Designing a Unit Study for History, Geography, or Science


This post is part of the Virtual Curriculum Fair.  The topic this week is social studies and science.  We have enjoyed exploring social studies and science through unit studies.  Our love for unit studies all began when my oldest child was 5 and very much into dinosaurs.  As we embarked on formal schooling, I asked him what topic he wanted to study.  Of course, he chose dinosaurs.  I haphazardly pulled together some books, videos, and activities and put them in a logical order.  It was his favorite part of school.  I don’t think this was just because of the dinosaur topic.  Unit studies were very conducive to discussions and bunny trails.  It was an enjoyable time for both of us.

So the next school year, I jumped into unit studies even more by doing history and geography studies with my boys.  They loved them.  Because my boys were little, our unit studies were very much hands-on.  As they grew, we did lots of history, geography, and science unit studies.  I’m now starting to reuse some of these unit studies for my youngest child.

Some unit studies cover many different subject areas in one study.  I didn’t really like that approach, so we just covered the one topic in depth. There are no math activities or language arts activities woven in.  We do encounter math, language arts, art, music, and more in our studies, but only do so when it comes up naturally (i.e. listening to Italian music when learning about Italy).

So here are my 5 steps to creating a unit study on a topic.

1.  Choose a topic

Keep your topic as wide or narrow as your like.  I prefer to be a little more focused because it makes the study easier to complete.  So, I might put together a study on the human body instead of a broad one on biology.

2.  Find a suitable spine.

A spine is a book or books that cover your topic.  Head to your local library and find a book on the topic that seems to cover the areas you want to cover.  Sometimes I end up using several books instead of just one book.  But usually, it works best to choose a book that covers your entire topic well.

3.  Use the spine to guide your study

The spine has already done much of the work for you.  Use the organization of the topic found in your spine.  Write down the order of topics and if you want to read some of the spine for your study, note the page numbers.

4.  Fill in your study

Now that you have the organization of your study all set, fill it in with activities, videos, books, or games.   Consider what your children will enjoy.  If you think they would enjoy making a scaled Noah’s ark out of brownies, do that.  If you think they would really like a card game on the topic, build that into your study.  I designed our unit studies with things my kids would enjoy.  Sometimes they are video-focused or art-focused or full of hands-on activities.  I tend to avoid things that look complex or expensive.  I also don’t add anything that I’m not wanting to do either.

5.  Write everything down in the order you plan to do it.

Write down the page numbers for any books and whether or not it is a library book.  Write down any activities and record any links to projects you find online.  If you need materials for anything you are doing, write that down as well so you can make sure to have them on hand.  Then you are all set.  Check out some examples of our lists in one of the unit study links below.  I often put my unit studies on this blog because they contained online video links.  It make it easy to use.  I just came here and clicked on the links.

We like exploring things in depth.  The studies have changed as my children have grown, but each time I have sought to fill in the study with things that my children would enjoy.


Our Science Unit Studies:

History Unit Studies

  • Native Americans (K4 and 1st grade)
  • Creation (Kindergarten)
  • Prehistory (using in K and 1st grade for my daughter).  I took the original prehistory study I made for my boys and revised it for my daughter.
  • Ancient Mesopotamia  (used in Kindergarten and 2nd grade)
  • Ancient Hittites (1st and 3rd grade)
  • Ancient Egypt (1st and 3rd grade)  While this isn’t a link to our unit study, it shows many of the projects we enjoyed that year.
  • Ancient Israel (1st and 3rd grade)  This one just links to a favorite activity in our study.
  • Ancient Greece (used in 2nd and 4th grade)  We spent a lot of time on Greek myths and used lots of videos for this study.
  • Ancient China, Ancient Rome, and Early Christianity (3rd and 5th grade).  I did two tracks for my two very different kids.  One was more project-based (3rd grade) and one was lecture-based (5th grade) using the Teaching Company lectures.
  • Middle Ages (4th and 6th grade)  This is a documentary-focused study.

Geography Unit Studies

We aren’t the only ones participating in the Virtual Curriculum Fair.  Be sure to check out how other homeschool families approach learning about social studies and science.

A Classical Approach to Ancient World History for All Ages by Susan @ Homeschooling
Hearts & Minds
Supercharged Science’s eScience Program by Kristi K. @ The Potter’s Hand Academy
Social Studies & Science Resource Lists by Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses
History and Science: Learning About the World Around Us by Leah@As We Walk Along the Road
Virtual Curriculum Fair:  Social Studies by Joelle @ Homeschool for His Glory
Uncle Sam & You- Notgrass by Lynn @ Ladybug Chronicles
My Favorite History Books for Boys by Monique @ Living Life and Learning
Social Studies in Our Homeschool by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World
A Peek into our Homeschool: The Sciences by Brittney @ Mom’s Heart
Our Curriculum Choices 2014 ~ History & Science by Renata @ Sunnyside Farm Fun
We’re having a Social Studies-heavy Year by Debra @ Footprints in the Butter
Our Journey Around the World by Laura @ Four Little Penguins
My Favourite Social Studies Curriculum by Kim @ Homestead Acres
Raising Map Nuts: Learning Geography Naturally by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset
The Whos, Wheres and Whys by Michele P @Family, Faith and Fridays
Exploring Our World: Social Studies and Science in our Classical Homeschool by Sharra @ The Homeschool Marm
Time Travel Throughout the World {or History and Geography in Our Homeschool} by HillaryM @ Our Homeschool Studio
Virtual Curriculum Fair Week 3: Exploring Our World – Social Studies and More Science by Stacie @ Super Mommy To The Rescue
Why We’re Ditching Story of the World by Tauna @ Proverbial Homemaker


  1. Pingback: Virtual Curriculum Fair- History and Science: Learning About the World Around Us | My Blog

  2. Great tips for designing a unit study—it’s really not very hard to do and with the internet full of free resources, the hardest part is probably narrowing it down to the selections you’ll have time to use. 🙂
    Susan @Homeschooling Heartss & Minds recently posted…Please Pardon My Growing Pains!My Profile

  3. Awesome! I’ll be checking back specifically at your geography studies, as my son is particularly interested in world geography and cultures. Thanks! 🙂
    Brittney recently posted…5 Days of {my} Homeschooling Essentials: GamesMy Profile

  4. I love the idea of unit studies, but haven’t wrapped my brain around how to schedule them. Any suggestions?

    • Eclectic Homeschooling

      Schedule time. Go through as much of your list that you can in a certain amount of time and then pick up where you left off the next time.

  5. Pingback: My Favorite History Books for Boys - Living Life and Learning

  6. There are times when I wish we had started with unit studies when our kids were younger. Sounds like so much fun!

  7. Pingback: Raising Map Nuts: Learning Geography Naturally - Sunrise to Sunset

  8. Pingback: Supercharged Science eScience Program

  9. I love how you explained how to design a unit study. Thank you for listing links with grade levels. I have been struggling on where to start with my daughter and what I want to use with her. I am going to pin this on pinterest and book mark this so when I work on lesson plans for next week I will have an idea where to start.
    Stacie recently posted…5 Days of Homeschooling Essentials – Day 1 – Support – Homeschool GroupsMy Profile

  10. Pingback: Social Studies in Our Homeschool - Day By Day in Our World

  11. Pingback: Virtual Curriculum Fair Week 3: Exploring Our World – Social Studies and More Science | SUPER MOMMY TO THE RESCUE

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