Create a STEAM Unit Study with Free Online Resources from hoopla digital

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This post is made possible by hoopla digital, one of my favorite STEAM unit study resources. Please consider expressing your thanks to them on Twitter or Facebook. All opinions expressed are those of the author.

One of my absolute favorite things about homeschooling is the freedom of not being absolutely bound to a traditional curriculum or course of study. If you are homeschooling based on the “child-lead learning” philosophy or using unit studies, you already know what I mean. Alternatively, if you are using a traditional curriculum, you still have a choice to venture into something else, if your child suddenly develops a passion for a particular topic.

I know some parents are starting to get anxiety attacks just thinking about not following the script. Take a deep breath. It’s ok. You can do this. Not only can you do this (yes, really you can), it’s actually a lot easier than you think it is. And, you know what? Your child is going to love it and you’re going to have so much fun.

If you want to make the leap into designing your child’s curriculum, be sure to check this guide on what to teach each year.

What is Child-Lead Learning?

Child-lead learning is a simple concept. Rather than following a set curriculum that tells you what to teach and when, you’ll nurture your child’s natural curiosity by providing opportunities for him to study topics that he’s interested in. Is your daughter fascinated by roller coasters? Does your son think that frogs are super cool? Maybe the kids wonder why slime is slimy? These are all learning opportunities. Your kids are already telling you what to teach them.

How to Incorporate More Child-Lead Learning into Homeschooling

Figuring out what your children are interested in isn’t too hard. Sometimes, you’ll find that they really get into something that’s being covered in your curriculum. If your child is in elementary school, you might find that they want to learn more than what’s covered in a text book. This is a great time to take a break and try something else.

You might find just the opposite – your child is completely bored with whatever the current topic is. Let’s face it – geology just isn’t for everyone all the time. It’s ok to skip that for now and find out what they would like to learn about. Think about how much easier it is to teach something your child actually wants to learn about.

What to Teach with a Unit Study

If you’re in the situation where your kid is bored and you’re trying to figure out what to teach, you can straight out ask them, “If you could learn about anything in the world, what would you want to learn about?” You might get some crazy answers – that’s part of the fun and the start of developing your own lesson plans. The next question to ask is “What would you like to know about xxx?”

The conversation might go a little something like this:

Mom: “If you could learn about anything in the whole entire world, what would you want to learn about?”

Sally: “Outer space! I want to learn about outer space.”

Mom:” Oh, yeah! That’s cool! What do you want to know about outer space?”

Sally: “Well, I wanna know what ‘outer space’ really is and black holes and if girls can be astronauts too.”

See there? You’re already getting the outline of your unit study together. You have the theme (Outer Space) and three lesson plan topics (outer space, black holes and astronauts/careers). If you keep talking, you’ll probably discover even more things your child wants to learn about outer space. If not, that’s ok. Believe me, you’ll find more things as you go along.

STEAM Unit Study Resources

Now, you’ll want to start gathering resources and planning activities that cover the topics. For me, this was the part that could become the most frustrating. Trying to “pull it together” every month or so instead of following a neat plan laid out by someone else can be time consuming and expensive. I recommend using the library as much as possible but even that can be a hassle to coordinate between co-ops, support groups, dance and sports, nap time and everything else that keeps us busy. Amazon is everyone’s best friend for 24 hour access to nearly anything at your door within two days but not everyone has the financial resources available to buy new books every month.

One resource that I adore is hoopla digital. If you haven’t heard of it yet, I am so excited to tell you about it!

hoopla digital for homeschool

hoopla digital – A Free Digital Library

hoopla digital is an amazing service that gives you access to thousands of media resources including ebooks, comics, audiobooks, music, movies and television shows. Everything is available to download and use instantly and all you need is a valid library card from a participating library. Unlike other digital services, all of the resources in hoopla digital are available all of the time. I’ve used similar services that show plenty of books but, for whatever reason, the ones I want are “checked out.” Not with hoopla digital. The only limitation you’ll find in terms of availability is the total number of downloads you can access per month, based on your library’s agreement. Basically, if you see it on hoopla digital, you can borrow it. No waiting.

What’s really cool is that hoopla digital has recently invested in a significant amount of STEAM education content. When you log in and search for STEAM content, you’ll find a wide variety of books, audiobooks, movies and television programs for all ages.

STEAM is an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking.

hoopla digital homeschool
free homeschool books

How to Use hoopla digital to Create Unit Studies for Child-Lead Learning

Using hoopla digital is very easy. You can access it online or mobile app and you can even stream movies or television shows right through your streaming device (Roku, Apple TV, Fire Stick, etc.) too. Personally, I find that searching using their website is a little easier and what I like to do is to use the website to add items to my “favorites” list and then access them through my mobile app.

How to use hoopla digital for STEAM Unit Study Resources

To get started using hoopla digital, first make sure you have a valid library card from a participating library. You’ll need to register at hoopla digital using your library card and your email address. After that, you’re ready to go. You can browse through each of the categories or you can search for something in particular and use the filters to narrow down the list. There are so many titles available, the search filters are definitely very helpful. You can even let your kids search and browse on hoopla digital by using the “Kids Mode.”

Deciding which resources you’ll use in your unit study will depend on a few different things. You’ll want to select one that are aligned with your child’s level of learning and choose a format that will keep his or her interest. You will also want to make sure that whatever you pick provides that answers your child is looking for.

Using hoopla digital and “outer space” as our example topic, you’ll see that there are just a ton of resources available. 479 to be exact.

free homeschool books science

You can structure your study so that it’s highly focused on outer space and the sciences related to that or you can create one that includes all subjects. There isn’t a “right way” or “wrong way” to do it. It depends on your objectives. If you’re simply doing a deeper dive of what’s being covered in your pre-planned curriculum, then you may want to keep it tightly focused. If you lean more towards a child-lead approach to learning, then you may want to consider adding literature, grammar and math.

You’ll notice in the photo above that there are two editions of the Time book “Outer Space.” If you investigate further, you’ll notice that one is a read-long version and the other is a traditional eBook. Kind of cool, huh?

free homeschool books science outer space

Use a Variety of Resources in Your STEAM Unit Study

In addition to reading and reference material, I like to have at least one or two hands-on components such as science experiments or art projects. A quick search using “outer space science experiments” brought up this cool book.

homeschool science experiments outer space

And searching for a related video, I found this:

free homeschool science videos

Bringing Your STEAM Unit Study Together

After you borrow and download your selections, you’ll want to go through them yourself. You’ll be able to create vocabulary lists and plan your activities based on what you read.

hoopla digital has such a wide variety of resources available on demand that it’s easy to pull together a unit study on the fly. Ask your library if they have a partnership with hoopla digital, register and dig into all of their new STEAM education content. Have fun! If you’re already using hoopla digital, come join the Modern Homeschool Family Facebook group and tell us what treasures you’ve found!


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