The “Subject of the Day” Approach

Learning about the ocean, hands-on!

Studying the same subject together as a family, unit studies, has many advantages. It is much easier for mother to teach just one topic, rather than trying to explain several different subjects to several different children each day. The whole family can enjoy discussions together on the same subject. Enrichment activities such as movies, art projects, or field trips on the subject apply to every member of the family. I have found teaching all my children the same subject together has been a most rewarding experience!

When the whole family is on the same topic, you can enjoy a great read-aloud book together! This has been a highlight for us. We read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch when studying the era of the big clipper ships in American History. What a memorable book, and how it made the history come to life! You can also assign individual reading books at each child’s level too.

In my homeschool, we do our unit studies one subject per day. On Monday, we do history together. , Tuesdays we studyWednesday, it’s time for science. We call our unit studies our “Subject of the Day”.

To map out your homeschool’s unit studies, consider following the plan that most publishers use in creating high school or college textbooks:

image-1History is divided into these subject, with a subject focused on each semester or school year:

  • Ancient Civilizations
  • The Middle Ages
  • American History
  • Civics (American Government)
  • Modern World History

thumbnailI have appreciated having the Usborne History books  as basic textbooks, and using The History of U.S. for American studies.  You can teach American Government as a part of American History.

Geography can either be handled as a separate unit study, or you can study the geography of the places you study in history. When you study American History or Civics, you can study the United States, learning the states and capitals, major landmarks, rivers, mountains, and more.

image-2Science is divided into these subjects:

  • Earth Science
  • Biology
  • Human Body (can be merged with Biology year)
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

Younger children will study Physics on a beginning level: Physical Science (magnets, electricity, states of matter, etc.) while older children advance into greater depths in Physics. Science is great to study together, because all the children, no matter their age, enjoy doing science experiments.  Apologia Science books have geared their textbooks to teaching grades K through 6th all from one science book!  Very handy!

image-3Fine Arts is divided into these subjects:

  • Music Expression
  • Music Appreciation
  • Art Expression
  • Art Appreciation
  • Drama
  • Dance

The Fine Arts lend themselves easily to learning with varied ages. In our homeschool, we have tried a weekly group lesson on music or art appreciation. The Fine Arts can be used to enrich history lessons too!  Every report can use an illustration.

image-4English includes these subjects:

  • Phonics
  • Reading
  • Penmanship
  • Spelling
  • Composition (Writing)
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Speech

Because of such widespread skill levels, the only area of English that is easy to teach together in a unit study is usually grammar, and then the younger students must drop out at a point and let the older students move on. I recommend teaching all language arts subjects individually with the exception of poetry which can be memorized together and recited, and speeches which are fun to give to a group. I also read literature aloud which all ages enjoy.

So, let’s get started!  Choose a History subject and a Science subject for this coming school year.  I like to start at the beginning:

Year 1:  Ancient History plus Earth Science or Astronomy

This is a good combination because Ancient History starts with the formation of the earth, and Earth Science deals with understanding the structure of the earth, geology, changes in the earth’s crust, volcanoes, earthquakes, etc.  A good combination!  You can have fun doing some excavating for ancient relics (dog bones?) as well as learning about the earth at the same time!  Astronomy is also a great choice.

Year 2: The Middle Ages comes next. Add the Science of your choice.

Keep going. Map out the next 4 years of homeschool so you cover the basics of History and Science. Fit in Fine Arts to fit your family’s interests.  Learning about the Composers fits marvelously into study of the Renaissance period of history.

You can make the unit study a fun family project by choosing exciting experiences to delve into the subject: going to museums, watching special movies, doing research reports, reading library books, reading aloud a related work of historical fiction, doing an art project about the subject, and digging just as deeply as each child’s age and skill level allow.

Unit studies have one drawback if you have a wide range of ages amongst your homeschooled children. If you teach to the age level of the middle child, then the lesson may be frustratingly difficult for the younger children, and boringly easy for the oldest. To solve this, I have the younger children “drop out” and do a related project when they get restless. You may provide a puzzle, or a coloring page that illustrates something from the unit study, or have a basket of library books on the subject ready to be browsed through. It is amazing how much little ones will glean anyway. I taught a unit on Egypt to my children when Louisa was just 4 years old. For most of the discussion on mummies and pyramids and Egyptian gods, Louisa was just playing with her toys on the floor. One day we were walking through a store when she eagerly pointed out a shape and called it its proper Egyptian name: the “ankh”! It is a symbol that the Egyptians used to represent life. I was stunned! Without any direct teaching, she has absorbed a great deal by just playing nearby. So don’t underestimate how much they may absorb, even if they are coloring instead of looking at you!

For the oldest children, assign a follow-up project that challenges them, such as further researching a related topic and presenting a report, doing a drawing or presenting it to the class later. Give them additional reading on the topic at a higher level also. In this way, a “one-size-fits-all” lesson on the Subject of the Day really does work for the whole family!

imageProjects, hands-on experiments, and applications to real life make unit studies a thrill for your homeschooled children. Here is an example of some ideas that you could use to teach a unit study on “The Human Body”:

Human Body Unit Study Ideas

-make an actual full size outline of the body, putting each organ in place as studied

-visit a physical therapist office and see an x-ray

-get pulled teeth from a dentist to study and and dissolve (using soda pop!)

-get a large bone from the butcher to dissect and study

-watch baby animals (or a real human baby) being born

-conduct a physical fitness program and keep records of strength and endurance

-put together a skeleton model

-study sleep and dreaming

-do experiments using a stethoscope, listen while resting and after running

-make a working model of a part of the body

-learn about the government food group recommendations

-study about Daniel in the Bible, and how he refused the king’s rich foods and prospered

-hold your fingers against a flashlight in a dark room

-put your ear next to your sibling’s throat while he is chewing–wow, what noise!!

-find out who can wiggle their ears, roll their tongues, or who has double joints

-chart the baby’s naps

-find out why people snore

-make thumbprints, footprints, hand-prints using ink or poster paint

-watch the pupil contract quickly when a light is shone in an eye

-study brain sizes: yours, the brain of a bird, the brain of an elephant

-put your name on a gallon of water. At the end of the day, measure how much you drank.

-interview a track coach about how to keep the body in top performance

       . . . to name just a few!

Over the years of homeschooling, I gravitated to using the Subject of the Day method.  It gave us clear direction, a sense that we weren’t missing anything, and a thrill for learning!

To see our favorite resources for each grade level, take a look at our Curriculum Kits.


May I recommend:

Simplify Your Homeschool

Setting Up a Family Schedule

Public School or Homeschool?

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