Gather ‘Round Homeschool is a Christian unit-study program that can be used with children from the pre-reading stage through twelfth grade. It consists of monthly units, each on a different topic. All subject areas, except math, are taught within each unit, making connections whenever possible in a true unit-study fashion. This is intended to be used as your core curriculum for the entire year, although you could use individual units separately. There are also separate courses for beginning readers called Letters + Numbers and Ready to Read that can be used either on their own or alongside the regular unit studies. These take students from preschool through first grade and cover all subjects including math.
This program is easier than some other unit studies since it lays out specific assignments rather than giving you lots of options. The units include art activities, and most of them also include other optional hands-on activities.
Gather ‘Round was introduced in the fall of 2019, and it has all of the units for two years and some for the third year. New units will continue to be published until there are four years’ worth of units. The plan is that you will recycle through the units at a higher level every four years. New units will continue to be added so you will have plenty of choices for topics.
There are 20 lessons in each unit to be used on 20 days per month. Their suggested schedule requires four days per week, allowing for field trips, sick days, and other events. So it might take four to five weeks to complete each unit.
The units for Year 1 are:
- North American Birds
- Earth Science
- North America
- Human Body
- South America
The units for Year 2 are:
- Australia & Oceania
- Inventions and Ideas
- Career and Trades
- Creepy Crawly Things
- Farming and Food
The units for Year 3 are:
- Living Off the Land
- Intro to Psychology
- Medieval Times (not yet available)
- National Parks of North America (about camping, survival, ecosystems, animals) (not yet available)
- Sports and PE (not yet available)
The proposed unit plan for the final year (Year 4) are:
- Rocks and Minerals
- Renaissance (Shakespeare)
- North American Forest Animals
- Unsolved Mysteries
- Life Skills
The first year of the program was conceived as a foundational overview of the continents before starting into history. You can see from the list of units for the second year, that Gather ‘Round finishes up the continents, then introduces world history with a study of ancient civilizations, the Vikings, medieval times, and the Renaissance. Other areas of history are covered throughout the core units as they tie into the various subjects. Mini units that can be used whenever you wish cover U.S. history, Canadian history, U.S. government, Canadian government, indigenous peoples, Easter, Christmas, pets, and other topics. Mini-units are to be used as add-ons to the regular units, requiring an additional 10 to 20 minutes each day.
Each unit has a teacher’s guide plus the student notebooks for six different levels:
- pre-reader: 4 to 5 years old
- early reader: 6 to 8 years old
- early elementary: 8 to 10 years old
- upper elementary: 10 to 12 years old
- middle school: 12 to 15 years old
- high school: 15 to 18 years old
Both the teacher’s guides and the student notebooks are beautifully illustrated with photos, drawings, graphics, and coloring pages. Each notebook has more than 100 colorfully formatted pages that have lines and graphic organizers for students to write and draw in.
You will need a Bible along with a map, atlas, or access to the internet for geographical research. Unlike many unit studies, Gather ‘Round does not require you to gather lots of other books, although they do provide lists on their website of optional reference books, literature, and videos related to the month’s topic. Optional cursive writing notebooks for each unit have copywork that utilizes spelling words and Bible verses from the corresponding units. Year 3 implements a new seatwork journal as well with daily writing mechanics, copywork, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling practice. Optional recipe books are also available for some of the units.
Each unit is taught from its own teacher’s guide. The teacher’s guides have daily lesson plans, instructional content, and links to websites that are sources for more information. The printed books have QR codes that lead directly to the recommended resources as well.
I really like the way the teacher’s guides are laid out. For each day, there is the lesson material with text and illustrations to share with all of your students. Then each student works on his or her notebook assignments. The teacher’s guides tell exactly what each level will be doing each day, including instances when all students have the exact same activity and can do it together.
Activities in the different levels of the student notebooks gradually become more difficult while retaining some lesson activities in common. For instance, the first lesson in Oceans has a science lesson about water pressure and how it increases in deeper water. The early-reader through middle-school levels all use the same experiment with a plastic water bottle, poking holes at different heights to observe differences in pressure. Suggestions for extension activities provide a little more challenge as you move up through each level. The high school level omits the water bottle experiment. Instead, it has students research pressure changes for scuba diving. High school students write about the effects of water pressure and how to equalize pressure, then they plot a graph showing pressure in relation to the depth of the water. (Since teens should be completing much of their work independently, it doesn’t matter if their assignments are sometimes quite different from those for the other levels.)
This approach keeps the entire family working on the same topics. By making small differentiations for each level (and letting parents know what those are in the teacher guide), Gather 'Round makes it easy for parents to stay on top of things when working with more than one student.
Similarly, each week’s lesson has a scripture passage from the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV). Early readers might have part of a verse, while the length of the passage gradually increases to a few verses for middle school and high school. The Bible passage is used for language arts in a copywork fashion. Students copy the passage, paying attention to spelling and punctuation. There might be additional spelling practice with particular words from the passage. Verses might be used for dictation and/or memorization, and older students are sometimes asked to write their thoughts about the scripture passage.
Students will have assignments from most subject areas each day, but the emphasis shifts from day to day. For instance, in the Oceans study, science gets a lot of attention, while social studies/history gets less. In Living Off the Land, history and social studies receive as much attention as science.
The program includes coverage of environmental issues. This was very evident in the Oceans unit study. For instance, middle school and high school students are given an assignment in the second lesson to “write a blog post or newspaper article about a social issue.” Suggested topics are oil spills, whaling, and disappearing coral.
Without the entire program, it’s impossible to judge the entire scope and sequence as to how well it covers different topics. I expect that users will encounter occasional issues with language arts since students need to build skills upon previously learned skills. Most language arts programs build concepts sequentially throughout each year. Gather 'Round takes a different approach since you can swap the order of the units. As the publisher explained to me, they teach, reteach, and review the same skills within all units for that level, advancing to a higher level of skills in the next level of their student notebooks rather than in a subsequent unit within the same level. The publisher also tells me that with the new seatwork journals, they hope to build in more sequential grammar, spelling, and vocabulary activities, still in coordination with the units. It will be interesting to see how well it works.
It is important to note that the middle school level introduces research assignments, and the high school level relies heavily on independent research and writing. For example, lesson 14 in Oceans has this high school assignment:
Today we learned about octopuses and how intelligent they are. Research other animal species that have been found to be very intelligent. Use the boxes below to collect your information. Then, on a separate sheet of paper (or the computer), write a short persuasive essay about one of the animals you find, explaining how smart the animal is and why. Use two-to-three points for your argument, with examples to prove your points. Remember to cite your sources at the bottom in either MLA or APA formatting.
Middle school research and writing assignments also teach students about using both MLA (Modern Language Association) and APA (American Psychological Association) style guidelines for formatting citations for sources, although I question the wisdom of presenting middle schoolers with two different formats to learn.
According to the publisher, each day's lesson can be completed in as few as two hours per day, even with two or more children. Lessons are very flexible so that you can spend more time if you want to go off on rabbit trails with Optional Extension Activities.
Overall, it appears that the program is much more informational than experiential. It is weighted toward reading and research, although the recommended internet sites sometimes include videos and activities. The amount of hands-on activity varies from unit to unit. Oceans, the first unit written for the program, has very few, but more hands-on activities have been added to subsequent units. Most units have at least one hands-on activity each week.
What to Buy
There are free one-week samples so that you can see for yourself how the program works before buying.
There are free one-week samples so that you can see for yourself how the program works before buying.
Teacher’s guides and student notebooks are available in print editions or as PDFs. You will need a new set of both the teacher’s guide and student notebook(s) for each month. The digital (PDF) versions for each unit include the teacher’s guide and all levels of the student notebooks (for use within your immediate family). You cannot purchase individual levels of PDF student notebooks; they are only available individually as printed books.
You need to add your own math program unless you are also using Gather 'Round's Letters + Numbers or Ready to Read programs. The units do not have much religious content, so the author recommends her own More than Words: Living Faith Bible Curriculum (published by Master Books).
Gather ‘Round Homeschool is a new program that is being developed very rapidly, so it is continually evolving based on user feedback. It’s impressive given the short time it has been on the market. Gather ‘Round offers one of the easiest-to-use approaches for unit study that will work for the whole family, and the programs for early learners provide the sequential lessons needed for beginning math and reading.