The October Unit Factory

I love seasons and holidays.  I love them so much it’s difficult to not get caught up in them to the point of neglecting other things.  Always on the lookout for ways to have my cake and eat it, too, I’ve got lists of ideas for “festive schooling.”  These range from the obvious and more traditional to the sometimes wild and crazy.

Below is a list of a few unit suggestions for the month of October.  The beauty of units is that they can last a day, a week... even a lifetime.  So whether you’re looking for something for the entire month, or just a way to pass the daylight on October 31, have a look and see what strikes your fancy.

The really fun thing about learning is seeing how all things connect.  Many of the suggestions are smaller or larger parts of each other.  You can isolate certain aspects, or tackle it all together.  Some of the ideas will have suggested activities or websites.  These are just the tip of the iceberg.  Resources and possibilities are endless!

The Night – October is a good month to study a different aspect of nighttime each day.  This can include nocturnal animals, nighttime occupations, bedtime (rituals, dreams...), night festivals, the sky at night (moon, constellations, Earth’s rotation...), and its opposite – light (Daylight Savings Time, fire, candles, electricity...).  I recommend reading The Complete Book of the Night, by Sally Tagholm.

The Skeletal System – Get started at here.

Bats, Cats, Owls and Fowls – This web page and this web page have some free and easy access information, worksheets, crafts, and activities. Just type your topic into the internal search engines.

Fantasy and Fiction – Now is a perfect time to learn about and decide what is real and what isn’t.

Costuming – Learn about fashion through the ages, how to sew a costume, or see how imaginative you can get in creating a costume.

Mystery – Study some of the greats:  read Agatha Christie or some of Sherlock Holmes’ adventures.  Find out what makes a great mystery and try writing your own.

Times and Seasons – Kind of a “duh,” but expand on it.  If you like nature walks and journals, relish them in October!  Sketch the same tree every day, detailing the differences after time and wind and weather.  Chart sunrise and sunset.  Learn about the history of Daylight Savings Time.  See if the Farmer’s Almanac is correct in its predictions.  (By the way, Ben Franklin had something to do with Daylight Savings, almanacs, electricity, wood stoves to keep warm, and more!  You could learn about him and cover several things at once!)  Learn leaf and tree identification.  Take up photography during this beautifully colorful season, either by taking a professional class, or by handing your kids disposable cameras for documenting the signs of autumn in a book of their own.  I recommend reading Look What I Did with a Leaf! By Morteza E. Sohi.

Edgar Allan Poe – If you like dark, gloomy and horrifying, this is your man.  There’s nothing uplifting about his work, and yet his writing, for some, is magnetic.  Definitely considered a classic author and poet, I’m not sure his tales are for everyone.  Still, if you’re interested, go here.

Frankenstein – While Mary Shelley’s famous novel about a monster is usually classified a “horror story,” it is much, much more.  It is poignant, provoking and a masterful look at ethics, behavior, identity, and love. If you have older youth, it could spark a great discussion on morality and be compared to many of today’s current events. Frankenstein is said to be the very first science fiction novel, and Shelley wrote it when just 18 years old!

The Celts – A large part of the Halloween “story”, the Celts themselves are a fascinating people.  Good places to start learning about them: here and here.

Fear - You'll likely recall Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous words, "...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  Profound to those mature enough to understand and agree with it, it's a statement children may find ridiculous.  All creatures fear what they don't know or understand.  October is a perfect time to teach how many of our fears rise from ignorance.  Knowledge is power!

As a family, study something that seems scary.  Demonstrate how to properly research a topic, summarize information, transfer the new knowledge into a "show and tell" project or paper with proper documentation.  Then allow each child to choose their own object of fear and follow the same steps on their own (or with a little guidance depending on age).  Some suggestions would include snakes, thunderstorms, spiders, and the dark.

You could also learn about the physical responses to fear.  Learn about adrenaline, how it affects us, why some people actually like to be scared, and maybe even discuss “highs” and drug addiction.  Discuss safety and prevention (Fire Prevention Week is in October!).  Talk about “fight or flight.”  Maybe even learn a little self-defense.

I recommend reading What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss.

Sounds of October – This time of year the stores have many recordings of scary sound effects.  If you like, make your own recordings of sounds.  It can be great fun for each child to individually make their own tape and then play it for their siblings to have them guess what the sounds are.  It takes ingenuity to create sounds for thunder or wind with nothing but what’s in the house.

Great October music includes:

 Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” – Does the music match the seasons?

            “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens

            “Night on Bald Mountain” by M. Mussorgsky

            “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from “Peer Gynt” Suite by Edvard Grieg

            “Toccata & Fugue in D Minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach

            “Linus and Lucy” The Music of Vince Guaraldi played by George Winston

            “Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin

            “The Ride of the Valkryies” by Wagner

Tastes of the Season – Go to a local Farmer’s Market and purchase one of every apple variety you can find.  Do taste tests and compare flavors.  Poll your family, friends and neighbors as to their favorite type and make a graph of apple favorites. Learn how new varieties of apples are created.  Experiment with making applesauce.  Do mixing varieties give better flavor?  What about adding cinnamon candies or vanilla extract?  What texture is best?  Do you prefer it a little crispy, or as complete mush?  Do you like it better served cold, or warm from the stove?

Pumpkins lend themselves to all sorts of mathematical activities, including estimation, measuring circumference and weight.

Don’t forget the Halloween candy!  From simply counting the objects to naming and sorting according to shape, the trick-or-treat bag is a bag full of math tricks.  Fraction fun (What fraction of your treats are candy bars, what fraction of your candy bars contain nuts, what fraction of your candy was made by Hershey?) patterns, tangible Venn diagrams, graphs, greater than/less than calorie counts and so on.

Halloween History - Regardless of how you personally feel about Halloween and all that seems to go with it, it’s a good idea to learn about its history and origins.  In doing so as a family, you can compare old customs and beliefs with what we know and do today, and more importantly with what you believe and want to foster in your children.  Dispelling ancient myths and superstitions, discovering hidden truths, understanding the value of science, knowledge, enlightenment and testimony- these things can enrich your homeschool.  Halloween isn’t just about devils and demons.  It’s about harvests, new beginnings, loved ones, and eternal life.  Check it out and see what you think!

For basic information check out these four web sites:

1, 2, 3, 4

For teaching ideas, worksheets, crafts, activities, unit plans, etc. go to these two web sites:

1, 2