31 Days of Homeschool How-To: Unit Studies

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Welcome to our October “31 Days” series at NextGen Homeschool: 31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips! As NextGen Homeschoolers, we remember what it was like to be homeschooled ourselves, and our experiences as students have helped shape many of our best systems and strategies today. In the next 31 days, we’ll be sharing with you what’s working for us, answering the most common questions we get from today’s first-generation homeschooling moms.

31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips

How to Use and Create Unit Studies for Homeschooling

It took me a couple of years of adjusting to the homeschooling life to realize that homeschooling is about so much more than cracking open curriculum at the dining room table everyday. It’s an opportunity to develop a lifestyle of learning for your family. To me, a lifestyle of learning means recognizing that life itself presents countless learning opportunities. Figuring out how to tap into those opportunities is the next step.

Unit studies are my favorite way to capture a life experience in a simple, effective and organized way. If you’re unfamiliar with unit studies, here’s a quick definition: Unit studies take a cross-subject approach to education, focusing the learning experience around a central, common theme. Unit studies can include history, geography, science, language arts, creative arts, and sometimes even math! Unit studies are also helpful for working with children of different ages: They can study the same unit together, but the details and activities will vary based on their level of ability.

School supplies await the first day of class

Unit Studies for Core Curriculum

Some for-purchase curriculum programs take a unit study approach and provide a year-long learning experience that can take the place of subject-specific curriculum and can be used across multiple ages. We use Trail Guide to Learning, a unit study program, as our core curriculum for the school year. Trail Guide to Learning uses the “spine” of history and attaches multiple subjects — such as reading, grammar, spelling, geography, science and art — around a common time period.

What I personally love about the unit study approach is that I can still supplement along the way in areas of specific interest for my girls or areas where they need more review, while still using Trail Guide as our core curriculum and working together on most subjects. For example, this year we are adding more science from Apologia to dig deeper into areas such as botany and land animals because we want to put into practice what we’re learning in our backyard garden and when exploring the nearby Rocky Mountains.

Creating Your Own Unit Study

You can also create your own unit studies to supplement your year-long curriculum plan, taking advantage of travel opportunities or new interests your children express. For example, last year we took a last-minute trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to accompany my husband on a business trip. I decided to pull together some materials to create a unit study around this trip, so we will be able to continue “school” every day while on the road.

When I create my own unit study, I start with what’s FREE: I do everything I can to pull together free resources for supplemental studies. As homeschooling has grown more prevalent in recent years, you can now purchase a unit study on almost any topic from homeschooling resources such as UnitStudy.com (Unit Studies by Amanda Bennett) and CurrClick.com (Curriculum & Classes in a Click). However, I am a frugal homeschooler, and if I have the time to put something together on my own, I usually start with what’s freely available.

Here are three places to start searching when creating your own unit study:

  • Literature and a trip to the Library: Look for age-appropriate fiction and non-fiction books that tie in to your topic.
  • Google and a trip around the Internet: Look for free printables, research-rich Web sites, videos and photos.
  • Simple supplies and a trip to your supply closet: Pull out three-prong folders, printer paper, spiral notebooks and art supplies.

For a step-by-step guide on what to look for and how to assemble your own unit study, see my previous post on this topic.

Have you ever used a unit study approach in your homeschool? Was it for supplemental learning (like capturing the education taking place on a field trip), or do you use unit studies as your primary method for teaching? Did you create a unit study yourself or purchase one? 

Review: Family Toolbox for Parenting Teens

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As the mother of tween (12) and teen (13 1/2) girls, I was very excited to evaluate The Family Toolbox with my daughters as we enter this new phase of parenting with them. Produced by the National Center for Biblical Parenting (NCBP), publishers of the Christian Parenting Handbook, The Family Toolbox is a DVD/video-driven program that brings parents and teens together for constructive dialogue around significant issues of discipleship.

FamilyToolboxReview

The Family Toolbox has eight lessons. Each lesson has two parts: A 1-2 minute scene of a family living life and experiencing common challenges in their relationships, and a solutions discussion specifically designed for parents to watch. Conversation is sparked by engaging with the video clips with your teens. The format grabs teens and gets them interacting.

A discussion guide prompts dialogue between parents and teens and a 10-minute teaching session for parents featuring Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN gives practical tools to use right away.  Sixteen “Life Success Principles” are communicated through the eight lessons that give parents and teens biblically-based, practical topics for discussion.

Topics include:

  • It Starts with the Heart – being respectful when it’s hard and developing internal motivation
  • Follow Instructions Well – developing healthy habits and contributing to the family
  • Handle Pressure Without Losing your Cool – solving problems and developing peacemaker qualities
  • The Value of Correction – learning to value correction and apologize well
  • The Importance of Responsibility – planning to be responsible and taking responsibility for mistakes
  • Accept No as an Answer – training yourself to accept “no” and avoid arguing
  • Deal with your own Anger – working with your family as a team and learning self control
  • Consider the Needs of Others – practicing flexibility and learning to handle “unfair” situations

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In practice

I found it very easy to prepare for lessons with my daughters using The Family Toolbox discussion guide and watching the lesson segments in advance. The solutions discussion segments for parents to watch, with commentary by Dr. Turansky and Joanne Miller, were very insightful and helped me prepare for a productive discussion with my girls. The advice was biblically based with very practical application.

When it was time to watch the video segments with my daughters, I made copies of the provided lesson worksheets for each of them and myself, so we could jot down thoughts about the videos as we watched them together. The prompts provided in the lesson worksheets gave us great talking points once we finished watching the short situational segments. I find that it’s easier for my daughters to share their thoughts when they’ve taken notes and have time to reflect personally on a subject before diving in to a discussion, so I appreciated this format and worksheets provided.

Lessons are designed to take about 30 minutes each, which is mostly discussion time, and it’s ideal for a weekly discussion time. Although we homeschool and some of the school-related scenarios didn’t apply to us, the key principles addressed are applicable to every family. For example, topics such as respect, self motivation and personal responsibility are extremely relevant no matter what your schooling situation looks like or how many siblings are in the family.

The guidance provided for making the most of your weekly discussion time was very useful. There’s also advice for how to deal with a resistant child, and how to help your teen share more honestly and openly.

We’ve only had time for a few lessons since receiving our review copy of The Family Toolbox, however we have really enjoyed the format and tools provided. We’ve had great discussions, and I like being able to point back to what we’ve just learned when these topics come up in daily life. The examples are engaging for the girls, and I’m learning a lot from the solutions provided by Dr. Turansky and Joanne Miller. We are all looking forward to continuing the rest of the series!

FamilyToolboxRelease

You can download the recently released Family Toolbox at the National Center for Biblical Parenting (NCBP) Web site for a suggested donation of $79.95, or purchase a home kit with DVD and hardcopy literature for $99.95.

What questions do you have about parenting teens? What resources have you found to be useful during this phase of parenting? Do you think having a weekly discussion time would work well in your family?

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31 Days of Homeschool How-To: Our Charlotte Mason Influence

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31DaysCharlotteMason

Welcome to our October “31 Days” series at NextGen Homeschool: 31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips! As NextGen Homeschoolers, we remember what it was like to be homeschooled ourselves, and our experiences as students have helped shape many of our best systems and strategies today. In the next 31 days, we’ll be sharing with you what’s working […]

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31DaysSaveMoney

Welcome to our October “31 Days” series at NextGen Homeschool: 31 Days of Homeschool How-To Tips! As NextGen Homeschoolers, we remember what it was like to be homeschooled ourselves, and our experiences as students have helped shape many of our best systems and strategies today. In the next 31 days, we’ll be sharing with you what’s working […]

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31DaysOfHomeschoolHowToManageChores

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Giveaway: Family Toolbox for Parenting Teens

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This week’s giveaway comes to you from the National Center for Biblical Parenting (NCBP), publishers of the Christian Parenting Handbook. NextGen Homeschool is a member of The Family Toolbox Blogger Team and is currently working on a review of The Family Toolbox, a DVD/video-driven program that brings parents and teens together for constructive dialogue around significant issues of […]

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When we started homeschooling in 2010, my two eldest daughters (now 13 1/2 and 12) had already learned to read in school. My youngest was only three, and although she could memorize almost anything put to music, she wasn’t showing much interest in learning to visually recognize or write letters just yet. So I asked the most […]

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If I had to sum up our first day of school here at the Ward house in one word, it would be “hectic.” But hey, that is just my life right now. Because of some changes in our business, I have to go into town and close the donut shops every day around noon. So […]

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