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The Unit Study


By Jessica Hulcy, co-creator of Konos Unit Study

Ingredients of a DELICIOUS Unit

I do not know of anyone who enjoys a piece of cake one ingredient at a time…..first, the raw eggs… then the baking powder… followed by sugar… then the butter… and, finally, the flour!  Even if you follow the recipe, eating separate ingredients does not give you a delicious whole cake taste!  Likewise, traditional learning subject by subject is not a whole learning approach but a fragmented, unrelated, unconnected group of subjects.  Even though we were taught using the subject-by-subject approach, it is not natural and was designed for public school classrooms so each teacher would know what the other teacher was teaching. In contrast, unit studies provide the whole topic approach, weaving individual subjects like literature, activities, art, research, music, writing, history, biographies and even science, into the topic; providing a cohesive, natural approach for homeschool learning.  But what are the ingredients of a DELICIOUS unit?

WORTHY THEMES

Units can be built around any theme; however, some themes have a deeper, dual purpose.  Character trait themes with topics under the character trait establish the deeper purpose of focusing on and training kids with their eyes on worthy character to emulate. The topics under the character trait are the vehicles for imparting academic knowledge PLUS the character trait.  While studying the character trait of Obedience, a topic of Kings and Queens leads to studying feudalism.  Historically, feudalism was based on the character trait of obedience, for when a king wanted an army of vassals, he had vassals kneel before him and place their hands between his hands pledging their allegiance, and their men, to the king whenever he called.  The king, in turn, gave each vassal a clod of dirt which represented land or a fief he gave as payment for the vassal’s service and obedience.  Knights jousting, parts of the castle, Arthur and the round table, Greensleeves, biographies of Henry VIII, constructing catapults out of plastic soda bottles, lady-in-waiting costumes and medieval feasts, all become part of the unit.  Obedience is the focus, but memories have been created causing academics to be remembered along with the character trait focus.

DOING ACTIVITIES

It is a fact: We remember 80% of what we DO and 20% of what we READ, hence the recipe for a GREAT unit is not a stack of books to read on the topic.  Research by Dr. Marian Diamond in 1960-80’s at UC Berkeley proved brain size physically increased in groups of rats that had “combination of social conditions and frequent exposure to new stimulus objects.”  Out of three groups of rats, the group of rats that had new stimuli introduced into their cage several times a week (wheels, ladders, mazes, etc,) AND had companion rats to explore and experience with, HAD BIGGER BRAINS.  Science is telling us through research there are better ways to teach than Pete and Repeat and Tell and Regurgitate that even increase the size of the brain!  The setting up of an electric circuit instead of just reading about electricity is worth the effort and time, because it nets retention AND increases brain size.  Having kids make a crawl-through model ear under the dining table with common household objects is not only a fun activity, but nets retention AND increases brain size.

TEACHING TO THE LIGHT BULB

“Oh…I get it!” are the words a child utters when he has had a light bulb moment.  The child understands something, it clicks in his brain, and because he discovered the answer, he will never forget it.  All teachers love discover moments; good teachers create them; great teachers get into a child’s brain and figure out a hands-on activity that will yield a light bulb moment.  The best way to foster discovery learning is to make an assignment like… build a light house model that lights… giving no further instructions. Much curriculum instructs children to death, never allowing for any creativity on the child’s part.  Homeschooling moms do not need a college course on how to teach discovery; they just need a gag and a pair of handcuffs to allow kids to discover on their own.

Draw your own map of the US, sew your own baker’s hat, figure out what birds eat, from the shape of their beaks, are all good discovery activities.  But the summa of the summa is getting children to understand a completely abstract idea like communism while studying Russia. Reading Marx will not get you there, but having a communist lunch will.  Pack the ultimate lunch for each child with everything they love including Hostess Ding Dongs.  When lunch time comes, pin the flag of Russia on your shirt and inform the kids you are Mother Russia.  Then ask the children to pass the state’s lunches to you, because in Russia there is no private ownership, only state ownership.  If a child objects, banish him to Siberia (the bathroom) and explain there are no differing opinions in Russia, BUT…..explain how Mother Russia takes care of her people by following a tenant of communism called redistribution of wealth.  Give each child one potato chip, while you eat the sandwiches and the Hostess Ding Dongs in front of them.  Light bulb goes on, they never forget it, and they all become staunch capitalists!!!

All units are not created equal.  But look for units that incorporate hands-on doing activities with plenty of discovery learning focusing on worthy themes to grow you child’s brain size and his heart’s character. JH

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Jessica Hulcy, co-author of KONOS Curriculum… the first curriculum written for homeschool… is educator, author, and formerly very popular national homeschool speaker, prior to a near fatal wreck in 2009. This pioneer homeschooler, graduate of the University of Texas, mom to four grown sons, and Grandear to three grandchildren, lives with husband, Wade, on 75 acres in Anna, TX.  Recently Wade and Jessica started the ultimate online help for homeschooling moms.  On a split screen, Jessica tells moms weekly lessons, while the printable lesson plans appear on the other screen. Visit www.homeschoolmentor.com. and www.konos.com  to see a master teacher FREE!

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