How to Mesh Unit Studies With Classical Education

Love the idea of unit studies? Fascinated by classical education? Think the two are mutually exclusive? I’d like to propose that they are compatible. Let’s just briefly review classical education and unit studies to make sure that we’re on the same page as far as basic definitions go. 
“Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves. This classical pattern is called the trivium” (Susan Wise Bauer, www.TheWellTrainedMind.com).
Unit studies take one topic and study it intensely and almost exclusively for a period. They encompass social studies, science, and perhaps English (in the form of compositions), although skills such as math and grammar need to be studied separately and incrementally. The danger of completing unit studies without a plan is that there will be gaps in your children’s education. It’s like going to Golden Corral or Old Country Buffet and loading your plate with macaroni and cheese, pizza, and garlic bread, with no vegetables or protein. Once in a while is fine, but a steady diet of only carbohydrates will ruin your figure and your energy levels. But, there are so many valuable, fun unit studies available that it seems a shame to bypass them.
So, how do we mesh the two? Well, since classical education studies history chronologically, we can build unit studies around specific historical periods. We can read living books, make timelines, study science, write essays, and complete other projects that go along with it.
For instance, say we’re studying 1900­–1920. We can check out a plethora of books at the library based on our children’s reading levels and interests. That covers literature and history. We can study the science of flying with a unit study on the Wright brothers. We can listen to jazz for music studies and check out Expressionism, Fauvism, or cubism for art studies. Of course, World War I falls during that time as well and can be studied with as much depth as you wish. That would be an appropriate place to bring in international studies and perhaps even international politics for older students.
Of course, for math we’ve got to pretty much stick with whatever curriculum is currently working for our children. The same thing with grammar, but for writing, we can have our children choose topics based on what they’ve been reading in their living books, or studying in history, or science. No need to make up artificial, boring writing prompts.
Here’s what a typical four-year cycle would look like:
Year / Subject
Historical Period
Music and Art
Year One
Pre-Baroque and Baroque
Year Two
Year Three
Early Modern
Year Four
(Credit goes to Susan Wise Bauer for the basic idea above, although I’ve tweaked it some.)
These science, music and art studies roughly correlate with what the scientists of the day were studying and discovering. After cycling through each of the time periods, we would simply start over again, adjusting the level of reading and studying for each child’s education level and interests.
Many, many unit studies are available that can be worked into this scheme. By the time you cycle through a particular period again, your children’s interests and educational levels will have advanced to different topics for unit studies. Enjoy!
The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer http://www.thewelltrainedmind.com, Teaching the Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn https://www.triviumpursuit.com/, Memoria Press http://www.memoriapress.com, Veritas Press http://www.veritaspress.com, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson, The Core by Leigh A. Bortins, Download-n-Go Unit Studies from The Old Schoolhouse Store http://www.theoldschoolhousestore.com, Amanda Bennett’s unit study information http://www.unitstudy.com/.

This article is posted over at Heart of the Matter Online today.


Tapestry of Grace DE Review

Buzz, buzz! I’ve long heard buzzing about Tapestry of Grace, but hadn’t had the chance to check it out. I recently got the opportunity to check out one unit of the new digital edition (DE) via the TOS Crew. Did ToG live up to its hype? Well, yes and no. Huh? Read on for my pros and cons.

First, the pros: Tapestry of Grace is a thorough, classical, biblical, literature-based, multi-level, reusable curriculum covering several subjects (history, geography, literature, church history, and even philosophy—for older students). It follows a four-year history cycle in four different levels—lower and upper grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. As you go through it, your children will cover each historical time period three times at different levels over the course of their schooling. What else do you get? A PLETHORA of information each week on the people, events, and time periods being covered (think major encyclopedia articles), a thread covering the main emphasis and general overview for the week, a weekly reading assignment chart divided by levels, student activity pages, and discussion questions (with answers for you!) for older students. ToG provides writing assignments, teacher’s notes, art studies and activities, vocabulary words, timeline suggestions, activity suggestions, and more. You also get access to ToG’s Loom, an online area featuring many extras for additional learning and additional helpful topics. You also get access to their very active forums where you can interact with veteran ToG users, newbies, support tech, and even the author herself on occasion.

We previewed Year 3, Unit 1, Napoleon’s World. Since we haven’t covered that particular era yet, it was interesting to read more about this famous historical person. Unfortunately, our large library (including ILL) did not carry any of the suggested books. We were able to get other books on Napoleon, but weren’t able to complete the literature guide questions. In order for my kids to get the general information, I had them do research on our World Book Encyclopedia CD-ROM, instead of printing off tons of pages from the DE or having them take over my laptop (what would I do then??). I skimmed through some of it, but there was an overwhelming amount of information each week.

Additional resources available for purchase include Map Aids, Evaluations, Pop Quiz, Lap Book packs, and Writing Aids. We used the Map Aids, which had every conceivable type of map for the time period we were studying. The Map Aids were provided to TOG by Knowledge Quest. There were blank maps for students and filled-in maps for moms. While they were a bit tedious to download, they did save me lots of time searching for just the right map for each lesson. The Map Aids are a great resource for making sure you cover geography thoroughly. I like being able to integrate geography with history instead of making it a whole separate subject.

Okay, now for the cons. First of all, although I know many people prefer having the digital format, I found it very difficult to navigate and to get a feel for how the program worked. For each week, there are over sixty pages of information!! Personally, that’s way too much to print or to read online. Also, it was hard to get the whole flow and scope of the program without having it all printed. As I mentioned above, there was a lot of information about each person/event/time period, but I either had to read it to my kids (they’re too old to enjoy that much information being read to them), or print it all out. It takes a MAJOR time commitment from the mom/teacher in order to prepare for each week. It’s difficult to find all of the books in the library. Another drawback is the price, especially considering that it only covers the teacher’s materials and student activity pages. All of the extras (maps, writing aids, review aids, lap books, etc.) are additional—not to mention buying at least some of the main books you’ll need to read throughout the year. Each year plan costs $170 for a year in DE and $225 for a year in the printed format. That’s really not enough of a difference to make me want to buy the DE version. They just rolled out a new option where you can get both the DE and printed versions of the year plan, but I can’t find the price (about $100 more than the DE alone, I think). It would cost at least that much to print it yourself, so it might be worth it to go that route if you like the idea of having the information on your computer, too.

Go check out Tapestry of Grace for yourself. You can download a FREE three-week trial to see how easy the download process is and all the reasons your friends are excited about Tapestry of Grace. You’ll find a lot of FREE helpful information there, too.


Five in a Row Grows Up!

Five in a Row grows up! If you and your children loved the Five in a Row series as much and my girls and I did, you will be thrilled with Beyond Five in a Row. Your children will immerse themselves in great literature—two fiction books and two non-fiction books in each volume.
Instead of reading each book five times in a row for a week and having the same academic activities each week, you will read a chapter (or so) at a time and do activities relating to each chapter. New, fun, and exciting exercises include internet, drama, career path, fine arts and cooking activities, and thoughtful essay questions. Many lessons on history, geography, science, and language arts are also covered. You can read the books out loud together, or your children can read on their own since chapter summaries are included. Each book is a unit study and is great for multiple children learning together. Simply add math, grammar, spelling, and handwriting and you’re done with your lesson planning.
Each volume of Beyond Five in a Row is designed to last for a whole semester and costs $24.95. These delightful titles are covered in Volume Two: Sarah, Plain and Tall, The Story of George Washington Carver, Skylark, and Helen Keller. Instill a love of literature that will last a lifetime with Beyond Five in a Row.