Making Sense of the World: Unit Studies

Two of my favorite homeschooling years occurred when I used KONOS as the basis of my curriculum. I heard one of the founders of KONOS speak at a homeschooling convention and loved the slogan she used to describe her perspective (which I’m probably not getting exactly right), “God put the wiggle in children, don’t take it out.”

KONOS was based on the idea of integrated unit studies, a concept that I heartily applaud. Each unit had a theme and what we covered in history, science, literature and Bible studies was chosen to fit into that theme. While KONOS was Christian-based, I found it “easy” to adapt because the themes were built on character traits, in Hebrew, what I would call midot.

I put the word easy in quotation marks because KONOS took a lot of work on my part. I bought three huge fat books that simply listed ideas, possible books to read, and suggestions for activities. I then spent the summer and much of the rest of the year planning. The tremendous time I spent on preparation is the reason I was only able to do this program for two years.

As an example, one theme was ‘co-operation’ and a constant undercurrent was encouraging all of us to develop skills to get along better with others. We learned about the meetings of the Continental Congress that led to the formation of the United States. We discovered how molecules bond and how different systems in the body cooperate with each other. We studied the twelve tribes of Israel and Jonathan and David. There were a lot of hands-on activities that allowed my children to co-operate in building, cooking and putting things together. As the two mothers who started the program noted, a necessary ingredient was duct tape for mothers’ mouths so the kids could experiment, fail and try again.

For my part, whatever period of history we were studying, I tried to bring Jewish history into the mix. As a young student in school I remember learning about the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 in Jewish history and about Columbus’ voyages in 1492 in general studies. I don’t remember seeing the two events as connected. As a homeschooling mom I always tried to make the connection. I wanted my children to realize that Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, whose ancient Jewish wisdom we studied, was a contemporary of Abraham Lincoln. I wanted them to be aware that Rabbi Yisroel Salanter’s 13 character traits were impacted by the writings of Benjamin Franklin. In addition, since Jews were scattered around the globe, we discussed what was going on in many different countries at the same period of time.

I don’t think KONOS is available anymore, although there are many unit studies on the market. We had lots of fun with KONOS and I appreciated how it helped me form my own homeschooling philosophy and think through my priorities rather than simply gathering textbooks or checking off skills mastered. At the same time, it also made me aware of how many options we had and how our learning could adapt to fit into the various stages of our family’s life.

To my thinking, one of the dangers of traditional schooling is that subjects often seem disconnected and apart from the real world. Unit studies is one of the ways to develop a broad-minded view, linking parts of a complex and multi-faceted world into one big picture.

3 thoughts on “Making Sense of the World: Unit Studies”

  1. Susan, today I’ve been able to sit, read, think and comment! I am grateful for this quiet time.

    I agree with your thoughts about our system of schooling and wanted to inform you that there are others who understand this connectivity conundrum as you’ve analyzed it.

    My younger two children showed us this satirical commercial done by a YouTube personality when it came out four years ago. I didn’t think that you wanted links in your comments otherwise I would share it directly, so you can see this video on YouTube with a search for it’s title: Honest University Commercial and the creator is nigahiga.

    Regardless, I think you’ll see how well it connects to this post. When you under three minutes of time to see it, I highly recommend it for a great laugh; I’m 99.9% certain that Rabbi Daniel Lapin will laugh, too.

    Good Shabbos!

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