In this post, I’m sharing exactly how I plan a unit study so that you can save money on those pre-made unit studies and craft a customized study to fit your family!
Just in case you don’t know what a unit study is, here’s the short of it. A unit study is a component of your homeschool studies that focuses on one particular subject in one specific topic that you study for about 6 to 8 weeks.
For example, you could do a unit study about ocean life. For this particular unit study, you would be learning about various sea creatures for your science study.
There are some homeschoolers out there that use unit studies to make up their entire homeschool curriculum for all grades and in all subjects. Gather Round has created some really neat unit studies including one on ocean life. If you prefer the ready-made unit study options, her units come highly recommended.
For me personally, I’ve always preferred DIY’ing it. I enjoy planning and have fun in the process of creating my own unit studies. Plus, I’d rather save money on something I can very well do myself. So if you’re like me, then this post is for you!
Now I don’t use unit studies as an all in one curriculum. I like to keep things pretty simple and really only use unit studies for science in the form of nature study. However the process of putting a unit study together generally applies to any subject. Here’s the break down of how to plan a unit study:
1. Choose a Topic
Typically, the first thing I do is decide on a topic. This seems obvious but I really like to narrow down what we will be studying. I can do a unit on birds, but that’s too broad. There’s tropical birds, backyard birds, flightless birds… it helps to really zone in on exactly what topic, specifically, you want to cover.
After I’ve selected our topic of study, I head on over to my favorite planning partner – Pinterest! I create a board on our unit study topic and then start browsing. This is a general search for all things having to do with my topic. Basically my Pinterest Board is my brain dump for everything I find that I could possibly use for this unit study. I use the next three steps as a spring board for search topics when I’m doing my browsing.
For example, I’ll generally search for ‘backyard bird unit studies’ to find what others have done for their unit studies. These types of posts will usually include the things I need to create my lists in steps 3 through 5. However, I’ll also do a specific search and see if I can find posts with ‘living books about birds’ or ‘bird activities for elementary’ etc so that I’ll be sure and have things to create my lists with.
3. Create a book list
After I’ve pulled together all the ideas I’ve found, I pull out my Evernote App on my phone and create a notebook for my unit study. Then I’ll create a “book list” note and go through all the Pins on my Pinterest board that had book recommendations. I’ll make a list of about 20 books or so and later, search online at my library for all those books. If the library doesn’t have it, I’ll check various discount book stores. Usually this produces a decent amount of books for free or cheap. (I’m good with even just 5 to 8 books out of the 20 I listed – no need to go over board;)
However if I still can’t find a good amount of books, I’ll spend some time really examining what books may be worth buying new. I really try not to buy books new because I’m cheap like that… But if I do, some things I ask myself before buying is, cost – of course. Is it worth the price tag? Will we read it more than just for this unit study? Does this book add more to our studies that we aren’t already getting in another form? These questions help me pare down to really determine the worth (and necessity) of the book.
4. Create an activity list
Next I’ll create an activity list. Once again, I’ll go back over to my Pinterest Board and similar to step 3, I’ll create a note in my unit study notebook for ‘activities.’ I’ll make a list of all the activities that looked to be fun and worthwhile and jot them down. I also include any videos or documentaries in this list.
I think it’s important to be realistic here. First of all, you want activities that will enhance the learning experience, not complicate it. These activities are supposed to be fun and bring a little hands on education to an otherwise mental learning experience. Also, Pinterest has TONS of activity ideas on TONS of subjects. It can get overwhelming and, if you are like me, EVERYTHING might sound fun or exciting to do. Remember that you are only studying this topic for 6 to 8 weeks. One activity a week is probably all you need. Plus one or two extra in case one activity turns out to be a flop. Make your list of activities and then….
5. Create a supply list
Looking over your activity list, there may be some supplies you will need that you don’t already have on hand. Make a note for ‘supplies’ in your Evernote unit study notebook and start your list. I also add to this list any helpful tools that might make our study more easy or fun. For example, when studying birds, yes, we can just go outside and look at the birds we see flying around but having a pair of binoculars would be such fun for the kids. I’ll add binoculars to my list.
I really take my time with this step. While I want to invest in the necessary equipment, I also want to balance that with buying stuff frivolously. Do I need a pair of binoculars? Not really. Would they make learning more fun? Yes. Can we use them for more than just bird study? Yes. Do I have space for them? I can put them in our school cart when not in use. All these thoughts run through my head when making purchase decisions. Waste not, want not, right?
6. Plan the lessons
Like I said, the unit study usually lasts about 6 to 8 weeks making the planning process pretty easy. I keep my lesson plans pretty flexible and light. One activity a week, a set time each day (or week) to look at our books, and the occasional video or documentary scheduled in. Once again, Evernote note under the unit study notebook for ‘lessons.’ Then I just list out week 1, 2, 3…. and then jot down what we will do each week. I have a time slot in our weekly schedule where I then reference my lesson note for our unit study and just follow the plan!
Sometimes it all goes well and according to plan, other times its completely forgotten or we only get to look at books… maybe. Either way, the plan is there when we need it and gives me something to do when the time comes.
Now if you want to make your unit study more inclusive as an all in one curriculum similar to Gather Round, you could add a note for each subject and then search for free printables and things for all your subjects. You can even save clips of what you find online in your note so it’s a one stop shop for your entire unit study.
And that’s it! See, I keep things as simple as possible – at least the way I interpret simplicity. Perhaps the planning and browsing for ideas and things is too much for some, in which case a pre-packaged unit study is probably your thing. But if you enjoy planning as much as I do, this is the simplest way I have found on how to plan a unit study on your own. What has been your experience with unit studies? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!