16 January 2009

Choosing a theme for a theme unit

There's literally an endless supply of things to study in a theme unit. So how do I choose what we're going to study?

  • Look at the standards. If you do nothing else, do this. Before we started school, I printed out a copy of the California State standards for kindergarten, each subject on a different color paper, and put them in a page protector. I find myself turning to these very often. It's probably my most used resource. Though I sometimes find the standards lacking in depth or developmentally inappropriate (subjects for another post), they are a great guide to help you see the big picture and identify any gaps in your child's education. This year we did a theme on shapes because of the math standard that says students should learn to "identify and describe common geometric objects". Our theme on national icons was inspired by the social studies standard that reads, "students recognize the national and state symbols and icons such as the national and state flags, the bald eagle, and the Statue of Liberty." The science standard, "students know changes in weather occur from day to day and across seasons, affecting Earth and its inhabitants" led us to do a theme on weather.
  • Study something outside the box. There are some things that are just not taught in schools. Homeschooling is a great opportunity to study even the most bizarre subject. It may be difficult to find information. Great! A lesson in doing research! It may be tough to find the necessary supplies. Terrific! An opportunity for resourcefulness! While I very much appreciate the standards, schools are now churning out cookie cutter students, where each one knows the same as the next. One of the most memorable lessons I experienced was my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Green, teaching us how to draw a cartoon figure. It's not the most life-changing skill, but it's something I know that you probably don't! Learning unique skills adds to our children's wonderful individuality and on a very practical level, their income potential.

  • Let your child choose. I'll be honest. This year it just didn't happen. She had never been in or done school before, so I wasn't sure if my daughter would be aware enough of just what school was to choose themes to study. But now that she's got a few months of experience under her belt she has requested a human body/doctors and nurses unit. I don't think we'll ever get to the point where she is the sole chooser of topics we study, but I definitely want to increase her involvement in the education process as she grows.

  • Choose a book or author you love. When I was taking my credentialing classes I created a theme unit based on "Weslandia" by Paul Fleischman. I absolutely fell in love with this book! It was so rich with possibilities! When you are excited about something it shows, and that excitement is contagious. And for me, that is one of the most important things I want to pass on to my children through homeschooling, a true love and excitement for learning.

  • Stretch yourself and chose something you really aren't that excited about. I also want to pass along self-discipline to my children. Sometimes we may not be thrilled about a task, but often it turns out to be not so bad. Maybe we (or our kids) aren't excited about a topic because we just don't know enough about it. It might develop into a hunger for more. It might be enough to satisfy us for a lifetime. I think both outcomes are valuable. When I was planning the community helpers theme I was NOT excited. I couldn't find any great books, the curriculum I ordered hadn't arrived in time, and I wanted to move on to our next theme. But you know, it turned out to be my daughter's favorite, not because of the books we read, or the worksheets she did, but because of a really cool tour of a hospital our friend took us on. And that theme led my daughter to want to know more. If I had skipped that unit it wouldn't have been the end of the world, but we would have missed a valuable experience.

  • Consider events or trips you're already planning on attending. My husband attends a conference every year and we usually tag along and make a mini-vacation out of it. We knew the conference would be held in San Diego so I thought about field trip opportunities that would be unique to that area. I had always wanted to visit a tide pool and realized that this was the perfect opportunity. So we did a unit on tide pools and Eric Carle's "House for a Hermit Crab". We took a week and a half to prepare ourselves for the trip, so we could focus on being observers once we were there. My daughter was very excited to see the animals in real life that she had learned about in books! Take advantage of any travel opportunities. One of the beauties of homeschooling is being able to do school anywhere. If you find yourself anywhere out of the ordinary, look for opportunities to learn! Museums, landmarks, monuments, memorials are just the tip of the iceberg. So what's near where you're going?

  • Work around holidays. Every teacher knows that the week before Christmas is useless. So why fight it? Incorporate it into your studies. Learn about the history of modern traditions. Find out different ways the holiday is celebrated around the world if at all. Study math by planning, buying, and preparing a special meal or dish. And it's not just Christmas. Do a theme unit on a lesser celebrated holiday like Arbor Day or Columbus Day. You don't have to do every holiday during the year, but a adding a few can be a fun way to mix it up. It's valuable to take time to reflect on these holidays that very often pass us by as just another day of no work or school. A theme unit is a great way to go deeper than just a President's Day crossword puzzle.

1 comment: