Monday, August 10, 2015

Design Your Own Mini Unit Study

Design your Own Unit Study using a favorite book!
The first time I ever designed a Mini Unit Study, it was quite accidental. I'm not a "Unit Studies" sort
of Homeschool Mom - or at least, I didn't think I was.

( Personally, I don't care for Home School or Parenting Labels - and I refuse to wear one ; )

It all happened when my daughter was reading Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary. I had really enjoyed the book when I was a kid, and wanted to share the joy with my daughter, so I scheduled into our Home School Reading plan.

If you've ever read the book, you know that early on, Ramona's Kindergarten class sang the National Anthem. But, Ramona was not familiar with the Anthem, and didn't understand its words. She misunderstood the phrase "Dawn's Early Light" and began to think of the song as the "Donzer Song."

Well, imagine my horror when I discovered that my daughter didn't "get" the joke - she didn't know the National Anthem any better than Ramona did! And then, I thought - where do American kids usually learn the Anthem? Well, either at "Far Away School" (as we call traditional school in our house) or at Ballgames.

My Daughter was unfamiliar with both venues : )

So, we looked up the National Anthem on Youtube. We found a recording that had the words, and also included the last verse - which is distinctly Christian : ) And, we listened to it every day, and sang along until we had learned it!

Well, that wasn't quite enough to suit me, because the words in the song were just as abstract to my Daughter as they were to Ramona.

So, we got the book, The Rocket's Red Glare by Peter Alderman from the Library, and we read about the writing of the National Anthem.

And, that only created more questions.

The next thing we knew, we were looking up the history of Ft. McHenry, locating Chesapeake Bay on the Map, and finding out about the causes of the War of 1812 (mind you, my daughter is young yet, so we didn't study these things in the kind of depth that a high school student would!).

And, I realized that, whether we were a "Unit Study" family or not - we had just done a Unit Study of sorts!

Since then, I have created several Mini Unit studies. Unlike Purchased Unit Studies, I generally just prepare these as we read. A book creates questions as we're reading, and we have to answer the questions - so we do! This is an almost-no-work method for the Home Schooling Parent! : )

Most often, our resources are simple: Wikipedia, Youtube, and topical Children's Books from the Library.

So - I've created this list of Unit Study Generating Ideas that we can use over & over whenever we read a book. We don't necessarily answer every question for every book - these questions simply act as a springboard for designing a study that fits our needs and interests.


Steps to Design Your Own Mini Unit Study 

Choose a Children's Chapter Book (ones that are set in history are really easy & fun to work with):
Right now, we're reading a great book, Anna Maria's Gift by Janice Shefelman, so I'll use that as an example. We didn't use all of these ideas on this book - just some of them - these are questions that we can use and re-use for every book we read and examples of how to answer them using a single book. We simply do those projects that seem most helpful each time rather than get bogged down in doing too many projects per book.

1. Read about the Historical Time Period (Wikipedia usually works here). 

What was life like in Europe in the 1700's?

2. Find the Geographic Setting on the Map, and learn about the Places. If you're reading about George Washington, check out the Mt. Vernon website. If you're reading about Egypt, find out about Pyramids & the Nile River. 

Here, we're finding out about Venice Italy. Where is it, and what is/was it like?

3. Google Images for Cities, Holidays, etc mentioned (use parental guidance here - have your child turn away while you scan the images before sharing them - ask me how I know . . . )

We looked up images for Venice, Gondolas, and Venetian Carnival Masks. 

4. Look up New Vocabulary

 What is a Basilica, a Gondola, a Prioress?

5. Prepare & Dine on the foods featured in the book. 

The Orphans in the book breakfasted on Bread & Chocolate. Tough assignment, but somebody's gotta do it!

Of course, you could also feature other Italian dishes that were available in the 1700's. Do a little research to find out if Italians ate Pasta back in those years as you might expect. When was Pasta imported to Italy from China? (Hint: Marco Polo). You might find something like this.

6. Listen to any music mentioned - This can be as simple as Youtube or as fancy as attending a concert!

In this book, young Anna Maria plays Vivaldi's D Minor Concerto to her dying father (that's not a spoiler - it's in the first chapter). We listened to it on Youtube to make the story come to life

7. Read a Children's Biography of any Historical Figures featured in the book.

The composer Vivaldi plays a prominent role in this book - I expect we'll be looking for a children's biography of him soon!

8. Research Religious Principles mentioned (this works whether or not the book has a religious setting or religious characters - indeed, the example could be negative instead of positive). 

In this book, the Anna Maria is greatly offended by another character and struggles with forgiveness. Also, Vivaldi and the Nuns dedicate their time & indeed their lives to helping Orphans.  Two great moral lessons to learn.

9. Memorize a Bible Verse that Illustrates the Moral to the Story.

You don't have to be a great Biblical Scholar to find a verse that fits! Simply do an internet search for "Bible Verse, Forgive" or "Bible Verse, Orphan" and you'll get lots of nice options, like these:
Bible Verses on Forgiveness
Bible Verses about Orphans
Then, choose one to learn : )
Or, you can even go to Youtube and search for a song to help you memorize the verse or principle. This can take a few minutes to find exactly what you're looking for, but is well worth the trouble. Since my daughter is young - we sometimes pick songs for young kids. Like this:

Or, you can choose a more grown up style, like this

We also have several CD's of Children's Bible Memory Songs to choose from.

If you already know a verse, song, or hymn on the subject, recite or sing it together. 

10. Research any technology discussed in the book & find out about when & how it came into being, and how it worked. Did the characters encounter magnets, a catapult, a castle, a boat, a bow & arrow? If you're really technically minded, build a scale model : )

 In this book, the construction of Venice is briefly discussed, and the characters ride in a Gondola - both would be worthy of research 

11. Create an art project that depicts an item or scene from the book (this can be a simple drawing, or a 3-D sculpture - your call!)

The obvious choices here are making a Venetian Carnival mask, or a project involving a Gondola or a Violin

12. Locate the events on a timeline, and determine their relationship to the rest of history (Were these things before or after Jesus lived on Earth? Were your Grandparents alive when these things happened? Etc) 

This book takes place during the life of the composer Vivaldi - locating that on a timeline, and also discussing Baroque Music trends during that time period would fit in quite nicely.

13. Research Foreign vocabulary, and learn some of the rules of pronouncing words & names borrowed from that language.

 When do Italians use the title "Don" (I was surprised to find that the author did not misspeak when she said "Don Vivaldi" - I had no idea that the title "Don" was also used for Priests! One of the Characters in the book is called "Francesco" - is that pronounced "Fran-ses-co" or "Fran-ches-co" and why? : )

14. Math Questions. There are seldom Math questions IN a children's book, but that doesn't mean you cannot easily create math exercises that come from the text - after a little practice, your kids will be able to do this themselves. Think of dates, ages, quantity, distance, speed & time, and how to compare them. Like this:

How far is it from Cremona to Venice? How fast does a horse drawn carriage travel? Then how many hours were Anna Maria & Sister Bianca traveling at the beginning of the book.

The Events of this book happen in 1715. Assume Anna Maria is 9. What year was she born? Who is Pope in 1715? What year did he take office? How long did he serve? How many more years will it be from the date of this book until the next Pope serves?

How many years did Vivaldi write? How many compositions did he create in those years? How many was that per year? (this one will require Wikipedia or other research)

Imagine that you run the Refectory at the Orphanage. Assume there are 16 Orphans. Each girl gets two rolls and one ounce of chocolate every day for breakfast. How many rolls do you make every day? How many ounces of chocolate do you buy? If chocolate costs 2 Lire per Pound, how much do you spend on chocolate every week?

How many years after this book was the American Revolution?

What date did the last book we read happen in? How much before or after that book is this book?

How fast does a Gondola travel (again, research) - how far is it across Venice? How long would it take a Gondolier to travel across Venice?

Well, you get the idea . . . .

This is being shared on
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Anti-Procrastination Tuesday 
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  1. We just jumped into homeschooling (again, its our 2nd round ;0) and I love this list what a great resource for us this year! Thanks so much :0)

    1. Thanks so much for visiting! It's great to "meet" you! : )

      Hope your new year of homeschooling goes great!

      I'm pretty impressed by your sewing blog & all its neat patterns - I was especially impressed with your scout uniform : )

  2. What a great idea for designing your own unit studies! I've homeschooled and taught in the classroom.

    Love your creativity!

    Came over on Women Helping, and I'm glad to find your site.
    Hope you have a blessed day~

    1. Thank you so much - delighted to have you here! : )

  3. What a wonderful method to systematically follow the rabbit trails you run into while reading! I love it! Thank you for sharing. :-)

  4. Veggie Tales are fun!!!! I remember liking them in college! And that's been like 17+ years now LOL

  5. This is pretty much exactly how I teach! Love it!


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