I attended a Homeschool Convention in April that fundamentally changed my homeschool. One of the speakers that rocked my world was Amanda Bennett with Unit Studies by Amanda Bennett. Immersing the student into a subject, a unit study is not a textbook, but a dynamic learning process that grabs attention and builds knowledge. As I listened to her speak I wondered if I could be bold enough, brave enough, to shun the workbook mentality and use unit studies. Skeptically, I purchased two unit studies at the convention: Chocolate Challenge and Olympics 2012.
The next week I started Chocolate Challenge. All three of my homeschoolers (ages 11, 6, and 4) were enthralled when I pushed play on the first video link. We spent the next few days learning about Brazil, the cocoa tree, and the rainforest. Taking Amanda’s advice, I stopped each day when they seemed to be bored, and it took us about a month (during summer break) to finish the five day study. In July, I broke out the Olympics study with my ten year old. Creating a special time for just him and me, we snuggled together after the little ones were in bed. He asked questions that took us off on tangents, and we discovered many facts and tidbits just getting through day 3. My teenagers came for the summer and we all started spending time in the afternoons learning about the Olympics. We only made it half way through week 2 of the 4 week study before the boys had to leave. My ten year old decided to go back to his dad’s as well, which left me with just the two little ones. I anticipated a great depression with his departure, but it was short lived. While I was severely traumatized for the first week after he left, I quickly realized how much more time I would have with the other two, and I found a silver lining.
The USAB facebook page announced a Geography bundle sale and I jumped on it. I asked Abigail, the six year old, if she’d like to learn about China or Mexico and she said, “Mexico!” (she had no idea what that meant). So, I opened the recommended books section of Expedition Mexico and ordered a few (or a ton) of the listed books. Two days later, the books arrived. When the doorbell rang Abby and Thomas were thrilled to see packages, and they spent the next hour just looking through the books. The next day we started the unit study. This time it took us only a week and a half to complete the study. During that time we discovered Mexico’s landmarks, animals, and culture. Half way through the study Abigail announced at breakfast that it was “Project Day”. Yes, my face screwed into a horrid grimace and she said, “We can make Mexico!”. So we did. Using a square of cardboard, I drew on it a rough (very rough) outline of the country, we painted the water and land. I made homemade play dough and we sculpted mountains. I pulled out the craft supplies I’ve been hoarding for years and we assembled iguanas, tarantulas, and resplendent quetzals. In later days we added pink flamingos and monarch butterflies. Using sand from the sandbox, we created the Chihuanhuan desert. There were many creative liberties taken, but we had fun and we broadened our knowledge.
After we finished, we had a Fiesta! Abigail made a pinata using construction paper. I told her it would be impossible, but she did it. Tacos, guacamole, and cookies were on the menu, and during dinner Abby and Thomas regaled us with fascinating facts about Mexico. I know that they will retain some of the information they learned, and I don’t expect them to retain it all. But I know, without a doubt, they will always remember the process of learning about Mexico. They will remember that it was fun.