Island Life Unit Study

Island Life #UnitStudy - An Island Family By Grace

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As I had noted in Our Home Education Plans for 2015 – 2016, I was looking forward to a Traditional Hebridean Island Life Unit Study with our children. I decided we would do our unit study during the month of September, as it would give us five weeks (including the first few days of October), to complete it, giving enough time to go into some depth, but hopefully not long enough for anyone to get fed up of it!

We have done various unit studies over the past eight years, including ‘minibeasts’, the First World War, the Highland Clearances, and the Government topic we did before the Scottish Independence Referendum last year, which I mentioned in my End of School Year Wrap Up post.

We use unit studies periodically, usually just one or two per year, but you can see an excellent post showing the use of unit studies throughout the year by Merissa at Little House Living- How to Create Unit Studies for Less Than $5.

Kerry Beck’s book Approaches to Christian Homeschooling, which I reviewed during the summer, says that the strengths of unit studies include their suitability for multiple age groups, the development of interrelated knowledge, and that up to 45% more learning is retained compared with other methods of learning.

When I plan a unit study, basically I just write down different subject areas, then write down whatever I can think of regarding the topic (in this case Hebridean islands), that I can possibly think of, under each subject area. It’s really just brainstorming, so I can discard any ideas later that won’t work or we won’t have time for. You can see one of my messy planning sheets for this unit study here:

Unit Study on Island Life ~ An Island Family By Grace


I then start looking through our own books that are relevant, order library books online, and bookmark video, audio and printable resources on the internet.

Kerry Beck’s book also has excellent suggestions for how to encourage your children to design their own unit study, in what she calls a ‘Grace Week’. This sounds good to me, as it would suit Self-Propelled learning, but I chickened out of handing it over to the children this time, and did the planning myself!

So far we have been reading aloud Story of Ranald, by Griselda Gifford, which is set on the Scottish mainland rather than the Hebrides, but I chose it as it tells of the aftermath of the 1745 rebellion, of course involving Bonnie Prince Charlie, who escaped to the islands of Benbecula and Skye before leaving for France.

We have also learned about the traditional tweed weaving that took place on the islands (including in our own house!), watched video reinactments of the women waulking the cloth that had been woven (beating the cloth to soften it, while singing Gaelic songs), and we’ve done some basket weaving (peat was carried in woven baskets), and modern weaving (from this tutorial I found on Pinterest), ourselves:

Island Life #UnitStudy ~ An Island Family By Grace


We have looked at the climate and unique habitats of the Hebrides due to the gulf stream, and the plant and animal species that can be found here. We have set up a rainfall meter to measure the amount of rain, and ironically, this past week has been drier than the whole summer, I think!

I also hope to replicate the experiment shown in Weston Price’s book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects with oats and varying amounts of smoked thatch. Price showed that because the islanders were being encouraged to move out of their old blackhouses, where the open fires smoked the thatched roof above, and move into modern housing, this led to the failure of the oat crops, one of the staples of the traditional Hebridean diet, due to the loss of smoked thatch to use as fertiliser. Given the time of year, we will need to do this in the polytunnel!

The children have written and are rehearsing an island life drama (which I have not been allowed to witness so far!), which they will perform at the end of the unit. I also have a trip planned to a local island museum, which will coincide nicely with our son’s birthday!

As part of our geography within the unit study, I plan to do lapbooks on geology. For our 6 and 8 year olds these will be more basic, covering what geology is, and the different types of rocks and minerals, whereas for our 11 year old, and particularly for our soon to be 14 year old, they will look more specifically at local geology on and near our island.

Do you use unit studies in your homeschool? If so, which topics have you particularly enjoyed? Please let me know below.

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16 Comments on “Island Life Unit Study

    • Hi Channon. Yes, we have really been enjoying it. Yesterday we did weaving with willow hurdles, and the children were far better at it than I was! Thanks for your comment.

  1. We LOVE unit studies! How fun to do one of the your island! It’s so important to learn about our native history.

    At the moment we are doing several unit studies..

    For HIstory we are using The Story of the World and learning about Egypt right now for History.

    For Science we are doing a unit study on the ocean. My daughter does a unit study every week for Kindergarten and right now she is learning about nests and birds, she loves it. They all do and so do I. I love all your suggestions and how you wrote down all your ideas and how to incorporate your study into the different subjects.

    • Hi Rebekah. We are finding it really interesting learning about our island and the other ones near us.

      That sounds like a great idea doing a unit study fortnightly with your daughter- a lovely age to do that too.

      We used the first Story of the World book too, before we got Mystery of History, and really liked it.

      Thanks so much for your comment 🙂

    • I am definitely not as creative as you Claire, so I have to write out my plans that way, otherwise we’d just read books all the time, as per my natural inclination, and the children would never get a chance to do anything else! Looking forward to hearing about your unit studies 🙂

  2. What a great unit study! We klove doing them too and I really agree with you about them being great for multi age groups! Our favourite so far was the egyptian topic we did, lots of hands on fun!! Thankyou so much for sharing this with me on #busydoinglife it’s great to have you!
    Claire recently posted…Win A Sensory Miffy ToyMy Profile

    • Yes, the ancient Egyptians is such a huge topic with so many things you can enjoy learning about. Thanks for your comment Claire!

  3. I’ve been going through a bunch of your posts and making notes on things to study before our trip. So glad I came upon your website! Lots of great info. Do you still have your notes about your Highland Clearances unit study you mentioned? You should post about that. I’m looking forward to seeing your next homeschool reading list.
    Alisha recently posted…May Reading ListMy Profile

    • Thank you Alisha! Yes, I probably could do a post about that. I have to confess I am slowing down a bit on writing, with the pregnancy, so new ideas are appreciated!

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