Although we usually follow a 4-year-cycle for history and science in our homeschool, last year we decided to do something different. Spurred on by my children's interests, we spent the first half of the year exploring the United States through books, pictures, foods, and videos. Rather than focusing on memorization of state names and capitals, I sought to give us all a small sense of the culture in each region of the USA. To make our United States unit study more holistic, I decided to incorporate the following for each region:
Native American studies
stories and folk tales
chapter books, including books for my own education
media to accompany the read-alouds
pictures of landscapes and famous sites
foods and recipes
Read-Alouds, Not Worksheets
I wanted our unit study to be an enjoyable, shared experience between me and my children. To that end, I purposely avoided basing our unit study upon worksheets, which are often used as busy work, and which my children would come to dread. Instead, I built our unit study around read-alouds.
With read-alouds, I was able to easily introduce my children to new ideas, cultures, and places. Through read-alouds, we were immersed in loving households, in the triumph of overcoming struggles and challenges, and in the wondrous fantasy of folk and fairy tales. Read-alouds also sparked some of our most important discussions, leading to the foundation of good character, integrity, responsibility, and kindness.
Whole USA Books
There were a few books which I read to my children throughout our USA unit study:
The Children's Book of America by William J. Bennett - This beautifully-illustrated book includes historical stories, folk tales, and poems about the USA
The United States of America: A State-by-State Guide by Millie Miller and Cyndi Nelson - This book contains pages for each state of the USA and includes many interesting facts such as the size and population of the state, the state bird and flower, and sites of interest within the state
American Tall Tales by Adrien Stoutenberg - This little chapter book includes stories of American folk heroes such as Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and Davy Crockett
A Child's Geography of the World by V.M. Hillyer - This book includes 11 chapters about the USA; somewhat outdated, but nonetheless a fantastic story-based geographical resource for introducing the different regions of the USA
Regional USA Books
As we progressed around the USA, I checked out many, many books from the library. We read lots of picture books as well as a few chapter books. I thought it would be fun to learn about some of the animals, history, and landmarks in each region, so we read books about national parks, state mammals, and historical figures in each region. (If you want to know more about what we read, I've put together a comprehensive list of books for our United States unit study here.)
Nurturing Our Own Interests
I purposely incorporated our individual interests into the unit study. For instance, since my daughter is very interested in Native American culture and horses, we read Native American folktales and books about horses for each region of the USA. My son is quite interested in machines and structures, so we read books about bridges and inventors as we progressed around the USA.
Part of what made this unit study so enjoyable for my family was that I included topics of my own interest. I love cooking and developing recipes, so making recipes for each region was a great way for me to fuel my own passion while doing this unit study with my kids. We all enjoyed having meals with foods from each region of the USA.
How We Carried It Out
We spent about 2 weeks studying each region of the USA. I wanted our USA unit study to be unstressed and fun, so my kids and I would thoroughly enjoy it. To that end, I made sure to never make our unit study into a "requirement". Rather, we just enjoyed reading books together, looking at pictures of each region, and watching short videos about the animals in each region.
Introducing Each Region
I began the study of each region by briefly taking time to introduce the region. We referred to our large wall map of the USA to see where the region is located geographically within the USA, and I read a chapter from Hillyer's A Child's Geography of the World. Whenever we were interested in a specific state, we'd look it up in The United States of America: A State-by-State Guide to learn more about it.
I printed out pictures of the landscapes and sites in each region and hung them on the wall. It was quite enjoyable to see the different regions in this way, adorning our walls and shifting as we progressed across the United States.
Digging Into Books and Associated Videos
A few days each week, we read picture books for the region in the morning, generally before or during breakfast. It worked well to read one fiction book (such as a Native American folktale or story book) as well as one non-fiction book (such as a science or history book) at a time. Then we followed up the reading with any associated short videos to accompany the books.
In the evenings, we read more picture books and then the chapter book for each region.
Exploring the Foods
Once or twice a week, I made a meal incorporating regional foods. We enjoyed these meals in an unpressured way, allowing everyone the freedom to fall in love with or reject the new foods. The main objective was just to have an enjoyable regional meal together, to experience a small taste of the regional cuisine.
Enjoying My Own Regional Books
In addition to reading books aloud to my kids, I made time to read some regional books on my own. These books allowed me to fuel my own interests throughout the unit study. When children see their parents feeling passionate and excited about their own interests, the children are inspired to do the same.
Want to Have Your Own USA Unit Study?
My kids and I had so much fun exploring the USA in this way. I hope this post helps you feel inspired to have your own read-aloud unit study of the USA.
To make it easy for anyone else who wants to have their own United States Unit study, I have created a comprehensive USA unit study. It includes over 250 book recommendations as well as associated videos, landscape pictures, and recipes for each region of the USA.
Have you had any success with unit studies in your homeschool? If so, what were your favorite features?
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