Zooming In on Our First Units: North America, Forests, and Author Studies

I’ve always been a fan of unit studies, so I love that this year’s curriculum lends itself easily to unit style learning. I know this goes against everything Charlotte Mason advocated, and I’m okay with this area of disconnect. Though I do find it funny that while she disliked unit studies, she did advocate for the study of a single artist or composer at a time… sounds a little “unit-esque” to me. 😉

In a previous post, I outlined what curricula we’re using for which subjects, and what our days look like. In my last post, “What’s in a Name“, I touched on how our weeks are structured as a whole and how we’re managing to fit in all the “fun stuff” on a regular basis. If you read those, you know I spent a significant amount of time over the summer planning out our school year. Though not necessary for all homeschoolers, I like to get a big picture of our year and then zoom in on each piece or unit, and enhance it if I can. I rearranged the countries that were outlined in My Father’s World to suit my preferences. (I wanted to study Antarctica in January rather than late spring–call me crazy–which led to rearranging the other units as well. I was happy with the result, though!) Then I added in the units from “Around the World with Picture Books” from Beautiful Feet Books, the combined 3rd and 1st grade sciences, and the author studies for first grade.

So here’s a “zoomed in” look at our first units: studying the countries of North America, forests and deserts, and author studies on Laura Numeroff plus the start of Eric Carle.

We started in the U.S.A. with a review of what we were learning last year through our exploration of United States history. We also began our unit on forests. Both curricula we’re using this year call for quite a bit of notebooking and rather than try to make it all work together and exasperate my children with an intense amount of writing and recording, I decided we’d make a mural out of butcher paper for each ecosystem studied in lieu of an ecosystem notebook. It makes a nice addition to our homeschool decor and it’s fun to see the scene come together over time.

While studying deciduous forests, we used our home field advantage and took several nature walks and field trips around the area. We’re attempting to take a nature walk every week this year but in addition to that, we climbed Mt. Wachusett, hiked Quabbin Reservoir, and took other walks off the beaten path…

To help keep Emmalyn included in our studies, she had her own “units” on trees, leaves, autumn, and the changing colors. I also found these cute “cut & paste” papers on ecosystems for preschoolers. They are a great way to practice those scissor and glue skills and make a nice addition to our mural! We did lots of nature collecting on our walks and made these neat field guides with leaf prints on the covers. In the end, we had a pretty awesome forest mural happening…

After the United States, we hit Canada, while staying within our forest unit. This allowed us to expand to talking about coniferous forests as well. (You may have noticed the very hastily completed “pine tree” that graced our forest mural…) While studying Canada, we made “Inuit sculptures” out of soap, and “poutine” for dinner one night!

Before I talk about Mexico, I should mention our author studies. When Abby was in first grade, I split the curriculum into two years because I started her schooling at a young age. So with only half of a one-year curriculum to complete, it was easy to fit in monthly author studies with their own lessons. This year, we are essentially trying to do 3 different curricula in one year PLUS the author studies, so it’s not as easy to do all the lessons. But just as Charlotte Mason saw the value in studying a single artist or composer at one time, I still see the value in zooming in on a single author to study their voice, style, and genre. We may not do all the lessons and activities that I wrote a couple years ago, but we still learn a little something about each author as we go. We began with Laura Numeroff and transitioned into Eric Carle when we started Mexico because his books are easily found in Spanish and I thought it would be fun to do some side-by-side reading! Eric Carle’s art is really fun, too, so we did find a way to fit that in! To find out how I structured those author studies when Abby was in first grade and to download the material for FREE, click the links for Laura Numeroff and Eric Carle.

On to Mexico! And deserts! We finished up North America by spending an AMPLE amount of time in Mexico; reading Spanish picture books, studying deserts, making plenty of tortillas and churros from scratch, blasting mariachi music while we cleaned the house on “Work Wednesdays”, and I even found an old movie I watched as a kid called “Friendship’s Field” about a family who hired Mexican workers to help them on their farm in the 1960s–that brought back memories! Capped it off with a family dinner at a local cantina and decided our homemade salsa was just a little bit better. 😉

Next, we head to Africa and continue our desert study. Hopefully I can get that post up soon!