Unit Studies: An Easier Way to Teach Multi-Ages

Save Over Half of  Your Preparation and Teaching Time!

Unit studies are especially beneficial if you are teaching more then one child. If you are teaching three children each seven different subjects using textbooks and workbooks – that’s a WHOPPING twenty one subjects to prepare and teach.

A family with three children using textbook methods might have one child study the Civil War another learning about Ancient Rome while another is studying the American Revolution in history. In Science one child may be studying plants, another the planets and another reptiles.

In Bible, one child may be studying Moses, another studying Joseph and another studying Paul. With unit studies, history, geography, art, music, science and Bible can all be taught together to all ages. Each child studies the topic at his level.

All children can go on field trips together, many projects can be done together, writing assignments vocabulary words will be about the same topic, just on different levels.

For example, while studying animals a younger child may be able to classify birds, mammals and insects. While an older child would classify animals in much more detail such as: Arachnids, crustaceans, etc. The older learns and helps to teach the younger while the younger learns from the older child.

Delight Directed: Planning

Delight-directed learning, with a set plan like Heart of Wisdom unit studies, begins by allowing children to be a part of the planning process. During the planning phase, allow the student to participate in choosing the resources for that unit (fiction novel, colorful reference book, video, Internet site, interactive multimedia, etc.). It’s very possible that a child might balk at the unit as a whole but later find a spark in one of the individual lessons.

To continue with the food analogy, a child might, say, groan over something he sees cooking, but after a taste, finds it pleasing to his palate.

Teaching Multi-Ages:  Sample Day

Mother is teaching Jenny (fifteen), John (thirteen), and Joseph (ten) a unit on the Middle Ages.

During the unit planning the three decide together on the resources. They look through the resources at Homeschool-Books.com or in the back of The Heart of Wisdom Teaching Approach book at the Middle Ages Resources. The three choose Kingfisher Illustrated Encyclopedia, and Eyewitness Medieval Life from their home library. Mother orders a novel,The Door in the Wall (from the library or a vendor) to read aloud during the unit.

While reviewing the lessons the children show the most interest in knights, castles, and medieval feasts. Before the unit begins they will pick up books on these topics from the library. Several opportunities will occur during the steps in each lesson to bring into play the delight-directed methods. Let’s look at an example of how each of the three children might discover their own level of interest in the lesson on knights.

The sample below is a lesson based on Heart of Wisdom teaching methods (combination of organized 4-Step unit study, Charlotte Mason approach, teaching to all learning styles).

Unit: Middle Ages. Lesson: Knights

In Step One (Excite), Mother is watching each student for a spark.  Step One activities evoke feedback which shows how interested each child is in the topic and suggests the possible duration of the lesson. As they brainstorm to make lists,John and Joshua both show an intense interest in this topic.

In Step Two, Mother reads the provided text in the unit, and then turns to the resources chosen during the unit planning phase. She reads aloud from the suggested pages in the Kingfisher Illustrated Encyclopedia and Eyewitness Medieval Life. John and Joseph spend time reading through the suggested web sites and library resources,and print out several illustrations of a knight’s armor and weapons.  Jenny also browses the Internet sites and chooses an image of a knight to add to her portfolio,but she leaves the boys to explore the sites as she moves on to Step Three assignments.

In Step Three, Mother allows each child to choose an activity:

  • John (13) chooses to complete a writing assignment. Mother encourages this assignment because he needs more writing practice and he enjoys this topic. John writes a separate draft paragraph for each of several topics: tournaments, jousting, suits of armor, crossbows, and the Crusades. He searches or uses the Internet to find illustrations for each summary.
  • Joseph (10) chooses to create a shield with a coat of arms. He uses colored pencils to design a coat of arms similar to those he viewed from the resources. He the makes the shield from cardboard and pastes or glues the coat of arms onto the shield.
  • Jenny is not as interested in this topic so she copies a paragraph from Eyewitness Medieval Life and moves on to a math lesson (more about Jenny later).

In Step Four, the students choose how they will share their work.

  • During this step,Mother and John are busy revising and correcting John’s drafts .After the corrections John glues illustrations to the summary pages and includes them in his portfolio. He chooses to add more on this topic to his portfolio and shares it with his grandparents.
  • Joseph shows his shield to his father and explains his coat of arms.
  • Jenny adds her writing and illustrations to her portfolio and shares the work with her brothers.

In this example, all three children have learned about knights. John has obviously learned the most. We know all three have learned significantly more than they would in a typical school where the children would read perhaps one boring paragraph about knights.

John and Joseph will continue on this topic in the coming weeks by choosing a novel and/or illustrated reference books from the library on knights ,or by learning more from the Internet. Their wise mother will continue to fan the flame as long as the fire burns (weeks or months). If no spark had appeared during this lesson, the amount of time spent on this lesson would have been dramatically different.

Jenny did not do a lot with the lesson on knights because she did not have a spark of interest. Later, however, Jenny’s spark shows up in the “Food in the Middle Ages” lesson. She ends up spending several hours researching and planning an authentic medieval feast for her family. She designs an elaborate menu for her portfolio and reads the library book Medieval Feasts to Joshua.

Four-Steps Summary

  1. During Step One, look for the spark.
  2. In Step Two, the spark will be your signal to encourage your student(s) to go on to more resources. If the lesson ignites a spark for one child and not another (which will probably be the case) don’t force all the students into spending time on further study. Take a trip to the library, or order books, or allow computer time for Internet search.
  3. In Step Three, allow each child to choose the activity in which to do something with what he or she just learned. This could be anything from simple copy work or an involved project.
  4. In Step Four, allow each child to choose how to share the material.

Teaching is much more than providing facts — real teaching means causing to learn. The delight-directed methods work when we provide opportunities for meaningful experiences,and then wait and watch for moments when children’s eyes light up. Then they’re off and running, determined and motivated to learn!

Robin Sampson is a homeschool mom and author. Her titles include The Heart of Wisdom Teaching Approach, What Your Child Needs to Know When, Wisdom: An Internet-Linked Unit Study, A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays, and Ancient History: Adam to Messiah. See all her books and discount packages. For homeschool encouragement and tips go to HeartofWisdom.com

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2 Responses to “Unit Studies: An Easier Way to Teach Multi-Ages”

  1. This was an informative piece, we’re doing an Earth-Studies History/Science Unit, and sometimes I forget the planning step. This was a great reminder, and I liked the bit about looking for the “the Spark”. Thanks!
    .-= Scientific-Homeschooler´s last blog ..Chronological History of the World Unit-Studies for Homeschoolers updated Tue Oct 27 2009 12:58 … =-.

  2. avatar frelle says:

    Thank you for the great article! I don’t know if I will publish on my blog or link to it from my blog, but I will most certainly pass it on!!
    .-= frelle´s last blog ..Field Trip to Phillips Farm =-.

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