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Low on Cash and Worrred that Homeschooling Will Cost Too Much? Unit Studies Could Be the Answer You Are Looking For!
© Beverley Paine, March 2008
Robin wasn't working the year we started homeschooling. He'd quit work a couple of years before when we did a 'role reversal': I went back to work as a bank clerk part time and he stayed home to finish building our home and to look after our two young children. At the same time we started a small retail business in a local shop, only open on the weekend. Unfortunately I became unwell and stopped working. Living on a really low income while we slowly built up our business was intimidating and stressful. In addition, we were fairly typical owner builders, which meant that we'd moved out of our caravan into in a half-finished house just before I became pregnant with our third child... Not exactlyt the best time to start something completely unheard of like homeschooling our children!
With a newborn baby, a four year old and our six year old daughter, homeschooling during that first year often felt like we'd taken on too much. I worried that our decision would ultimately harm our children and jeopardize their future education and opportunities. We couldn't afford school books or expensive learning materials, and everyday I felt guilty that we were denying our daughter access to learning aids and programs her friends were using at school.
However, as it turned out, none of that was necessary! My fears were unfounded.
After fiddling around trying to find my feet for a few months we gradually relaxed into an unschooling style of home education, with a huge emphasis on unit studies. What are unit studies, I hear you ask? Back then I called them 'projects' because that's what I knew them as when I was a student. Pick a topic and study it, record what you find out and present it to others in whatever way you want.
I would usually choose a topic I thought the children needed to learn about or something that interested them. Hanging out with my kids all day meant that I had a good idea what switched them on, what they each liked and were interested to know more about. From there I'd sketch out a rough learning plan using low cost or free resources.
Unit studies typically span several subjects of the curriculum and make efficient use of materials and time. Because the children were usually engaged in one or more creative activities the time passed quickly: everyone enjoyed doing unit studies.
And it was largely through doing these ad hoc unit studies I slowly began to identify my children's individual learning styles: that is, the dominant ways in which they each learned, as well as their strengths and weakenesses. It was easy then to devise activities that helped them individually, challenge them and help them grow. Building activities around their learning styles made learning flow even more effortlessly.
Most of the time the children didn't realise they were doing 'school-at-home' because they were fascinated by the topic or were really interested in the activity. Unit studies allowed us the flexibility to choose materials that best reflected their abilities, needs, developmental stages, academic levels and learning styles at that point in time. Plus, anything that wasn't striking the right note was rejected fairly quickly: we didn't waste time doing things that weren't working to achieve our goals. Sometimes this mean the unit study or project was dropped, usually because it had led us to a different or new one!
Our little toddler grew up thinking that life was education: as an adult he is truly a life-long learner!
The flexibility of unit studies allowed me to help each of my children learn at the same time - a management strategy often asked about by new home educating families who worry that having different aged children will make teaching from home difficult. Unit studies are ideal in this situation because you can offer the same activities or content but take into account their different levels of expertise, or you can cover different aspects of the chosen topic at the same time. I found it relatively easy to adjust the content and materials to suit each child. For example, studying life-cycles I could give the older child are more detailed worksheet or activity, selecting something simpler for her younger brother, who usually sat beside me, and provide a puzzle for the toddler on my lap.
An added bonus was that the older children often tutored the younger children, or vice versa! Homeschooling evolved into a truly cooperative adventure.
One of the lasting benefits of using an unit study approach is that it helps to naturally enhance memory and skills retention. I put this down to the high interest level as well as the huge array of different activities we accessed. True holistic learning at work!My children weren't aware that they were studying science or social studies, it was simply doing projects on things that interested them. Life and learning were in context and meaningful in their lives, that made a huge difference to their motivation.
So you don't have to spend a fortune on curriculum or books or learning materials if you don't have the money. By using an unit study approach to homeschooling you can save yourself a lot of money.
If you want to know more about how to write your own unit studies take a look at Beverley's Practical Homeschooling Book on the subject: it's inexpensive and packed with useful and practical ideas from her own experience and that of others to make unit studies easy and accessible.
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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.
Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine
The information on this website is of a general nature only and is not intended as personal or professional advice. This site merges and incorporates 'Homeschool Australia' and 'Unschool Australia'.
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