How to Plan and Create a Unit Study

Do you love the idea of unit studies but just can’t seem to pull one together?

Have you toyed with the idea of creating a unit study but it seems too loose and free and lacking structure – leaving you insecure?

I feel you!

I loved the idea of unit studies and tried a few but never felt like I really did a good job at it.  

Let’s unpack how to put a unit study together successfully.  

What is a unit study?

A unit study is a fun way to learn and focuses on a central theme, like transport or wild grasses or the reformation.

The idea with a unit study is to combine multiple subjects into one study. One topic is studied through various subjects.

Benefits of unit studies

Unit studies are great because:

  • You can teach multiple kids at once at different grade levels
  • You can expose your kids to real life experiences
  • They’re interesting and fun!
  • You can go as in-depth as you want for as long as you want as long as your kids are interested
  • They’re low-cost
  • You can create them yourself – providing freedom and flexibility to your studies
  • They add variety and bring the subject to life
  • They use “living” books instead of textbooks
  • They improve knowledge retention through interest-based, hands-on learning
  • They increase kids’ ability to process information and use thinking skills
  • They make all of life an educational experience
  • They cater to all learning styles
  • You can make them last as long as you want and be as simple or complex as you want

What should be included in a unit study?

As much or as little as you decide. Unit teaching is all about the inter-relationship of the subjects you teach.

When you teach Bible you can’t escape history. Science and math are related. Reading includes aspects of language and spelling.

Related: How to homeschool multiple kids at once

Why use unit studies?

Why bother with unit studies? Why not just teach subject by subject using textbooks? The reason is this:

You are not teaching subjects; you are teaching children, and unit studies are a fun, creative way to help your kids remember what they learn.

How to plan a unit study

You’re convinced you can do this, now let’s dive in and get started on the planning.

Because, victory loves preparation and you want to be prepared so you can succeed at this!

Step #1 Choose a theme

Use the list of ideas at the end of this post to get your creative juices flowing, or take note of questions your children ask and design unit studies around things they are naturally curious about.

Step #2 Brainstorm the topic

Jot down things you’d like to cover. You don’t have to use all the ideas you put down, but get your thoughts down so your brain has space for new thoughts.

Step #3 Find resources

Check Pinterest for craft ideas that will make your unit study fun. This is great, especially for kinetic learners. Plan the crafts and list the items you will need to purchase and the items you already have at home.

Search for books and videos on Amazon and YouTube. Don’t forget your library for good old-fashioned books on the topic you plan to cover.

Step #4 Plan field trips and activities

A unit study is not complete without a field trip. What do you have available to you?  Museums, monuments, factories, businesses, markets, the beach or river?

Step #5 Consider science experiments or projects

Plan these ahead of time and make sure you have the necessary ingredients and tools for the experiments or projects.

Step #6 Create a schedule

How long will the unit study run? Plan each week’s activities, crafts, experiments, and study.

You don’t have to stick rigidly to your schedule but some planning will help you keep on track.

Be flexible with your schedule – you may want to spend more time on one area than you first expected – that’s ok. You may also find that the area you thought would keep you busy the longest falls flat – also ok.

Step #7 Decide how you will record the unit study

Will you use projects, photographs, notebooks, scrapbooks? Will your children write poetry and essays? Will you include some worksheets to record important information?

Step #8 Plan a final activity (optional but great fun)

Consider having a special ending to your unit study such as a party, field trip, themed meal, or a reenactment. This will give you something to aim for and give closure to the learning experience.

Start with a mini unit study

Still feeling a little intimidated and not sure where to start?

Ditch the idea that the perfect unit study has to include every subject. Just combine a content subject with a skill subject and you’ll have a unit study.

Content subject + Skill subject = One unit

Content subjects:

  • History
  • Geography
  • Science
  • Health
  • Bible
  • Literature (reading)

Skill Subjects:

  • Language/grammar/punctuation
  • Spelling (phonics)
  • Penmanship
  • Math
  • Art
  • Music
  • Map study skills

Example: Write a paragraph about your history topic for the week.

History (content) + Language (skill) = Unit

Now get your child to find birthplaces, battlefields, or remains of early settlements on a map (map skills) and draw a picture or create a model of an early settlement (art) and you have included two more aspects into your unit study.

Use your content subjects as jumping off points and add skill subjects to them. Sometimes you’ll hit the jackpot and combine all the subjects.

Unit study ideas

Science

  • Insects
  • Mammals
  • Amphibians
  • Reptiles
  • Mollusks
  • Moths & butterflies
  • The human body
  • The immune system
  • Weather – in general
  • Earthquakes & volcanoes
  • Clouds
  • Thunderstorms
  • Wind – hurricanes, cyclones, tornadoes, trade winds,
  • Colour
  • Light
  • Sound
  • Gravity
  • Magnetism
  • Heat
  • Flight
  • Oceans
  • Plants
  • Flowers
  • Solar system and stars
  • Comets, meteors
  • Soil
  • Rocks & minerals
  • Pollution & conservation
  • Natural remedies for common ailments
  • Medical emergency knowledge
  • General health principles
  • Nutrition

History/Geography

  • Famous missionaries – Livingstone, Moffat, Hudson Taylor
  • Famous historical characters – Marco Polo, Columbus, Eric the Red, Magellan, Wright brothers, Samuel Morse
  • Famous battles
  • World War I & II
  • Communication – Morse code, hand signals, drums, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, email, etc
  • Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome
  • A particular country – it’s history, people, food, transport, culture
  • Transport – general or specific such as flight, trains, cars etc
  • Earth

Bible

  • Bible characters
  • The life of Jesus
  • Parables
  • Miracles of Jesus
  • Bible prophecies
  • Paul’s missionary journeys
  • Prayer
  • Bible promises

Unit Study Resources

Homeschool.com has a bunch of ideas for unit studies.

Improve grammar, vocab, and writing skills with unit studies

100 Free unit studies for all ages

Free unit studies from a2zhomeschooling

Another 100 free unit studies

Free unit studies from The Crafty Classroom

Unit study ideas from The Homeschool Mom (some free, some paid)

Are you going to dive in and tackle unit studies?

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer homeschooled all three of her kids-with no teaching qualification. Her kids are grown now but she is still passionate about homeschooling. She lives in South Africa.

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