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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Unit Studies... Eclectic Studies... Unschooling.... Oh My!

In a bit of a panic, I plunged into homeschool research. I learned that there are "styles" of homeschooling -- and it seemed that we fit neatly into the "eclectic" style (which seems to mean a little of this and a little of that). Whew. It's nice to have a label for your style - makes you feel less lonely!

I had already decided to try "unit studies" (organizing content around an area of interest) because I had seen Tommy show interest in a variety of topics - and then NOT have a chance to delve deeply because the teacher moved on. So... unit studies. But what topics should we start with?

I reviewed the district's 5th grade curriculum carefully, and saw they were focusing a LOT of time on Massachusetts and 18th century US history. OK, fine, I could do that. I found a unit on Mass history at the (Mass homeschool organization) website... But it didn't sound like a ton of fun, so I thought we'd try parts of it out midyear after I had a better idea of how to modify it. we were DEFINITELY going to do a unit on trains (Peter had actually promised Tommy that we would build a garden railway for homeschool - much more on that later!) - but we just weren't ready to plunge into such a complex project. What else was out there?!

At the end of August, we went on a whalewatch trip to Stellwagen Banks off Cape Cod Bay. There were humpbacks galore... minke whales... even an Atlantic Right whale. Tom was enthralled. So was I. What better topic to start off our life on Cape Cod? So... whales it was, for a starter.

OK, whales. I started researching whales. There are dozens of whale sites. Over a dozen whale species. There are probably ten or more whale units online - not to mention the one I just happened to have in my files. There are whale stories, whale interactives, whale songs, whale myths, whale anatomy books, and there's Shamu the killer whale. There are whaling books, whaling museums, scrimshaw, Inuit art...

So what ABOUT whales? Which whales? How much was I trying to integrate into the unit? How long should the unit be? My head was spinning. Meanwhile, I had no clear idea of how to approach math... spelling... library skills... could I integrate it ALL? Peter suggested I start with Right Whales... but there wasn't enough just on them... or was there?!

About this time, Labor Day rolled around. Sara started public school. There was no more time to waste - and so we plunged in.

Day One involved a visit to Staples and creating a schedule (we use velcro and 3X5 cards). On the cards, Tom and I wrote things like "library," "math," "recess" and "science." We included enough math, reading, music and lunch cards for every day. And we set up a schedule for the week. Recess, I figured, could be a nature walk one day... swimming another day... bowling another... or maybe that was gym?

On Day Two we went to the library and borrowed Tom's very first chapter books (Magic Treehouse and an older English book called "The Worst Witch" which confirmed my certainty that JK Rowling ripped it all off from other writers!). I started scouring the web for math worksheets, and found a great resource at

And we started studying whales.


CanvasGrey said...

Wow! There seems to be lots to do getting everything set up. Are you homeschooling both your kids at the same time? I was thinking how homeschooling could work for me and when doing so I imagined teaching my young son the same things except at his level.

Lisa Jo Rudy said...

I'm NOT homeschooling both kids at once. Sara, age 8, is in public school - and so far is thriving there.

We're not against the idea of homeschooling both kids -but at this point we're really focusing on Tom and his needs. And to tell the truth, the two of them are very different in needs, abilities and interests. So while some things (like nature hikes, for example) are great for both - other things are really only appropriate for or interesting for one.

So... we're not ruling it out, but not racing to make it happen, either!