Tuesday, October 26, 2010

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
Science
Music and Art
Year One
Ancient
Astronomy
Pre-Baroque and Baroque
Year Two
Medieval
Botany
Classical
Year Three
Early Modern
Physiology
Romantic
Year Four
Modern
Physics
Modern

(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!

Resources:
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.