One of the simplest, and dare I say, most enjoyable methods of planning your academic year is through monthly themes.
Themes package learning for most subject areas into one neat box.
If you are tempted to purchase theme units because you don’t have time to put things together yourself, this post will show you how you can truly do it successfully. It also includes a free planner for you to get it all organized in a jiffy.
Theme units are especially beneficial for a disabled or neurodivergent child because:
- Themes provide a natural progression of learning throughout the homeschool day–within many subject/therapeutic areas
- A wide range of materials are used–matching a child’s developmental level
- The child knows what to expect within a theme–and this kind of structure is necessary for some children to thrive
- Language skills are reinforced because of the length of time in one theme–and the repetition of words and skills
- The focus is on the process, not the final product–again, because of the time given to a theme
- The child is given an opportunity to be actively involved in learning at his own pace
And, of course, planning a theme unit can help you, the parent or educator, remain focused throughout the month while keeping an eye out for materials/ideas for future themes you have already planned.
While you can go online to find a theme unit fully pre-packaged, I advise against this for 4 reasons:
- They aren’t personalized
- They probably aren’t adapted to your child’s needs
- They are often worksheet-heavy
- They aren’t as much fun to put together
How to Thoroughly Plan a Thematic Unit
1- Decide what theme you will focus on. Keep your child’s interests and developmental level at the forefront.
How to select a theme?
There is no right or wrong theme. Use these categories to help spark ideas for your own theme units:
- Holiday/seasonal/weather-related (most popular because it helps children internalize the rhythms of their natural world–no matter their age–and it can easily connect them to other people because of the words/phrases/expressions used at a particular time of year will be familiar/reinforced).
- Based on a book/novel or text (ex: Charlotte’s Web might spark an animal study)
- Science-related (ex: the study of acid rain)
- Social studies-related (ex: a period in our history)
- Art-related (ex: the study of an artist)
- Genre-related (ex: the study of short stories or biographies)
- Based on personal interest (pay attention to what they are attracted to in daily activities, on TV, in games or toys, characters in books, sports or other physical activities, etc.)
It’s important to keep the themes and activities meaningful and relevant. I wouldn’t suggest studying kookaburras in the middle of winter if you live in North America. Change that study to that of a local bird that the child can relate to and even possibly see while outdoors in winter. If kookaburras happen to be the child’s passion, you might choose to save the unit for summer where they can compare kookaburras to other birds.
Theme units should be meaningful and based on what your child will see, hear, and experience throughout the unit.
2 – Connect the theme to goals. You may have already outlined the goals for this learning block using the 3-month planning guide. If you didn’t, I recommend you take some time to work through that first. Once you have overarching goals, break them down into the three individual months within that quarter.
- What goals can you tackle within January’s theme? In February? In March?
3- Organize the theme. Decide what the specific activities will be. Brainstorm freely first, then decide which are most feasible and which need adaptations. Use online ideas for inspiration. Remember not to try to fit too much into one month.
It’s always advisable to allow time for the child to absorb the concepts so that they can meet the goals at their own pace.
4- Gather resources and materials. What props will you need? What supplies are required? What about books? Gather everything you need for the unit.
5- Organize the learning spaces. At the beginning of each unit, clear out the old theme, store materials, and begin with a fresh slate. Will you add to the nature table over the course of the unit, or will you create it yourself from the get-go? What about your art wall? Playspace? Reading nook?
Get all areas ready for the new theme. You don’t have to purchase new materials. Look around your space and add as you go.
6- Adapt/modify the theme. What adaptations will you make to this theme so that it matches the child’s developmental level but also guides them toward the intended goals? Don’t forget to integrate the therapeutic goals into the theme.
I’d love to know: Do you plan your own thematic units? What challenges do you face when putting together a unit?
Thematic Unit Planner (My free downloadable planner, you can print as many as you need and add the sheets to your planner on a monthly basis.)
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If you require assistance with adapting/modifying a thematic unit, check out my personalized services.