View Full Version : "child led" learning, or unit studies..some questions

12-05-2010, 09:30 PM
I'm curious about these methods...if you follow "child led" learning, how does your child decide what to learn? If they don't know about something, how could they choose to learn about it? I see/read about kids learning so many neat things this way, but how on earth do they come up with those topics to study on their own?

and unit studies...I really want to start doing this, but am so overwhelmed. I don't know how to pick a unit, or how much time to spend on a unit, etc. I think I'm just highly unorganized, LOL. It shouldn't be that hard, should it?!

I keep thinking I'm going to be organized, but then I read another blog, or stumble on a new forum (like this one), and all my plans are flipped upside down again and I lose faith in what I had planned, then want to start all over!

12-05-2010, 09:53 PM
Look up "strewing" ;)

12-05-2010, 10:18 PM
ha! okay, I think I read that post about strewing. So I strew stuff around, then go with what they pick...but if I'm strewing, aren't I leading? I'd still be the one doing the choosing...

I guess just pick a box of random books from the library one day, see which strikes a chord, then go from there?

12-05-2010, 10:36 PM
Well, obviously people have different ideas about how and what to strew, just as people have different ideas about to what degree, if any, learning should be child led. I'm not actually an unschooler, but more of an eclectic homeschooler drawing from unschooling principles among other things. People who are more 'unschooly' say that the strewing should ideally be non manipulative, so if you wanted to take that approach, you'd be choosing a book and thinking "Oh wow, I think so-and-so might really enjoy that one" as opposed to thinking "Ah great, I can get her to learn some history if I select this book" (although I guess it would sometimes be a combination of both).

Stella M
12-06-2010, 12:26 AM
How do they come up with those topics ? Just interest really. Same way I might think "I'd like to learn to knit." and then check out a class or a book and learn basic stitches, then get an idea for a wrap I'd like to make and then see an article about yarn bombing and think that looks like fun and so on. Except with kids, you're facilitating the ideas - listening to their interests, finding the time and the resources for them to follow through.

Not every interest will lead to genius-level creation though. Some interests will be short-lived, others may be more intense. Remember, on blogs and forums you often see the ideas and projects that worked out and not the ideas that went nowhere.

Also, some kids do very well with interest led studies and some don't. It can be fantastic but it doesn't have to be the answer for every child.

I'm not a fan of unit studies myself because it seems that sometimes the study lasts longer than the kids interests and my patience, lol. I have seen some amazing unit studies though!

It's really confusing working out what all the different approaches are and what the best way to do things in your homeschool is. Don't lose faith! Maybe just try out your plans and see how they go. If everyone's happy, great, if not - try something new.

And blog hopping - while fun and educational :) - has been for me a sure fire way to doubt everything I'm doing. Maybe choose a couple of favourite blogs/forums and just stick to those for a while. Good luck!!

12-06-2010, 12:37 AM
We use unit studies in conjunction with lapbooking. We're not doing a totally interest-led curriculum, but I do pay special attention and try to facilitate their interests.

12-06-2010, 05:10 AM
I agree that blog hopping can actually hinder and not always help. Once I have a plan in mind then I normally do some blog hopping looking for my topic and only use things that I think the kids will enjoy. I understand that it can be overwhelming and it has certainly made me feel very inadequate at times too.

12-06-2010, 10:04 AM
Ok, here's my take on child-led learning. Just like everything else, there are almost as many answers as there are homeschoolers.

Some people take their unschooling VERY seriously. they will take their kids to ever museum in town, every historical site, every event that might spark some sort of interest, take them to the library every week and say 'pick 5 books, any 5 books'. Anything the child expresses interest in, they follow it until the child is no longer interested. But its intense, hard work.

Then there are the radical unschoolers who knit and watch tv and assume their kids will figure out their own thing.

And in between, there are people who set out a curriculum, but IF the child expresses interest in a specific thing, then they drop the curriculum to explore that area. there are also kids who are very highly self-directed, and can go from Harry Potter to an interest in ficiton about magic and dragons to a history of real castles to wanting to learn latin since all of harry's spells are latin-based . . .

As for unit studies, I alwasy recomend http://www.intellegounitstudies.com/index.php/products.html However, we also find that our interest doesnt last as long as the unit study. We prefer to explore a subject and move on.

12-06-2010, 10:31 AM
I did our own unit studies for a while and it was very labor intensive and expensive. :p I took something they showed interest in....Egypt, electricity, pirates, winter solstice, etc. and created units for them.
Now, we use Moving Beyond the Page and all the work is done for me! I have been surprised over and over at the units that we do that will sustain their interest. Not all of the activities will work, but there is some part of every unit that they all enjoy. If we start to lose interest, I speed up and if they are really into it, I slow down.

12-06-2010, 11:43 AM
I have yet another opinion about child-led learning, and it definitely is only that - - my opinion. My personal belief was to have more structured learning up until middle school. I wanted to make sure my kids got the "basics" of math, reading, writing, science, history down. I felt like if they had those basics down, those could be a true springboard for wherever life takes you. Then, I began to let them take a much less structured, and more independent reign on their education starting at about age 12. And I think the thing that I have been pleased with most about this approach is that the early learning I enforced has given them a basis for all their later research. If they wanted to know about computer programming, they had enough math so that they weren't frustrated when they got to higher levels of mastering the code. If they wanted to write fan fiction, they had enough of a writing background to know how to break up paragraphs and separate character quotes. They could focus on what they wanted to say instead of having to look up spelling for every third word or the rules for plain vs plane. They are able to follow their interests as absolutely far as they want to because they have a specific level of mastery to lean on.

Having said this, though, we DEFINITELY did unit studies based on the kids' interests often throughout the elementary years. It could sometimes be the best of both worlds when I could combine structured learning with things they were naturally curious about at the time!!

12-06-2010, 01:18 PM
thanks for all the replies!!
the comments about blog-hopping are so true. and it's so hard in the beginning, when I really don't KNOW which way I want to go...I have no clue what will work best for us. Right now, what we're doing isn't really working for our family. My 7yr old walks away or tunes out if she thinks she's being taught something, dislikes workbooks, repeatedly says "I don't know, nothing" when I ask "what would YOU like to learn about?", etc. So I keep reading blogs thinking i'll stumble across one that screams "yes!" to me about teaching her...

anyways, thanks for the comments here. We're hitting the library tomorrow and I'm going to pick up some random stuff to strew and see where that leads.

12-06-2010, 02:28 PM
Thats intersting, Topsy. I guess, really, its kinda like the Thomas Jefferson model, where kids get to different stages and need to take more responsibility for their education. My older one, tho, cant stand not having something to do and has never been able to entertain himself, and my youngest is just not mature enough for serious academics yet. sorta frustrating for me.

12-06-2010, 03:47 PM
Ours is a total mix - structured learning for the basics, our history/culture is unit based, but child-led learning on everything else. For example, my son picked up the recorder and started to play it on his own - so we are searching the web for 'how to teach yourself to play the recorder'. He wants to sell some of his Lego figures on Ebay so today he is researching how much various mini-figs were sold for in the completed listings (a good introduction to analyzing data). It is a messy way to learn (you never feel that everything has been completed) but it seems to work for us.

12-06-2010, 03:51 PM
My 7yr old walks away or tunes out if she thinks she's being taught something, dislikes workbooks, repeatedly says "I don't know, nothing" when I ask "what would YOU like to learn about?", etc.
Wait, did you steal my 7 yo and change his gender?!!!

12-09-2010, 03:40 PM
LOL Cara :)

01-24-2011, 10:58 PM
I really like unit studies. We usually work on them for only a week, but sometimes longer if ds is still interested learning more. I set up all of ours just from rescources on the web and my own creativity. Our first unit was on America and then I asked him what he'd like to learn about next. I think I gave him some ideas since he's only 5. Like I'd ask what ocean animals and he suggested crabs, whales, dolphins, octopus', and sharks (we learned about one each day). Then he wanted to do insects and so on.

We are doing a week on each letter of the alphabet now (I'm guilty, I picked the topics for each). We are doing one history, social studies/geography, science, math and activity day for each letter while he practices writing the letters and their sounds. I like this as I'm exposing him to a broad range of topics.

But after the ABC weeks are over I will go back to letting him choose. I'll probably give him some ideas (which endangered animals would you like to learn about? and we'll look at the WWF website while he picks some, for instance).

One thing though, at first I'd plan a unit as we were working on our current one, and it drained me. Now I plan four units during a week off and then we do those units and I don't worry about planning the next ones until our next "off" week. We don't break during the summer so it won't really effect us.

Here's an article about planning your units and other general unit stuff people may find useful: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/6219000/homeschool_unit_studies_what_they_are.html?cat=4

01-25-2011, 01:12 PM
My 7yr old walks away or tunes out if she thinks she's being taught something, dislikes workbooks, repeatedly says "I don't know, nothing" when I ask "what would YOU like to learn about?", etc. So I keep reading blogs thinking i'll stumble across one that screams "yes!" to me about teaching her...

Does she ask a lot of questions about things? Running with her questions with expanded answers, research, and experiements might be an easy way to get started, as she wouldn't be asking if there was no interest.

My son (just turned 5) asks a ton of questions, some of which seem very left field as far as their relation to the activity or discussion we are involved in at that time. For the most recent example, last night I was reading him a story about a chicken hatching a dinosaur egg and the family raising the dinosaur as a pet. There is a lot of rain, causing the river to overflow and flood the town and the dinosaur saves everyone. Silly story all told, but that's what it was.

So, what does my son ask about that became a teaching/learning moment? "Why did the river overflow? Why was there a flood?". So I pulled out bowls and filled them with water so he could see it overflowing the sides etc. and we walked down to our own river and I explained how if the water is too high it goes into the yards and such.

I think the story made him concerned about our proximity to a river and the possibility of us having a flood. Whatever the reason, he was interested and we ran with that.

01-25-2011, 08:46 PM
I really do have to start paying more attention when she asks questions. I'm very guilty of the "I don't know...we'll look later" then it gets forgotten.

I'm currently trying to put together a unit study on fashion, as that is ALL she is interested in right now. I don't know whose child she is *eyeroll* I could care less about fashion, never have. And at 7yrs old I certainly didn't think about it for a moment! But that's what she likes. So her spelling for now will be all words related to fashion (she has HATED spelling lately...just scribbles across the page, or purposely writes everything wrong), we'll do a fashion timeline, measure her sisters and fabric, look at some patterns, etc. will see how far I can brainstorm this to reach all areas of study :)

01-25-2011, 10:41 PM
We're definitely not radical unschoolers, but we are completely child-led. I strew. One of the best places for me to leave books is a basket in the bathroom. When one of the books accompanies a child out of the bathroom, I know what else to show them. I always invite them to cook with me. When someone has a question, we look it up. My eldest was interested in Vikings so I directed her to an awesome site where she spent some time, then followed a link to learn about life in Victorian England. I find activities that relate to stuff she finds like that. Sometimes I'll ask her to make a list of things about which she'd like to learn. She's yet to come up empty; on her list now: Vikings, deep space, video game history and more NOVA tv shows.

I pay close attention to the things they do & talk about & show interest in, but I also make suggestions. Like, "Hey, I'm going to plant some flowers. Want to go pick out some seeds & have your own pot?" Then I'll leave out a book with pictures of Texas flowers & find some plant-related science projects; maybe we'll paint our flower pots. Hey, we learned about Greeks last year; want to paint your pot in the style of Greek vases? The Zuni people painted awesome birds using geometric shapes on their clay pots as pleas for rain; let's look up what they're called & see some pictures. And it goes from there... :)

01-26-2011, 08:49 AM
We did unit studies when my son was younger, because it really went well with his hands on style of learning. I gave him input and let him choose some subjects. We always ended up with a balance of units on subjects I chose because I thought he should be familiar with them, and units he chose because of an interest.

We even did a unit on aliens once because he was very into "Do aliens exist?" at the time. My first thought when he asked for that unit was couldn't he come up with a Real subject to study? But it ended up being quite fun. We (yes we, I always learn something while teaching) learned about famous hoaxes, studied and watched some classic alien movies and listened to the original War of the Worlds, and learned about SETI and NASA's search for life out there.

Nearly anything can be turned into a unit study, but don't try too hard to fit every subject into the unit. It doesn't always work. It also doesn't have to be expensive. Most of the books for our units came from the library, and most of the crafts and experiments were done with common household items.

Making a unit study is lot of work, there's no getting around that. I never found ready made units that fit our family, though I did find some blogs that gave me ideas. I really enjoy that kind of work, but if you don't like it, you'll hate making unit studies.

01-30-2011, 04:40 PM
Love reading all your posts and learning from them. I had never heard of Strew. Interesting. I just started HSing my 8 year old DD. We are all over the place! I am like the idea of Unschooling more and more. All she wants to do is write, she writes and makes books all day long. Right now she is making books half the size of a stamp for her Polly Pockets! During the week, I tell her to stop writing and do her Math, it makes me cringe, but I feel she should grasp some of the math concepts, since I never did, I sure wish I didn't still count on my fingers : ) Always looking for advice and searching threads for new ideas.Thanks.