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The beauty of homeschool unit studies

Advice & Opinion
By Kathryn Knight

Image: Deposit Photo

The beauty of homeschool is that it is tailored to your family’s needs.

You can choose from many styles of curriculum. One of the best and most authentic ways of organizing your homeschool is with a unit study. Almost 30 years ago when I started homeschooling, people shied away from unit studies because they were perceived as too much work for the mom.

How can I teach one topic to all my kids and make it relevant? What about tests? How do I fit it all in and cover a full scope and sequence?

I was intrigued, however, and started our homeschool journey with a used copy of Volume One of The Weaver. Printed in 1983, it was obviously created on a typewriter. No eye candy in sight. Just my notebook and lots of suggestions for bringing school alive for my kids. 

Fast forward to today. I still use a unit study curriculum, although not The Weaver anymore (I did use it for over ten years and still recommend it for younger kids). So how do you use a unit study? How does it work? It really is a replication of how our lives work. We live in an interconnected world and do not compartmentalize each area of life. A unit study blends most subjects together so students of all ages are learning science, history, language, church history, art, social studies, culture and more at the same time. 

Many unit studies have a main text (often called a spine) from which all other sources hang. Many are history-based and have four main historical eras which are studied on a rotating yearly basis. This means that every four years, we study the same historical era, but because each child is four years older, the work load is different, and they are learning at a higher level with each rotation. 

I have used either Tapestry of Grace, The Story of the World, The Weaver or Biblioplan as a main guide for most years. I also refer to the other unit studies and add in many activities and experiences that help each student learn and retain information.  Most unit studies have an activity guide (either online or in print) that helps get you started with exciting hands-on activities or create your own activities tailored to your family’s needs.

A unit study day does look different from other homeschool days because we spend the main teaching time as a family. There is no reason for students to head off to do workbooks or watch videos alone. Unit studies do not replicate an essential problem that public schools have: segregation and separation of students. As a family, it is a treat to do activities, experiments, and field trips together. It is also fun to discuss readings over dinner and learn together. 

Our daily schedule is (usually):

  • 9:00 AM: School begins with the National Anthem and pledge to the US and our state’s flag, followed by Bible and a hymn or two. In the years we study ancient history, Bible study dovetails with our history lesson for the day. Other years, we have a Bible reading devotion that corresponds to each day’s study.
  • 10:00 AM: All siblings are together for history read-aloud and discussion of history from previous readings. Projects are assigned and we all jump in to storm the beaches of Normandy, build the Great Wall of China, measure off the size of a leatherback turtle, or build a pyramid.
  • 12:00 PM: Lunch is followed by an hour of read aloud or silent reading. 
  • Afternoons: Include grammar, instrument practice, math and a few other subjects not covered by a unit study. For these individual studies, each student works at their own level. Older students are given reading assignments to complete on their own. 

Everyone (including Mom) chooses to make, draw or add an item or two weekly to the ongoing 3D timeline. No boring timelines allowed.. ours are at least eight feet long, cover the entire historical period we are studying, and include items to remind us of our studies. For example, this year we have a 3D Tower of Babel, a shadoof, a tiny papyrus boat model, Hamurabbi’s law, and an ancient lyre…so far!

It will be full by the end of the year and will serve to remind us all of what we’ve learned and help solidify the flow of history to our family. 

Unit studies enhance learning as a group while solidifying content for each student’s level and help make learning fun, personal and exciting. Unit studies are not canned and do require a parent to direct teach each day. But with the excellent resources now available, you no longer need to write your own unit study daily guide to have a solid academic school year. Look at unit studies and see which one appeals to you. Choose one or two, add books and activities, dress up and eat meals based on the time period you’re studying.

You can turn your homeschool into an interactive program every day. Best of all, you will enjoy learning along with your kids!



The opinions in this article are specific to its author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the entire Counter Culture Mom team.




Kathryn Knight, EdD, has homeschooled for over a quarter of a century. Four of her five girls have graduated and Kathryn is loving the new adventure of homeschool with an “only” child. She loves teaching all subjects, especially history, and has made an art of educating her kids with hands-on projects, re-enactments and travel.

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