Homeschool Unit Studies – What Are They? Why Do People Love Them?

what is a homeschool unit study

Have you ever wondered “What is a unit study?”

If your answer is yes, you’re in the right place!

Let’s jump right in!

What is a homeschool unit study?

A homeschool unit study is a theme-based approach to learning. Additionally, unit studies often incorporate many different school subjects around a central topic.

The goal of a unit study is to allow students to approach a broad topic from many angles. This helps students to develop a deeper understanding of the topic across many school subjects. 

Time4Learning suggests that because unit studies present one major theme or topic across a variety of subjects, information learned is more likely to be retained. 

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The benefits of unit studies (a.k.a. thematic learning)

Homeschool unit studies are often very similar to the public school term “thematic learning.” 

In the thematic learning construct, studies of multiple subjects are organized around one central theme or topic. Thematic learning is most used in lower elementary school grades and has been studied extensively for its effectiveness.

In a 2018 study, results indicated that students who were taught different concepts according to thematic learning did better on achievement tests than those who were taught differently.

Additionally, the same study also revealed that thematic learning has a better capacity for reaching students of different learning styles and reading abilities. 

Why do homeschool moms love unit studies?

Just as the study of students in public education indicates, thematic learning – or unit studies – are a fantastic format for homeschool education as well! 

Here are some of the main reasons why homeschool moms enjoy the unit study approach: 

1.Unit studies make it easier to teach multiple grades at once. 

With unit studies, you can present basic information about the general topic to all of your kids at the same time. Then you can give them appropriate assignments based on their age and grade. 

For example, in an Ancient Egypt unit study, you could read The Golden Goblet, a Newbury Honor Book, to all of your kids for read-aloud time. This could be followed by making papyrus from strips of paper, water, and glue. 

Then, your young elementary schooler could do copy work from The Golden Goblet and color a map of Egpyt.

Meanwhile, your 3rd grader could take dictation from The Golden Goblet and write a paragraph about the making of papyrus.

Finally, your 6th grader could read nonfiction articles about the importance of papyrus and other Egyptian inventions and write a 5-paragraph essay on Ancient Egyptian advancements.

This process can be repeated daily, with different activities and assignments for your kids based on their age and grade.

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why do moms love unit studies?

2. Unit studies are a great way to focus on your kids’ interests

If you have a child who has a particularly deep interest in a certain topic, you can easily create an in-depth unit study about it! 

There is nothing more difficult about teaching homeschool than having a bunch of disinterested learners, right?! 

The beauty of a homeschool unit study is that you can uniquely tailor it to things that are already interesting to your children. 

What if you have a child who loves trains? Awesome! You could design a Trains Unit Study! 

You could read books for literature such as The Boxcar Children or The Polar Express. 

For science, you could learn about how trains work, steam engines, electric and diesel trains, momentum, and more. 

To incorporate geography, your kids could map out some of the most famous railroad tracks in the world. 

For history, your kids could learn about the first railroads, the Steam Age, the Transcontinental Railroad, or even the Underground Railroad.

Additionally, you could learn about perspective art by learning how to draw train tracks disappearing into the distance. 

For a special treat, you could play the board game Ticket to Ride as a family to reinforce your studies.

Finally, you could also take a field trip to a historic local train station or ride on an old-fashioned steam engine. 

Interest-based unit studies are great for all students but are especially awesome for kids on the Autism spectrum too. 

While you’re here, be sure to join The Reluctant Homeschool Mama’s awesome Free Resource Library! It’s full of resources to help you organize your homeschool – field trip review forms, book report forms, binder cover pages, and more!

newly updated resource library

3. Homeschool unit studies allow you to cover several subjects at once

From the above example about a Trains Unit Study, you can see how easy it is to incorporate many different subjects into one learning theme, or unit study. 

Let’s look at one more example. 

Say you have a child who loves sea animals. You could create a great Oceans Unit Study!

You could read abridged classic literature such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Moby Dick, or Gulliver’s Travels.

For science, you could learn about the water cycle, various ocean animals and plants, the different zones of the ocean, the difference between salt water and fresh water, waves and tides, and more. 

To incorporate geography, your kids could learn the names and locations of the world’s oceans, as well as other major bodies of water. They could also map major ocean currents as well. 

For history, your kids could study the early explorers and their travels across the oceans, the sinking of the Titanic, important naval battles, and more. 

Finally, to celebrate the conclusion of your Oceans Unit Study, you could take a field trip to an aquarium or to the ocean itself! 

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unit studies for homeschool

4. Unit studies are a great way to add variety to your regular curriculum

Even if you have a great curriculum that you already love, you may come to a point where you and your kids need a break! (This happens to us every year, by the way!)

When you are feeling burned out with your regular curriculum, introducing a unit study can be a great way to add some novelty to your homeschool.

Most unit studies are 2-3 weeks long, so you could focus on a subject of deep interest to your kids, delve into a topic you’ve recently covered and would like to learn more about, or create a seasonal unit study based on an upcoming season or holiday.

When the unit study is complete, you may feel refreshed and ready to return to your regularly scheduled curriculum!

The downsides to the unit study approach

The biggest downside about homeschool unit studies is that they take more time and effort to plan and prepare than most other homeschool approaches. 

While there are unit studies available for purchase online, one of the biggest perks of unit studies is how tailored you can make them. 

If you do choose to buy pre-made unit studies, it’s always a good idea to add a few learning activities of your own (books, videos, projects, and more). 

Popular topics for homeschool unit studies

History-based unit studies

  • Ancient Egypt
  • Ancient Greece
  • 7 Wonders of the Ancient World
  • Ancient China
  • Ancient India
  • The Middle Ages
  • Renaissance
  • The Crusades
  • World Explorers
  • American Revolution
  • The Industrial Revolution
  • American Civil War

Science-based unit study topics

  • Dinosaurs
  • Solar System/Universe
  • Human Body
  • Animal Kingdom
  • Botany
  • Oceans 
  • World Ecosystems
  • Weather and Climate
  • Flight 
  • Electricity and Magnetism
  • Natural Disasters
  • Geology
  • Transportation

Literature-based unit study ideas

  • The Chronicles of Narnia 
  • The Little House on the Prairie series
  • The American Girl series

How to Learn More About Unit Studies

To learn more about how to create your own unit studies, I highly recommend these books, all available on Amazon: 

Unit Studies Made Easy by Valerie Bendt – This was one of my earliest homeschool purchases (in 2013!) and it was and is incredibly helpful. No longer in print, you can find an inexpensive used copy that’s in good condition or better. 

Home Learning Year by Year by Rebecca Rupp – This book is filled with over 500 pages of information about what your kids should be learning in each year of school, from preschool through high school. If you are seriously thinking about using the unit study approach in your homeschool, this book will be a treasure trove of ideas and possible unit study topics! 

Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson – A fantastic guide to finding great literature selections for any homeschool unit study! 

And stay tuned here to The Reluctant Homeschool Mama, because I’ll have an article up soon called How to Create Your Own Homeschool Unit Study in 5 Easy Steps! 

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unit studies pros and cons

Final thoughts about unit studies for homeschool 

If you are teaching kids across a wide range of grades, or you have students with a very developed interest in a few specific topics, homeschool unit studies could be a fantastic learning approach for you to follow! 

Even if you love your homeschool curriculum, keep unit studies in mind for when you need a break. 

While they can take some time to plan and prepare, unit studies are a lot of fun and have brought our family some of our fondest homeschool memories! 

Related articles about homeschool organization and schedules:

The Best Advice for How to Start Home School

How to Easily Determine Your Child’s Learning Style

How to Work from Home and Homeschool (Successfully)

What are your thoughts about homeschool unit studies?

Homeschool Unit Studies - What Are They? Why Do People Love Them?Homeschool Unit Studies - What Are They? Why Do People Love Them?Homeschool Unit Studies - What Are They? Why Do People Love Them?Homeschool Unit Studies - What Are They? Why Do People Love Them?Homeschool Unit Studies - What Are They? Why Do People Love Them?

Hi there! I’m so glad you’re here! I’m Jen, a former reluctant homeschool mom who is ready to help you actually enjoy homeschooling too. Read more here…

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