Thursday, February 12, 2015

This Year's Country Unit Studies (How They Went!)

For this year and last year, we used "Galloping the Globe," (a set of country unit studies) for history, science, and literature. Galloping the Globe is primarily a booklist (hurray!), and it also provides recipes, games, crafts, activities, websites, and some basic worksheets for each country.

The success of Galloping the Globe depends on having a large amount of real books available to one's family. This means that either (1) you buy a lot of books!, or (2) your local library has a good selection available to you.

Last year, we did the Introductory unit and then England and China. To say that these unit studies were a success would be a huge understatement! We had a wonderful time. Each study lasted about four months, and we read hundreds of books, made tens of recipes, and completed lots of crafts. We have nothing but good to say about Galloping the Globe.

Crafts from our unit study on China.

However, this year's unit studies were unfortunately not nearly so successful. As a matter of fact, they were rather dismal.


Several reasons.

First of all, morning sickness. That does tend to take away one's enthusiasm for extras.

Secondly, minor burnout from really overdoing it on the previous year's awesomeness. It's taken most of the year to get over that.

Thirdly, as opposed to the previous year (when our library was overflowing with books on our chosen countries), this year the library's selections were... pathetic. Absolutely pathetic. As in, "Ack! There's nothing here!!"

The countries we studied (or tried to study) were Germany, Israel, and France. Here's how they went:

For Germany, the only available real books were German fairy tales. And more fairy tales. Endless fairy tales. In other words, I never want to see another fairy tale again.

In all honesty, they were interesting. And fun. And we read many fairy tales that I had never heard of. But in terms of learning about Germany, it was rather limited.

For Israel, the only available books were collections of books on Jewish holidays. Interesting at first, deadly dull by the end. Besides one Jewish fairy tale, that was all that the library had.

For France, out of an entire page-long book list, the library had two books - Babar and Madeline. I gave up in disgust before we even tried.

I was actually surprised by the paucity of books available. We do not have a tiny library - we have an enormous library, with four separate locations - I'm guessing it's probably one of the larger library systems in our state.

So where were the books?

Of course, there were plenty of dry, factual books about the different countries. The type that read, "The imports or Country X are such-and-such. The exports of Country X are thus-and-thus." You know, the type that cause any normal child (or adult) to dive for cover, and with good reason.

But the good, real books that we treasure?

They weren't there. At least not for this year's countries.

Are libraries clearing out real books and relying more on electronic resources? I certainly hope not, though I wouldn't be surprised. One way or the other, though, the library was not very helpful this year in helping to create our unit studies.

For the remainder of the year, we just checked out books on many different subjects (World War II, spies, Antarctica, aircraft, special forces, snakes, the Amish, space and space exploration, etc.) as well as reading from a wide variety of fiction. (I'll publish our read-aloud booklist for the year in another couple of months.)

One fun (and amazing) thing that I am learning about children is that they actually self-educate. If I get enough good books and have them available, the children just gravitate normally toward them and read-read-read. Soon I'm getting lectures on various historical subjects that I haven't taught - the children picked it up on their own!

That's a dangerous discovery.

And of course, the fact that children do indeed self-educate when placed in a learning-rich environment is one of the underpinning philosophies of the unschooling movement. I totally get that (and support that!). But while I do love incorporating aspects of unschooling into our home education program, I am primarily a more traditionally-minded mama, and I do want some sort of formal curriculum to cover the bases.

Where do we go from here? I have no idea. While I'm a huge fan of Galloping the Globe, I don't know if things will improve (in terms of book availability at our library) if we try to use it again next year. It depends on what the library has to offer on whatever countries we would choose, and that is something we won't find out unless we try it. I'm really in limbo at the moment.

This is a subject that we are currently discussing and praying about, and I don't have any answers yet. But God is faithful, and He always provides the answers that we need in His perfect timing. I will keep plugging away at this issue, and we will eventually find what works for our family, with the Lord's help.

Home education is a never-ending adventure!


  1. I look forward to seeing what you decide on!

    We have had a good library system because of interlibrary loan. Without it I would be buying a lot more books.

    1. I used to be a fanatic inter-library loan user too!! But in our city's library system, they stopped making it free and started charging $7 per book. Yikes!! That was the last time I used it. But when it was here (and free!), it was great!!

    2. Oh, rats! I was going to suggest inter-library loan, too. $7 per book is a lot!!! You could budget in purchasing some books for a lot less. What about copying a list of good books and carrying it with you when you go thrift store shopping? You could possibly pick up half a dozen or so books per planned country over your break from school.

    3. That's funny you mention that, Anne! Shopping at Goodwill is currently a goal on my to-do list. Here in the Phoenix valley our Goodwills have 50% off days every other Saturday, so my current plan is to nip into a Goodwill to check out the children's books as often as possible to build our library. Hopefully I'll have some good success!!


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