A Good Unit Study Plan

To my mind, a good unit study plan needs a little bit of structure and a whole lot of room to wiggle around and shoot off in all different directions. 



In case you aren’t familiar with homeschool unit studies, here is a nutshell definition:

Unit Studies approach a theme topic from several angles, encouraging activity and love of learning as well as discipline and responsibility.

Taken from the Homeschool in the Woods website.

While the tendency is to try and plan everything down to the molecule, moms can have much less stress and a lot more fun if they will hold any plans loosely.

After all, the greatest part of any unit study is Mom’s enthusiasm!

That, and these three ingredients:

  • A “spine” or a basic direction
  • Materials and tools readily available so you can take off and explore.
  • A way to report and record what you are learning.

Example: When we studied Laurie White’s King Alfred’s English together…

…we would read a chapter aloud, discuss, and then check out the references. We also added in the suggestions we found on her website, The Shorter Word, including checking out some videos from the library and trying our own hand at “illuminated” writing and reading Beowulf aloud. I even printed out the review and test pages just to familiarize my children with conventional “teach-and-test” learning (it was painless because the subject matter was so interesting).

No, I didn’t have a scripted plan that I followed, I just read ahead in the book or on the site a bit and had things in place for when we wanted to fit them in.

Along the way I recorded what we did every day in my planner and placed the written work and paper creations into our huge family binder for later reference.

Another way to do this is with a novel that everyone loves.

The little girls and I recently read A Little Maid of Province Town, which is a story about a girl of eight who’s father was captured by the British just before the Revolutionary War. It really held our attention, so we just had to learn more about the times, the war, etc. We did this by grabbing some books from the library on life in Colonial times and doing some notebooking pages, going on Google maps to find out just where Province Town was in reference to Boston, etc.

But what about fitting in ALL content areas?

I think this is where a lot of the stress comes from. When I first started in with unit studies I forced the issue and placed science and math in where it didn’t naturally fit. This is why learning can become a bore and a chore.

Then I realized that, as long as I am teaching math in a logical, understandable way with a curriculum or book that I trust, it’s OK to let these things show up naturally as we are discovering.

For instance, when we talked about the history of the English language, we were constantly calculating the spans between different kings, events, and wars. When the little girls and I were reading the book, A Little Maid of Province Town, a number of different types of fish were mentioned, so we just had to find out more about them.

For both studies, geography was obviously needed. We studied maps of Europe for the one, and maps of New England for the other.

Of course, taking an engaging science spine and going crazy with it will fill in a lot of science gaps, and it will feel as though everyone is eating ice cream instead of broccoli!

This year I’m planning on using books by Bob Friedhoffer, such as Physics Lab in the Home and Science Lab in a Supermarketbut only after we take the hinder part of the summer to pull apart flowers and plants and learn all about them with The Handbook of Nature Study as our reference.

Two other tips I would like to share:

  • Make sure you are studying something that enthuses you as a person, or at least is taught from an angle that engages you.

If you are bored and uninterested, your lack of enthusiasm will be contagious!

  • If things begin to fizzle, stop and go on to something else. 

It’s sort of like trying to sit and watch all the sequels to Rocky; after a while, there just isn’t any spark left. Just because you haven’t completed the book or done everything in your plans, don’t fret. If you’ve enjoyed the little bit you have been able to do, your efforts have not been in vain.

For the tools of learning, I use the McGuffey readers and their vintage counterparts (with a few modern inserts), but for the rest of learning loose, informal unit studies have been our diet.

The most amazing thing about learning this way? It never stops. Instead of thinking knowledge comes in a box or page of fill-in-the-blanks, it is set free and flies and swirls in and out of our heads all day long.

Here is the link to some printables I just created. I hope they will be a great help!

A good unit study- pages for planning and recording

Sharing here:

Raising Homemakers


9 thoughts on “A Good Unit Study Plan”

  1. Sherri, you are a neat lady. Thank you for taking the time to bless and encourage other homeschool moms! I always look forward to your posts! Your calm and positive attitude (from a mom-of-13) helps give me (mom-of-8) confidence as you point toward Christ and His perfect faithfulness and care. God Bless!

    • Bless you, Candice! I’m so glad you receive confidence in the Lord when you read my posts. (I actually have 15 children, to His glory.)

  2. Can you explain how you implement the Rubric portion in your printable pack. ? Thank you for these! I have 5 children, ages from 20. Months to 8.5 and have always tried (in vain I’m afraid) to follow Ambelside online since my oldest was 6 or so. Great content but just impractical and now its clearly not working to get any of us excited in our school days; not a wise way to go with such young children. So I’m using Five in a row which has been really well received since we started! I always shy away from “unit studies” because I love CM methods and have been told it is not in line with her methods; I beg to differ now! I have actually enjoyed this way of learning more than anything we have done in the past! I am excited to continue and these pages look like I could do the idea of Five in a row by choosing our own spine if we wanted to at some point. I’m learning as I go and I love reading your blog. ❤

    • As for the rubric, you first need to decide on a scale, say from 1-10 with 10 being the best and 1 being the worst. Then you decide how your child performed in each of the different areas on the side list and write the number in the appropriate space. After you have completed the entire column, write the total down. Then, instead of pitting your children against each other by comparing them with each other, have them compare with themselves each time a unit study is completed so that they will note improvement in areas of difficulty (such as “listening” or “completeness”). I’m so glad you were able to make the connection between CM, notebooking, and unit studies. I think it’s possible to marry the best of all methods, don’t you?

  3. Hi, I would very much like to use these pages. However, I can’t seem to get the link to work. Please help! Your site has rescued me! Mom of 10, Mignon

    • I’m so sorry, Mignon! When I try the link it works–wish I could help you 🙁 Perhaps if you refresh the page it would help.


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