EaglesNestHome School: Unit Studies, Special Needs, Homeschooling Teens, Homeschooling College and Distance Education

Table of Contents (click any topic to view)
Topic 1 What Is a Unit Study? Pick a Topic, Any Topic!
Topic 2 Pick an Interest, Any Interest
Topic 3 How Do You and Your Children Learn Best?
Topic 4 Special Needs: Unit Studies, Special Needs and Labeled Children
Topic 5 Homeschooling Teens, Homeschool High School, Homeschooling College and Distance Education
Topic 6 Links for Special Needs, Giftedness, Unit Studies

Topic 1 What Is a Unit Study? Pick a Topic, Any Topic!

     Homeschoolers, like all educators, can fall into the easy trap of spouting educational jargon until it becomes almost meaningless, especially to newcomers. We forget, perhaps, that everyone was once a newbie!
     The term "unit studies" is an especially slippery fish of a term, because it can mean so many things. It may refer to a relaxed, interest led frolic through a subject, initiated by a child's interest in, for instance, cars. The child reads about cars, draws cars, examines the insides of cars, takes cars apart, measures cars, studies the math and science of cars, bakes and eats car shaped cakes, and builds a model car.
     The opposite extreme may be the child homeschooled with a traditional approach. The child's parents pick a unit study out of a book, or perhaps buy a unit study curriculum. The publisher supplies or suggests the materials, and the parent (as teacher) sits with the child, going progressively through the planned unit study. Most often, homeschool families fall somewhere in between these two examples.
     Whatever your methods, a unit study will mean researching a specific topic intensively, and attempting to "cover all the bases" of subjects required by your curriculum. For instance, in the car unit study, your child can practice and learn math (car maintenance records, cost of repairs, etc.), language arts (collecting and reading manuals and car magazines), social studies (different cars of the world), music (songs about cars), and so on.
     Cars would be a particularly difficult subject for me to teach, as I am singularly helpless around anything mechanical. Children have a way of becoming interested in subjects that their parents (and other teachers) know nothing about. (Imagine that!) That's one reason you will see my interest-led learning bias crop up so often. Motivated kids can learn anything, whether the adults teach them or not.
     One daughter loved dance, and I trip over my own feet. But we borrowed videos and enrolled in community ballet classes. My main job is to help my kids find the resources (books, courses and computer programs) and mentors (knowledgeable teens and adults). I may not know everything about everything, but I can learn about resources, and how to find them economically. And you can too.

Topic 2 Pick an Interest, Any Interest

     You may decide to choose unit study topics for your children; if you do, may I suggest you give them a choice of several? If they make the final decision, they will show more interest and excitement in the project.
     Or you could ask your children to make lists of ideas to explore. You could also brainstorm along with them. What have you, parents, always wanted to learn? If you love learning, you will model lifetime learning skills, giving your youngsters an example to follow.
     Finally, pick an interest, any interest. Don't worry if it isn't the unit study to end all unit studies. There are plenty more where that came from! (Also see topic 6 Start Your Unit Studies for resources.)

Topic 3 How Do You and Your Children Learn Best?

     You've probably heard educators talk about learning styles. Your learning style just means how you learn best. You may be a visual learner (looker), an auditory learner (hearer) or a kinesthetic learner (doer). You (and your children) may also be a combination of all three learning styles.
     Perhaps you are just looking for ways to help your children with school homework. Or you may be a veteran homeschooler of fifteen years, with ten children (If so, please share your knowledge with us!) Either way, the more you understand about the learning style of each individual in your family, the easier it will be to learn together!
     Lookers and hearers sometimes have trouble working with their hands. They can learn better when they strengthen all their senses. Hearers can jump rope in time to a multiplication video. Visual learners can explore real world math.
     Doers can practice their sight skills, perhaps through the use of a computer. Doers can also learn quickly through educational software and apps.
     If your child struggles with learning in a traditional way, find another way. Doers may hate handwriting, but tolerate typing on a keyboard.
     Most people use several or all the senses to learn, although they may be stronger in one area. It’s funny how you seldom hear much about smell and taste, the neglected senses for learning. Explore all your senses. The Bible says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Topic 4 Unit Studies, Special Needs and Labeled Children

     Of course I haven’t walked a mile in your shoes, but I can relate somewhat to parenting a child with special needs. Our youngest spent her first months in the hospital. She started out not breathing, and with low vision. Within her first year of life, she was given several diagnoses of rare syndromes. If you are also parenting a child with challenges, you might enjoy my column on Special Needs Preschool in the January 2005 edition of Mary Pride's Practical Homeschooling magazine. Also check out Mary Pride's list of Homeschooling support groups at Homeschool World.
     Requirements vary by state and sometimes also by district, but it is legal to homeschool your child with special needs. Get in touch with your state homeschool organization, also HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Assoc.) and NATHHAN (which is the national org. for homeschoolers with special needs), http://www.nathhan.com/. It is important to network with others who homeschool in your area.
     Homeschooling with special needs is a challenge. However, I often hear from friends with kids in school programs; they also suffer many difficulties. Through the grace of the Lord and the guidance of many, many faithful friends and family members, we're able to homeschool with special needs, a day at a time.

Homeschooling Attracts Families With Special Needs

     I'm still surprised by the number of parents consulting me for information to help a child diagnosed with autism, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or learning disabilities. (This frequent interaction was the primary reason I wrote this page.)
     Homeschooling will naturally attract (and always has) families with unique children, as the institutional schools are set up more for conformity than non-conformity. In this regard, the "learning disabled" child and the "gifted child" share much in common. If you have studied strategies for teaching both groups, you may discover striking similarities. So even if you don't have a labeled child, you may find some great learning tools by checking out some of these resources!
     Although controversial, many parents find that alternative health approaches, such as nutritional therapy, can be quite effective in the treatment of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), ADD, ADHD, apraxia and hyperactivity.There is speculation now that one cause of the increased incidence of autism, ADHD and communication disorders such as apraxia could be EFA (essential fatty acid) deficiency. Studies are currently underway. In America, EFAs are only now beginning to be added to infant formulas, while I understand they have been included in formulas in United Kingdom for some time. Recently parents also report that adding amino acids, specifically L-Carnosine, have helped their children's speech.
     Here are some web sites that talk about EFAs:
CHERAB Foundation Communication Help, Education, Research, Apraxia Base http://www.cherab.org http://groups.yahoo.com/group/childrensapraxianet
Speechville, http://www.speechville.com
     See Topic 6 Start Your Unit Studies for more resources. For more information on health, visit
A Wise Steward's Health page

The Good News About Homeschooling a Child With Special Needs

     Although there is a high number of homeschooled children with learning differences, homeschoolers consistently score higher than average overall on standardized tests. I expect this trend to continue. In addition, studies show that in homeschools, income and the parent's level of education make no appreciable difference in test scores.
     If your children have never been to school, and you have trained them in self-directed, interest-led learning, by around third grade they may be able to take over much of the responsibility for their own education. Your job will be to watch, guide, answer questions, help obtain needed supplies, and occasionally prod (encourage and discipline) a bit. You may already be very familiar with unit studies, or if not, you may soon realize that your children have been doing unit studies all along, without realizing it. As young people approach adulthood, the transition to college or career can be a natural progression from interests and unit studies.
     If your child has attended school extensively, or if you have a school-like atmosphere at home, you may find that you need to constantly keep the child "on task." Some parents feel the necessity of even sitting with a teenager six hours a day, as a tutor. If this is the case, and you don't mind, then why worry? If you fear insanity and burnout--and perhaps wonder if you'll still be sitting like this when your young adult turns thirty-- don't despair. There is no better time than the present, and no better way to train for adult responsibilities than a unit study.
     Everyone is gifted, in some area. God makes people different for a reason. Thomas Edison's schoolmaster called the seven year old inventor-to-be "addled." Edison's mother removed her son from school after only three months, and taught him at home. The trick is to find out what your child likes best, and then incorporate it into his education.
     Unit studies can be the open door for a labeled child. Your family may enjoy a unit study on famous homeschoolers, such as Thomas Edison. Here are a few more, to get you started: Alexander Graham Bell, Agatha Christie, Albert Einstein (he taught himself calculus, and other abstract subjects), Wolfgang Mozart, Mark Twain, George Washington. Many items can be borrowed through inter-library loan; it’s worth a try to ask your local librarian.
     Hint: Try mixing special needs resources up. Use some of the techniques for Kids labeled learning disabled to teach your gifted preschooler. Try some of the gifted programs on your learning disabled child. In my opinion, all kids are gifted by God;yet we all also have our limitations.
General Special Needs Resources:

   Most important of all, kids with special needs need…parents! Marisa Lapish, speech therapist and author of Straight Talk, wrote: “the home environment is best for teaching and learning…”

Music and Listening Therapy Websites

Giftedness Education: Accelerated Learning for Gifted Students

     A child may have learning challenges, but also giftedness--a twice exceptional (2e) student. How can parents and teachers help? 

     "Focus on strengths. Well-meaning professionals often spend their time helping children work through their challenges, at the expense of providing services for their giftedness. As a result, 2e children sometimes begin to define themselves by their weaknesses instead of their amazing strengths. It is important that 2e children be provided services that address their gifts in addition to their challenges." --What Is Gifted and Why Does It Matter?--Sharon Duncan, March, 2017,
http://2enewsletter.com/article_2017_3_WhatIsGifted_Duncan.html )


Topic 5 Unit Studies, Homeschooling Teens, Homeschool High School, Homeschooling College, Distance Education

Homeschool High School and College

     Perhaps you are just considering unit studies and homeschooling. Or maybe your youngster has always been homeschooled. Either way, most parents express concerns. 
"Will my child's homeschooling be accepted as a "real education?" Or will my child be considered a misfit, a drop out?" What happens when my child becomes a teen? And of course the big “C” question, “What about college?”
     Yes, what about college? Studies show an alarmingly liberal bias at America’s universities—and an agenda to change the hearts and minds of Christian youth against the hearts of their fathers. See books such as
Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth and Freefall of the American University.
     All the more reason to consider Homeschooling college, and credit by examination. You can save money and time. You can also explore a wide range of viewpoints and pick your choice of textbooks.
Find textbook reviews through Educational Research Analysts (http://www.textbookreviews.org) and the Textbook League (http://www.textbookleague.org).
     If your child is twelve years old or younger, it is not too early to think about college. The good news is that many universities view homeschoolers in a positive light. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, and homeschoolers that paved the way did well academically and socially--better than their peers. I recommend Cafi Cohen's book, "And What About College." There is a link to it (as well as a section of resources for homeschooling teens) from my "Books" section and Links page at A Wise Steward's Homeschool. In addition, the National Home Education Research Inst., at http://www.nheri.org/ has prepared an information booklet that you may find helpful.
     Most homeschoolers really don't need to go the GED route, unless they want to. According to the Office of the General Counsel, the Department of Education, students who have graduated from home education are free of compulsory attendance, regardless of age. In addition, home educated students (if not considered truant by the state) can "self certify"--meaning that no third party verification is required. To find out more, contact http://www.hslda.org.
     Many colleges have accepted transcripts prepared by homeschool parents. Dr. Inge Cannon's web site, http://www.edplus.com includes information on creating transcripts and issuing high school diplomas. Also check out http://www.boxfreeconcepts.com/edserv/,
http://www.homeschooldiplomas.com and http://shop.jostens.com/ for transcript and diploma templates. 

Distance Education, Life-Time Learning Credit and Non-Traditional College    

      If you like homeschooling, you might love homeschooling college. Check into non-traditional methods for reducing college costs and graduating early. Look into ways students have received college credit for life experience such as extensive unit studies, portfolio evaluations, internships, travel, and ministry work. For information on credit for prior learning and life experience credit, check out http://www.collegeispossible.org/ . Teaching Home magazine has an excellent article on homeschooling college, at http://www.theteachinghome.com/newsletters/vol_2-no_83.cfm .
     Many homeschoolers use the portfolio assessment method to evaluate their youngsters; did you know that you can also receive college credit through the same method? Read
Earn College Credit for What You Know, by Lois Lamdin, to find out more. Get it from The Council for Adult & Experiential Learning, or through the inter-library loan program at your local library.
     All Education Schools (http://www.alleducationschools.com ) is a complete online guide to education programs and careers. Use this site to search for schools by location, program type, or specialty, then read detailed fact sheets on featured schools of education, and contact admissions officers by requesting information. Contact colleges that interest you, and ask about their requirements. Visit the college web site for information. Also visit the Baker’s Guide to Christian Distance Education, at  http://bakersguide.gospelcom.net/ .
     Some colleges require SAT or ACT testing. If you wish, you can find many resources to help study for these tests. Check into the requirements for several colleges that you are interested in. Also consider any possible scholarships that may require SAT or ACT testing. Neither the SAT or ACT was necessary in our son’s case as he already had accumulated credit by examination (through CLEP and DANTES) before enrollment. Realistically, students will be limited in the amount of time they can devote to studying for tests. We made the decision to spend the time accumulating college credit, instead of studying for college entrance exams. Many colleges with open enrollment and consider students “adults”—regardless of age--if they already have some college credit.
     Find a free search program to locate scholarships for college at http://www.fastweb.com , Student Services .Visit the Financial Aid Information Page. Check out College Board's Web site. Children of federal and military personnel can find out about the Federal Children's Scholarship Fund at http://www.feea.org/ . For information on college loans and taxes, visit Ed.gov .
     Find career resources at Careernet, Monster Board job postings and CareerPath (want ads from major newspapers).
Contact the U.S. Dept. of Education's toll-free number, (1-800-433-3243) for information about Federal student aid programs, or write to the Federal Student Aid Information Center, P.O. Box 84, Washington, D.C., 20044, for the free booklet, Funding Your Education.
Try Christianbooks.com for new educational books, videos, music CDs, bargain priced!
     Also find student discount and textbook information at http://www.studentadvantage.com and http://www.campusbooks.com.

Revolutionary New College Options—Free University Level Courses

     Homeschool students who enjoyed unit studies may wish to explore new project-based college credit options, called “competency based,”which offer flexibility and a hands-on approach to achieving an accredited college degree. Find out more through University of Wisconsin (https://flex.wisconsin.edu/faqs/), which has been a trail-blazer in this new education option. Other university systems are also developing and testing new competency based plans. 
     Try Coursera (https://www.coursera.org ) and Edx for a variety of free college online courses from Johns Hopkins, UM, Stanford, UCSan Diego, Duke, MIT, Harvard, U-California-Berkley, U-Texas, and more. Some Coursera classes may require fees to access all material, which may be financial aid eligible; check with your educational institution to see if classes will receive transfer credit or not. Learn how some fee-based courses may be credit-eligible, at https://www.edx.org/credit.    
     HippoCampus offers free videos in a variety of subject areas, including mathematics. Courses range from arithmetic to calculus and advanced math. Also consider options at Carnegie Mellon University's Open Learning Initiative (http://oli.cmu.edu ), Saylor Academy and free economics courses through Marginal Revolution University (George Mason Univ.). 
     Learn about the Alternative Credit Project Ecosystem, which is “a pool of low-cost or no-cost, lower division courses and general education online courses across 20 to 30 subject areas. Participating colleges and universities agree to accept transfer credit for these courses, allowing students to enroll with up to two years of credit toward a four-year degree." (American Council on Education, College Credit Recommendation Service) Straighter Line includes some ACE accredited courses, but requires a relatively inexpensive membership fee (currently $99/monthly), offers free trial lessons (
http://www.straighterline.com/landing/take-free-trial-course-cnt). ALEKS, another online course provider, has a free trial course available (https://www.aleks.com/free_trial/consumer). ALEKS has also achieved approval from ACE (American Council on Education, http://www2.acenet.edu/credit/?fuseaction=browse.main) for some of their some of their math courses.  
     To find out more, see
     Read Ben Kaplan's book,
How To go to College Almost For Free (Stratford Publishing: 2002) and books by John Bear such as College Degrees by Mail and Modem.
     Would you like to earn your degree in half the time, and for less money? What about receiving college credit through internship experience, life experience, and independent study?
Accelerated Distance Learning: The New Way to Earn Your College Degree in the Twenty-First Century, by Brad Voeller, shows you how to accelerate your education, by maximizing your multisensory learning pathways (learning styles), memory, reading speed and comprehension. Voeller earned a four-year, fully accredited college degree in less than six months, and for less than $5000! If you've homeschooled high school, you can homeschool college. Read Voeller's book, to find out more. Voeller also offers special reports, including Accelerated Distance Learning for Home-School Students, and Accelerated Distance Learning for Christian Students.

"Some students have completed their entire degree by just taking three GRE exams and five general CLEP exams. Using this method, you could theoretically complete an entire bachelor's degree within a few days!"--Brad Voeller

     Keep track of your educational activities. Then use portfolio assessment to qualify for college credit. Thomas Edison State College and Charter Oak State College sell handbooks and offer information on building portfolios. Check with the colleges that you are interested in. Ask if they will accept portfolio credit, or transfer credit earned through portfolio assessment. Learn more about documenting learning through portfolio assessment.

College Credit By Examination

     Looking for a way out of the College Agenda? Take a test and receive college credit. Save money on college through CLEP, GRE, DANTES, and Advanced Placement (AP) testing. Best of all, learn the information any way you want—you pick the materials and texts. (This is a good way to get a more balanced education, free from political correctness, pagan religious rites and liberal bias.)
     Check out these programs and books (Order from web site sources or through inter-library loan) that were created to help you earn credit for what you already know:
The College Credit Recommendation Service at, acenet.edu ), evaluated and recommended college credit for more than 9,000 courses, examinations, and certifications administered through business, labor, government, associations, and other organizations.
     The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, http://www.cael.org , publishes Earn College Credit for What You Know, a book for adult learners interested in acquiring credit for prior learning. The Pocket Guide to College Credits and Degrees includes information on applying your learning experiences in the real world to a college degree.
Credit by examination tests (such as DANTES/DSST, Excelsior, and CLEP—College Level Examination Program) can give high school students a head start on college, potentially saving time as well as thousands of dollars. Read more about these exams at FreeCLEPPrep (
http://www.free-clep-prep.com/dantes-exams.html), which in addition to resource guides to purchase, includes free practice exams (http://practice-exams.free-clep-prep.com/exams). They also offer free study guides, (http://www.free-clep-prep.com/dantes-exams.html). Here's Intro. to Computing, as an example: (http://www.free-clep-prep.com/Introduction-to-Computing-DSST.html) .
In addition to the well-known CLEP and DANTES tests, some colleges, such as Excelsior, also give credit for some Straighter Line online courses. If you wish, you can use Charter Oak's credit registry service (
     Another underutilized source for free college courses is the Emergency Management Institute (EMI-FEMA)'s independent studies program. Obtaining transferable credit is a bit complicated, so investigate this option carefully (
http://www.free-clep-prep.com/FEMA-Courses.html and http://www.clackamas.edu/HumanServices/EmergencyManagement/ ). Note that information changes all the time; for instance, Thomas Edison State College apparently doesn't accept EMI (FEMA) courses anymore. Finally, another avenue to explore for training is the Coast Guard Auxiliary (http://cgaux.org/members/). As always, check with your college to ensure that credits will count toward your intended degree—and get it in writing!

More frugal college level resources

Try these free study resources and guides, if you're interested in obtaining college credit by examination. If you homeschool high school, take some practice tests. You may be surprised at how well you can do!

Topic 6 Ladies and Gentlemen: Start Your Unit Studies!

     If you're ready for a unit study, begin to think about the method of implementation. Decide what research methods you will use, and how you will implement any lessons. Will the lesson look more like school, or more like a hobby? Explore some of the following links and resources.

Unit Study Education Links and Resources

Print Resources

If you prefer to read those good old hard copy books, here are some our family has enjoyed:

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About the Author: Melissa L. Morgan is a book author who works at Varsity Tutors. She also writes columns and curriculum reviews at Practical Homeschooling magazine.
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