Theme Based Study
1412 Weathervane Drive Fircrest, WA 98466
Compuserve 70602,636 Developing Theme-based Studies By Dennis R. Mitton Imagine a home-school curriculum that costs virtually nothing,
will turn your bored children into enthusiastic learners, and will relieve you of the tedium of rote education. By developing your own unit-studies based on your child’s interests all these are possible.
What is a theme-study? Instead of studying each school subject in isolation a theme-study unit has each subject focused around a common theme. Allowing your children to help choose the theme will ensure interest in the material.
First let’s describe some benefits of theme-based studies. Then we’ll look at some detractions.
One of the major benefits of theme-based studies is the enthusiasm it creates when your studies focus on your child’s interests. Education based on natural curiosity essentially removes the negative elements of learning.
My ten-year-old boy is a good example. I don’t have to teach him how to play his newest computer game. Given an hour or two at the console he’ll be teaching his thick-skulled dad! If a parent can develop a curriculum based on this same curiosity and interest they’ll soon see their students beginning to teach themselves.
Another benefit is that interest-based studies are more meaningful and stay with them longer. Everyone has had the experience of cramming for a test and then forgetting all you learned a week later. Retention skyrockets when you are personally involved in the subject matter.
This has the extended benefit of decreasing learning time for new material. The faster a student builds a base level of information the quicker he can begin to build on it.
Theme-based studies are great for parents teaching more than one child from the same curriculum. Once the central theme and scope is developed it’s relatively easy to create activities and studies for different levels of understanding. This works especially well if your children have different learning styles.
Since the older students are learning the same material as the younger ones they can help teach. This reinforces the older student’s knowledge, builds confidence with the material, and helps develop stronger family ties.
Theme-based studies are a useful way to fill in gaps in time or content in your home-school program. Many parents already create special programs for holidays. A theme-study can easily be something small to reinforce a point you’re trying to teach.
Finally, developing your own theme-studies is very inexpensive. You need children and parents with interests, imagination, and books. From there the sky’s the limit.
There are some drawbacks to theme-studies. One is time. It takes lots of time to research a subject you want a month of studies to revolve around. Defining your theme and scope can dramatically cut down your research time.
Using theme-studies as your primary curriculum can also leave academic holes in your child’s overall education. Math is difficult to incorporate into theme-studies and is often taught separate.
What should a theme-based unit include? That’s up to the family of course and should be based on the scope of the unit. Obviously a two-week unit on weather is going to be much different in scope from a term-long unit on the American Revolution.
There are certain elements that should be in all units. Language skills (punctuation, rhetoric, spelling, and penmanship) are checked on all work. Learning to research and find answers is important. I include vocabulary and memorization in all work. Vocabulary, like writing skills, will be carried over into every other area of study and memorization reaps results in character and builds discipline.
Beyond these basic skills the theme and scope will dictate what to include. I always create a historical setting to connect the theme to other events or themes in the student’s mind.
If possible I try to include science and math. Math word problems can be incorporated into your theme. Science projects can be taught that expound particular points in your study.
Take a study of baseball for example. Baseball fans are fanatics about numbers. Beyond the statistics kept on virtually every move of every player there’s the math of the game itself: a ball traveling ninety miles-per-hour, a bat that strikes with a specific force, a ball that is hit at a certain angle relative to the first-base line.
Literature, music, and the visual arts are sometimes hard to incorporate but add interest and expand the study if you can find appropriate material.
Now that we’ve looked at some benefits and detractions to theme-based studies, and looked at elements to include in your unit, let’s look at how to develop a study.
I divide the making of the study into three parts; definition, research, and development.
To begin, define your theme as specifically as you can. This helps immensely in research and developing activities. Ask yourself what you want your children to learn: what principles, what facts, what historic events?
Along with defining your theme consider its scope as well. Scope refers to the size and breadth of your study. Contrast a twoweek study of the life cycle of a cell with a term-long unit on the European Enlightenment. The former is very specific, narrow in breadth, and intense in learning. The Enlightenment, on the other hand, is epic in breadth, taking in literature, art, science, and popular culture. It lends itself to very general learning and thinking. Each study would require very different strategies in teaching.
Once I start thinking about a study I keep a notebook handy for brainstorming. Later, when I’m developing activities, I go back through the notebook for ideas.
I like to write an outline early on. This allows me to pigeonhole information as I find it.
Once you’ve homed in on your theme and defined your scope it’s time to gather the information you’ll want to present. If the topic is simple and the scope small you might have the necessary books at home. If not, you’ll need the library. Keep your defined theme in view at all times while you’re researching. If not you’ll be tempted to make your study into a genius training program.
Books have been written on how to research and I won’t delve much into that here. I find juvenile non-fiction books very helpful for creating an outline. They’re easily and usually only touch on the significant spots of their topic.
With a general outline in hand it’s simpler to find the information you need to flesh out the study. In history or literature I try to find standards whatever the age. I prefer original material to secondary sources. For science I like newer books with good illustrations. For general science studies older books will suffice but some areas change so rapidly newer books are needed.
Once your information is gathered, sifted,and ready to integrate into your program the development stage begins. This is the time for developing your schedule, activities and projects. Any children’s book store will have volumes on activities for different studies.
Creating a schedule helps me know exactly what I will need and how much time it should take. For a short study I create a daily plan. For a larger one I break it up into weekly bites then work on a week at a time.
Remember that one of the primary benefits of home-schooling is the freedom you have with your schedule. If the theme and study leaves the child uninterested maybe they’re not ready for it. It Then again you might find your students eager to learn more. If so, get out your research notes and expand. Better yet, let the child decide where to take the study. They might surprise you.