Friday, January 30, 2015

The Unexpected Benefits of Unit Theory

Over the past few days, I’ve been spending a lot of time planning next year’s homeschool curriculum for my son. Part of that planning has been organizing my own thoughts about which “school” of homeschooling I plan to follow. Some theories involve teaching whatever the child is interested in at the time (He builds Legos? Let’s study architecture and geometry! She loves to paint? Let’s learn about primary and secondary colors!). Others involve having set schedules for set topics (9:30-9:40am, penmanship; 9:40-9:55am, American history; 9:55-10:10am, math flash cards). Still others involve following a purchased curriculum. But the one that most appeals to me is the idea of using a single general topic as a jumping-off point to study a number of other topics across a whole range of subjects. In other words, using units.

For example, yesterday I made chicken soup with my son (home economics). He helped me to read the recipe (following directions, reading comprehension) and prepare and measure ingredients (units of measurement, math, counting, fractions, fine motor skills), and we talked about why we use each ingredient (chemistry, nutrition) and where the ingredients come from (geography, biology). We saved the carrot tops and set them up to sprout (botany). I’m having him write up a label every morning with the date and the day # of the experiment (penmanship, counting) and then take a photo to document our progress (photography, art composition, fine motor skills, the scientific method). I’ll also have him periodically make a sketch (drawing) and write a few sentences about his observations (composition, grammar, penmanship, the scientific method). We’ll find some books in the library (research methods) which I’ll have him read aloud to me (reading) and then explain in his own words (reading comprehension, conversational skills). And maybe at the end of the experiment, we’ll put them out in our yard for the local bunnies or use them to start a compost pile (environmentalism, good citizenship, biology, chemistry).

As you can see, a simple pot of soup can lead to education in a number of different areas. But even though I’ve thought through dozens of topics I can cover based only on a couple of carrot tops, I discovered this morning that there are also more subtle lessons to be taught that I hadn’t even thought of; namely, patience and faith. I forgot how slowly time can go when you’re five. But this morning, when my son painstakingly wrote out the “Day 2” label and got the camera ready to take today’s photograph, he looked at the carrots and informed me rather dubiously, “They haven’t started growing yet.”

My adult mind immediately thought, “Well, of COURSE they haven’t started growing yet; it’s been less than 24 hours!” But I stopped and reminded myself that my lifetime of experience in watching – and waiting for – various things to grow or change has taught me to be patient and trust that things are happening that I can’t yet see. My son, in his mere 5 years on this earth, does not have that experience. And that is why one of the most important things he will learn in this experiment is not how to keep a lab notebook, or what plants need to grow, or why carrots are good for you, but rather he will learn to be patient. He will learn that being faithful and continuing to do something good even when you don’t see results right away is a good thing to do. He will learn that good things come to those who wait. He will learn the reward of being patient and having faith.

And all because of a couple of carrots.

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