Last week we talked a bit about determining your learning objectives and gathering your resources. This week, we’ll be talking about the fun part of units — the activities!
Let me make a few key points before we get started.
1. I am so NOT the crafty-type. Any great ideas I may have were probably not mine originally and probably won’t turn out as good as they look in my mind. That’s not the point, though. The point is to have fun learning.
2. It is very easy to get overwhelmed with hands-on activities. I would rather do one or two really good projects than a dozen mediocre ones. So, I try to limit the big projects to one a week, at the most. If the projects are fun for your family and they don’t overwhelm you, then, by all means, go for it. If you’re like me, though, and these big crafty things don’t come naturally to you, remember, they are the “sweet treats” of your unit. The activities that meet your learning objectives are the meat of your unit.
3. Many times you’ll find that a unit study lends itself more easily to history topics than science, or vice versa. That’s okay. You can simply alternate science-heavy units with history-heavy ones. Don’t try to force a subject where it doesn’t fit.
Okay, are you ready to have fun? As I said, we don’t do units, per se, anymore, but we still have that unit study mindset. Below are some of my family’s favorite activities that work beautifully with unit studies, but which can also spice up any learning method:
Read great literature. One of our family’s favorite ways of studying history is through the use of historical fiction, biographies or autobiographies. Nothing puts you “into” a period of history better than living it through some else’s life…even if that “someone” is the figment of an author’s imagination. Learning about the Civil War? Read Across Five Aprils. Studying World War II? Read The Diary of Anne Frank. Wondering about life as a pioneer family? Read Little House on the Prairie. The possibilities are endless. There is hardly a period in history about which a wonderful book (or two or twenty!) hasn’t been written.
Make costumes. Making period costumes can be as simple or elaborate as you choose for it to be. I am not a seamstress by even the wildest stretch of the imagination; however, even my children were able to turn an old bed sheet into traditional Greek clothing with the help of a pair of scissors and some safety pins. With a little more work (and the help of a friend!), we were able to create basic Japanese kimonos.
Create a timeline. Timelines are one of the most valuable tools when studying history, particularly if you choose not to study it chronologically. Seeing when different events took place or when and where various civilizations lived helps your children see how history is tied together. You begin to realize that each country, event or people group wasn’t just an isolated place in history, but was related, in some way, to the surrounding people, events or countries.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like timelines. They intimidate me. Even so, I can’t understate their usefulness. One of the best timeline tools I’ve found have been the products created and sold by Amy Pak, as well as the free resources she offers on her website Homeschool in the Woods. Her History through the Ages CD contains an easy-to-use, extensive library of timeline figures with something for just about every history topic imaginable.
Make a map. We don’t study geography as a separate subject because we’ve found that it’s much more relevant to study it with history. We frequently use black line maps, atlases and globes when studying history. However, the best, most fun way we’ve found to really get a good mental picture of the area you’re studying is by making a salt dough map.
Build a model. Models make a great way to learn about history, science, math and art. We’ve done log cabins from Lincoln Logs, cells from Jell-O, Roman roads, and dioramas of everything from oceans to deserts.
Make a cultural dish or related recipe. There are all kinds of recipe books available at the library based on periods in history and traditional foods of various countries and people groups.
Some online resources are:
Marilee’s International Food Links
And, if you’re studying molecular structure, you’ve just got to make slime!
I could go on all day about fun, hands-on activities that you can do with unit studies, but you probably want to know how to schedule your unit, too. So, let me save some time by simply giving you a list of activities that are adaptable to almost any unit study topic:
*Make a lapbook or notebook
*Build a mobile
*Make a book (www.makingbooks.com/freeprojects.html)
*Create a poster, drawing, painting, sculpture, or mosaic
*Build an edible map from sugar cookie dough, adding a variety of candies to create the details
*Make a 3-D display using tri-fold presentation board (then, do a presentation for your family and friends!)
*Create a travel or informational brochure (handwritten or on computer) by folding construction paper or cardstock into thirds
*Make paper dolls (http://www.makingfriends.com/ or http://www.paperdali.com/)
*Write letters to or an interview with characters/authors of the books you’re reading, historical figures, political figures, imaginary people etc.
*Research and write a report on something to do with your topic
*Do your own experiments — be sure to write up your hypothesis and compare your results
*Try a variety of creative writing from comic strips to diary entries to plays and puppet shows
*Create a game – memory/matching with vocabulary words or key facts, board games, bingo, etc.
*Create your own flashcards
*Create a slide show, photo essay or Power Point presentation
*Hold a debate or a mock press conference
*Do a paper bag book report in which the paper bag contains several items that symbolize people, themes or events in the book – and tell how or why the items are symbolic
*Enjoy a themed dinner
*Set up and enact a scene from your study using dolls or action figures
*Make up a test (with answer key) on the topic and let a parent, grandparent, sibling or friend complete the test and see how they fare
*Create a Venn diagram, comparing/contrasting some aspect of what you’ve learned
There are endless possibilities! And studies have shown that kids have a much greater retention when they see, hear and do, so don’t be afraid to get active with your studies.
Stay tuned for the last part of this series next Wednesday!
When Kris isn’t elbow-deep in salt dough maps or Roman road models, you can find her blogging about them at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.
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Just wanted to say I have really enjoyed your post on unit studies. It has given me lots of ideas on how I can incorporate them into our homeschool.
I love the Homeschool Classroom and thank you to everyone who contributes with really great thought provoking articles.
Keep up the good work.
Thanks so much, Emma! I’m glad I’ve been able to share some useful ideas..and I’ve picked up some of my own from the other ladies here and all their fantastic posts.