Once-a-Week unit studies can serve as a year-long course of American history or life science when combining four unit studies. They are also flexible enough to use as supplements, perhaps enhancing a traditional textbook with real books and hands-on activities.
Most of these studies are designed to also satisfy requirements for American Heritage Girls, Trail Life USA, and Boy Scout merit badges. Whether a student is in one of these organizations or not, the merit badge requirements outline excellent topical studies and can be profitably used by all students. Students in these programs have the additional motivation of earning badges. (Trail Life USA badges can be earned as part of their self-directed badge program when completing any Once-a-Week unit study.)
Once-A-Week unit studies are intended for use by the entire family, with learning activities targeting the needs of students in grades 2 through 12. While the title says, “once-a-week,” independent reading and read-alouds related to each unit study are spread out over the entire week for a period of four to eight weeks depending upon the study selected. Only one day a week has concentrated learning activities, although you could easily spread these throughout the week as well. Each week is designed to culminate with family activities that might include a field trip, family movie, dinner, or game night that revolves around the topic studied.
A year-long course using four of these books that focus on U.S. history is sufficient for grades 2 through 12, but for the life science studies, high school students need to be concerned with science lab courses for which they can earn credits. This means that it makes sense to use the science studies as a supplement for high school students but as a more comprehensive option with younger students. In addition to covering topics in social studies or science, each guide also provides work in reading and language arts as well as some work in art and/or music appreciation.
Titles available thus far are and the merit badge that may be earned:
Birds of a Feather – AHG Our Feathered Friends/BSA Bird Study badges
Horsing Around – AHG/BSA Horsemanship badges
Forest for the Trees – BSA Forestry merit badge
Weather on the Move – AHG Young Meteorologist/BSA Weather badges
Knights and Nobles – BSA Art merit badge
*Christmas Comes to America – AHG Music Appreciation/BSA Music badges
*Native America – AHG Native America/BSA Indian Lore badges
*Early Settlers – AHG Book Adventurer/BSA Reading badges
*Revolutionary Ideas: the Story of the American Revolution – AHG Dawn of Our Country/ BSA American Heritage badges
*We the People: Getting to Know Your Constitution – AHG Citizenship and Government and Our Flag badges/BSA Citizenship in the Nation Merit Badge
*Lewis & Clark: From Sea to Shining Sea – AHG Nature and Wildlife/BSA Nature badges
*Westward Ho I & II – AHG Our Heritage/BSA Journalism badges
*Civil War (due in 2015)
Note that the first group of titles is science related while the second group is for social studies.
These studies do a great job of involving the whole family. You can select from the recommended read-alouds list for non-readers, although you might also read aloud some of the more challenging books just to enjoy them together. Recommended history books for older students are a mix of fact books, historical fiction, and biography; many titles are classic literature. Science books include fact books, field guides, biographies, and nature/science related fiction.The few required books for each study are marked, but there are many more books listed from which you can choose those suitable for independent reading by students at different grade levels. Most books listed are found in the juvenile section of the library. If you have older students, you might search the corresponding Dewey Decimal section of the adult library shelves for more challenging books.
Reading levels for recommended books are indicated in more recently published unit studies but in some of the earliest studies you will have to check yourself to determine which books are best for each child. Dewey decimal call numbers are listed alongside recommended book titles and are listed in alphabetical and numerical order to minimize the time you need to spend gathering library books. Some videos are included in the recommended resources as well.
Field trip ideas range from virtual field trips to Mount Vernon in We the People and Monticello in Lewis & Clark to visiting a local historic site in Westward Ho I, a greenhouse while learning about earth’s atmosphere in Weather on the Move and a bird hike with your local Audubon club in Birds of a Feather. Movie, dinner, and game nights, all of which revolve around the topic studied, are recommended for family night. Most movies are major films while a few are documentaries. Family dinners can range from children helping prepare a Cajun meal while learning about the Louisiana Purchase in Lewis & Clark or Pioneer stew, Johnny cakes, and homemade butter in Westward Ho.
Multi-sensory activities suggested for your concentrated activity day are also great for involving all ages. In Birds of a Feather, one week’s activity suggestions begin with a family devotional from Scripture. (Each week’s activities begin with a devotional.) Following the devotional, you might create a bird feeding station, construct a simple birdbath, start a nature journal, research your state bird, make a scarecrow, or make hummingbird nectar. Other lessons include crafts, games, cooking, timeline creation, and many other ideas from which to choose. Instructions are provided for all activities. Prep time will primarily be spent gathering resources for the activities and locating books and videos. Required resources are mostly easy-to-find or household items such as rope, dowels, plastic milk jugs, a deck of cards, star stickers, balloons, straws, modeling clay, a leafy house plant, funnel, and binoculars or a telescope.
The family devotionals for each week's lesson provide a Christian base for these studies and set the tone for the following activities. However, these can be skipped for those who want to take a secular approach. There are only occasional mentions of God in places other than the devotionals in most studies.
Introductory information for parents at the front of each guide is quite brief. A four- to eight-page section titled "Getting the Most Out of Your Once-a-Week Unit Study" at the back of each guide has more detailed suggestions. This section is easy to miss! The instruction provided there is sufficient for those with younger students. However, those with high school students will have to invest more effort in determining appropriate reading and writing assignments that will ensure that students are doing sufficient work to earn credits. For example, the instructions mention that teens should do lengthier compositions in response to composition assignments in the lesson plans, but parents might want to add additional assignments or specify the length of compositions. In addition, occasional research assignments are also in the lessons, but parents might want to provide more specific requirements for teens.
Complete History Courses
As I mentioned above, you can create two year-long U.S. History courses by selecting four or five of the nine U.S. History courses per year. I've marked these with asterisks (*) above so they are easy to spot. We the People could also be used as a government course, but it works well in the history sequence. We the People is the only one of these unit studies that limits the audience to grades 4 through 12. Christmas Comes to America is a lighter study that encompasses more than history as it studies the traditions and customs of Christmas in the U.S. It might be appropriate for families to use during the Christmas season for a change of pace.
The other U.S. History courses don't have to be used in chronological order, but that usually works best. You could start year one with Early Settlers, Native America, Revolutionary Ideas, and We the People which together should take about 27 weeks to complete. The second year, you would continue with Lewis & Clark, Westward Ho! Part I,Westward Ho! Part II, Christmas Comes to America, and Civil War which should take about 28 weeks to complete. If you have younger students, you could add Lewis & Clark to your first year, saving We the People for the second year. Even though structured lessons do not fill up 30 or more weeks of a school year, extra reading and activities from the lessons can easily fulfill any requirements since you won't be able to use everything that is suggested.
Each history study directs students to create a History Timeline Notebook where they will record information and make drawings to highlight key events and people. The History Timeline Notebook helps students understand chronological relationships, especially if you use the studies out of order.
Almost all of the recommended reading resources are secular, but at least one of those for We the People have a Christian outlook. Optional resources for We the People such as America's Providential History and resources from Wall Builders promote Christian view.
These unit studies are a great way to cover U.S. History, and I suspect they'll probably work best for grades two through eight. For high school students, it is more difficult since you generally have only one year to allot to U.S. History and one semester for U.S. Government. Also, high schoolers need to cover modern U.S. History, and this series concludes with the Civil War. Nevertheless, you can still use these studies with high schoolers, but I think you should use them in combination with other resources rather than on their own. Obviously, you would also need to either choose only a few of the Once-a-Week unit studies or else use a greatly limited number of activities from within each study to make this work.
Homeschool Legacy has begun to produce some Micro-Studies that are available only in ebook format. These studies for students in grades one through eight take less time than the others, generally requiring only three, 30-minute sessions per week. They still include some hands-on activities but fewer than the other studies. Each study includes one or more recommended family read-aloud books.
Micro-Studies available thus far are:
Victoria and Her World - Queen Victoria of England
Many Nations - a study of several Native American nations that lived in North America before Europeans began their own settlements.
Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims
Cooking Up History with the Founding Presidents - history of our earliest presidents and their wives plus some of the their favorite foods
Pirates and Privateers: You Decide - a study of pirates and privateers through history, with a critical thinking challenge
Micro-Studies are a great way to supplement your curriculum, to offer your children a temporary change of pace or pursuit of a special topic, or to allow parents to experiment with unit study.
Most Once-A-Week studies are available as either printed books or as digital downloads, with savings on the digital download format. Once-A-Week units studies are a great way to try out unit studies, and they also make it easy to incorporate the excellent American Heritage Girl, Trail Life USA, and Boy Scout, badges into your curriculum.
Note: If you are not yet familiar with American Heritage Girls and Trail Life USA they are the Christian alternative to Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. American Heritage Girls was founded in 1995 and Trail Life USA in January, 2014. Both are experiencing explosive growth. For more information regarding American Heritage Girls and Trail Life USA visit: http://ahgonline.org/ and www.traillifeusa.com.