The longer I homeschool, the more my interest in unit studies and hands-on learning opportunities grows. At first, I was really intimidated by them because they can be a lot of work to think up and put together. And while I can’t say that they aren’t a lot of work, at least when your children are younger, I can say that they are totally worth it.
One of the easiest ways to get your feet wet in the world of unit studies is to start with animals.
The topic choice is simple and most children are interested in at least one animal. While there are so many facts that can be shared, the best thing about animal unit studies is that they can go way beyond simple biology or zoology. Animals have permeated all aspects of human history and culture!
For example, a simple study about horses can reveal their significance throughout time and the role the horse has played in human development and agriculture.
Who can forget Paul Revere’s infamous ride? Or the horse drawn chariot races in ancient Roman times?
Horses have been a subject for art (as seen in stone cave paintings, depictions of famous battles, and statues); music (from classic lullabies like “All the Pretty Horses” to America’s hit “A Horse with No Name”); literature (classics like Black Beauty or The Black Stallion); film (“Mr. Ed” and “Seabiscuit” to name only two); and so much more.
On top of all this, the relationship forged between horses and humans has been a source of fascination for generations. Horses can be wild, tame, work on the farm or in the city, shown, ridden competitively, or simply kept as pets.
As you can see, learning about animals can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. And it can encompass as many or as few subjects of study as you like!
Despite the plethora of information readily available about animals, it can feel quite daunting to put together a unit study with such a broad variety of topics at your fingertips. Figuring out where to start and how to structure your lesson can keep you from even beginning to explore the possibilities. As you consider studying an animal in your homeschool, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Never underestimate the power of field study and observation. Zoos (and local farms or ranches) are an incredible resource. If you have a local zoo, or even one within a reasonable driving distance, I highly encourage you to visit it! There is no substitute for seeing the incredible creatures in this world up close and personal. It can be hard, especially for children, to comprehend the fact that elephants are the largest land animals in the world until they observe it with their own eyes.
- If in-person field study isn’t possible, don’t despair! Videos can be a wonderful substitute and, thanks to the internet, it has never been easier to find videos on animals. They offer your child a window into the animal world that they might not get otherwise. Just be sure you preview them before showing them to your children, especially those about predators. Although the truth of the predator-prey relationship is simply a fact of life, you may not be ready to show your child the violence of a lion catching its prey.
- Don’t forget to include as many historical and cultural references to your animal of study as possible. Adding that aspect to the physical facts imparts a rich concept of the animal’s importance to our world.
- Most importantly, have fun! Children of all ages are fascinated by animals and discovering interesting facts about them helps children learn more about the world around them. As an added bonus, you may find that an animal study is a great way to “sneak” in those subjects your child typically resists. The wonder of the topic can overshadow the dislike.
If creating an animal unit study sounds like something you would love to add to your homeschool, sign up to access my FREE online resource library and download my Animal Unit Study Lesson Plan Template!
This template includes the information you need to plan your own study. Each day in this week-long study has a dedicated topic with a list of materials and research you need to gather, plus important things to discuss/teach and ways to implement the knowledge through hands-on activities. Included in this template are three student worksheets:
- Animal Habitat Characteristics – to reinforce information gathered about where the animal lives (Click here to download this worksheet for free now! No sign-up needed.)
- Animal Behavior Observation – to give direction during field studies or video observations
- Venn Diagram – for comparing and contrasting throughout the study
Note: Although this study was originally written for K-5 students, you could easily adapt it to fit your student’s age or needs.
I hope you find the tips, template, and worksheets helpful as you begin (or continue) your homeschool journey with unit studies!
Do you and your child enjoy learning about and observing animals? What are your favorite ways to do that? Be sure to let me know in the comments below!
P.S. I’d like to send a warm shout-out to Tasha at Elements Design Co. for lending her design expertise to my new worksheet templates! They are gorgeous and I’m excited to be able to share them!