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What's All This Fuss About Unit Studies?

  • Jennifer Steward Contributing Writer
  • Updated Dec 11, 2020
What's All This Fuss About Unit Studies?

A unit study is a teaching method where you choose a topic and try to accomplish as many academic subjects around that topic as possible. It is a very appealing to home educators for many reasons:

  1. you accomplish more in less time and what you choose to do--sticks
  2. it brings unity to the family (as each member studies the same topic at their appropriate level)
  3. the topic is interesting since you use a wide variety of "living books" and approach the topic in a more relaxed atmosphere
  4. it is more "hands-on" by seeing, touching, reading, and writing about it, spelling it, etc.
  5. it is more interactive and this causes the teacher (Mom or Dad) to be enthused--which rubs off on the children
  6. it is more mind-engaging...the information is interesting, so it stirs up discussion--and learning occurs!

One of the key points to consider is that home educators have grand opportunities at their fingertips and one is the gift of TIME. Benjamin Franklin once said, "Dost thou love time? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of." Why just go through the motions of getting an education, sort of "filling in the blanks", when you can develop a true love for learning and for great books? See, teaching goes on ALL the time and is not confined to a stack of books visited from 9:00-2:00 each day. It is life-long and should be loved. When we truly excite our children about learning--not school--but learning, they ask, "What are we studying next?" and "What are we going to do today?" The purpose of an education should be that we can enjoy God's world and better be used for His purpose for each one of us.

One thing I teach others about unit studies is that "THERE ARE NO RULES." A unit study can be whatever you want it to be. The length of time you spend, the topic, the type and number of books used, and so's up to you! Here are a few tips: A 4-week study is generally enough time to cover the material you wish to teach without losing your students. Don't force subjects to fit. You don't have to do each subject everyday. Plan your year choosing some history, some science, some arts, and "other" categories. If you are doing a history topic like the Civil War, let it be history, and don't try to squeeze in science. If it is a topic like weather, let it remain science, don't look for history. Subjects that naturally fit with most topics are: geography, art, language arts (reading, writing, spelling, and vocabulary), history, or science, etc.

I have tried to give you a picture, in a nutshell, of why unit studies are so effective and popular. Along with that, I have offered just a few guidelines and tips to help you understand this method a little better. If you want to know more, you'll have to read my book, "Everything You Need to Know About Homeschool Unit Studies."


Jennifer Steward and her husband, Jim, have been teaching their 8 children from their Northern California home for the past 15 years. Of those years, Jennifer has used the unit study method for at least ten. She admits that she bumbled her way through unit studies much of the time, but has finally discovered some of the "problem areas", and has refined and designed a prescription framework that makes this method do-able for all! In addition to writing her book, "Everything", Jennifer has hosted a monthly unit study meeting in her area for the past four years and speaks for support groups and at homeschool conventions. She also created and offers the popular Unit Study Workshop, where she has taught hundreds of parents how they can use this method. The Stewards also manage their home business, STEWARDSHIP, offering a wide range of unit study guides, books, and helps. Visit her website at

Copyright 2001. Originally appeared in Summer 2001. Used with permission. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.

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