Literature Based Unit Studies for Young Students

We are finding that a good way to have home school lessons with a cohesive thread running throughout is by using literature. Using books that young children will enjoy, which also contain overlapping subject and educational topics, helps keep things interesting and learning fun. We’ve used books in this way over the first quarter and it has changed my perspective on the idea of unit studies.

It started out as an exercise primarily for our 7-year-old’s class, but as it turns out, the 9-year-old has gotten a lot out of it as well. Here is one example of a children’s picture book we used as a unit study.

make way for ducklingsMake Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey. This children’s book is a Caldecott Medal winner, as I tend to gravitate toward books where the art is as integral to the story as the words on the page.

Make Way for Ducklings tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard duck as they search for a place to hatch and raise their ducklings. It is very entertaining to kids and well written (which is why it’s a classic). We covered several subject areas while reading it:

  • Time period: The artwork as well as the occupations of the secondary characters offered discussion of the time period covered in the book, the 1940’s. The children noticed many things that are different from life today, beginning with how well dressed the people were when they went to the park.
  • Science: Study of mallard ducks, their habitats, diets, family formations, and life cycle.
  • Vocabulary: Older books almost always offer opportunity for expanding young children’s vocabulary. Molt, dither, beckoned, and responsibility were among the vocabulary words we explored as we read Make Way for Ducklings.
  • Geography and beginning map skills: Set in the historic city of Boston, the book offered several well known landmarks and city building as we follow the ducklings flight through the city to find their new home.

As a rule, I believe only classic, timeless children’s books are worth the effort of putting together a unit study. At the elementary level, they are very useful so long as you choose good books.

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