Monday, October 20, 2014

Unit Study-Outer Space

Before our school year started, I came across this life changing blog post about planning your year of learning. I was feeling overwhelmed. I didn't know what style of teacher I was and felt guilty for not joining a co-op or a part time school program. On top of that, I still had NO idea what curriculum to choose for which subjects. We are homeschooling to have fun, to grow in our relationships as a family, for flexibility and to save money. We are NOT homeschooling so that I would go crazy by week 1! 

"I was doing it ALL WRONG.  I was trying to juggle all these different balls called “school” and “home” and “work” and “mom,” not realizing that they are in fact the same ball.  I work from home.  I school from home.  This is where we live.  This is what we do.  This is our life now.  School is who we are."

Obviously, the blog post spoke to me. My boys love to read so I knew our learning would be literacy heavy. They also love art and hands on learning (doesn't every young kid!?) so we needed very few workbooks. Unit studies give you so much freedom to build your lessons around your child's specific needs, skills and interests. I let go of guilt, stress and threw caution to the wind and followed the unit study approach.

How to plan your homeschool year via unit studies!
First, I thought about  our schedule for the year (traveling, vacations, holidays, birthdays, work priorities, etc.). You could easily build unit studies around moving (people in your neighborhood/vocation, maps, climates) or other life changes happening during your school year. After loosely figuring out our life schedule, I sat down and made a list of subjects I thought my boys would like learning about. I had to take into consideration that Elijah is doing 1st/2nd grade course work while Lazzy is very much in pre-kindergarten.

I laid out all of my books (the collection grows weekly!) and organized them into piles according to subject. If a stack was particularly tall, I would give that subject a good 1-2 months to explore. Then, I started plugging them into the loose calendar that Ruth (!) provides in her blog post. 

I started filling in the specific subjects with book titles and even page numbers if needed. Our first and second unit studies overlapped which gave us more time and flexibility to explore: The moon, stars and constellations, the solar system and space exploration.

We began with The Magic Tree House Book #8 : Midnight on the Moon. We read it with it's companion non-fiction called Space. It was the perfect introduction to our unit study since the boys are familiar with that series. From there, I scoured thrift stores for anything on the moon, stars, space exploration, rockets, planets, etc. You'd be amazing at how quickly a great unit study book collection can grow! We checked out stories like Baby Brains: The Smartest Baby in the Whole World or There's No Place Like Space:All About Our Solar System, perfect stories to add to the more scientific books you might use. My all time favorite book to put "space" in perspective is "Where Do I Live?".

We found multiple in depth books on space and the planets. Don't worry if you feel like you're reading the same stuff every day. It's good for them to hear the same information and soak it in over the span of 2 months. Just make sure to add some non-fiction for fun!

Videos/Shows/Movies about outer space and planets:
Amazon Streaming:
The Jetsons  (or watch full length episodes on youtube)
Apollo 13

On Netflix:
The Magic School Bus Gets Lost in Space : Season 1 Episode 1
The Magic School Bus Goes Out of this World : Season 2 Episode 11 
The Magic School Bus Sees Stars : Season 4 Episode 7
Space Dogs
Leap Frog: Math Adventure to the Moon

We don't typically watch tv/movies except for Saturdays, vacation or when daddy has back to back night meetings. Let's just say it was a busy season for Dan.

You can also check for upcoming space walks which you can watch live! 
Stardate is another great website to track the moon phases throughout the month.

Hands on Activities:
You can make your own Moon dough by mixing equal parts corn starch and cheap shaving cream! We've been doing that for a while, but I just recently bought some from Amazon. This way, we always have it ready and it never dries out! I bought these space action figures, added some marbles for planets and stars and the kids went wild. We bring this out about 3 afternoons a week. The boys will easily spend 45 minutes playing. I love hearing them use the correct terminology and acting out all the information they've taken in. Also notice our PLANETS poster-from the dollar store!

On a whim (meaning-this was NOT in the lesson plans), we used some recyclables to make the International Space Station.

We can't leave the house without our space helmets!!

Visit a planetarium. Almost every Science museum has one and most Universities do, too.

Okay, so how do we connect math, art and writing with our space unit study?

Counting Games: We look at our PLANETS chart in the kitchen knook. The boys choose a planet, then I tell them to travel to the right 3 planets. Now travel left 2 planets. Go right 4 more planets. Where are you now?
Gravity: converting our weight depending on which planet we're on and using weights to actually feel the "pull" of the planets.
Measuring: learning about distance in inches, feet, yards and miles. Then using THIS cool site to get a feel of how BIG our galaxy is!

We create the solar system, moon phases and stars with a handful of mediums-paint, play dough, crayons, tissue paper and glitter glue. We also studied Van Gogh's Starry Night painting and tried to recreate it a few times. Pinterest is a great resource for art projects.

Elijah has been working on a book called "Where I Live" since our last unit study about Maps and Travel. It's a book that starts in his bedroom and slowly zooms out to the universe. We are working on the last few pages about his planet, his solar system, galaxy and the universe, all with writing prompts. For spelling, you could just use words that you've seen in all of your reading. Random workbooks with writing activities will get the job done, but it's so much more interesting when you child is writing about things they are currently studying!

With each unit study, I pick out a few character traits I want my boys to be working on and praying about. Diligence, focus, patience and team work are the qualities we've been talking about most. I've found books, games and even projects to help me in teaching them these things. Next month, we'll be focusing on service, sacrifice and thankfulness. We still read one French book a day, but I don't stress about whether or not it connects with what we're doing. 

One last thing!!

Chris Hadfield is our favorite Astronaut. He was the first Canadian to walk in space and served as the commander of the International Space Station. He has multiple short videos demonstrating different tasks you perform in space. Thanks to Chris, the boys got to see how astronauts eat, sleep, wash their hair and even how they go to the bathroom! The video below is just plain cool.

Our favorite Solar System Song:

And this is just a great way to see just how small the Earth is in regards to the universe!

A few more visuals to BLOW YOUR MIND:
 Sit down with the kids for 10 minutes and consider this, if the moon was a pixel.
Click through these images to see what it would be like if the other planets orbited our Earth like the moon.

For November, we'll be studying Native Americans, their customs, beliefs, history and where they are now. I am really excited about this unit study, especially since we live in a place with such rich Native American history!
To see a different example of moms using unit studies to direct their homeschooling, read this blog post.

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