Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Homeschool Unit Studies: Solar System Example

I mentioned in my homeschool planning posts that I like to do unit studies for the boys’ science and history.  For us it is just more fun, more hands on and more memorable than following a textbook.  Now I call what we do “unit study” but that may not be an exact description for what we do.  Here is the “definition” of a unit study according to Amanda Bennett (kind of a pioneer and expert on unit study.)

It is defined as an in-depth study of a topic (space, trees, cars, etc.) that takes into account many areas of the topic, such as geography, science, history, art, etc. It is a complete immersion into the topic so that the student will see things as a "whole" instead of bits and pieces learned throughout their education.

For me a unit study just means that I pick a topic and we do a thorough study of it using a main reference book, some fun books about the topic (Magic Tree House or Magic School Bus series for example) a lapbook if available, visiting some internet sites, some hands on activities and crafts.  A true “unit study” would include lessons in all subject areas including math, history, etc.  I may or may not include those kinds of lessons and don’t depend on a unit study as our main curriculum for these subjects,  but just to enhance them.  Am I making any sense here?  A graph of the pay scale of a fireman may be part of a math lesson in a unit study on firemen, but I don’t consider that our main math lesson of the day like a true unit study is intended.

Anywho, recently I did a unit study on space with my boys.  We used these books for reference and for our reading lessons.

15335325 51u8o0hOz0L__SL160_AA115_ 8 313VB8F9N7L__SL500_AA300_ All of these were already in our personal library.  I found a free lapbook from and printed up the pieces I wanted to use with the boys.  Ds3 doesn’t like the folder aspect of lapbooks, so I put the pieces in a journal/scrapbook type book for him.  I find things go smoother if I cut out and paste the pieces ahead of time and just let him fill in the info.

IMG_6941 When planning these studies I use this planning form from Donna Young.  For this unit I decided to cover general info on the solar system the first day (kind of an introduction) and then cover the sun, moon, and individual planets following how one of our books laid this info out.  So one day we would learn all about the sun, first by reading our reference book pages, then filling in a few lapbook components, maybe doing an experiment on shadows outside, visiting a few websites and then finishing up with a craft.  Next we would cover the moon in a similar fashion.  Depending on how many activities I have planned, we may spend a week or more on any given subject.

Sometimes I can find a good unit study already planned out for me (I call this homeschool nirvana!) by searching the internet (just type in the subject and the words “unit study”.)  Most of the time I can’t (I’m not really all that picky am I?)  And I am the first to admit it takes a lot of time and effort to plan these units.  Especially when the week is over and I am faced with another weekend spent planning another unit!  Plus when I am researching for a topic I always find way too much stuff to cover and get overwhelmed by it all quickly.  But my boys really enjoy this method of study and I find that they not only learn more but retain more as well.

I hope this helped someone, anyone out there (there is someone out there I hope lol) who is thinking of using “unit studies” in their homeschooling.  Please remember, the number one rule for homeschool planning is THERE ARE NO RULES!  Mix and match, pick and choose, adapt any and all curriculum to suit you and your children.  The end.


  1. Did you know that you can see as far as Uranus on a good night with binoculars? If you hook up with your local astronomy club, they can tell you what's in the sky in your part of the world each month.

  2. Hi Julie...WOW! I honestly can't believe how perfectly this post speaks to me! I know you wrote it four years ago, but I am just finding it as I searched google for solar system unit studies. This will be our 5th year homeschooling My twins (boy & girl) are 11. We have finally decided to give unit studies a try after falling short with so many different curriculum. The kids would just get so bored and frustrated hopping all over the place, which led to Mom being frustrated. This is something we have talked about at length lately and they both seem genuinely excited about trying unit studies. First up on their list of topics that interest them...Space & the solar system. I just wanted to thank you for this post and to tell you that I am feeling even more confident after having read it.


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