I am so pleased to offer all my homeschool friends the insights of one of my favorite homeschool moms, Vicky. She contributed the following article on unit studies to Life in the Cleft, and I could not be more pleased. I think you will definitely see the great things that can be gained from doing unit studies and will certainly be motivated to try a unit study in your own homeschool.
Unit Studies: Delight Directed Learning
Like many Moms in January, I was struggling to get back into the swing of things after a nice restful Christmas break. I use an Eclectic approach in our homeschool, and enjoy a variety of philosophies and resources in our educational journey. I was trying to think of doing something different and I began discussing the upcoming Olympics with a friend of mine, Kim, who homeschools her four children. We brainstormed the idea of teaching our kids together for a day to get them motivated and interested in doing the Unit Study. We divided up tasks like buying supplies, printing resources, and locating books. It was just the push I needed to whet my appetite for planning school activities again after a long break in our routine. What a perfect opportunity we had as homeschoolers to dive into current events and learn more about such a major historical event as the Olympics since we had the flexibility to spend more time on certain subjects.My friend Kim recommended Amanda Bennett unit studies (and I had heard other moms recommend her units as well). As soon as I perused her site I knew I had found a goldmine and couldn’t wait to download the Olympic Unit. It was like Amanda did all the work for me to be “that Mom” that spent hours pulling resources from a variety of places in order to integrate all subjects for one thorough Unit Study. This wasn’t just “fluff” that you find on Pinterest where you do a few craft projects with your kids on The Olympics, read a book or two, and say “That was fun!” This was purposeful learning that addressed different types of learners as well as gave room for challenge work. Amanda Bennett Unit Studies are offered in one and four week units. The Olympic Unit was a four week study. We started a few weeks before Opening Ceremonies and planned to finish as the Olympics finished. Due to many different circumstances, we ended up only doing three weeks of the Unit. If I were to do another Unit Study from this resource, I would choose the one week option. Four weeks was just a little long for us, but that’s our family’s experience. The Amanda Bennett Unit Studies are lessons organized by Week 1/Day 1, Week 1/Day 2, etc. until the end of the fourth week. I especially admired that each day began with a Bible verse or inspirational quote to go along with the day’s theme. This verse or quote was copy work for the kids. Then each daily lesson plan offered child-friendly videos/sites to enhance the study (everything from videos of the beautiful geography of Russia, footage explaining the science behind the sports, athletes and their personal stories, tourist attractions, and many more). Each day’s lesson also offered hands-on activities, vocabulary work, comprehension work, reflection opportunities, geography practice, and biographies to name a few.
Here’s a brief timeline of events in our Unit Study:
*We checked out books from the library about Russia and gathered general facts about the country.
*We read more about the origin of the Olympics as my son is obsessed with Greek Mythology and Greece in general.
*We posted new maps of the world and began looking at the various countries that would be participating in the Winter Olympics
*We made a Unit Study journal by decorating a spiral notebook with many different flag stickers ( I found these at a local party supply store, Horner Novelty ). This would house all our copywork, free writing, questions, research, etc.
*We began our very first day of the Unit at our friends’ home so we could decorate our journals together and do the Day One activities as a group to build excitement.
*We worked on our own in our homes throughout the unit but met two more times to “do school” together and share projects.
*We watched Opening Ceremonies together and had an Olympic kick-off party
Other resources I found helpful besides the Amanda Bennett Unit Study:
*printouts from Enchanted Learning.com
*free Lapbooks and pages from various sites on Ancient Greece, The Olympics and Russia
*Oil Pastels Art Olympic study from HodgePodge
*Pinterest boards on similar Unit Studies
Here are some things I learned as I went through the Unit Study adventure with my kiddos: 1. Sometimes God whispers……”Try something different.”
Like I said, I have been eclectic in my schooling, but right after Christmas it was such a crazy time. We were relying on the textbooks and a pretty boring routine as we came off of the family time-mania and needed some structure. I remember shortly before starting the Olympic Unit my daughter Grace had been working in her English textbook and the skill was Dictionary guide words. I was just expecting her to “check off the list” and complete her workbook pages in the rush of our schooling. She hated guide words. Then we begin our Unit Study. Each day it had important vocabulary related to the lesson. So our challenge was to look up those words, write their definition and discuss which meaning best fit the context of the Olympics. Suddenly, she had a new reason for her guide word practice and it was an exciting challenge and not a workbook page. All kids crave meaning in their school tasks and here it was…..let’s locate the page for perseverance, torch, gravity, muscle, and other words we will be using frequently as we read and write about the Olympics. I think of this verse as I witnessed my daughter enjoying her “skill work”: Ecclesiastes 9:10 reads
“Whatever your hand find to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.”
2. This world is bigger than your school room.
It’s easy to fall into your own four walls, your own co-op groups, and your own homeschool day. However, as we took a detour from the norm and dived into the Olympic Unit, it provided us some time to look at God’s big beautiful world and appreciate different cultures, customs, languages, flags, talents, etc. As we journeyed around the globe and located different places we read about it was nice to discuss God’s hand in nature and proof of His Creation. Psalms 87:1 reads
“His foundation is in the holy mountains.”
3. Feel like you’ve been slacking in a certain area in your homeschool? Try a Unit Study!
If you dive into a Unit Study, chances are you will be amazed at how many subject areas you cover without even trying. I had been slacking in Geography and Science. What an amazing thing that the very things I had been feeling low about were the very two things that really poured into my kids’ minds as we went through the Unit Study. I really don’t think that was a coincidence! I think it was the perfect reminder I needed that learning can be fun, resources are endless, and sometimes it’s nice to draw conclusions in new ways aside from your chosen curriculum. Just at the time I was really feeling inadequate ( I mean every homeschool Mom has time to address EVERY subject in their homeschool but me of course ) I got an injection of joy by seeing my kids work really hard in areas I felt I had failed them…and they were doing it with excitement not dread! Map work and health/science were easily addressed through the Unit Study. We spent time learning about the heart, the muscles, gravity, wind, snow, and many other pertinent topics to the Winter Olympics. So my worry turned to “Hey! we are learning a LOT!”
Proverbs 16:3 states
“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”
Beginning each day with a prayer and a verse to focus on was key during our Unit Study.
4. Homeschooling is a fantastic journey and even a bigger blessing when shared!
I thoroughly enjoyed teaming with my friend Kim several times during this unit. We combined our interests and talents so our kids could share many educational moments! We cooperated with resources, craft projects, snacks, physical activities and general lesson ideas to bring the Winter Olympics to life in our homes. It was so nice to have another teacher around and we bounced off each other so the kids were receiving twice the help! One day when Kim and her children came to visit us she brought Tootsie Rolls for everyone. Why you ask? Well Tootsie Rolls were first manufactured in 1896. This just happens to be the same year the first Modern Olympics were held in Athens, Greece. Of course our kids made the connection and it was a pleasant surprise to have another Mom treat my kids to new facts and treats. They will never forget that! The same day Kim brought white T-shirts so the kids could decorate Olympic Ring shirts for our Opening Ceremony party. Another day she created a Olympic Bingo for our kids to do together and gave medals to the winners. As Moms we sometimes feel like we have to think of everything on our own. We don’t. God gave us friends to support us on our homeschooling journey for a reason! I am extremely grateful He provides me with friends who encourage, support, and pray for me in my homeschooling journey! Kim is my sister in Christ and it’s a blessing to know God gives me who I need for this journey!
Proverbs 19:20 states
“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” Isn’t it a comfort to know we can call upon friends to help in our motherhood?
5. Doing a Unit Study helped us work as a team and make time for delight-directed learning.
As my children worked daily in their studies, they developed a new sense of pride in researching and writing about what they learned. It became more than just watching a video about an ice-skater or bob-sled team. They wanted to know more, they wanted to read more, and they were excited to write about the athletes they met. In our own corner of the world in cold and snowy February we were motivated by men and women who shared their life aspirations and dreams with us. Similarly we as homeschool moms needs motivation now and then and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing my kids light up as they would tell Dad their new-found facts, figures, and amazing stories they had discovered that day. One of my favorite quotes from Olympian Wilma Rudolph: “Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.” I remember one day the Unit Study suggested writing an acrostic with our names about ourselves and our talents. My kids beamed with their poems. It’s great to be able to spend time developing relationships and building confidence as we homeschool. As we continued through the dreary February I was reminded,
“And let us not be weary in well doing,
for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.” Galatians 6:9.
I will definitely explore future Unit Studies from Amanda Bennett as well as collaborate with other Homeschool Moms and Homeschool bloggers to bring Unit Studies into our year. The experience was a blessed one!
Vicky Adkins Yocum
I am a SAHM and am in my first year of homeschooling! I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and a Master’s Degree as a Reading Specialist I am a previous public school teacher. I have been married for almost thirteen years and have a daughter and a son. I love teaching Bible class, all things Disney, family get togethers, musicals and traveling.