Unit studies are a great learning tool for homeschool families because they are so adaptable and will work well with a number of different philosophies – delight-directed learning, relaxed homeschooling, Charlotte Mason, unschooling (yes, unschooling!), and more. You can customize each unit study to exactly what your family needs so they offer great flexibility and personalization options. They are also fun when you want something a little different in your routine such as celebrating a holiday or season. Best of all, it is not complicated to create a unit study.
The truth of the matter is that many families who are naturally inquisitive and enjoy chasing rabbit trails when something interests them are already half way there to creating a unit study. Many families are doing unit studies without thinking about it formally. So putting a bit of a plan in action is simply the next step!
What is a Unit Study or Thematic Learning?
A unit study is a collection of books and learning activities around a learning theme. Sometimes also called thematic learning, students learn a variety of subjects around one topic. (A unit study purist would expect every subject to be taught around the theme, but I’ve never been a purist about anything when it come to homeschooling so my definition is a bit broader. That’s also why I feature thematic learning in my website header and not unit study.)
Depending on the age of the learners, a unit study can be as simple as a few books and activities one week to something far more complicated that lasts for weeks or even a few months for much older students who are particularly passionate about a subject. Unit studies can work well when there are multiple ages present because a family can all focus on one theme, but do activities and reading that are age appropriate.
Unit studies do NOT have to be complicated. I’ve seen the amazing photos of what some families do – homemade costumes, extensive food feasts, staged plays, etc. Those are NOT required to do a quality unit study that will help your children learn. Do what works for you and your children, not what some other mom is doing that you saw on Pinterest or Facebook. Better to do a simple unit study and expose your children to the information than do nothing because you don’t have the skills, time, or money to pull off something amazing and over-the-top.
Free Unit Study Planner
Because unit studies can be simple, you’ll find that many of the printable unit studies materials I have created (more on that below) are simple. Simple can be very good and just fine! For example, this is a peek at the unit study planning printable I have created. It is a simple, one-page planning sheet.
It is part of this Unit Study Planner and Flexible Unit Study Printables for my subscribers. It includes 21 printables that can be used with almost any unit study or thematic learning unit.
Create a Unit Study
There are many things you can add to a unit study and so I think the temptation is to plan too much. It doesn’t have to be complicated, especially for younger children. The must-have elements of a unit study would include the following:
- Theme or Topic
- Goals (what you want your children to learn)
- Books (fiction and non-fiction)
- Culminating Assessment (if required in your state)
Really, that’s it. You need a topic, a few learning goals, a timeline, good books, and some activities. The types of activities you add in will depend on your family. If you live in a state with demanding record keeping, then you will want some kind of final assessment or project to demonstrate what your children have learned. (You can also do this if you live in a state that doesn’t require it, but it isn’t necessary.)
Unit Study Topic or Theme
Choose a highly engaging theme the first few times you do unit studies. You want to focus on being successful with this way of learning and getting your kids to buy in that this is a fun way to learn. It is a fun way to learn, but sometimes overambitious moms can overdo it and turn something fun into too much work and too much stress. Keep it simple, highly-engaging, and fun!
So choose a theme that your children will enjoy and embrace whole-heartedly.
Unit Study Goals
Set a few reasonable goals for your children. What do you want them to learn? Do you want them to learn the important vocabulary that goes with a particular theme? Do you want them to learn a general timeline? Identify the important people? There is no right or wrong answer. The goals simply give you some guideposts along the way while you are planning and learning. They will also reassure you when you reach the end of the unit study that you accomplished what you set out to do.
Unit Study Schedule
Decide how long you want your unit study to last. How long will it take to meet your goals and have fun along the way as you learn? A week? Two weeks? A month? Will you do only your unit study for that week? Or will you devote an hour a day to it? Two hours a day? Think through what is realistic for your family. Less is often more so if you are just starting out and your children are younger, begin with something simple and short.
I think it’s also important to plan in some flexibility. If you choose a topic your children really embrace, they might want to do far more than you have planned. If they are excited about learning, let them run with it!
Unit Study Books
Unit studies are created using living books, not textbooks. Look for quality living books in both fiction and non-fiction. I would definitely include picture books in this unless your kids are much older. Picture books are an effective way to learn throughout elementary school.
When you are preparing for your unit study, look to see what you might want to use from the library. Check out a group of library books around your theme, ordering them ahead of time if needed. When Caroline was younger, we had a huge book basket in the learning room that was always filled with library books. I encourage you to have an easily accessible book basket in a cozy place so your children are tempted often to stop and pull out a book. Putting books on a shelf or keeping them in a library bag generally won’t entice children the same way a book basket will when they can easily see the covers.
I think it’s always good to have books in your own home library as well so I encourage you to invest in at least a few books each time you do a different thematic study. Over time you will develop a solid home library for all of your children. We have an only child so it would be easy to decide that it’s not worth it to buy lots of books because she is the only one who will use them. We bought them anyways. Access to books is one of the most important things you can give your child and I didn’t want her to miss out just because there was no one else to use them after her to make the purchase more “worthwhile” or justifiable. So I encourage you to find ways to steadily add to your family library.
Unit Study Activities
You will see when you look through my themed unity study posts, that there are so many different kinds of activities you can add to a unit study. This is just a sampling of ideas.
- Spelling words
- Field trips
- Coloring pages
- Creative writing
The important thing is to limit the number you choose, select ones that fit well with the topic, and choose things your children will enjoy.
Free Unit Study Printables for Growing Unit Studies
Now for the really good news about unit studies!
I have lots of unit study activity ideas in posts right here on my site.
I have created what I’m calling growing unit studies. I call them this because I am constantly adding to them when I find or create a new resource that will fit. (Thus the growing part.) If I waited until each unit study post was perfect and completely comprehensive, it would take me months and months to get them all done. I decided that it was better to offer what I do have ready and continue to add to them in order to help my readers as they create a unit study.
As you look through the unit studies I already have posted, you’ll see that I often refer to free unit study printables. There are many free printables that I provide in my subscriber only area. They are open-ended in terms of the theme so they will work with any of the thematic units I post here.
I also feature paid printables that are available in my printables shop.
I’ve created these unit study posts to help my readers find highly engaging printables, books, and activities.
- For parents who might be going through a tough time financially, I have many free printables that will allow you to create a good unit study at a very low cost.
- For parents who have more of a budget, there are many paid printables that provide more in addition to the free unit study printables for my subscribers.
So I hope you will take the time to look through the unit studies on my site. The posts are all free. You can look through the videos, books, printables, activities, and so on that I find and add to each unit study. Then you can choose the ones that work best for your family. If you become a subscriber, you will also be able to access the very nice subscriber only area I’ve put together and continue to add to.
Here is a list of the unit studies currently available (with a link), the ones that are still growing, and the ones that are coming soon! I have printables already in my shop for all of these themes if you need something right away. Feel free to stop by often in the coming days and weeks to see which new unit studies have been posted!
- Animals of Africa Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Apples Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Arctic and Antarctica Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Australia and New Zealand Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Birds Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Black History Month Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Butterflies Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Canada Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Chinese New Year Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Christmas Around the World Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Christmas Traditions Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Farm Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Flowers and Plants Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Insects and Bugs Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Mexico Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Oceans Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Penguins Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Presidents’ Day Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Pumpkins Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Rose-Breasted Grosbeak Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Scarecrow Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Solar System Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Squirrels Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Thanksgiving Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Trees Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- U.S. Presidents Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Weather Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)
- Women’s History Month Unit Study ~ (printables in shop)