Homeschoolers have used unit studies to educate their kids for decades. This simple method of integrating math, science, history, writing, reading, and literature into the study of a particular subject is easy to apply to a family vacation, making it a memorable and educational experience for your kids.
So what exactly is a unit study and how do I create one? Well, that depends on what interests your family and, in particular, your kids. Creating one is pretty simple and requires a little thought and some investigation. Here’s where a AAA membership comes in handy.
The best way to describe a unit study is to give an example. Suppose your youngest child has a passion for astronomy. Well, you start by taking a trip down to the AAA office and getting a tour book for your own state, as well as any other states you’re interested in visiting. (If you’re visiting a major U.S. city, you can even go to AAA’s website and search for an e-book on that city.) Every AAA tour book includes several indexes in the back, including a children’s index, historical index, and points of interest index. A study of astronomy could include visits to planetariums, museums of science and industry (which often include astronomy or gravity exhibits), universities (which often have planetariums), forests (which have less light pollution and are perfect for viewing the stars in the dark, provided there is a clearing to park in), television or radio stations that use satellites in outer space for imaging or radio transmissions. You get the idea—the world is full of opportunities to explore.
An internet search could also provide some interesting locations to visit, including historical locations that tie in to astronomy and astronomers or beaches with tidal zones (the moon influences our tides). How about a trip to a solar panel manufacturer or solar panel sales location, where you can watch a demonstration of how solar panels collect the sun’s rays and convert them to electricity? Scientists believe that Pluto’s atmosphere is made of frozen methane and nitrogen. Imagine what a world like that would be like and draw a picture or write a story about it (Ray Bradbury wrote a famous series of stories about life on Mars). Astronomy is part of how we live and incorporate any part of it that interests your children or yourself. My children are very interested in sea life, so incorporating tidepooling and exploration of tidal zones was perfect for us, as was an in-depth book on the moon and its various phases. I was amazed at the detailed drawings and maps we have of the Moon and how much knowledge we have on the pull of the Moon’s gravity and its effect on our tides.
To incorporate some math into the study of astronomy, I’d include some relationships. For example, how many states of Florida would it take to fill the smallest planet in the solar system? A year on Neptune is 165 Earth years. A day on Neptune is only 16 hours. What kind of school day would you have on Neptune? What about the school year (that would be a very long year)? You could make all kinds of correlations between Earth and the other planets or the Sun. You could also make sand castles at the beach with pillars varying in size with relation to the different planet sizes. Go wild and have fun with it.
Geography would be fun to explore as well. If you were a traveler among the stars, how would you navigate? How do the space probes navigate space? Even pretending one city is the Earth and navigating outward to other locations would help to put the relation of the various planets and the Sun to Earth. Navigating the stars and their relation to each other can also be fun with a night-time constellation guide (they glow in the dark). Campgrounds and forests far from the city provide the perfect place to view the night sky without the interference from light pollution.
As for reading and writing, these are easy. Take a trip or two to the library before the trip and check out books on astronomy; Usborne and DK books are always good choices. Make sure they include basic facts on the planets, sun, moon, and gravity. Make sure you have at least one picture book/reading book per child for the trip and a video would be great. We watched a rather boring video on the life of Galileo Galilei, but another more interesting video on Copernicus. “Test-drive” the videos before you go, so you won’t be too terribly disappointed. As for the writing portion, you can have your kids keep a journal, complete with photos, on the trip. Digital cameras can be purchased for as little as $70 from many stores and photos can be printed at most drug stores and Target stores for only 33 cents per picture. Putting the pictures in their journals is a great night-time activity. Don’t forget to include post cards and other mementoes. We’ve kept museum and planetarium tickets, photos, postcards, jars of sand, bits of shell, and even non fiction books we bought along the way. (Just remember to purchase a journal and glue sticks before you leave!)
So now you have an idea of how to organize a unit study around a vacation and vice versa. It is a fun and purposeful way to plan a family vacation that includes highlights for your kids and gives them something to talk about when they get back to homeschool. It is much easier to remember subjects that we experience first-hand, so planning your family vacation around an important subject for your child can spark a lifelong interest and further them in their studies at homeschool. To help you build unit studies around any subject, use the following graphic organizer as a guide and have fun!