Explaining the Unit Study Approach to Homeschooling

The unit study approach to homeschooling is very popular, especially among those with an abhorrence for textbooks. Instead of compartmentalizing the pursuit of knowledge into “subjects” or “categories,” a unit study allows for a recognition of the interrelations between all branches of knowledge.

The idea is simple: take a subject and delve into it with abandon. Say your child has a fascination with volcanoes. Wonderful! You devote a period of time (usually measured in months, but it depends on the circumstance) to studying volcanoes. “Just volcanoes?” I hear the doubtful among you cry. Yes, well… you can study where the most active volcanoes are located (geography), how volcanoes were formed (geology), and what happened in Pompeii when the volcano erupted (history). You can build your own volcano (art), discover the temperatures magma and lava reach and what happens to various substances at such temperatures (chemistry), or calculate how many volcanic eruptions happened in a given year and compare it with other years until you can determine whether it is above or below average (math).

There is really no limit to traditional “subjects” that you can cover under your unit study theme. The huge advantage is that all the subjects are linked together in your child’s mind by the theme, making the learning experience more meaningful and making it more likely that the information will be recalled. It is hard to learn in a vacuum. When information is connected to something meaningful that you’re interested in, on the other hand, it’s hard not to learn. Using the unit study approach, you can sometimes even manage to convince your child that you’re not “doing school” at all- just having fun.