Homeschool: Let’s Talk About Unit Studies
Let’s talk about unit studies. Unit studies are a method of teaching in which you focus on a single area of interest and try to rope in as many subjects as possible to tie back to that particular topic. For instance, the study of red pandas could involve reading books on the subject, working on math problems related to food intake, and writing and editing a paper on red pandas. Or taken even further, a study of the Himalayas and a visit to the Tulsa Zoo. Unit studies can be a great way to parley the natural zeal of your child’s interest into productive learning.
In theory, this should be the method for me. When a visit to a historical landmark leads to impromptu lessons on architecture, social class, farming and accounting, I am in my homeschool glory! That feeling of discovery and adventure is what enables me to continue homeschooling even through the rough days. Seeing school subjects come to light in living ways can open up learning to even the most distracted students. The truth is, though, I sometimes get nervous indulging in interest-led rabbit holes. I find myself in a panic that we might be missing out on the basics. Back to the workbooks kids! I need some proof of our progress!
Recently though, one of my children was in a learning rut, and I felt we needed to switch gears. So, we began doing things a little differently. We hunkered down together and dove deep into something she was interested in, while I snuck in work with the skills I knew she needed.
This model looks a little different, and requires a different energy from me to stay on top of, but I like what we’ve come up with, which I dare say, just might be a unit study!
The Outsiders House Museum
Our latest study started with reading S.E. Hinton’s classic The Outsiders together. It took us more time than we normally would spend to finish a book, but we read at a pace that allowed us to delve into subject after subject that tied back to the novel. We explored topics such as social class, economics, technology and fashion of the ‘60s, as well as the genre of YA fiction. We wrote together, edited together, talked together and explored together, all while taking the sting out of learning in a big way.
Also, this particular unit study culminated in a fun visit to The Outsiders House Museum. If you are a fan of the book, or just enjoy local history, there is a tour you can take which picks you up downtown, and then takes you for a ride past different filming locations around town before dropping you at the museum. The museum is a newly renovated house near Crutchfield Park that was used as the home of Ponyboy Curtis in the film. We enjoyed driving down the same streets we drive all the time, but looking at them from what felt like a different time.
This little pivot has helped me feel like I can be a little braver with my unit studies. I think this way of looking at learning works particularly well for kids who don’t need to check off a list. Cross-disciplinary teaching is a great approach for kids who desperately need that spark of inspiration to get moving on things. Following their interests, and yours, can open up stifled learning and take away some of the frustration that can come with the more traditional, linear approach to education.