Thursday, June 21, 2018

Guest Post: The Beauty of Units by Michelle Sager

I worked with Michelle's family for many years and always loved seeing her unit studies. When she told me about her current project, I asked her to share about it on Ohio Homeschool Assessments.  Please Welcome Michelle! 

The Beauty of Units

Schools sometimes call them “thematic units”.  Basically, a Unit Study is a flexible study of one topic that encompasses some, most, or all of the scholastic subjects (language arts, math, science, social studies, art, physical education).  Some Units are hands-on while some are strictly virtual; some are literature based while some are based in math, science or history.

We were lucky enough to discover Unit Studies fairly early in the research phase of our journey to homeschooling.  We didn’t understand their importance right away (another story for another time), but our children enjoyed learning with them so much, that we quickly grew to love them!  So much so, in fact, that we began turning everything into a Unit Study – chemistry, biology, anatomy, fiction and non-fiction books, the Olympics, movies, Girl Scouts, and family trips (even a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada!).  We became an eclectic homeschooling family. I think the term eclectic fits our family better than relaxed, since every day is different, and there are many days where the learning is quite intense and doesn’t seem relaxed at all.

Why We Love Unit Studies

My family’s love-affair with Unit Studies began in October of 2008 with a free sample from  We wanted to inject a little bit of fun into our routine and found a Unit on Autumn and fall leaves that included literature, writing, math, earth science, chemistry, spelling, geography, vocabulary, art, hiking, computer knowledge, and probably a million other things I can’t remember!

  • We went to our local park to collect different leaves, then my children used the computer and some library books to identify the trees by the leaf shape and created a scrapbook of the identified leaves.
  • We used a map to find the peak color-change times in our country and in the process learned the location of all 50 states.
  • We went back to the same park to estimate and count the number of leaves per branch. That information was then used to guess which types of trees carried the most leaves, and which environment was more leaf-producing; a closely packed woods or a carefully landscaped park. 
  • There was an entire day spent studying photosynthesis, leaching the color out of the leaves with rubbing alcohol and coffee filters, learning which leaves contained which chemicals.
  • We looked at tree rings, seeds, bark, animals that rely on trees for food and shelter, and anything else they wanted to study.
  • We made some stained-glass leaves with wax paper, crayon shavings and an iron, read and wrote poetry about autumn, and had a lot of fun!
  • The children found a locally produced video at the library about autumn in the Smoky Mountains.  At the time, the Smoky Mountains were in our backyard, so we took multiple hiking trips into the park, and identified trees while we hiked.
  • We even took pictures of it all and created a family website to share our “schoolwork” with out-of-town family. It was a fantastic week!

We love how adaptable Unit Studies are; how creative our children could be; and most importantly, how much they enjoy learning when we used them!

Add and Subtract

There were some parts of the Unit that our children would find boring – so we skipped those.  There were some additional things we could do – so we added those. Unit Studies can be as simple or as complex as you want or need.  (As simple or as complex as your children want or need.)
Multi-level Unit Studies allow children of different ages to learn the same topics at the same time. They are adaptable to your children and your location.  We were blessed to live in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains during peak color-change time and took full advantage of it. We even managed to “sneak in” some Tennessee state history during one of our trips to the woods.

Where Are the Units?

There are many quality Unit Studies out there for a nominal fee or even free.  We found many Units that we changed rewrote, added to, subtracted from; made into whatever our children needed.  We also used some Units ‘as-is’. There are a LOT of resources out there.
Publishers’ websites usually have Teacher Guides available as a free download and can help you turn a novel into a Unit Study.  Lapbook templates and notebook pages can help you create a Unit Study on just about any topic.

What Makes a Good Unit?

A good Unit is engaging and helps your children want to learn.  The topic is not the most important part – if your children are learning and they want to do more learning, then it was a success!
This is far from a complete list, but we have used, adapted or created Unit Studies based on:
  • Literature -  The Long Winter, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, The Hobbit, Romeo & Juliet, The Indian in the Cupboard, Anthem, Atlas Shrugged, The Hunger Games Trilogy, 1984, Fahrenheit 451…
  • Seasons -  Autumn, Winter
  • The Winter Olympics 
  • Animals
  • Government & Elections
  • 50 States
  • Girl Scout Badges
  • Our own community when the Grandparents came to visit
  • Science -  Anatomy, Chemistry
  • Holidays -  Halloween, Christmas, Thanksgiving
  • National Whatever Day -  The National Holiday-of-the-Day or Person-of-the-Day
  • Trips -  Indianapolis & St. Louis, Colonial Williamsburg (w/ Jamestown & Yorktown), Hilton Head Island (w/ Savannah), Las Vegas
  • Join our Eclectic Family

Now that we have almost completed our homeschooling journey, I am working to make our original Unit Studies available to others, complete with ideas for adapting the Units.
Begin with a free course in How to Create a Unit Study (with a Sample) – the sample is a study on Bats.  This course shows you how to create a Unit Study with any topic:
The first Unit I have completed is a trip to Hilton Head Island and Savannah.  This one is perfect for turning a family vacation into a learning experience:
I am working on the rest of the Units and other courses as fast as I can!  
Full Disclosure
Becky’s freestyle assessments are PERFECT for eclectic homeschoolers like us!  My family has used her services since the 2010-11 school year when we moved back to Ohio.  It was a question she asked me a few years ago that prompted me to offer our original curriculum and Unit Studies to others.  So, I must say THANK YOU Becky for encouraging me over the years!
An eclectic home educator for 10 years, Michelle believes engaging your children in the process of planning, developing, and evaluating their own experiences will cultivate a lifelong love of learning. 
Eclectic learning lets you incorporate life into learning instead of dividing life from “school”.  This means all learning, such as family trips, chores, videos, music lessons, family game night, and the dinnertime discussion about the museum you visited last year all count as “school”.  You can help your children see how things fit together.  Since life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it isn’t divided into subjects and it only makes sense to learn-as-a-whole.
Operations Manager and Editor for SpearPoint Solutions, Michelle is also a contributing author to the book, Living a Wealthy Life: Stories of Gaining an Abundance in All Five Forms of Wealth.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Repost: The Joy of Journaling

  A question I get so often is how do I get my student to write?  Here is one idea.  It was posted last year at Ohio Homeschool Assessments.  

Writing. . . it can be almost be a bad word among home educators.  It is easy to feel you are not doing enough, and it can be a struggle with our students.   I want to share about the benefits of your student keeping a journal.  It is an old idea that might be a great fit for your student. 

First, there are some universal truths about writing and writers. 

1.  Few people are born great writers.  Really.  Most writers work very hard to develop their craft over time.  It is a tedious process.  To do this. . .

2.  Writers must write.  You can not become a writer by thinking about writing, dreaming about writing, or even reading others writing.  Though any of those things may help, you must write to become a writer. 

3.  Many famous writers have kept a journal or diary.  For instance, Franz Kafka, C.S. Lewis, Ray Bradbury, Mark Twain, Virginia Wolf, George Lucas, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Isaac Newton, Anne Frank, Madeleine L'Engle. . . 

“You want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you,” 

~Madeleine L'Engle

Having your student keep a journal is an excellent strategy to improve their writing.  A simple notebook or word processor is all you need to get started.  For most students I would simply set a timer for 15 minutes and tell them to write until it buzzed. 

Decide ahead of time whether this will be a journal that is only for the student, if it is one they plan to share with others, and if they want you to give feedback.  My daughter and I wrote back and forth in a journal to each other for many years.  My feedback kept her writing.  It also deepened our friendship

So whether you grab a loose-leaf notebook and fill it with paper, a composition book or a fancy journal, having your student keep a journal is a valuable way to encourage them to write.  

P.S.  Below I have included some fun ones I found on Amazon.  Just for fun.  

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Changing Questions. . .

I still remember when I decided to home educate.  It was a well thought through decision.  My husband and I talked about it extensively.  We extensively looked at  curriculum, we thoughtfully made sure our children had outside activities, and we made sure they had responsibilities at home.  We spent hours making things work.  But, the questions came.

Are you sure you can handle this? 

I mean you were a teacher, but all the kids will be in different places?  

What about socialization?  Aren't you worried?

Don't you think your kids will hate it?  

What about high school?  How are you going to complete labs?  

They will never get into college or get a scholarship.  

So we answered these questions over and over again.

Are you sure you can handle this?  I am pretty sure.  I have been handling having  them since they arrived.  I think this is a great choice for them.  We have really thought through this.

I mean you were a teacher, but all the kids will be in different places?    Well, yes they will all be in different places.  Just like when I taught, and all the kids were in different places academically.  They will learn to be independent learners.  We feel like they will be OK. 

What about socialization?  Aren't you worried?  Yes, we are worried about socialization that is why we are home educating.  :-)  We believe that life is lived with people of all ages and that is why we are home educating to give our kids that opportunity.  We believe parents are great role models.

Don't you think your kids will hate it?  Right now they are pretty excited, and we will take it a year at a time.

What about high school?  How are you going to complete labs?    Well, we are going to take it a year at a time, but there are online classes, co-op classes, and distance courses.  About labs, well there are co-ops and online labs.  You can also buy lab materials for home use.  (you would be surprised what you can buy online)  We have dissected a cow's eyeball, a cow's heart, a pig, a frog, and we have our own microscope.  We have beakers, a fire blanket, and all sorts of chemistry items.  Our kids have completed most of their labs successfully in our kitchen.  We are good.

Well I guess. . it just sounds so risky. Plus you know. . . 

They will never get into college or get scholarships.    Well. . that one I can finally answer. (Brag Alert)   Well our son got into University of Cincinnati,  Ohio State, Duke, Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech,  and MIT with scholarships and aid.  Plus scholarships from the Elks, Coca-Cola, Samsung American Legion, P & G, National Merit, and other organizations.  He was also  one of 116 a Presidential Scholars for the United States, one of 3 for Ohio.  I feel like he did alright.

So I thought the questions had pretty much stopped. But, then I talked to my neighbor.

 I saw my neighbor and we were talking about graduation I told him our son was going to MIT and we homeschooled him.    The only question I got was. . . Can I send my kid down to your house to homeschool with you?   

As we graduate our students from high school I feel like I have some different things to talk about on the blog.  Let me know if there is something you would like to hear about.  

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Guest Post: Internet Kids Road Trip

I was excited to learn about this book. Welcome Anna Blake to Ohio Homeschooling this week!

The story behind our family project started about 12 month ago when our home office computer was badly damaged by a ransomware virus. We lost most of our photos and important documents due to gruesome act of the hackers.

At the time, our son Max was only 6 months old, and some of the photos we lost were his newborn one’s. So, that virus not only damaged our files, it stole our most precious memories.

That’s when it hit me, in a world where electronic devices have become our best friends, it’s inevitable for our kids to follow our footsteps. As we all know, the online world is full of dangers, be it sex offenders, identity theft, or ransomware viruses, our kids are as vulnerable as ever. I guess because we just recently had our first kid, both me and my hubby became especially paranoid about kid safety. Plus, all those scary stories you see in the news on daily basis.

Did you know that law enforcement officials estimate that more than 50,000 sexual predators are online at any given moment?

After surveying dozens of parents that we personally knew with kids ages 6-10, we realized that 90% of them do not supervise their kids’ online activities, and those that do, do not educate their kids about risks associated with the online world. However, all of them showed interest in our idea of an educational book that talks to kids through a captivating storyline and colorful illustrations about the internet. I guess it’s easier for all of us to let some book educate our kids instead of us doing it in person :)

That’s how “Internet Kids - Road Trip”, a book about staying safe online, was born. From the getgo we’ve decided that both printed and electronic versions of the book will be absolutely free (we even pay for shipping). This way, we can get it into as many hands of little girls and boys as possible.

During the past few months, we’ve worked with a published kids book writer to come up with a storyline and address all safety concerns that we’ve collected from our mommy surveys. My husband and his very talented sister hand drew all characters and came up with the illustrations. For a while our home looked like a publishing house, with hand sketches all over my kitchen countertops, bathrooms and even under our pillows. Max would steal them from the office desk and try to hide pages whenever he could.

I’m happy to say that our first batch of 1,000 books is currently in print (YAY!) and we have a waitlist of schools that agreed to distribute them to their students. Still, that is just a drop in the huge ocean of readers nationwide that will hopefully benefit from it. Meanwhile, we’ve started to work on our next book series, focusing on another touching subject, kids bullying.

As Kofi Annan once said, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

I wish all of you and your families to stay safe and have wonderful experiences such as family road trips :)

If you would like to get a free copy of “Internet Kids - Road Trip” book, please visit:

About Anna Blake
Anna is a stay at home mom, wife and owner of very demanding cat, from sunny Chatsworth, California. When she is not busy chasing her 2 year old around, you can find her trying out new salad recipes or re-watching favorite chick-flick movies.
Together with her hubby they educate kids and adults about internet safety through their website and recently created an educational children's book "Internet Kids - Road Trip".