Create a Unit Study: A Complete Tutorial

Unit studies are fun! They offer freedom to explore and follow trails into areas that mere textbooks never dare to tread! 

Unit studies impart knowledge in the way real life is absorbed into our natural thinking processes. Once we leave traditional school classrooms that divide life into unnatural divisions, we experience life as a whole, not compartmentalized. Unit studies teach the mind to think as a whole, a unit, integrated. You instinctively know that. 

But then, there’s that nagging question that is in the back of nearly every homeschool parent. 

If I use unit studies for homeschool, will my child learn everything he or she needs to know? 

I’m going to show you why unit studies DO teach your child what he needs to know and I’ll show you how to build your unit study from beginning to end. 

Is the idea of creating a unit study overwhelming? Let me help you with that! 

Download the free printable Unit Study Map that you can use over and over again. It even has a page for record-keeping.   

(Subscribe to download the printable worksheets that you can use for your map.)

When you join our community, you’ll receive access to FREE printable workbooks, including the unit study workbook, student chapters for my kid’s botany lessons,and more.

The Steps

  1. Learn the scope and sequence that your school or state is using as a guide for your plans.
  2. Plan subjects and activities around your child’s interests
  3. Research library loans or books to buy for supplements
  4. Plan field trips and projects
  5. Keep records and notebooks

Before you begin

  1. Remember to subscribe so you can follow along with me through this article. Download the FREE printable Unit Study template that walks you through all the steps. 
  2. Read this article to find out why unit studies work: The Best Way to Homeschool So That Your Children Will Thrive

Reference Sheet: Summary Map

On the first page of your FREE Unit Study Template, you are simply going to fill in the name of the unit and each child’s interests. This is helpful to keep you focused on the tailored unit study that is best for you and your family. 

Brainstorming Page: How to find your state’s scope and sequence

This step is very important. It is your idea and brainstorming that turns into plans for your unit. 

The very first thing we need to do is to see what the standards are for your state. That way, you can have a good idea of the direction and glean more ideas for the expansion of the subject. Then you can tailor the expansion of the subject according to your child’s interests and strengths. 

If you are following a Christian school’s scope and sequence, you can easily adapt this first section to your unit plans. 

Some of us homeschoolers don’t need to know what the state’s standards are but this step will give you ideas that you may not have considered.  

I find that it is easiest to begin the research with a specific science subject.

History, Literature, Art, and music will branch out of the science subject. So, choose a science subject first. What is your family or child interested in? Start with that one science topic. 

Some families I know started the process of building their unit study with a history subject first, then expanded from there. If that sounds easier for you, switch the order of your research. 

Section One Instructions

A word of warning….this part may be a bit overwhelming at first but pretend you are doing a “fly over” just to get a summary of what public school goals are. Remember that your goal is to build a unit study. You are not trying to copy classroom-style teaching. You are only curious about what your state has planned for its standard of education. 

Step One: How to research your unit study topic

Google these words: “(your county), curriculum map”. Look for the state requirements first. It’s often indicated with your state initials and a dot k12. Open the website. Here is an example of my county in Florida:  https://www.sdhc.k12.fl.us/  

For my example with botany, search “science map” in your state site’s search bar. This is what came up for me. Science for Elementary in Florida I hope your state site makes it just as easy for you to navigate as mine is. This gives you a great summary of what is being covered for each grade.

Because I created a unit study for you on this website that is based on botany, I was interested to see what each grade covers about plant life. On the page link I provided, information about the scope taught about botany can be found under “Life Science” in each grade. Quickly go through just that area of science. You will be pleasantly surprised that most of what they teach about plant life in all the first five grades combined can be included in just ONE unit study!

And we haven’t even looked at the related studies that you will expand into! Subjects like Social Studies, History, English, Music, etc. 

You see, trying to match exactly what “they” are teaching is the overwhelming part. Let go of that fear that you are not going to cover everything they teach in the order that they teach! 

Hang in there with me and you will see. 

Make a list of your topics

Make a list of the specific topics from what you found on the website so you can refer to it as you create your unit. Write down the topics that each grade covers for your particular subject that you want to start with. Keep the list focused on only the subject that you are wanting to cover. 

Now youready to expand the unit to include other areas of life as a whole.

Section Two: History and Social Studies

How to find a matching history lesson for your science subject. 

Start with a biography. 

Finding a good biography is essential in continuing forward in creating your unit study. 

A biography covers several different subjects without separating life into different subjects. If you get a good, interesting biography, your child will place the differences in clothing, housing, city life, country life, etc. naturally. 

Here is where knowing your child’s interests will really come in handy as you meander through the study. In fact, you won’t want to plan out every single detail of a unit study because it will begin to take on its own life, so to speak, as you follow their interests. You will guide the way but as serving your child’s curiosity as you continue forward.  

I know. At first, that sounds weird or like an ideal that may not be realistic.

You will need to have an overall idea about what your unit needs to cover, but be flexible enough to expand in directions that you were not aware of in the beginning. 

Instructions on how to find a related History or Social Studies Subject

Google, “famous (fill in the blank)”

For example, for botany, google, “famous botanist”. My favorite botanist is George Washington Carver. Another good choice would be John James Audubon. Now you have a historical time period. 

Let’s go with George Washington Carver. He lived from slavery to the early 1900s. What a lot of history he lived. You can find books that talk about the style of homes, the kind of education he had to accept, the struggles he faced. You can learn who was the president during his lifetime and how the U.S. was expanding at the time. What were the current issues that Carver would have known about and did it affect him?

What if you choose Audubon? Use the same type of questions. Mark a map to show the places he went to. How are the different areas different in culture? 

Navigating the Library

This is where learning how to find books at the public library is invaluable. Learn your library’s website and ask your librarians about services that they can offer to help you tie up your unit study into a neat whole picture. My library website allows me to narrow down the search with the genre, youth. 

For example, I went to the page, “advanced search”. Then entered “children” as the audience and “botanist” as the subject. My search came up with a lovely book called, “The Flower Hunter”, a book about William Bartram, America’s First Naturalist. This book is rich in history (yay) and lots of illustrations. 

Try searching for book-fiction and non-fiction, about the same time period as your biography book. This will give your child a good understanding of the time period without even trying! 

Try adding picture books to your search. Even older children can use picture books for learning how to tell stories or copying art. 

For even more ideas

To give you some ideas and to satisfy your curiosity about what subjects to cover in Social Studies, go back to your state’s K12 site. Use the search bar of their site and search “history” or “social studies”. My site has a “resources” tab on the left side of the main page that takes me HERE. Now you can quickly do a “fly over” there too. Promise yourself that you aren’t required to do it all in one year! In fact, if you continue to teach unit studies for more than one year, you will cover everything and more. 

Section Three: Keep building with Literature

  1. Family reading time: biography and storybooks
  2. Interesting articles about the subject to expand learning
  3. Period classic book appropriate grade level and/or family reading time
  4. Poetry about the subject and/or a person from the time period 

If you have been following the sequence of this article, your list of books may be full already! But don’t forget to include other types of literature, such as poetry, picture books, and storybooks that include your subject. You never know what will inspire your child. 

Try searching for book-fiction and non-fiction, about the same time period as your biography book. This will give your child a good understanding of the time period without even trying! 

For example, when you read a biography about Carver, you are not only covering history but you are always implying the art of writing. Expand the appreciation of literature into poetry about the subject or by the person you are reading about. In the example of George Washington Carver, you could choose growth in Westward Expansion.

A little warning here. Try to stay focused on your main subject-in this case, it’s botany. To keep yourself from following too many rabbit trails, and it becoming overwhelming, try creating a timeline so you and your family can appreciate the overlap of what was current history being made during the time of your biography.

Supplement with “fun” reading

Find another storybook from the same time period and assign personal reading assignments to your child. The American Girl Series is good for this and has great illustrations. 

Another example is to find books about Audubon, google “Audubon, youth book” and it will list books you can buy on Amazon or research the library for a loan. Build your history around Audubon and the years he lived the same as described for Carver (which overlap, by the way!)

Step Four: Expand into Art

Drawing and Science go hand in hand. My workbook, The Secret Inside, give space to draw what the student sees. For more art activities, expand into crafts too. I suggest searching Pinterest for ideas on different crafts related to your subject. 

Remember Audubon? The art he created is amazing. Can you integrate an art journal as you work through the unit? One mom I know went to a park with her boys and they sat in one place for two or three hours and drew what they saw. It became a memory that is a shining star in their family many years later. 

Section Five: Music and Acting

What composers were popular at the time your biography person was living. Were there any folk songs? What about instruments that may have been invented? 

Your child may enjoy reenacting a portion of the biography. 

Another way to help your child process what they learned is to ask them to teach you about something you learned together. They could use puppets that teach each other. 

Section Six: Extra Projects

You might designate one day a week to be “fun day” where you have arts and crafts or cooking a recipe from the time period or a recipe that is related to the science subject. Try Pinterest for ideas. Maybe your child would have fun scrolling through Pinterest with you and finding something they would like to do. 

Build something together-example: for Carver, a raised bed for vegetable garden.

Volunteer at a related subject-example: for botany, a food bank or, a community garden. 

Field trips-example: for botany, a natural gardens location, check with your local college or university for a tour of a related lab, a county or state park often has programs that they will do with a group. 

What about English and Math?

There are two subjects that will have to be taught separately. Math and English. Math will need to be taught as a separate subject every day. Sorry. It’s just a fact of life. I couldn’t figure out how Botany and Fractions go together!

But, English can be integrated into the unit study.

Use what is being taught in your English book and apply it to a biography or history book you are using. You will still need your English textbook to learn the skill. Then, open your story book or biography book and find a portion that you can apply what you learned.

For example, if you are studying verbs, find a paragraph in one of the books that you are reading, and have your child find the verbs. Are you teaching them the mechanics of writing? Have them copy a sentence from the book. Diagraming a sentence? (Do they still do that?) Get a sentence from the book. 

Congratulations! You have mapped out a unit study!  

Don’t forget to get your free Unit study map. You can use it again and again. It’s free. 

Print your FREE workbook

Subscribers can download and copy all the the workbooks for FREE!

If you have subscribed, you can find the workbook in the library. If you haven’t subscribed, what are you waiting for!

You will gain access to the library that has all the free printables for these lessons along with helpful worksheets for gardeners.

There’s journal and schedule worksheets that will make you amazingly organized too!

You can subscribe HERE.

Roadblocks

What if my child is bored with what we are doing? 

I had a couple of kids that acted like they were bored all. The. time. But they remember those unit studies twenty years later! You have a couple of choices. 

One is to simply press through. We all need to understand that life isn’t centered around ourselves. It can be hard to teach a child that the word, “no” is an ok word. Help your child learn that it’s still ok to continue with something that is not exactly what they want. Life is like that. 

The other is to put that study to the side and approach it later. Ask your child what would interest them. I had one friend who did a whole year on Tolkein! Use the same method I have shown here, just adapt it and wrap the other subjects around the main subject. Perhaps your child can help you research and “own” part of it with you. 

What if I am dealing with a behavior issue? 

I had that too! My answer would be the same as the one for the bored child. In hindsight, I believe some of the behavior issues came from trying to fit the child into subjects they weren’t wired to excel in. You may have to add a “side” unit that focuses on their particular strength and hone in on that strength. Once you do that and learn their learning style, they may be more open to coming back t the current unit you want to teach or explore other units you want to lead them in. 

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.Mat 6:33 CSB

A photo of the author, Deborah Schreffler

close
When you join our community, you'll receive access to FREE printable workbooks, including the unit study workbook, student chapters for my kid's botany lessons,and more.
close

Don't forget to get your FREE Printable Unit Study Workbook, and Free Student Botany Printable Workbook Chapters and more!

Your Stress just got less!

2 thoughts on “A Complete Tutorial on How to Create a Unit Study”

  1. Thank you sooooo much! I had no plans to home school until a few months ago when this pandemic had escalated with no sign of getting better. This article on unit planning has given me immense relief and a sense of direction to plan school this year for my son. I look forward to reading more!

    1. You are very, very welcome. I get that it can be very overwhelming. I hope the planner and instructions give you lots and lots of permission to make it fun and interesting. These could be the best years of your lives.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top