What is a Unit Study

By Sharon Gibson


Creatures of habit . . . thats what we are. Even when there is a better, more efficient, or easier way to do something, we often resort to auto-pilot. If our child asks why we do something a certain way, we may find ourselves responding with I dont know, thats the way Ive always done it.


We see habitual behavior in every aspect of our lives, whether spiritual, physical, or emotional. Old habits are hard to break and new ones often harder to establish. The same is true when it comes to our homeschool habits. Whether you are a fledgling homeschooler or a veteran like me, each of us tends to steer our proverbial homeschool bus straight for that which is most familiar . . . textbooks. Because, being creatures of habit, we tend to teach how we were taught.


But, lets think about the original objective of textbooks for a moment. Textbooks were designed to be convenient. They were meant to help teachers instruct a large group of students, roughly the same age, the same subject, at the same time, in the most judicious way possible. Each public or private school teacher has, in fact, only one textbook from which he or she has to teach. Yet, the first thing we do is burden ourselves with a busload of textbooks for every subject, grade, and child in our family. Is it any wonder we are soon ready to pull our hair out?


Now, dont misunderstand me, a textbook can certainly be an effective, useful, and even convenient tool to use when educating our children. But textbooks for every subject, grade, and child in our family? Thats where convenience ends and major homeschool burnout begins.


The solution? Unit studies!



Unit studies simplify your life by enabling your whole family to study the same topic, at the same time, regardless of age. They accommodate various learning styles and abilities by incorporating an assortment of creative, hands-on, multi-sensory assignments. Due to their fun, experiential approach to learning, they also improve long-term memory of the material studied. Whats more, their flexibility gives you the freedom to do as much or as little as you like, as well as the opportunity to tailor it to your familys educational needs and interests.

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What About Standardized Tests?

By Stephanie McBride




Standardized tests are developed by commercial test publishers. Their intent is to provide a snapshot of the academic skills and abilities of students at the same grade level.

Standardized tests are controversial even in the traditional school world, with much debate over what the tests actually measure and whether the measurements are accurate. As homeschooling parents, the knowledge we gain from one-on-one time spent with our students is much more valuable than what we will learn from standardized testing. However, there are a variety reasons that homeschoolers might choose to have their children participate in standardized testing.


Here are some thoughts to guide you as you consider standardized tests.



Some states require homeschoolers to take standardized exams each year. This could be in the form of a traditional standardized test, such as the CAT or ITBS, or it might be a state-created test. Many states allow a portfolio option in lieu of the test.



If your child chooses to attend college, he may need to take the ACT or SAT. Taking standardized tests in elementary and middle school may help your child be more comfortable when it comes time to take the college entrance exam.



Some schools will allow your student to take standardized tests for a fee when they test their own students. If this is not available in your area, a variety of curriculum and testing companies offer testing services you can complete at home.

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Anyone Can Learn


 by Rose Focht


We recently watched the Pixar movie Ratatouille again and, as usual, our family enjoyed it immensely. The movie—the major theme of which is the motto Anyone Can Cook!—provides a positive message of encouragement and empowerment, along with a healthy dose of humor, dream-chasing, and vignettes on French cooking.


As fun as it can be to watch the story of a rat following his dreams of becoming a master chef, I think the movie also provides a valuable analogy for our educational aspirations. It’s good to be reminded that much of what seems daunting and out of reach can truly be very accessible if we are motivated by passion and a desire to succeed, especially if our aspirations are tempered by reasonable expectations.


As Remy watches his cooking shows or gazes at the fancy restaurants of Paris with longing, it’s easy to identify with the wistful sense of eagerness to belong, to aspire, and to achieve. It’s also easy to identify with Linguini’s nervousness at the prospect of cooking a meal for the famed restaurant critic, and his pessimistic certainty that his efforts won’t measure up.


You would think that this might have been a more widespread phenomenon in the early days of homeschooling, when homeschoolers were often looked at askance as oddities and outcasts, their credentials challenged, and their achievements overlooked. Nowadays, homeschooling really has gone mainstream and has gained tremendous respect in the public consciousness.


But there are still plenty of self-appointed critics and self-important experts out there prepared to lecture on the shortcomings of parent-led and home-based schooling, and it can still be tempting to feel intimidated by shiny new textbooks, imposing school buildings, and the general sense of authority exuded by the professionals. Surely they know what they’re doing! They’re the experts!


As always, appearances can be superficial and misleading. Dazzling new school buildings, expansive budgets, and expensive education degrees don’t necessarily predict a successful outcome. Time and again, it has been empirically proven that parental engagement and individualized attention are far more predictive of success than money spent on students.


The triumph of homespun wisdom, intrinsic passion, and a do-it-yourself attitude is an enduring theme, and for good reason. After all, anyone can read! Anyone can teach! Anyone can learn!


I want my children to become imbued with the conviction that determination, passion, and a willingness to learn can overcome innumerable obstacles. I want them to stand firmly on the merits of their own accomplishments and never let anyone overawe them with a vaunted sense of superior ability.


Is there a universal consensus on the best way to teach children? Certainly I think there can be some obvious best practices (phonics is a logical way to learn to read), but so much of what will work for any given family or individual is based on unique circumstances and cannot be contained in some one-size-fits-all formula. That’s why universal standards and large-scale attempts to enforce conformity in education end up producing so many frustrated, miserable students who don’t fit well into the artificial construct of the system.


When it comes to teaching your children, there really is no one right way. To extend the cooking analogy, some people are going to want to cook “by the book,” following recipes precisely, carefully buying all the exact ingredients, reading the explanations for why you must cream together the butter and sugar instead of melting it, and so on. But precision and attention to details matter more in some recipes than in others. Not all budding cooks aspire to be expert pastry chefs!


Teaching children doesn’t have to be that complicated. We are truly blessed to be able to live in a time and a place where we can choose what works best for our family’s educational needs. Combine a parent’s passion for transmitting knowledge with a child’s innate curiosity and love of learning, and you have a prodigious recipe for success.


Used by Permission: Originally published at


 Rose Focht is a homeschool graduate who now enjoys teaching her children at home (most days). Her six children range in age from ten to zero, and provide an endless source of joy, inspiration, frustration, and conversation.






Can I Teach Multiple Ages

by Ann Hibbard



Do you remember reading about the old-fashioned one-room school house? Children of all ages filed into a single room each day, arranged in desks according to their levels. Now such schools seem foreign in an age where children are divided by age and grade on a regular basis. But, not only is teaching multiple students possible, it is also, in many cases, advantageous to both teacher and students.



Here are a few thoughts to consider when teaching multiple children.



Teach according to time periods or thematic blocks. Pick a time period or theme and find books, resources, and activities that work for each individual age. Then, seek a read-aloud that fits your time period or theme, and come together as a family to dive into a great story that brings all of the studies into perspective. Resources like Well Planned Lessons organize all of this for you to make this approach even easier!



Use tools such as lapbooks and notebooking that incorporate a wide variety of learning approaches. Encourage younger children to collect and draw pictures while older children write a paragraph. Tools such as these make it easy to tailor assignments to different age levels.



Allow older children to help younger children. This even works when your oldest is still very young. A six-year-old can play games with the toddler (both learning through play, which is ideal at both ages!) while you enjoy read-aloud time with the four-year-old who really wants to “do school.” Later, a teenager can run through math drills with a younger sibling while you teach new concepts to a third child.



Don’t be afraid of independent work. It is entirely possible to use age-appropriate curriculum for each child rather than combining all of your children as mentioned in earlier points. But, in order to accomplish this, you must first teach your children to work independently. Set aside 45 minutes to an hour for one-on-one instruction with each child. Allow the rest of the time to be independent. This method works best after most of your children have become independent readers.



Teaching multiple ages is not only possible, it’s delightful, allowing you the chance to truly see and celebrate the different strengths of each child as they work separately and together.


Used by Permission: Originally Published at


 Ann is a missionary kid, second generation homeschooler, pastor's wife, and mom of three. She loves encouraging and equipping others, especially women in the homeschooling and ministry communities. Ann processes best by writing out her thoughts, and she enjoys sharing many of those thoughts on her two blogs, The Hibbard Family and The Joy of Writing.










Power-Ups for a Struggling Learner

by Sara Jones


You know what homeschooling needs? Power-Ups.


By “power-ups,” I mean the cool little bonuses you get in video games. If a level is too hard, the power-up smashes through obstacles and gets you to your goal faster.

(In my favorite Match-3 game, my preferred power-up is the ice-breaker lightning hammer.)


What homeschooling family hasn’t needed a power-up? Just one or two. At least once. A week. Maybe two on Mondays.


Life isn’t as simple as a video game, unfortunately. We know our objectives, but getting there takes a lot of thought, trial-and-error, and working with each child as an individual. But! I’ve got good news! There is such a thing as power-ups.


The most powerful one is God’s grace. My husband and I rely heavily on it. It’s not a mystical shining light that clears away all our clouds. Instead, knowing his grace gives us confidence to make decisions, because God can bring good even out of our mistakes.


Another big bonus for HSLDA members is their Special Needs Department. Sometimes when our children are struggling, the problem is more than just a temporary mental roadblock. This department provides resources, information, and help. Visit the Special Needs Department to see what is available.

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