Unit studies have quickly become one of our favorite ways to school. If you aren’t familiar, a unit study allows you to choose a specific topic or theme and then incorporate multiple subjects around that topic. Most unit studies utilize multiple learning models and activities. It’s also very easy to adapt unit studies for multiple grades or age groups that are learning together. This is what initially drew me to unit studies – working all together as a group instead of working in separate curricula. It’s made it much easier and more fun for all of us since we can all focus collectively on one topic. Plus, when my girls get into something they usually want to drop everything and dive in completely. Unit studies let us do just that and are usually a much needed break from our structured curriculum.
I’ve found many websites that offer both free and paid unit studies that you can follow but I wanted to share 5 simple steps and some quick tips on how to plan unit studies on your own. It’s super simple and actually quite fun – especially if you’re a planner/list maker like myself! Plus, I’ve created a really simple planning guide that you can download and use to help you plan.
Select Your Topic or Theme
First, you’ll need to choose the topic or theme for your unit study. I always suggest talking to your kids and asking them what they would like to learn about. I’ve found that my girls are way more focused and excited to learn when they get to choose the topics. Unit studies can be about a place, an animal, an event, a theory, etc. Some of our most favorite unit studies to date have been on oceans, space, presidents, jungle animals, dolphins, and weather. Perhaps let them make a list or a poll and vote on the topics they’d like to dive into first.
Choose Your Lessons & Activities
Now that you’ve decided on the topic for your unit study, it’s time to start collecting lessons and activities. Our unit studies usually include one lesson and discussion on the topic to start us off. Then we branch out and investigate the topic a little deeper by completing puzzles, worksheets, crafts, science experiments, lap books, and research. You can create your unit study to be extremely in depth and very hands on or go for a lighter approach if you just want to scratch the surface.
To locate the activities and worksheets, you can do a simple Google search for “insert your topic activities for kids” or “free insert your topic printable for kids”. Websites like Teachers Pay Teachers and Etsy are also great places to look for your activities and printables.
Don’t forget subjects like art and music! You can easily incorporate these subjects into your unit study. We try to have at least one art project (usually something with Nana from You Are an Artist), a playlist and some type of outdoor or physical activity or game.
Choose Your Media & Book List
One of my girls’ favorites parts (probably mine as well) of a unit study are the books. It’s great to collect a good variety of fiction and non-fiction books that correlate to your theme. We also try to vary the reading levels so we have some on-your-own reading, group reading, and parent read aloud sessions.
I suggest having 8-12 books to go along with your unit study. This is the perfect time to bust out that library card or use a website like Abe Books to find gently used books for your unit study. We also own a lot of Usborne Reference books that come in handy during our unit studies. Start by doing an inventory of what you already have on hand and then do a quick Google search for “insert your topic kids books”.
In addition to a book list, I suggest researching videos and movies for your unit study. There are several YouTube channels that have great documentaries and educational videos. You can also watch full length films together as a family that were on your unit study topic. (Our next unit study will be on whales and I’ve already warned my kids that I WILL cry during Free Willy!)
Create Your Schedule
Finally, you’ll want to decide how long to schedule your unit study and what your daily schedule looks like. I like to spread unit studies out over a week or two. Be sure to leave some time for rabbit holes. When you focus on one topic so intensely you might find that your kids will ask more questions and want to dig deeper on the topics. For this reason I always leave a few empty time blocks for “on your own research”. This gives them some time to read, search or create more on the topic if they choose.
Celebrate With a Trip, Project or Special Activity
A fantastic way to finish your unit study is with a special trip, project or activity. You could visit a museum, go to a show, cook a special meal, take a day trip or special outing that focuses on your topic. You can throw a special party that is centered around your theme – we are planning a tea party when we do our Boston Tea Party unit study!
Research the local museums, historic monuments and locations and upcoming events in your area. Google Arts & Culture has a really cool feature that allows you to virtually tour some of the most famous museums and heritage sites.
I hope these steps were helpful to you and you start creating fun and engaging unit studies for your homeschool. If you’d rather snag some already created unit studies, you can check out some of our favorite websites for free and paid unit studies.
I’ve also created a more in depth checklist for creating your unit study, incorporating activities and resources and more that you can download for free as a follower of our blog!
We are always looking for new topics, themes, places and animals to study. What have been your favorite unit studies? What are some topics that you are planning to dive into? Leave us some ideas in the comments!