Unit studies in your home school
September 30, 2004
by Holly Tollefson
Special to The Record-Courier
One of the most effective ways of teaching multiple subjects to the many ages of children we have in our homes is known as the unit study approach. Many home-schooling families use it without even realizing it.
To define a unit study, think of a topic of interest, for instance dogs. Then take this interest and apply the academic disciplines to it (reading, writing, history, geography, science, the arts, etc). First, you might take a trip to your local library and send the kids on a hunt for some dog books.
As a teacher, before visiting the library I’d bring out my favorite resource book, Books Children Love, A Guide to the Best Children’s Literature, by Elizabeth Wilson, and peruse the chapter on animals.
I might also make an Internet search on the topic to locate more possible books, articles and films. If you have older children, this could be a project for them.
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Grab a variety of books that span the reading range of your household. Include picture books for toddlers and preschoolers, books for early readers and chapter books that are suitable.
Realize that each of your children will naturally gravitate toward his or her own interests in selecting literature. This is just fine. Asking a boy to read a book geared toward the interests of girls, or vice versa, would be fruitless.
Some children will gravitate toward fictional works and others toward non-fiction. That is fine, as well. Remember the world is made up of adults who enjoy fiction and others who prefer technical manuals.
Enjoy the process of searching for materials. You’re teaching your children how to perform basic research skills. Think back to any books or family films you have enjoyed that feature dogs…yep, there are quite a few!
Think of logical tie-ins in your community. If you own a dog, consider bringing the children along as a group to your next visit to the veterinarian. You will want to call ahead and inform the office as a courtesy if you’ll be bringing a large group.
Or you could consider arranging a “field trip” to a local vet’s office for several families or your co-op. You might do the same with your groomer. In this manner, your children will be able to observe careers suitable for people who started with an interest in dogs.
Writing assignments can be given to cover what your child learned about dogs at the field trip or after reading some books. Book reports are fine, but I prefer it when my children combine information from several sources to create their own research papers. Teach them to define their topic and address major points by using the outlining process.
Young scientists can research dog anatomy.
Breeds can be compared and contrasted. Genetics can be studied. You have lots of freedom to design the study to fit your needs. Geography can be worked in by searching for the origins of various breeds of dogs.
The history of dogs would make a fascinating study for the young history buff. What were the dogs of the Civil War period like? How about looking up references to dogs in the Bible!
If your children are wired for art, have them draw, paint and sculpt dogs. There are many fine art books available to guide the learner in these techniques. There must even be “dog music” out there. That silly version of dogs barking “Jingle Bells” comes to mind!
I hope I’ve given you an idea or two for creating your own unit study. I’d love to hear what themes you’ve covered successfully through this method.
— Holly Tollefson lives in Carson Valley and is in her seventh year of home-schooling her three active sons. She can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org