Today’s Real Homeschooling for Real Families post is written by Pat from Breakthrough Homeschooling. She is writing about using Unit Studies in Middle School.
The middle school years are commonly considered a time of transition in the traditional school setting, and it’s not any different for our homeschools. Our kiddos are moving from the fun and free years of games and play-as-learning, towards the more structured and focused high school years, which are just around the corner.
(I know, you may not have wanted to hear that last part, momma, but rest assured there’s still lots of wonderful moments in store!)
At any rate, this is the perfect time to train and encourage your child to start taking a bit more ownership in their own education. This is the time to help them begin to explore subjects on a deeper level, make broader connections with the things they’re learning, and begin to really “learn how to learn”.
And unit studies are a great tool for developing just those skills!
Unit Studies as a Tool for Learning How to Learn
In my experience, the greatest gift we can give our kids is teaching them how to learn. It all starts with discovering their learning style, which gives you both insight into the best resources and methods to use. Knowing, for example, that your tween is a visual learner with a visual/spatial style suggests that they will benefit from projects that will allow them to create something in order to learn and/or process what they’re learning. In other words, look for resources that are hands-on/artistic/creative in nature, and minimize the use of textbooks as much as possible. Personally, I always kept a small supply of textbooks on hand to use as reference books while my kids were in middle school and early high school. A well-written textbook does provide terrific summaries in many cases. Look for texts that include bibliographies to provide additional reading for deeper learning.
Unit Studies as a Tool for Independent Learning
If you used unit studies during the elementary years, you may have decided, as the teacher, the areas your child would be studying. During middle school, however, begin to include your tween in the crafting of her studies. A great way to get started is by grabbing a large sheet of butcher paper or poster board and creating a learning web. Start with a topic in the center circle, such as the American Revolution, and build from there. Connected circles might be subject areas, such as Math, Literature, History, Culture, Science, etc., in which case you can then build out from each subject with relevant topics. Or, you could forego the subject areas and just “brain dump” ideas leading directly from the main circle. If it’s a topic that you and your tween may not quite have enough general information in order to do that, pull out some books from the library (or a few of those textbook/resource books) and start skimming for interesting ideas. Don’t attempt to finish this right away, tho, because this is where the tool for independent learning fits in. Your tween will continue to build this web as they continue their studies. Your role becomes developing a measure of accomplishment – will they prepare a project? write a report? build something? – that will display what they’ve learned at whatever point you both decide. In the beginning, you may find you need to hold their hand throughout this process, but the goal by the end of middle school is for you to be coming alongside them during the creative process, overseeing the learning process as they progress, and providing accountability (through grades or a narrative or whatever you decide) at the endgame.
Unit Studies as a Preparation for High School
As I mentioned above, when ya’ get to middle school, high school is just around the corner! After using unit studies regularly through these years, you’ll find your teen becomes better able to explore subjects on a deeper level. They will have grown accustomed to learning about things in a more holistic way, and digging deeper using a variety of formats following their interests, making logical connections, with their natural curiosity. While unit studies are not typically used during the high school years, all of the qualities they will have developed through the middle school years will serve them well during that time.
So there you have it! If you’re looking for a way to approach middle school, why not give unit studies a try? If you have any questions, do leave them in the comments below so we can all learn from them…or feel free to shoot them to me via email.
And have fun learning together!