Incorporating Unit Studies
"I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn."
I just love this quote from Albert Einstein and I don't think it ever rang more true than when I had to start doing school with my second child. Learning to teach or "provide the conditions in which they can learn" for several children is a bit more challenging than just one. That is why I have LOVED following the homeschool journey of this next Mama I get to introduce you to. Heather Robison is a homeschooling Mom of 5 in Utah. She does such a great job of incorporating unit studies into their days and it is inspiring to say the least. If you have ever wondered about unit studies, or would just love to glean some wisdom from this sweet Mama you have come to the right place. You will feel so encouraged and inspired after you have read what she has to share with us.
-Tell us a little about your family, how many children do you have and what are their ages?
We are an adventurous family of seven. My husband and I have been married for almost 15 years! Whaaat!? We have five children ranging from ages 4-12. My oldest two are boys, then my only girl, and the youngest two are boys. We live in a charming little town called Bluebell where we raise lots of farm animals on 18 acres of land. We own two businesses that keep our lives quite busy, but also allows us to spend lots of family time together and take time off to travel. We center our lives on Christ and try to focus our days around Him. We have a motto that goes like this: "Work Hard, Play Hard, Live Through Christ."
-How long have you been homeschooling and what made you decide you wanted to homeschool?
We just finished up our sixth year educating at home. We sent our oldest son to all-day Kindergarten. I was able to spend a couple days there helping at the school in his class. Halfway through the school year, my husband and I had many conversations about how much time our son was away from family. Our son did sports throughout the week, so after a school dayâ€”including bus routesâ€” he was gone from 6:50am-3:15pm. then he would have sports and a little homework. There goes his entire day. I understand he didn't have to do sports, but we felt it was good for him. About this time, my oldest son would come home from school and tell us he didn't like being at school because there were so many kids who were rude and lots of them said bad words, especially the bus ride. The bus ride, we quickly found out, was the worst part of the whole day. Too many kids crammed together for two hours every day unattended just leads to mischief and trouble.
We also learned quickly how much God is taken away and shunned at the public school. We did not like having to re-explain some things he was learning in school and correcting it through the gospel. Towards the end of the school year, my husband and I both threw around the idea of homeschooling, sort of as a joke. When we both came to the realization that we were both serious, we decided to give it a try the following fall starting him in his 1st grade year. We started homeschooling because of all the "fluff time" that is waisted in the public school. We would get to spend a lot more time with our child, and we could teach him things we find important to teach him like combining secular and religion as one. Putting Christ into the center of our homeschool.
-How would you describe your homeschool style?
Our learning style is a combination of a few curriculums and learning styles pulled together. I'd say our style combines Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, and small sense of eclectic. We love focusing our language arts around good and wholesome books with great values. We LOVE Unit Studies. We can really dive deep into unit studies and get super creative. I don't stress about finishing every single thing in a book from our curriculum, as long as my children are learning and understanding the concepts presented. We do math everyday, and some years they haven't completed the entire book of math, but all of them are a grade level ahead.
-How would you describe Unit Studies to a new homeschooling family?
A Unit Study is when you focus on a specific topic and dive deep into it for multiple lessons. We usually focus on a Unit Study for two-four weeks. A Unit Study could be anything from the rainforest, the ocean, certain time periods, etc. For example, we ended our last school year with a Unit Study on Hawaii. We spent an entire month learning about the history of Hawaii, the culture, animals, food, nature, volcanoes, language, etc. We dove deep into this unit and spent a few weeks learning all about Hawaii. You can add all subjects into a Unit Study as well. You can have their handwriting, math, science, geography, history, etc. all focused on that Unit Study.
-How do you decide which Unit Study to do next? Do you have a certain order or system?
We choose our unit studies depending on what is going on during our school year. For example, we chose to study Hawaii because we were about to take our family vacation there. Some of our Unit Studies come from a few of our favorite curriculum like The Good and The Beautiful as well as The Family School. Some other Study Units we come up with on our own. Our Hawaii study unit, I did all the research and added things from all over to do this study. Sometimes my children will want to learn about something specific, so we do unit studies according to what the children want to learn about. Sometimes, I choose what our study unit is, because it's something I think we need to learn.
-Do you use one main curriculum or a mix of several?
The greatest thing for homeschoolers is that there are so many wonderful resources out there. You can pick and choose according to your family needs and styles. It can be overwhelming, but so worth it when you find what works for your family. For us, we have used many different styles of curriculums. This last year I feel like we finally found what will work for us. And who knows, we may end up switching to something else in the future.
Most of our curriculum comes from The Good and the Beautiful. TGTB incorporates so many different subjects together in a wholesome, Christ-centered way with high values and standards. The language arts includes: literature, reading, spelling, grammar, art, and geography. We also use the handwriting and some science study units of TGTB. Some other science and history we use is The Family School which is Christian based. I love this because we do these studies in our unit studies and it brings each lesson together with a gospel principle at the end. The math we found that we love is Teaching Textbooks. Its online, your child can do it on their own, it's a little more fun and you as a parent can go in and check their work. It's a game-changer! We also put some of our own unit studies together that has to do with something going on with our life, or that my kids are interested in. So we research a lot and build our own lessons.
-How did you land on your style of education and curriculum for your family?
We found our groove and style through much practice, trial and error, and many prayers.
-Do you attend any co-ops/nature study groups/field trip groups?
Nature days are our very favorite! We try to fit those days in every friday, or every other friday. We go on nature hikes with some other homeschool friends of ours. We also have a pretty large group of homeschoolers we do a co-op with which is basically a themed gathering once a month. At that co-op we do crafts, games, healthy snacks, and many other things.
-What does a typical homeschool day look like in your home? Do you have a certain start and stop times, or are you flexible throughout your day?
My children (and myself) do so much better when we have a set routine and schedule. We aren't faithful every single day 100%, but we don't stress if things in life come up and we have to work our way around things. Our typical day goes as follows if everything goes according to plan:
-Morning: We wake kids around 7:00am and get them going. Breakfast, get ready for day, do morning chores and start school at 9:00am.
-Starting School: At 9:00, we do our morning basket that includes prayer, pledge of allegiance, memorization, story, and a 'manners' card.
-Morning table time: After our basket, we get out our language arts books, (which remember all the subjects it includes: literature, spelling, grammar, writing, geography, art, reading) and we do rotations. I work with two of the kids with their course book while the other kids work on their spelling and other things. Then we switch children around and I help the others. The older the children they are, the more independent they become.
-During this morning time, we also have the kids practice piano for 30 min. each, and they each do their math online.
-Lunch: We then take a break for lunch around 12:00 p.m. and let the kids run outside to play for a bit.
-Afternoon School: We try to start our afternoon back up around 12:45-1:00. We get out our current read aloud book and I read to them. Some of my kids need to keep their hands busy, so I will give them some coloring, blocks, legos, or a craft to do while we read.
-Unit Study: After reading, we do our lesson for the day. Our lesson is rotated between History and Science. We usually do a whole subject unit study for about two weeks, then we switch subjects (switching history and science).
-We usually get done with all of school by 2:00. Some days don't go as planned though! Some days we are really into our lessons so we take longer, or they didn't get their math done in the morning so they are finishing that. And some days something else in life comes up and we have to take a day off, and I am not worried about it at all. Other days can be really hard and trying, so we just need to put the books away and get out in nature.
-Do you homeschool year round, or just 9-ish months out of the year?
Our school year used to be traditional style and go with the public school year schedule, but now we kind of make it year round. We totally slow down in the summer. In the summer we still do math, reading, and writing a few days a week, as well as random fun lessons. I guess mostly we do school full-time 9 months of the year.
-What have been some of your biggest challenges in homeschooling your children?
Oh man, I don't know if I can list all the struggles with homeschooling five children under 12! Some of my own struggles would be time management, keeping up with the house, meal prepping, early morning (5:30am) workout and personal reading, getting children to be on task, and getting burned out. I'm sure there are other struggles I'm not thinking of at this moment, but homeschooling is hard. It takes a lot of dedication, patience, and a lot of your time. However, I would not be homeschooling if I didn't know with certainty that it was the best thing I can give my kids and that all of the struggles are completely worth it! Yes, we have bad days, days when I want to lock myself in the closet with a bag of chocolate, but most of our days are so inspiring and fulfilling. I love that I get to spend this time with my children, learning along side them, watching them have these "ah-ha" moments, and raising them to be good people in this world.
-What would you say is the biggest reward in homeschooling your children?
When I started homeschooling, I had a list of pros and cons to homeschooling and public school. As the years have continued on, my list of pros for homeschooling has grown in more ways than I can count. There are so many fulfilling and wonderful things that are the rewards to homeschooling. Some of my top reasons why we homeschool and why we love to educate at home would be the fact that we get to spend so much time together as a family, our learning days are centered on Christ, we get to teach our children about the world instead of them learning by being in the world. The relationships my children have with each other are far beyond any friendship they could have anywhere else. They are so close that I know if they weren't at home, those relationships wouldn't be the same. Of course they have their fits and fight with one another, but they truly are each others best friends.
-What is your current favorite homeschool resource?
One of my favorite places to connect and be inspired by others is the community on Instagram. There are so many amazing and incredible homeschoolers out there, and being able to connect one with another and support one another is so important for us homeschool mamas. It can be a lonesome journey at times, so we need to lift each other up. I also am a big fan of homeschool conventions. I recently went to The Good and the Beautiful Convention and I left on a spiritual and inspired "high"! It was amazing to connect with other like minded mamas, and be taught some amazing information from some amazing people. I have also loved the Wild + Free Conference, as well as The Family School Retreat.
-Do you read-a-loud as a family, if so, what is your favorite (or top 3) read-a-loud books?
Read-aloud is by far a favorite part of our day. I love the close knit time we get when we are all gathered together all cozied up reading a book together. There is nothing quite as refreshing as this. Some of our favorites are, "Little House on The Prairie" series, Harry Potter, and Lemony Snicket.
-How do you balance homeschool and family life or outside extra curriculars?
Balancing life between school, family time with dad, sports/extra curriculars, travel, house chores, farm chores, businesses, etc is really a battle, for sure!! I have yet to master this in my life, but we do what we can and cut out the unnecessary. I have to remind myself often to not stress over the little things. Which I still stress at times, but I as a mother with so many roles, I simply cannot do everything. My family cannot do everything, meaning sports and extra stuff. We have to cut out things that aren't top priority. My children help out a lot with house chores, farm chores, and sometimes the older kids help the younger kids with some school. I have to rely on everyone in my family to help out, otherwise I would completely loose my marbles.
-Being a Homeschool Mom takes a servant heart and a lot of sacrifices; How do you find time to take care of yourself, or make sure you are doing something you love and enjoy?
There are a few things I do to make sure my cup is filled. First off, I think I am a pretty creative person, so I actually use my talent and what I love into our school days. I have a giant chalkboard in our school room that I draw art that goes with our unit studies. I bring out the paint and teach my kids different art projects. I use this strength for myself as I help my kids.
In the mornings, I also get up early to get some "me time". I try to get up between 5:00-5:30 to get my workout in and do some personal scripture reading. I actually usually do both these things with my husband, which is such a great thing for our marriage.
One last thing that I do, which I have mentioned above, I take time away form the kids to be uplifted. I love homeschool conferences! I find they are so useful to me. When I am doing these things for myself, I show up a much better mother.
-If you could give one piece of advice to a Mom who is contemplating homeschooling her children, what would you say? Or, what is the best advice you have been given in regards to homeschooling?
Go with your instinct. It really isn't as scary as it seems and it's totally do-able. The only thing you need to have is a desire and be dedicated. You don't need a degree in teaching. There is no better teacher than a mother. Children thrive in a loving environment with those closest to them. It isn't a matter of IF you can do it, it is a matter of WHEN. I heard from a conference recently that people say "Oh, I wish I could homeschool, but I don't have the patience." or "I would homeschool, but me and this child but heads so bad, we wouldn't get along." The reply was, "That is why you should homeschool that child." Your relationship with your child will bond stronger than you can imagine.
Soak it all in... I knew you would not be disappointed. I love so much being able to utilize social media to connect with these Mamas who inspire and encourage me on my homeschool journey! I need that encouragement along the way and it has been so helpful to see those who have blazed the trail before and can offer words of wisdom on everything from different curriculum that has or has not worked to sharing resources that help in parenting and discipling your child's heart.
You can follow Heather on Instagram— @robison_tribe you will be so glad you did!
I have one more interview I will share with you in a few days and I am telling you, I don't think I have ever been more excited about our homeschool year because of these interviews and the inspiration and encouragement they have been for me!
Please share with me any thoughts or questions you may have as I will follow up with my own sort of "interview" in a couple weeks. ;)
Have a great rest of the week friends!