Themed unit studies are a great learning tool for homeschool families because they are adaptable and work well with different philosophies such as delight-directed learning, relaxed homeschooling, and Charlotte Mason. You can customize each unit study to exactly what your family needs so they offer 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 does not have to be complicated to create a unit study.
The truth of the matter is that many families who are naturally inquisitive and enjoy learning 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! In this post, I will more fully explain what a unit study is and the easy steps to plan the parts of your unit study.
What Is A Themed Unit Study?
A themed unit study is a collection of books and 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.)
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.
Creating A Themed 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
- 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.)
1. Chose Your 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.
2. Set Your Unit Study Goals
Set a few reasonable goals for your children such as:
- Key information they should learn
- Important vocabulary related to the theme
- Important dates, events, and/or a timeline
- 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.
3. Create A 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.
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!
4. Select Your 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.
5. Plan Unit Study Activities
You will see when you look through my themed unit 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.
6. Keep Records Of Your Learning
It’s important to keep some kind of a written record of your unit study. This is especially true if you live in a state with legal homeschool requirements. There are many ways you can do this such as:
- written activities
- a one page unit study plan
- culminating activity
Unit Study Planner and Printables
Fortunately, I have an inexpensive unit study planner that makes this so easy for you! You can purchase the Learning With Themes Activity Pack in my shop. It is a helpful and practical pack that can be used over and over again.
Here is a video I made explaining how you can use the various parts.
Because unit studies can be simple, you’ll find that many of the printable unit study materials I have created are simple and can be used with almost any theme. Simple can be very good and just fine, especially for younger children!
Unit Study Topic Ideas
Now for the really good news about unit studies! I have lots of unit study activity ideas in posts right here on my site.
As you look through the unit studies I already have posted, you’ll see that I often refer to the unit study printables included in the pack. These printables are open-ended in terms of the theme so they will work with any of the units I post here or you create yourself.
I’ve created these unit study posts to help you easily find highly engaging printables, books, and activities.
- For parents who have a very limited homeschooling budget, I have priced this pack to be very reasonable. It will allow you to create multiple solid unit studies at a very low cost.
- For parents who have more of a budget, there are many paid printables in my printables shop that provide more in addition to the unit study printables in the pack.
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 in each unit study. Then you can choose the ones that work best for your family.
Here is a list of the unit studies currently available (with a link) and the ones I hope to eventually write. I have printables already in my shop for all of these themes if you need something right away.
Animals of Africa
Apollo 11 Moon Landing
Arctic & Antarctica
Australia & New Zealand
Butterflies, Insects, & Bugs
Christmas Around the World
Elections & Inaugurations
Flowers, Plants, & Gardens
Reptiles & Amphibians
Rocks & Minerals
Space & Solar System
Women’s History Month