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What is a unit study?
Well, first let me tell you what it is not. A good unit study does not involve dry reading or memorization, busy work, endless worksheet completion, and bored children. A good unit study involves learning about one topic in an interesting and engaging way that will captivate the student and make them want to learn more and continue to think about the things that they are learning. From cell phones to Ethiopia to catapults and elephants, unit studies can open up the world to your child, one topic at a time.
As the process of “education” has developed through the ages, people have slowly but surely categorized and compartmentalized almost everything in our world into specific areas of learning; these include science, history, geography, art, and many others. However, to a child that is eager to learn, the world is viewed as whole pieces, not segmented bits and parts. When they see the vast ocean, they see it as teeming with whales and dolphin, full of sunken pirate ships and octopus and seashells, covered with rolling waves. A unit study tries to work from this viewpoint, taking one topic at a time and explaining the way that it works as a whole to the child that already sees it as a whole. They don’t see the ocean as history, geography, marine biology, etc.
A unit study works by capturing their attention and helping them understand the pieces of the whole as they fit together. When they learn about the oceans with a unit study, they learn about whales and dolphin, how the oceans flow, how explorers traveled the oceans with currents and wind, and how big and wide and deep the oceans are and how all of these components work together.
Take a minute to compare textbooks with unit studies. Textbooks are one form of curriculum used for education, and most of us were educated using textbooks. They are written from the perspective that everything in the world fits neatly into one of several categories, like science and geography. Textbooks include a collection of information that is to be read, memorized, and repeated for a test or exam. The main problem with textbook learning is that the student becomes very well trained at memorizing information, but unfamiliar with how all of this memorized information applies to the world around him. By coming from a different perspective and teaching the child about a complete topic, unit studies offer the advantage of helping the child grasp the big picture and then apply what they have learned to other areas and other topics as his or her education continues.
In this day and age of information explosion, textbook publishers rush to keep adding new information to textbooks, further abridging, condensing and modifying or deleting what they deem less important or not politically correct. Many textbooks now read like encyclopedias, with little interesting reading included, just facts, figures and condensed material. Most children (adults too) don't rush to pick up a textbook these days for a “good read.” Why would they get excited or eager to learn from a textbook?
If we can teach our children with interesting materials, challenging them to think, reason, analyze and dig deeper for further information, we will find them to be well-educated and ready to move on to a lifetime of challenge and questions and adventure. While we will never be able to teach a child everything, we can certainly teach them these skills, providing a strong foundation and knowledge base for the future.
After writing unit studies for more than 18 years, I have been blessed to be able to see some of the advantages offered with this curriculum choice, firsthand. The use of unit studies can help your student develop into a self-motivated learner, eager to see what the world has to offer. The child learns to think and reason and understand the deeper connections that God created in this world and how so much of His creation fits together according to His plan. Instead of learning about clouds and water vapor and the water cycle separately from the study of the rivers and lakes and streams and oceans of the world, they learn about these things just as they were created--as one part of an amazing world!
"I know that it will be impossible to teach them everything that is now known. Knowing this, I have determined that it is much more important to provide an excellent basic education as well as to teach them how to think and find answers." —Amanda B.