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.
Gather ‘Round was introduced in the fall of 2019 and does not yet have all ten units for the first year. They are producing about one unit per month to stay ahead of their customers. 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.
The units available thus far are:
- North American Birds
- Earth Science
- North America
Units in development for the rest of the first school year are:
- Human Body
- South America
The units planned for the second school year are:
- Australia and Oceania
- Ancient Civilizations
- Career and Trades
- Creepy Crawly Things
- Farming and Food
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 ancient civilizations, so the second year begins the historical thread that should be developed in future years.
In addition to the regular units, eight mini-units covering U.S. history chronologically and four for Candaian history are scheduled to be released by the middle of 2021. You should be able to use these whenever you wish as long you cover them in order. They should usually be used as an add-on to a regular unit, 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
You need not use the units in a particular order, except for the pre-reader level. The pre-reader level differs from all other levels since it teaches beginning reading and math skills in a sequential fashion. (See the pre-reader section below for more information.)
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 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. They also have students copy some famous quotations and work on alphabet practice sheets. 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. (Personally, I would probably use the teacher’s guides on a tablet or computer so that I could readily use the links while presenting a lesson.)
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.
Aside from the pre-reader level, activities in the different levels gradually become more difficult while retaining some features in common. For instance, the first lesson in Oceans—the unit study I received for review—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. This is the entire extent of the religious content that I found.
Students will have assignments from most subject areas each day, but the emphasis shifts from day to day. For instance, in Oceans, science gets a lot of attention, while social studies/history gets less. I expect that the emphasis in other units, such as Europe and Africa, will be stronger on social studies/history and less on 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. 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 octopus [sic] 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 2-3 points for your argument, with examples to prove your points. Remember to site [sic] 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 like “Research some popular movies about dolphins and choose one to watch together as a family!” and Activity Breaks such as “Look up videos of the pufferfish inflating itself” (Oceans Unit Study Teacher’s Guide, pp. 90 and 114).
Overall, from reviewing the Oceans unit study, it appears that the curriculum is much more informational than experiential. There are daily art activities but surprisingly few other hands-on activities. The curriculum in Oceans is weighted toward reading and research, although the internet sites sometimes include videos and activities. The publisher tells me that the amount of hands-on activity varies from unit to unit; Earth Science and Human Body have a hands-on activity at the end of each lesson, and they are gradually adding more such activities to other units.
A Note on the Pre-Reader Level
The pre-reading lessons differ from the other levels since they cover all of the subjects, including math. However, they spend much more time on basic skills for math and phonics rather than on science, social studies, art, or Bible.
Young children need individual attention as they work through these lessons, so they require more one-on-one teaching time. Pre-readers can sit in on your presentations to older children, listening in as much as they are able, perhaps completing one of the coloring pages that is in their notebook. However, pre-readers do not need to listen in if the subject matter is over their heads or if they've just had too much instruction for the day. While the coloring pages and illustrations tie directly to the unit topics whenever possible, pre-readers are not given assignments or questions regarding that teaching.
The pre-reader material is designed so that it can function as a separate curriculum if need be. If you have only a pre-reader, you can purchase the pre-reader digital bundle with all of the units but without the teacher’s guide.
Gather ‘Round does not yet continue phonics instruction past the pre-reader level. You can add a phonics program of your choice if you wish. However, Gather ‘Round has plans for a kindergarten program for the 2020/2021 school year that will function like the pre-reader program to teach basic skills apart from the unit topics.
What to Buy
There are free one-week samples from the Africa and Earth Science unit studies 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. You can purchase print editions of teacher’s guides and one or more individual levels of the student notebooks. 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. In most cases, if you have two or more children, you will save by going with the digital option.
Beyond the pre-reader level, you still need to add your own math program, and maybe a phonics program. (Gather 'Round plans to have a math program available beginning in the Fall of 2020, although it will be released gradually through the year as it is completed.) The program does 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. I spotted a few spelling and usage errors, and there might be other glitches, but it’s impressive given the short time it has been on the market. (The publisher tells me that they do regular updates to the units if mistakes are reported, and they give free revised editions to people who have bought the digital versions.) In spite of minor issues, Gather ‘Round offers one of the easiest-to-use approaches for unit study that will work for the whole family.