Tag Archive | unit studies

Unit Studies: Ideas and Benefits

TeepeesshI am a member of an egroup that is for homeschool families here in Cincinnati. A homeschool mom was asking about ideas for unit studies and here is my response to her.

A great place for unit studies is the internet. You can begin with a lapbook. There are wonderful topics of study on homeschool share that can be downloaded for free. They are literature-based and you can use as much or as little of the lapbook as you like. My boys really enjoyed them and I did too. I would call these lapbooks “unit studies” as that applies loosely to the idea of studying topics as a whole. A unit can vary in length from a day to a year.I have a few ideas to help get your creative juices flowing in terms of unit studies…

My oldest son is a wonderful writer and artist. He enjoyed the freedom of being able to write what he wanted in lapbooks instead of being told what to write. He could draw things as well. My youngest enjoyed the fact that there wasn’t a lot of space to write. He wasn’t intimidated by a scary “whole page” that I, on many occasions, put in front of him! He didn’t like to actually “write” so he would dictate facts or ideas sometimes to me, which I thought was fine since the idea was to get him to think and tell me what he knew. I found that when he had to write with a pencil or pen he’d write as little as possible. I am glad my oldest son enjoyed writing- that was a huge blessing to have one who did! He is still a wonderful writer, maybe unit studies help foster that?
I also encouraged drawing and thinking about what I read aloud to the guys by giving them a binder filled with blank paper. As I read to them the boys could draw what they thought was important, such as a battle, an event, a science concept, etc. You can have pictures to help your son if he can’t imagine anything to draw or can’t “picture” it. He can also write a poem, a short summary, or a list if he doesn’t like to draw. You might be able to find coloring sheets to go with the topic being studied or he could create a model or a diorama.I still have my oldest son’s history notebook and I showed it to him the other day (11 years later). He actually remembered drawing some of the pictures and could tell me a little about the stories. He said, “I thought I was really quite good when I did these.” Of course I told him he was and still is  a good artist! 🙂 Quite amazing that he was able to recall some of those events when he saw those pictures as I don’t think I could dredge up much of what I had read to him!

One time the boys and I studied Native Americans and they each made a teepee in our small  living room. It was so fun as I watched both of them “tell stories” through drawings like the Native Americans originally did on their portable homes. Ian drew scenes of baseball, hunting dragons and buffalo and deer (quite the mix!) and Malcolm drew trucks and Indians with bows and arrows shooting at buffalo (also quite the mix of modern and the past).It was great watching them help each other set up and sit inside of their creations. I used washable markers, sheets, and wooden poles that Dale had purchased from the hardware store. lol We did it another time because it was such a big hit and my brother-in-law gave me Tyvek. That was virtually indestructible! I let them wear “war paint” and they had a blast with that too.

You can incorporate any hands-on project into what you are studying. That was the beauty of doing units. I had one extremely bright, creative, slightly mischievous son and another son who couldn’t sit still for more than a few minutes and joined right in on the mischief or created his own special scenarios. This provided a great outlet for both of my very different learner-type sons.

If you want unit ideas KONOS has more than you can imagine. So, if you use the older editions just pick and choose what interests you.  The old books have a million projects and if you happen to use those, don’t try to do everything. It would take you years to get through it! It is a fantastic resource.I checked out her website and she has a lot of options to choose from do-it-yourself to it’s already done for you. I see it says semester long projects, but I bet they could be stretched out to a year as they are a bit pricey.

My advice is to start out with one or two units and ask your son what he’d like to do. I always found the enthusiasm level went up when the unit was chosen by one of the guys. You can set parameters if you want to direct what is being studied. You can also do a google search for free unit studies and you will be able to find quite a few. I always used a traditional math curriculum in conjunction with the units, but incorporated nearly all of the other subjects into the unit.

I am really glad we did unit studies as it gave confidence to my sons and provided a creative outlet . Unit studies also gave me “permission” to do some things that I think I otherwise would have said no to (like the teepee), thinking that doing something like that  wasn’t “school” because it is, it just looks a bit different. 🙂

The Big Top: A Circus Unit

Who doesn’t love the circus? There are so many wonderful acts and animals for children and adults to see. If you are feeling that you need a boost to finish out your school year, here is a list of books and some activities that are circus themed.


The Circus Alphabet, Linda Bronson This simple rhyming text and alphabet book is terrific for younger children.

Circus Caps for Sale Esphyr Slobodkina  A lovable hat peddler unwittingly gets involved with a circus, animals and all!

If I Ran the Circus, Dr. Seuss A rhyming text of outrageous characters and antics involving a circus.

Olivia Saves the Circus, Ian Falconer Olivia is an adorable pig who relates her circus experiences that your children will enjoy reading.

The Circus Ship, Chris Van Dusen  This is based on a true story about ship wrecked animals off the coast of Maine.

Language Arts Ideas for the Above Mentioned Books

 The Circus Alphabet

Your circus performer can choose the letters from their name to make their own circus alphabet. Here is an example:

M is for money to buy a ticket for the show.

E is for electricity to pop the popcorn fluffy and light. (All I could think of since elephant  was the obvious choice!)

L is for lion tamer bold and brave.

You can reinforce the ideas from The Circus Alphabet by going to the page, Happy Together,   to make fabric alphabet letters. I think this would be fun to hang on a clothesline like they show since in the back of my mind I can see circus performers hanging their laundry between caravans. This is an especially nice idea for preschoolers and beginning readers.

 Circus Caps for Sale

Help the cap peddler by making an advertisement for his caps.

Act out the story.

You can also read one of my all time favorite books with the same peddler called Caps for Sale

 If I Ran the Circus

Write your own story about how you would run the circus. Illustrate and share your story with someone.

Olivia Saves the Circus

After reading the book discuss fact, fiction.

Read more stories of Olivia the Pig.

The Circus Ship

Draw pictures of the animals that were shipwrecked.

Make up a different tale or poem about what happened to the shipwrecked animals.

Join a Circus (Activities)

Have a parade The circus comes to town with a parade so why not decorate bikes and wagons with streamers and balloons and have a circus parade? The children can dress up as various circus performers such as acrobats, ringmaster, clowns, etc.

Tightrope walking Use the clothesline from the fabric alphabet letters (Happy Together website) to use as a tightrope on the ground. This is a great way to  practice balancing.

Strongest Person in the World Have a contest to see who is the strongest by weight lifting. If you have 1 or 2 pound weights you can see how many times each person can lift them. Extend the contest by making  it a math lesson by graphing the results.

Lion Tamer  The children can take turns being the tamer and the lions. This can be done by setting up an obstacle course that the lions must complete upon command. Your obstacle course could include the following:  green and red construction paper circles, a jump rope, and a hula hoop. These are just a few ideas, if you are creative, don’t stop there!

The lion tamer would give directions and say something like this,

” Lions, jump from the green circle to the red circle.”

“Lions, crawl on the ground until you reach the tightrope.”

” Walk across the tightrope and do a somersault at the end.”

“Jump into the hula hoop. Put your paws in the air and roar as loud as you can!”

Switch and let someone else be the new lion tamer.

You can make the lion act as long as you wish. Several sets of directions can be typed out ahead of time for reading skills or you can let them improvise, depending upon how much you want to put into this. By doing this activity  listening and following directions are employed in a fun way.

Acrobats Do you have a child who enjoys gymnastics? They could create an act by doing cartwheels, backbends, and somersaults.

Clowns  A circus is not complete without clowns! You could make balloon animals and come up with a funny act. Have your clowns wear face paint and pantomime. Let the audience guess what they are pantomiming. Here are some ideas for pantomime:

Eating popcorn, playing instruments (trumpet, trombone, bass drum, flute, etc.), selling concessions through the crowd, giving away flowers, feeding the animals, etc.

Have fun!