the companies offering such studies. I'm a person who can take a plan and get creative with it, but I need the blue-print to get me started.

Not to mention, getting 150 of my children's friends to re-create the First Battle of Manassess complete with large cardboard cannons and a tremendous amount of red dye (for blood, of course) was not something I was excited about doing with a bunch of pre-schoolers and nursing babies in the house!

However, with BJU's announcement of the coming cancellation of our satellite, I began to investigate Unit Studies. I was being pulled in several different directions as once helping various children in various subjects. The idea of teaching most or all of them at one time was beginning to sound very appealing.

So, I found "My Father's World," a great Unit Study which incorporates many Christian biographies as it covers an intense geographical study of the world. Most importantly, it offers a day to day lesson plan to guide me as I attempt to successfully teach my children.

One problem. No one I knew had ever used it. There was no way for me to get my hands on a copy to really look at it to see if it was right for our family. Three hundred dollars is a lot of money to spend on a curriculum sight unseen.

As I was calling and e-mailing various Unit Study moms, I talked to a friend from church. She did not use MFW, but had used a similar curriculum (meaning, it was laid out with a day-to-day plan).

Enter, Learning Adventures. I had not come across this curriculum in my research, but my friend had it on hand and was willing to let me take it home for perusal. I got myself to her house as quickly as I could. The first year is called "A World of Adventure" in which 180 days are spent studying Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, The Middle Ages, The Renaissance, and Reformation, and The Age of Exploration (all in 30-day increments).

As I looked through the massive 3-ring binder packed full of detailed plans, book lists, materials lists, etc., I became quite excited about the prospect of actually taking a completely different approach in our home-school. How could I wait a whole year to try it out? At the same time, we had spent quite a bit of money on a curriculum that we were only into 5 weeks of using.

I broached the subject with my husband.

"I feel bad about possibly dumping something we just spent a lot of money on."

"What? A thousand dollars?"

I must remind you - we're farmers. We're not exactly rolling in the dough. Dirt maybe, but not money!

He continued. "If it's not working and you find something better, go for it!"

Trust me, you don't have to tell me how blessed I am to have a husband like that!!!

So, the next day, I informed the children we were to embark on a trial week. I let them know we were going to put away all but the Math books and begin a new way of learning. So began our study of Ancient Egypt.

We're in our 3rd week and we haven't looked back. My children have frequently mentioned how much fun school is now. One even told me that she looks forward to school everyday! I just ordered my own copy of the study a few days ago.

We have made an easy model of the Nile River which has real grass growing on its banks. We made barley cakes which turned out to be quite good (a lot like pancakes) with butter and honey. Soon, we'll be creating friezes with plaster of paris.

We have covered the story of Joseph and explained the 5 parts of a plot line using this biblical story. We talked about characters, settings, and styles. My children learned about conflict in a story and we discussed the various conflicts found in the story of Joseph.

In science, we're studying deserts. We spent one evening teaching daddy about camels and the many interesting facts we had learned together. Even now, we have 2 jars in our green house filled with water - one with aluminum foil over it and one without. This is demonstrating how clouds keep moisture in the earth and without them (such as in the desert), water evaporates much quicker.

Our spelling words are words that we are finding in our study. The children also have begun a study of latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes to help learn the meanings of various words that have come from them.

Notebooking is another element that we have been able to naturally incorporate into our school. I have different papers with various borders for much of their work - many times they are able to draw a picture that goes with the assignment. They LOVE this part and it allows them to individualize their work.

The children and I are loving spending this time together. We don't spend all day in school, but we spend enough hours to know that they're getting effectively educated. We usually begin at 8:30 and they finish all of their work (including Math) around 1:30 or 2:00. But, they're not stressed out because we've had a lot of fun and variety throughout the day!

I could write so much more, but I will continue to share our days with you throughout the coming year. I am just so thrilled that education has become a JOY at our house.


Rhonda said...

This is wonderful!

I'll look forward to reading your adventures in teaching. I am happy for you finding a way to be a family and learn together. It isn't sterile booklearning, it is applying what you learn to real life, which is why you get an education in the first place. Wonderful!

Angel said...


Jenna said...

Wow that's so great that it's working so well for you! I'd heard of unit studies but never really understood what it was. It sounds really interesting!

Joyful Help Meet At Home said...

I just saw this and had to comment...we started unit studies for similar reasons. My regret is that I didn't do it sooner. We make lapbooks of our units. Some preprinted others we do ourselves. But the retention is so much higher, and the enjoyment of schooling...there is no comparison. My problem is trying to cover too much in a unit. I plan topics of interest or things we wonder about and off we go.