When I taught in the residential and public school system (deaf students), I was very much into unit studies. I loved walking my students through different topics and really studying something from different aspects. Since I had the same students every year, I spent a pretty good amount on unit studies.
The problem with unit studies, for me, was that they were exhausting. So… when I started homeschooling, the first thing I said was that I knew I didn’t want to make my own curriculum and I didn’t want to do unit studies, at least not in the traditional sense (every area of study is connected to the unit) and definitely NOT ones I had to make myself.
Well… we are on our fourteenth year homeschooling and I have invited unit studies back into our home. On a conditional basis and with parameters. I guess you could say it’s a probationary period.
Since going back to my classical roots and reevaluating our curriculum, our schedule was opened a bit. I also was encouraged by Dr. Susan Wise Bauer (not me, personally, I was sitting in a room with a few hundred other homeschoolers, but still…) to be sure my junior high and high schoolers have had time to really cultivate specialties. Colleges/universities are looking for students that stand out.
Even if my children do not go to college, the best time to learn how to develop a gifting is when your parents can help you learn how to manage your time and figure out how to take advantage of opportunities.
I believe this needs to start before junior high school, though, so my kids have experience in studying something on their own. I wish I had done this sooner.
So… I have implemented an elective program here in our homeschool, Morning Star Academy.
Every student gets to choose a topic and we meet to make a plan of study. I’m still new at the “let them be a part of the planning” gig, but I can already see that it encourages independence, excitement, and ownership. The depth of the plan depends on the student.
HB: Has to choose two areas and we made a semester as well as year plan. She has to write weekly papers on the topic as well as create a portfolio. She chose writing and voice. Since she is a junior, she will be spending quite a bit of time on her specialties and we will involve “professionals” for input.
Noah: Has to choose one area of study and we made a six week plan. He has to write three papers on the topic and create a “slide show”. For his first six weeks he chose the history of superheroes. He is in eighth grade, so this year will be focusing on time management and information gathering.
Chloe: Has to choose one area and we made a six week plan. She has to write two papers on the topic and create a lapbook. Her first unit is on mythological creatures. (I bought this lapbook set years ago and she’s been waiting to use it. :-) ) As a sixth grader, she will be focusing on staying on task and information gathering.
Right now, I’m not doing the electives with the younger two students. Once I get the year rolling, I may.
Every child will be reading about their unit of study. They will learn how to find books in the library and they will reserve and request books on their own.
I’m excited about this opportunity to grow and really develop some skills that haven’t been encouraged in the past. I am also excited that I don’t have to come up with the “stuff” for the unit. It is simply led by the child’s curiosity and motivation, with a little guidance thrown in for good measure.
I think independent and interest driven electives are going to work for us. Yea!