How to Create a Quick and Easy Unit Study Your Kids Will Love
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Back in the day (you know, around the year 2000) when I was beginning to homeschool I knew that I did not want to create “school at home” but instead wanted to provide a rich learning environment for my children. Chuck and I set up an entire Montessori room (we scored a major deal when we purchased an entire set of Montessori classroom supplies off of Craigslist for $1500!) As the kids got older and we began to move beyond reading and math concepts I knew I wanted to do unit studies.
Back then, the internet was still a toddler so I would scour homeschool catalogs, highlighting my favorite picks…I even bought a few…but here’s the thing, I was never totally satisfied with pre-made unit studies.
Why I’m not a Fan of Pre-Made Unit Studies
First of all, I found buying a pre-made unit study to go with a favorite book has the potential to ruin a childhood favorite (don’t worry, there is a right way to do it). Giving worksheets, spelling tests, and comprehension tests on a beloved book take away the magic of a captivating story and make it nothing more than another school assignment. I want my kids to get lost in the story…that’s hard to do with questions at the end each chapter.
Don’t get me wrong, some pre-made unit studies are great! I have just found that in most cases it is better to just pick out a book or topic my kids love and go from there.
My most recent mini unit study with Apollo started out with a trip the library. I selected the following books (I have always loved exposing my children to other cultures whenever possible).
The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk is a fun Indian version of The Wheels on the Bus. I love the illustrations which showed a variety of Indian scenes. This led to some discussions about some of our family’s favorite foods (chicken curry and tikka masala).
I printed off this map and Apollo and I found India together. He colored it in and labeled it.
Next, we read In a Village by the Sea. This story takes place in Vietnam. The illustrations in this book are amazing!
Check out the perspectives on these! Using the word perspective (vocabulary) lead to a discussion on what perspective means in the context of art.
This book introduced Apollo to some aspects of traditional Vietnamese culture.
We, of course, found and located Vietnam on the map.
At this point, I realized the map was too small for Apollo’s seven-year-old hands to label correctly. So, I pulled out my label maker and printed labels for him to place on the map.
Wombat Walkabout is a fun book we picked up which, obviously, takes place in Australia. With each of these books, I had Apollo look at the pictures and titles and had him guess where the stories took place.
On the same trip to the library we picked up It’s Disgusting and We Ate It. This is a fun history book with stories that will make just about anyone squirm. Even my kids who happily snack on crickets.
We also grabbed The Forest Feast for Kids which is a cookbook full of gorgeous, mouthwatering photos of easy-to-make vegetarian recipes. I love how they show colorful pictures of the ingredients as well as the finished dish.
Subjects Covered in this Mini Unit Study
In just this one trip to the library (and the two weeks that followed) we covered:
Geography and Map Skills
I wasn’t planning on creating a “unit study” when I got these books…they just looked fun. Everything else was a natural extension of his curiosity.
Not bad for a seven-year-old and a single trip to the library.
I am working on a detailed post with detail on how to create your own unit studies but I wanted to show you how easy it can be, even without a bunch of planning. Over the years we have done dozens of unit studies large and small. Be on the lookout for my upcoming post.
You might also be interested in our recent day of making Candy Sushi which is another example of a quick, easy, unit study.
I feel like my illustrated-children’s-read-aloud-book game is weak, or at least needs updating. What I’m looking for at the moment is illustrations in a style I would have liked as kid (I was picky) and still do – I would prefer Wombat Walkabout and In a Village by the Sea (looks amazing – the story too) to The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk or It looks Disgusting but We Ate It, for instance. Do you have any more recommendations?
My kids also loved It’s Disgusting and We Ate it. There’s also a pop-up version of The Wheels on the Bus that is a lot of fun. I used it to teach English to German children, too. I used some old favorites from Robert McKloskey, too–the Maine books–Blueberries for Sal might be young for Apollo but there are others and also YouTube videos of Moms reading them . . .
Plus, I’m a sucker for Dr. Seuss. All of it.