Using Unit Studies In Homeschooling

The popularity of homeschooling is gathering momentum and starting to be a new revolution in the field of education. Many students are now shifting to homeschooling for reasons as varied as believing it to be a superior form of education; poor choice of schools locally; bullying at school; religious reasons; flexibility for older students to be able to work during the day and study in the evenings and weekends; the list continues.   As homeschooling is increasing it is becoming more established with several paradigms of teaching. Among these, unit studies is a method that has been successfully implemented and used by homeschoolers.

Unit Studies is a method of teaching where you incorporate several subjects like art, history, math, science, geography and theology into one topical theme. This way the student will be learning about several areas of education while learning one topic. This has two distinct advantages. Firstly, the student gets an exposure to many areas at the same time in smaller quantities. This gives the student options to find his or her area of interest. Secondly, this gives the child different perspectives on the same topic.

As an example, a topic of study such as “Native Americans” would make a good unit study, and could combine lessons in social studies, art, history, reading and sciences. Within this topic, social studies may include a comparison between tribal living and modern day living.  A study on the clothes Native Americans wore, their paintings and drawings, could be included within art.  Science may include the medicinal and spiritual use of plants (botany) by Native Americans.  Dates, timelines, and changes in cultural and living practices could be studied within a historical context, while fictional stories with historical and cultural relevance, could be used for English studies.

To create a unit studies plan, you need to first think of a topic. This is usually most effective if the topic is chosen by consulting the student. Any topic can be used to create a unit study, but you will have most success if the student is interested in the topic. Once you have a topic selected, find all the resources that are available to aid the unit study. You can use library books, online resources, videos, music, magazines and other such materials. Additional tools like field trips to museums, zoos and other such interesting places that aid the unit study make the learning experience more enjoyable and memorable. You can increase the effectiveness of the field trips by asking the student to maintain a journal.

You can brainstorm, with your child, new ideas to make your chosen topic more interesting.  As well as being a fun exercise, it also gives the student some control and responsibility over their studies.  If you were studying a foreign country, for instance, you may play with the currency to include math, talk about the history, and brainstorm other areas that will incorporate other subjects as well as giving the student a fuller picture of the topic of the unit study.  Unit studies can help make a subject ‘come alive’, and therefore more memorable and interesting to the student.

An added benefit of unit studies is that homeschooling families with more than one child can utilize the same topic of interest for lessons across several levels/ages.  Although children at different ages will cover some different information for their studies, there will also be significant overlap due to the topic itself, as well as opportunities for students to complete similar assignments at the same time.  This is obviously a simpler task for the homeschool teacher than creating two (or more) completely unique curriculums.  That being said, this approach will only be ideal for students with a shared interest.  Also, beware of trying to create unit studies out of every interest that the child expresses.  You may find them reluctant to share their interests with you if this method is overdone.

The unit study method is such a powerful teaching tool that several modern schools have started incorporating the technique in schools. Utilizing this method may even increase retention of information by up to 45%.

Melissa Murdoch has a passion for life span development and education, and believes wholeheartedly that a healthy society begins at home. For further information on how to get started in homeschooling, please visit

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One Response to “Using Unit Studies In Homeschooling”

  1. Karen Newell says:

    I agree with Melissa that unit studies are a motivating way to teach; add more spice to your program, and increase student comprehension and memory.

    For those who find comfort in the familiarity of textbooks, unit studies can be used over the summer. Or perhaps textbooks can be put aside the week of a holiday and a holiday theme explored.