Unit Study Planning for “Chickens” (A.K.A. a “Chicken” Unit Study)
Posted by homeschoolmentormom on May 1, 2010
Do you have elementary school-aged children? Do you want your curriculum to become more “literature-based”? Would you like to try the unit study method– but you’re scared to take the leap? Then read on, because this post is just for you.
Ever heard of a “chicken” unit study? It isn’t a unit study about chickens…it is a unit study for chickens (those of you who can’t give up your textbooks.) Here’s what I mean:
If you’ve been having a hard time giving up your (boring) textbooks (chicken!), then why not turn each major chapter or topic in your children’s textbook into a mini unit study? That way, the text book becomes a sort of “spine” or outline that leads you along. I admit it: One of our best year’s homeschooling ever was done this way, and I’ve been considering doing it again.
It really is a (nearly) perfect solution, giving your children the “best of both worlds.” Yes, it takes longer to get through the texts this way, but your children will remember lots more—and enjoy it more, too.
Here’s what to do: Choose your textbooks as usual (try to choose a textbook that is as pleasant to read as possible, preferably one written in a “narrative” or “story-like” style.) Use the index to plan your topics. Alternate your “units” by topic or major time period and subject (i.e. do a history unit, and then a science unit). Another option is spending half the year on history, half on science.
Read the textbook aloud to your kids and then, instead of written Q & A’s or tests, embellish each chapter with unit study elements:
~Books are the most important element to add. You’ll want to look for fiction, non-fiction, and poetry; literature written during or about the time period you are studying (historical fiction), and/or biographies of important people who lived during the time period you are studying. For science units, read biographies of famous naturalists, scientists and inventors, as well as fiction and non-fiction stories about animals/nature.
Since you are only doing science OR history in a single day, you’ll have more time to spend reading aloud. We usually read the non-fiction books during your unit time, and then read the fiction books after lunch and/or before bed (yes, this counts as part of your school day!)
~Lapbooking, notebooking,scrapbooking: Look for resources to go along with each major time period or science topic, such as materials from Hold That Thought; Hands of a Child; History Pockets; Homeschool in the Woods, etc.
~Time lines: Check out the variety of ways to make and use timelines on Squidoo. We are going to use the card file type of time line, and occasionally Mini Books. There are lots of good ideas on Paula’s Archives, too.
Some people don’t believe that timelines are helpful to children until they are in the fourth grade or so, but I disagree. I think a simple timeline for early elementary aged children (grades 2+) can help them get a sense of “what came first” and “what came next”. They can slowly build their timelines, and review them over the years to help them remember what they studied. I wouldn’t worry about trying to get your children to memorize very many dates or time periods, though, until they are around Junior High age.
~Charlotte Mason-y elements: Pull out copywork, vocabulary and spelling words from your literature; have your children narrate (or tell back) short sections of the literature.
Other, optional things to add: These things might take more work to come up with, but they sure add a lot to your units. Don’t go overboard with these; if they seem contrived or unnatural to you, or if they take too much effort to come up with, then feel free to skip them. Each family has to decide which of these elements are important to them. In our family, art and music are high on the list; videos are always easy to add, via Netflix. Field trips and experiments are easy to find for science, but harder for history.
~Arts and crafts: Study art from the time period you are studying (picture study); “copy” art methods (i.e. paint with dots like the impressionists, or paint upside down like Michelangelo had to do while painting the Sistine Chapel.)
~Music: Listen to music related to the theme, or written during the time period of the theme. Study the famous composers during each major time period.
~Projects/activities: This includes cooking experiences, science experiences/experiments/exploration, nature walks, mapping, dioramas/models, etc.
~Dramatic play: Some families really get into using dress up clothes, props, and prop boxes to to “pretend” about their unit or “reenact” history.
~Videos: Used sparingly, these can be a great supplement–especially when it comes to science (documentaries.) Warning: Watch out of evolutionary content and history that has been “re-written”.
~Field trips or virtual field trips: Icing on the cake!
There are no required elements to this. I like to keep things simple, so most of our embellishments would be books. Lapbooking or notebooking would be another element I’d like to use as much as possible. Other than that, I’d use whatever elements I could come up with!
This is a great way to break into unit studies, while holding onto the security of textbooks.
There’s only one thing I ask: Do yourself and your children a favor; don’t ever use a textbook by itself!
© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.