Unit Studies

As we explore the world around us and stop to learn more about a subject, our explorations often turn into unit studies. We don’t always plan it that way, but it occurs naturally as we follow our interests.

One subject that developed into a unit study for us was trains. Our family lives near one of the busiest train lines in our state, providing us many opportunities to see some interesting models. We have seen everything from passenger trains, freight trains, tank cars, circus trains, cabooses and even the bullet train when it was carried through once in the 1990s. By the time we were done with our train explorations, we realized we had created our own unit study. We had researched the history of trains, steam engines, inventors, and more. We utilized math skills to measure speed and distance, statistics to explore the number of trains that rolled by daily, writing to record data and contact others, we had read many books about trains, went on some train related field trips, learned the science behind steam engines and how trains changed our country.

No matter what you are interested in, it can often evolve into a unit study. Here are some unit study articles and resources.


A Birthday a Day – Rebecca Rupp (By the way, you can find unit study resources in almost everyone of Rebecca’s columns!)

Our kids’ learning styles seem to mesh better with what are popularly called “unit studies:” assorted projects, activities, and readings centered around a topic of kid-chosen interest. Here again, we’ve always invented our own, accumulating craft and science kits, and turning out piles of homemade activity books on such subjects as the Civil War, whales, stars, frogs, the heart, the eye, trees, bees, and map-making. Many of our past unit study topics were generated from the calendar, centering around the birthdays of famous persons, historical anniversaries, and unusual holidays. In past years, for example, we’ve celebrated – in detail – the birthdays of George Washington Carver, Benjamin Franklin, Louis Braille, Amelia Earhart, Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Boone, P.T. Barnum, Frank Lloyd Wright, Hans Christian Anderson, Tycho Brahe, Galileo, Susan B. Anthony, and Helen Keller; commemorated the launching the Sputnik, the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk, the opening of the Erie Canal, the completion of the transcontinental railroad, Boys’ Day in Japan, the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb, the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, and – month by month – the entry of all fifty states into the Union.

A World of Learning by Barbara Theisen

For example, while cruising in North Carolina one fall we choose flight for a unit study. We read books such as Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang, The Fledgling and Around the World in Eighty Days (we read out loud everyday – a good idea, I think, even after the kids are old enough to read to themselves). Writing assignments included both fictional stories with a “flight” theme as well as factual reports and even a “business” letter to the Federal Aviation Administration who sent us a package of information. Science was filled with hands on experiments which demonstrated the principles involved in flights. Some of our experiments included flying kites, paper airplanes, and balsa planes We took a field trip to the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk, NC where Orville’s and Wilbur’s famous flight was brought to life for us.

An Interview with Cafi Cohen – Marsha Ransom

Other overlooked library resources include foreign language materials, classical music collections, and – most of all – the research librarians. A good librarian can help you find any piece of information, put together any unit study. More recently, most libraries now offer web access. Don’t tell me you cannot get on the web because you don’t have a computer. You “do” have one – at the library.

Full-Time Work – Full-Time Homeschooling – Kate Frishman

Usually I would find a website or book to fill the urgent curiosity then put together a unit study of sorts to catch the moment. This became a challenge when I began working twelve hour days. Instead, I taught them how to use a search engine–even my seven-year-old can “Google it” with a little supervision. They find the basics themselves, and I help them “fill in” with interesting activities when I am home. Two of them are now teenagers, and they plan their own studies with minimal supervision.

Questions and Answers – Laura Weldon

Reading and Finding a Balance
“My first advice is NOT to use a curriculum for a 4 year old – no matter how advanced or delayed. The letter indicated that the child was a normally inquisitive 4-year-old. Use the child’s interests to investigate the world around, including reading and being read to, drawing, singing, and physical activities. Write down his/her story written on any topic. Visit the library often, if possible. Walk around your neighborhood. Visit older relatives (or nursing homes) to give a larger worldview to your child. Unit studies – not necessarily formally composed or pursued – are perfect for this age. The world is the classroom and the parent is the facilitator (not the teacher). As my son told me several years ago, “Mom, you can’t teach anybody anything. They have to learn it.
” – J.D., St. Louis

Interview with Patrick Farenga – Helen Hegener

For anyone considering homeschooling, and unschooling in particular, Teach Your Own should be required reading, if only to see what else is possible besides fixed curricula, unit studies, and other techniques for managing learning. All these techniques have their place, as Holt often acknowledged, but none is essential.

When is the Millenium Anyway?: Calendars and Clocks for Kids by Rebecca Rupp

A great source for designers of unit studies. Franklyn Branley’s Keeping Time: From the Beginning into the 21st Century (Houghton Mifflin, 1993), illustrated with lots of cartoonish little black-line drawings, pairs a scientifically detailed history of timekeeping with a range of hands-on projects: kids, for example, make a sundial and a candle clock.

Hanging On To What Makes Homeschooling Distinctive by Larry and Susan Kaseman

No two homeschools are alike. The glories and strengths of homeschooling is that it can embrace so many different families and so many different approaches to raising children and educating them. Some of us homeschool with purchased curriculums. Others develop our own curriculums, based on unit studies or our children’s interests.


Mini Unit Studies from Beverly Hernandez

State Unit Studies from Beverly Hernandez

Unit Studies from A-Z Homes Cool

Unit Study Resources from Eclectic Homeschool Online

Unit Study Ideas from Vegesource

Free Unit Studies for Upcoming Holidays and More! from 2 Peas in Pod

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