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How to Create Your Own Unit Study Review by Karen Houston

By Valerie Bendt
Common Sense Press

The title page of this wonderful book was designed by Michelle Bendt, age 11 (how inspiring - I'm an adult, and have never illustrated a book cover page!).

Valerie Bendt has been homeschooling her five children their entire lives, having tried several methods and ideas. By utilizing the local public library biographies, reference materials, and bending the books to the child rather than vice versa, she has come up with a practical, workable plan to educate the little ones with unit lessons in two separate five-week sessions spaced with two-week vacations in between, comprising a 200-day, 12-month calendar school year. This eliminates those "I forgot all this stuff" autumn frustrations come next September, and keeps everyone on track! She states this has the added benefit of keeping them from getting bored during vacations, because they know they have a finite amount of time.

Dr. Beechick, author of You Can Teach Your Child Successfully, and several other educators have reviewed her book. She has written Creating Books with Children and The Unit Study Idea Book as well. The author's work reviews evaluating curriculums and different approaches, focuses upon the unit study approach, and discusses different educational philosophies.

Excerpt - we observe that as we teach our children, we should ask ourselves if we are really serving our children's needs. Are we filling their minds with tedious facts, or are we feeding their minds with "the good, the wonderful, and the excellent"? Scripture gives us the ultimate plumb line by which to judge all things: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things" Philippians 4:8.

With the unit study approach, school topics are studied in light of a particular biography, topic, theme, or historical time rather than studying several isolated (read "disassociated") subjects. The child grasps the entire concept, relating subjects one to another, and from a Biblical perspective; rather than piece-mealing a "fill in the blank" drilling of facts. This allows your child to progress at his own pace while exposing him to the best that is available. If a child can narrate what has been covered and put it down on paper with pencil, then you know he is comprehending the material, and will retain it in a superior manner.

Valerie also observes that many mothers "burn out" trying to organize too many activities with manipulatives or with too heavy an emphasis on projects. I appreciate her realistic approach to what one person can handle with several children of different ages. That is another real benefit of the unit lessons - being able to cover the identical subject rather simplistically for your younger children, while covering it more in depth with your older children - at the same time! Fine arts such as music and poetry bring your child's interest to the subject being covered, and assist in arousing his/her curiosity; thereby helping bring about additional study and accomplishment at a later time, and of the child's own volition. This increases critical thinking, as well as retention.

Nature, the Bible, record-keeping, home economics, agricultural studies, auto maintenance, and food budget analysis are also discussed. Valerie feels that her own attitude has changed because now she, too, is interested in learning and is eager to learn. Her children have been freed of "busy work" and aren't bored. They know they are free to be different, while still feeling loved, accepted, and valuable. They have begun to explore on their own!

Several of the last pages of this workbook (with nice, large margins for easy note-taking) are full of wonderful resources - pages chock-full of books appropriate for and organized by different subjects, with even the library call numbers recorded for your ease of use! She has also included several pages of games and audio resources to assist you. What a thoughtful addition!

If you're frustrated with the curriculum you're using, perhaps it's not meeting your child's needs! If you're spending too much on curriculum, you don't need to! Pick up this book and see how readily you and your children can put together a unit lesson that you will find exciting and helpful! If you also pick up Creating Books with Children, your child becomes an author and illustrator of his/her OWN BOOK, and may create a lifetime keepsake in only six weeks!

-- Product review by: Karen Houston, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine