Why we love homeschool unit studies

Why we love homeschool program unit studies

The Learn + Live Letter is a homeschool unit study program…but what exactly is a homeschool unit study? What are their benefits? And what type of homeschool families do unit studies work for best?

As you select curriculum and lesson plans for your own homeschool, it’s our goal to help empower you to make the best choices for your family. In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about homeschool unit studies to determine if they’re the right choice for you.

What is a homeschool unit study?

A homeschool unit study is a theme-based approach to learning. Unit studies incorporate different subjects around a central theme, approaching a broad topic from many angles and various depths. By taking this approach, we allow students to develop a deeper understanding of the topic and make connections to the world around them.

While many unit studies incorporate book suggestions in their lesson plans, at the Learn + Live Letter, books become the spine of our units. Each plan incorporates 3-6 beautiful, meaningful books to guide each day of lessons―and often we include optional additional reading and chapter book recommendations for families looking to fold even more reading into their learning. Most of the books we recommend can be categorized as living books, biographies, picture books, magazines, reference books, and chapter books. These books all add value to your lesson by bringing lesson topics to life and  offering your child  windows into different worlds and times.

What are the benefits of homeschool unit studies?

A central theme guides each unit study. This is beneficial because learning in themes makes students more likely to retain what they learn. And although there is evidence that learning thematically has many academic benefits, we find that one of the biggest benefits of this method is that it brings joy to homeschooling. Instead of viewing learning as a list of subjects to methodically check off, children learn about a variety of topics in the world (some of which they may have not known they were interested in previously)  and that those ideas and places are connected to science, history, math, and humanity’s greater story. In each homeschool unit study of our program, students will use the central theme as a springboard to explore core subjects, as well as music, art, culture, food, and life skills.

Another benefit of unit studies is their innate flexibility. Unit studies can be modified or upgraded to meet the needs of your child, and they are flexible enough to teach students of different ages with different learning styles and reading abilities. This adaptability also makes unit studies a great way to homeschool students who are neurodivergent.

Unit studies can also be extremely helpful in family and group learning settings. The Learn + Live Letter unit studies are presented in Levels, and we designed each level for a range of ages. Additionally, we have included many modification and upgrade suggestions within the unit studies themselves as well as synchronized unit themes across levels. As a result, a family can use one level (or a combination of two) to meet the needs of all their children. Click here for more information about our levels.

Homeschool unit studies support child-led learning

Unit studies are a great way to follow your child’s interests. If we already know that our child loves dinosaurs or space or fashion, a unit study with that theme helps bring joy back to learning by starting from a familiar, beloved place in your child’s mind. From there, we can let the topic act as a springboard, using it to cover a variety of subjects and encouraging our child to follow their curiosity and to develop a love of learning.

But what if you’re not sure what your child is passionate about yet?

Unit studies are a great way to learn your child’s interests and learning style. This is why our program provides a wide variety of topics–there is something for everyone! Learning about a new unit study topic can awaken a love for something your child didn’t previously know they liked. Once the introduction has been made and they’ve established a base of knowledge on that subject, a new passion is born! As your child’s education facilitator, you can let this interest guide future education choices and methods of teaching to find greater success in your homeschool.

How do the Learn + Live Letter unit studies work?

So…what do we mean when we say a unit study can help you cover every subject? Here is an example of how a Learn + Live Letter unit study works: 

Let’s say you know your child loves bugs! Our Insects + Spiders Units will not only help your child dive deeper into entomology by learning insect life cycles and anatomy, but they will also learn the stories behind the  science (history!) and where the creatures can be found (that’s geography!). They will enjoy seeing insects in fine art; fold in science experiments; practice some play-based, bug-themed math; and explore music like Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.” (Learn more about our approach to teaching music here!) 

We’ll also use crafts, games, and gross motor work to engage your child in new ways and deepen their whole-body connection to what they’re learning. (Which is especially important when you know how gross motor movement directly connects to their math, writing and reading skills.) Almost every unit study will also include a recipe for you to bake, cook or prepare together. We know how important food is for family connection and how valuable it is to explore the world around us and to practice those life and math skills.

Learn + Live unit studies are hands-on learning. Our unit studies include play-based and project-based activities that make the learning fun for your children.

Additionally, our unit studies teach phonics in an age-appropriate way by encouraging letter and phonogram recognition for  younger students and copywork and a variety of writing prompts for older ones. Finally, we round out the unit with multimedia links, critical thinking discussion prompts, as well as gameschooling and field trip suggestions. No two unit studies in our program are exactly alike, but you can view samples of how our units are structured here.

Who should use homeschool unit studies?

The real beauty of unit studies is that they can work for virtually any style of learning and teaching. Instead of a scripted or stiffly structured curriculum that can only work one way, a unit study can be adapted or expanded to suit the needs, interests, and rhythm of your family. 

They can even help restore a lost love of learning to an established homeschool. Especially for families who start with a traditional curriculum only to find themselves feeling burnt out after a month or two, unit studies are a great way to break from our “regularly scheduled programming” without abandoning all formal lessons. (And without sacrificing that accomplished feeling of still checking all our learning boxes.)

Are there any downsides to homeschool unit studies?

Due to the nature of unit studies, planning them from scratch is very time consuming. Researching books and activity ideas, creating original activities, and sourcing supplies can consume hours per unit. At the Learn + Live Letter, we want to take all that work off your plate. Our unit studies are ready for you to dive into so you can focus on teaching, not writing a lesson plan.

Some families may also find that a specific activity doesn’t work for them. Maybe it requires supplies they don’t have on hand or simply isn’t the type of learning their child enjoys. That’s why we encourage you to make each unit your own! If what we’ve recommended isn’t working, skip it! By working through a variety of units throughout the year, you’ll have other opportunities to work on that skill or subject. 

The other potential challenge to unit studies is collecting materials and prepping the lesson. We’ve tried to help you with that, too, by providing supply lists linked to everything you need, as well as digital versions of books and online read alouds when a hard copy isn’t available at your local library. All that’s left to do is get what you need ready and dig right into the unit study!

Curious about the topics and themes our homeschool unit studies include? Click here to see the themes for each level

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.