I love unit studies. Everything we read, learn or do in our house can become the basis for a unit study. Not only do I think in unit studies, but I’ve taught my children to think that way too. So, when we had the opportunity to review two unit studies from Moving Beyond the Page, I was incredibly excited. After all, for a unit study prone homeschool, what could be better than having your unit study already planned out for you?
We received two unit studies and because we would be doing them concurrently, I allowed the children to choose a literature unit and I picked the related science unit that was recommended on the literature unit’s homepage. We chose the Language Arts Package – Poppy – /Online ($25.91) and the Science Package – Lifecycles ($45.92). Both unit studies are recommended for ages 7-9 and I used them with my nine year old son (Firecracker) and seven year old daughter (Rose).
Our Language Arts Package for Poppy was online based and included the following components:
- Internet access to the teacher guide for Poppy with the ability to print out multiple student pages
- the novel Poppy
- an owl pellet kit with tweezers and a magnifying glass
Other than ordering more owl pellets, so that Firecracker and Rose each got to dissect owl pellets, all the other items that we needed to complete the activities in the unit study were common household items most homeschoolers have, such as yarn, glue, poster board, art supplies, construction paper and paper plates.
Poppy is a novel by the prolific and wonderful novelist Avi. It’s part of a series called the Tales of Dimwood Forest, and this novel chronicles the adventures of a mouse named Poppy. When someone very close to her is killed by the owl who claims to be their protector, Poppy begins to question whether or not Mr. Ocax is truly the protector that he claims to be or if he just wants the mice near him for a steady food supply.
Poppy is really a complete unit study in itself, even if you didn’t want to add in the recommended science unit. Through Poppy, we covered grammar, writing, literary themes, map skills, food chains, research skills, social structures and even science topics related to owls and mice. Even though language arts skills are the predominant focus, science and social studies (as well as arts and crafts) are woven in.
The Poppy language arts guide has 12 lessons and a final project. Your introductory lesson is meant to last two days, meaning that if you progressed at the curriculum’s suggested pace, Moving Beyond the Page estimates that you would spend an hour and a half a day on the material and complete it in about 3 weeks.
A typical day is set up like this:
- You read two chapters from the novel and answer a series of questions. We did this orally as a read-aloud and question section, but you could assign this to your child and have them write written answers to the questions as a worksheet. You could also choose a question and have them journal about it or have them do a written narration of the chapters.
- If Poppy has traveled anywhere through out her world, you will map that on the big poster board map that you make at the beginning of the unit.
- There’s almost always a literary component to the activities. You might be defining the elements of fantasy, determining cause and effect, creating art based on good vs. evil or focusing on dialogue. Your child might end up writing about bravery or even creating poetry.
- There’s a grammar or writing component every lesson. Some of these, as you can imagine overlap with the literary components. However, your child will get to learn new vocabulary, work on combining sentences, work on prefixes and suffixes, work on alliteration, work on synonyms and antonyms, and as part of dialogue, work on quotation marks. As part of the unit study, they write a three paragraph essay, so there’s all sorts of opportunity for instruction on grammar and writing via the essay.
- There is also often a science or craft component to the day’s work. You might craft a victory flag. You might make mouse, owl or porcupine puppets (which become great tools for acting out scenes and dialogue). One day you even get to dissect an owl pellet. You also get to make a Poppy that shows different emotions and you get to make story trees. The final project has you choosing three projects from a set of nine (to make a tic-tac-toe) and some of the options are very good for those who are hands-on learners.
We loved this unit study. The children loved the novel and all the hands-on crafts and puppets. They enjoyed the owl pellet dissection so much that we extended it over the course of several days into a mini-unit of its own. I felt the estimated amount of time I read on their website and in the teacher’s guide that you would spend on Poppy each day was a little on the low side. Most days had you reading two chapters from the novel and doing three separate activities. Sometimes we’d spend 30 minutes to 1 hour (or more) on one activity, not even counting the time that we spent on reading and discussion questions from the novel. You could streamline and do fewer activities and still hit the content of the unit, but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as progressing a little more slowly and doing the whole unit.
We also received a Science Package – Lifecycles that was not internet based. It included the following components:
- a combined teacher/student guide (consumable) for one student
- the book What is a Lifecycle?
- the book Who Eats What?
- a Green Earth butterfly kit
To complete all the activities in the unit, you will also need to order butterflies to go with the kit (There’s a certificate included in the kit for ordering). Many of the supplies needed are common household supplies, like eggs, construction paper, sandwich bags, etc. However, you might find yourself going to to the store for specially shaped pastas, seeds, potting soil (if you have awful dirt like ours) and M&Ms. If you choose to show the recommended movie, Happy Feet, you’ll also need to obtain or borrow that.
Moving Beyond the Page’s physical guides are consumable, meaning that I was unable to make an extra copy of the activities for Rose, but I was able to order a set of extra student pages on their website for $4.99 plus shipping. This makes the physical guides more difficult to use with multiple students, so I would highly recommend you buy the online packages if you’re working with multiple students at the same age level. One thing I would love to see on their website is a place to order downloadable packages of just student activity pages.
Where the Poppy unit study was integrated with multiple subjects, you will find that this unit it strictly science. They use lovely living books as textbooks and there are many hands-on activities. Because it studies lifecycles and food chains, it is the perfect complement to Poppy because of the amount of time in Poppy that you will focus on food chains.
There are nine lessons and a final project. Many of the lessons are made to be split over two days, so if you complete units at the curriculum’s suggested pace, you’ll finish in around 3-4 weeks. If you do choose to use this unit concurrently with it’s related language arts unit, you will find that it is a full day’s schoolwork. All you would need to add is the math.
Like the language arts unit, this unit was broken into a recognizable pattern:
- You would read from one of the books What is a Lifecycle? or Who Eats What? There are often assigned pages to review or you’ll read the whole book. The authors note in the unit study materials that the unit will work best if the books are read multiple times.
- There is a workbook activity related creating/labeling stages in a lifecycle, parts of a food chain, animal defenses, energy pyramids, herbivores and carnivores, etc.
- There is a hands-on activity. For example, you might look at fresh eggs and hard boiled, comparing their characteristics and attempting to predict which is which. You might observe a butterfly habitat. You might explore dirt by collecting and examining four different soil samples from different places in your neighborhood or town.
- There’s also often an activity that involves research on the computer (such as creating your own lifecycle page) or drawing your own food chain.
- There are also often optional life application pieces to the lesson, such as the lesson that has you going about your day seeing how your needs are being met.
As far as what this unit covers, it starts with breaking things down into non-living vs. living and brushing over animal habitats. Then, you cover multiple kinds of lifecycles over the course of many of the next lessons. Eventually, you get to the idea of the circle of life for humans and what needs you have that your environment meets. This will naturally lead into the lessons on energy, food chains and webs and animal design. The final project is to create your own new species.
We didn’t love this unit study. It’s a good, solid unit study. There are some great activities. We’ve covered all the material, and because we did this concurrently with the Poppy unit study, where we got so involved with the activities, we streamlined some of the activities in this one to make it fit our time schedule. There are activities from this unit still on my to-do list. I think we lost some of the fun of this unit when we attempted to cut some of the activities for our time schedule.
Firecracker really likes science and really enjoyed everything we did, but Rose, who is not a science lover, found some of the worksheet based activities to be repetitive. As any great teacher knows, however, repetition is a wonderful way to learn a concept.
These are great unit studies. I would recommend them to anyone. If you’re looking for a full curriculum, you could do the related unit studies together and all you would need to add to your school day is math. You’d have a full-day’s curriculum between your language arts study and its related science or social studies study.
For us, with our relaxed way of schooling, attempting to do two big unit studies at the same time wasn’t a great mesh. Knowing what I know now, I would not have done the units together. Instead I would have started with Poppy, and once we finished Poppy moved on to Lifecycles. That way we would have had more time to spend a whole day writing and acting out dialogue with our puppets or collecting and examining soil samples without feeling like we needed to move on to keep our schedule. We could have gotten more deeply into both units that way.
I found that I often felt failure at not checking off boxes or getting more accomplished each day or at pushing the children harder back onto the curriculum when they wanted to stray off the beaten path into more interest-led exploration from the lesson. Having said that, if you’re wanting to follow your children’s interests and wanting to build more of a unit study curriculum, this is a great way to do that and to make sure that you’re completing all the standards. This might be a perfect marriage of structure and unit study for your family if you’re trying to come to unit studies from a more structured curriculum background. Despite my feeling that I wasn’t doing these units right as boxes didn’t get checked on time, I really enjoyed being able to do these unit studies with the children without spending hours planning and strewing resources for them. I’m keeping their catalog for the next time we do a book or a unit study on a topic they cover so that we can order a package from them when that happens!
If you’re considering these unit studies, you should really check out the other reviews for this vendor by the Schoolhouse Review Crew. Not only are there 100 different opinions, but many of the reviewers sampled different products from the ones we chose! That means you could see this product across several different units and age ranges!!