Thursday, April 30

How to Create a Unit Study for your Homeschool + Printable Pack

Unit studies are popular with homeschooling families because they provide a hands-on, in-depth approach to learning about any topic of choice.  This is a great way to provide individualized instruction for your students, allowing them explore the 'topic-du-jour,' and instills a love of learning!  It might seem daunting at first, but anyone is capable of creating a unit study in just a few easy steps....

There are five basic steps to creating a unit study, and to help you stay on track, we've created a Unit Study Planner!  You can find it on the Subscribers-Only page or pick it up here.

Pick a topic.
  • Keep a running list of ideas - this could include science, history, geography, literature, career, or just about any topic of interest! You could have one list for the entire family to work together, or each child could have a separate list for individual work.
  • After choosing a topic for this unit, begin scouting resources to learn more.  Our preferred method is to choose a novel as the basis for the unit - such as The Red Menace for our McCarthyism unit - but you might want to pick a movie or field trip for the base.  
  • Elementary units are going to be a little more free-form than those for upper grades (our novel studies tend more toward the middle and high school range), since work requirements are different for younger children.

Decide when to start and how long the unit will last.

  • Our unit study planner covers the length of the year, with room for five units - one each season and two in summer.  Since we use them as a supplement to regular curriculum, this is a nice pace.  If you're using units as a full curriculum, you will probably want to add more.
  • Generally, a full week, or a month of Fun Fridays is a great pace for unit studies.  Our experience has been going full-time when the kids were younger, but switching to Fun Fridays as they got older and needed to stay more on track with their school.
  • The planner includes pages for monthly, weekly, and daily unit study plans - this way you can choose the schedule which works best for you!

Choose resources and activities to flesh it out.
  • Our family is comprised of book nerds.  We love to read, so it makes sense that a novel would be the base for our units.  
    • When we were roadschooling, however, our unit studies were based around our location.  We even got to spend an entire summer studying the Revolutionary War while visiting locations in VT, NY, MA, and PA!  If you ever get this option, even for a few weeks, this can be an amazing way to do unit studies.
  • Books
    • The library is your friend!  Gathering books for the topic is a family affair (if you're doing a family unit).  Students should have some say in what gets chosen, and they get the added benefit of learning to use the card catalogue (virtual or otherwise).
    • We usually take a big bag and fill it with various fiction and non-fiction books related to the topic.  Even with older kiddos, don't skimp on using illustrated children's books.  These are wonderful for teaching vocabulary and concepts, and are just fun to read together!
  • DVDs
    • For students with difficulty reading, or younger students, this is a great method to impart information.  This might be a long movie or several short video clips.
  • Hands-On Activities
    • Depending on your topic, this might look like a STEM kit, newspaper article, or Lego build.  A quick search will often help you turn up several options!
  • Field Trips
    • Roadschooling isn't for everyone, but day trips are a fun way to change up the pace and reinforce the concepts they're studying.  Try to plan one or two for each unit.
Make a plan of activities scheduled by day / week / month.  
  • How detailed your plans are will depend on the length of your full unit.  A one-day fun study will cover considerably less than an in-depth one-month long study.
  • This should include the core schoolwork (language arts, science, history, math) and the fun stuff (activities, movies, and field trips).
  • You may want to use a regular curriculum in addition to your unit study for math, particularly in the upper grades.
  • While it's good for students to understand how to research using internet resources, try to include hands-on research using the encyclopedia and library.  These are still valuable skills.
  • A creative (or non-fiction for some kids) writing assignment is a fantastic way to wrap up a it gives you something to record the study.
  • Don't forget to include vocabulary, spelling, and art!
Decide how you’ll record your unit.
Depending on the age of your students, this might be by creating a lapbook or notebook for elementary students, while upper grades may want to complete a portfolio that includes work samples and photographs.  (You might even let them blog!  Each of our boys has his own private blog for recording events and projects.)

Creating a unit does take a bit of research, but it can lead to some amazing learning experiences with your kids!   We've put together a unit study planner to help you get started, and it's free for subscribers.  Not quite ready yet?  Check out the Novel Studies page, where we've created several unit studies, each with a novel for the base.

Not sure where to start?  Check out these pre-made unit lesson plans!

Pick up the Unit Study Planner for FREE on our Subscriber Freebies page!  Not yet a subscriber?  Sign up here!

SchoolhouseTeachers has a fantastic collection of unit studies included with membership!  They span every subject and a wide range of topics, and the page is continually updated with new ones.  Access those unit studies here.  

Wednesday, April 29

Top Ten Audiobooks for Boys

Our family loves to get lost in a good story!  Half of us are good readers; the other half not so much.  They like the stories, but struggle with the reading aspect.  Which is not to say that we don't continue to push reading skills, but we found that audio books were a great solution!

Audio books are also a great solution for our long travel days when we're gallivanting around the country!  The whole car is quiet and at attention for four to eight hours, depending on the book, which is a really nice treat for the parental figure / driver...

For our struggling reader, we've found that audio books not only help with his comprehension and language skills, but many times he's been inspired to pick up the actual book after listening to the audio book.  He has an idea of what to expect, and his brain is primed to read it.  As an added bonus, for books with hard-to-pronounce names (such as his favorite sci-fi fiction), he already knows how to say the characters' names, which makes reading a bit easier.

The list below are our top ten favorite audio books - with the stamp of approval from a house full of boys! - but it is not exhaustive.  Use these as a jumping off point for finding your family's next listen...

Chronicles of Narnia
Listen to all seven stories in C. S. Lewis's classic fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia in this unabridged 31-CD collection, read by some of the world's most renowned performers:
  • The Magician's Nephew narrated by Kenneth Branagh
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe narrated by Michael York
  • The Horse and His Boy narrated by Alex Jennings
  • Prince Caspian narrated by Lynn Redgrave
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader narrated by Derek Jacobi
  • The Silver Chair narrated by Jeremy Northam
  • The Last Battle narrated by Patrick Stewart
Enter C. S. Lewis's magical world of Narnia. Each of these extraordinary, timeless stories stands alone, but together they are the history of a fantastic world that becomes as real as our own.
The Dragon & the Raven
In a time of chaos and Viking onslaught, Alfred the untested Saxon king must fight to save his ravished land. The tale unfurls through the eyes of a young thane, Edmund, who becomes Alfred's friend and mightiest warrior. When Danes overrun the land and the Saxons capitulate, this young knight trains and leads a devoted corps of pike-men to recapture the kingdom.

On his adventures, Edmund is captured by the Pagan Danes, raises the siege of Paris, meets the Pope, and still finds time to fall in love. G. A. Henty, the "Prince of Storytellers," successfully weaves this plot of intrigue and suspense into the fabric of true history.

Island of the Blue Dolphins
In the Pacific there is an island that looks like a big fish sunning itself in the sea.  Around it, blue dolphins swim, otters play, and sea elephants and sea birds abound.  Once, Indians also lived on the island.  And when they left and sailed to the east, one young girl was left behind.  This is the story of Karana, the Indian girl who lived alone for years on the Island of the Blue Dolphins.  Year after year, she watched one season pass into another and waited for a ship to take her away.  But while she waited, she kept herself alive by building a shelter, making weapons, finding food, and fighting her enemies, the wild dogs.  It is not only an unusual adventure of survival, but also a tale of natural beauty and personal discovery.
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch tells the inspiring, true adventures of Nat Bowditch, a boy during the American Revolution.  Nat's passion for learning and his unstoppable spirit lead him from poverty and servitude to triumph and adventure at sea.  Ultimately, Nat achieves everlasting fame for revolutionizing navigation, thus streamlining voyages and saving countless lives.  Today, Nathaniel Bowditch's 1802 book, The American Practical Navigator, is still carried on every U.S. Navy vessel.  Carry On, Mr. Bowditch paints a superb portrait of life in Revolutionary-era America, but this is most of all a moving personal tale of the value of knowledge and the exultant human spirit.
Otto of the Silver Hand
Young Otto is born into a warring household in a lawless age. Having no mother, he is sent by his father, a valiant robber baron, to be safely raised by the monks until the age of twelve. But when he returns, gentle Otto can no longer escape the bitter blood feud between his father and the rival house of Trutz-Drachen. He is kidnapped by the rival family and his hand is cut off, to be replaced forever by a silver one. Can his brave father and his captor's kind daughter, Pauline, help him escape?

The Bronze Bow
This gripping, action-packed novel tells the story of eighteen-year-old Daniel bar Jamin—a fierce, hotheaded young man bent on revenging his father’s death by forcing the Romans from his land of Israel. Daniel’s palpable hatred for Romans wanes only when he starts to hear the gentle lessons of the traveling carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth. A fast-paced, suspenseful, vividly wrought tale of friendship, loyalty, the idea of home, community . . . and ultimately, as Jesus says to Daniel on page 224: “Can’t you see, Daniel, it is hate that is the enemy? Not men. Hate does not die with killing. It only springs up a hundredfold. The only thing stronger than hate is love.” A powerful, relevant read in turbulent times.
Theodore Boone
In the small city of Strattenburg, there are many lawyers, and though he’s only thirteen years old, Theo Boone thinks he’s one of them. Theo knows every judge, policeman, court clerk—and a lot about the law. He dreams of being a great trial lawyer, of a life in the courtroom.
But Theo finds himself in court much sooner than expected. Because he knows so much—maybe too much—he is suddenly dragged into the middle of a sensational murder trial. A cold-blooded killer is about to go free, and only Theo knows the truth.
The stakes are high, but Theo won’t stop until justice is served.
Fifteen-year-old Eragon believes that he is merely a poor farm boy - until his destiny as a Dragon Rider is revealed. Gifted with only an ancient sword, a loyal dragon, and sage advice from an old storyteller, Eragon is soon swept into a dangerous tapestry of magic, glory, and power. Now his choices could save - or destroy - the Empire.
The Hobbit
The original American full dramatization as broadcast on National Public Radio. Bilbo Baggins, a gentle hobbit who loves the comforts of home, reluctantly joins a company of dwarves on a journey to recover plundered gold from a fierce dragon. It's a tale of high adventure and astonishing courage-and a magical prelude to the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Set in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, Kidnapped (1886) is a gripping narrative told by David Balfour, a young Whig and Lowlander, who is tracked by his miserly uncle, survives attempted murder, kidnap and shipwreck and, in the company of Alan Breck, a Jacobite, escapes through the Highlands.
Kidnapped is an adventure story in which the tensions run deep, not only between pursuer and pursued, but in ancient misunderstandings between the two heroes themselves: Whig and Jacobite, Lowland rationalist and romantic Highlander.

All of the audiobooks by Jim Weiss are family favorites, too!  We couldn't narrow it down to one favorite, so we recommend the entire series.  He has simpler ones geared toward an audience as young as three, as well as more complex ones (such as this one on the Founding Fathers) for older children.  We have listened to the entire series multiple times, especially during our long-travel road-schooling years!

Updated: Trouble in Paradise

When we got a new car, we had instant issues with our audiobooks!  The problem?  No cd player.  It's a bit discriminatory of companies to just assume that everyone has a smartphone and streaming capabilities...   Nevertheless, we wanted to continue listening to the books we owned while driving, so we searched and searched and finally found this integrated vehicle cd player.  It can be mounted vertically or horizontally in your car.

You have to get one that will work with your specific car, so be sure to check the chart online, but this one - in spite of the additional cost - worked well with our car and allowed us to still use the books we had, without having to repurchase them in a different format or subscribe to a cell service for same reason.  If you're in the minority, like we are, I highly recommending checking it out, as it looks like cars aren't going to be going back to CD players, and our manufacturer insisted that they couldn't install one aftermarket....

Tuesday, April 28

Roadschool Trip to Niagara Falls

And I'm FREE....Free Fallin'!  This came on the radio today, and our youngest was in the backseat singing, quite boisterously, when it occurred to me that HE was singing, "and I'm TREE....Tree Pollen!"  With all his allergies...bless his heart.  💙
After one of those super-long travel days, we finally made it to New York!  Without passports for the kids, we were limited to the American side of Niagara Falls, but it's still an amazing view. 

If you're able to cross over, take a ride on the Maid of the Mist.  For a higher-than-average admission, you get a free poncho.  More than that, though, you get an exhilarating ride underneath the falls.  My mom took me as a child, and I remember it being a lot of least, for all of us kids!
As you stand beside the falls, imagine what it would have been like to be that first Native American, hundreds or thousands of years ago.  He'd taken his canoe upriver for a peaceful adventure, only to come across these rapids that turn into a series of increasingly-larger waterfalls!  What an experience!

 Niagara Falls resources

Monday, April 27

Roadschool Field Trip to Boston

We had two days to get from Vermont to Pennsylvania, so we hit the major eastern seaports along the way: Boston & New York City...

With only one day to visit Boston, we decided to see as many sights as possible via the Trolley Tour.  It's a hop on-hop off tour, but I recommend taking the whole thing in one sitting, if you're up to it.  With a full trolley, the driver had to turn people away at every stop.  Although there are a few different tours in the city, this group's drivers double-time as comedians, making it educational and entertaining!  We drove by, and got the story behind, several historic landmarks, including : the Cheers bar, State House, a few older churches, the Old South Meeting House, Bunker / Breeds Hill, and the Granury Burying Ground (current home of Paul Revere, John Hancock, Sam Adams, and others).
The tour over, our bellies grumbled for lunch.  We were close to the North End, home of the best Italian food this side of the Atlantic.  At Bella Vista, we got oversized lunch portions for deli lunch prices, and fantastic service.  The boys even had a chance to speak with the chef and get the secret to his sauce!
Holy Cannoli!  You can't finish an Italian meal without tiramisu or cannoli, so we crossed the street to Modern Pastry.  While most tourists are directed to Mike's (and admittedly, they are good), Modern Pastry had shorter lines and more selection with the same price and quality.  Since we only get cannoli in the North End, we filled a box...and as much as I'd like to tell you that we saved some for later, the truth is that we enjoyed them all!
After a meal like that, we needed to stretch our legs, so we headed across town, through the Common, and over to the museums.  On the way, we stopped by Faneuil Hall to do a little shopping.
Next stop, the Boston Tea Party Museum.  Continuing on the Revolutionary War theme, we re-enacted the Boston Tea Party after learning about the taxes and rumblings that led up to it.  I got to be Sarah Fulton - the party's costume designer!  The boys had a chance to dump tea into the harbor and hang out with Sam Adams
After a hard afternoon of chucking tea into the harbor, we headed to Abigail's Tea Room for a tea-tasting.  For five bucks, you get a souvenir mug and all the tea you can drink.
Back to the Public Gardens, we visited the duck pond and found the family of ducks from Robert McCloskey's "Make Way for Ducklings."
Our fellow traveler is fascinated by parochial architecture, so we visited several churches during our afternoon stroll.  A few offered information on their historical significance.  The boys pretended to be Sons of Liberty, giving speeches on each doorstep.
As much as we wanted to stay, the sun was going down, and we still had a three-hour drive to our stop in Connecticut.  So we grabbed lobster rolls to go, headed back to the garage (thank heavens for taking a photo of the garage name & parking unit!), and headed west.  Tomorrow, we venture into the Big Apple!  It will be the first visit for all four of us...

Boston Road Trip Resources :