Tuesday, April 22, 2008

KONOS Review (Unit Study Curriculum)

I wrote the following in response to a gal who was looking for a review about KONOS curriculum (from someone who has used it):

We used KONOS for a few years when my boys were younger and I think it is excellent curriculum for someone who likes the idea of doing Unit Studies, but needs some help in pulling one together.  It's a good combination of using real books and hands-on experiences to learn a wide variety of subject matter. Having said that, and understanding that there is no perfect curriculum, please read on...

I used it during a period in my homeschooling when I loved investing in lesson planning and researching topics that I had no previous background in so that I could "teach" about particular topics to my sons (my oldest was 2-4th grade, I think, when we used it).

Konos is well laid out. Very basic lesson plans accompany the units (you can feel free to work directly from the lesson plans or completely disregard them (or use them as a springboard in creating your own lesson plans). It is Bible-based and for the Christian family it provides a rich foundation of both academics and spiritual training during the elementary school years.

At some point, though, I began to realize that while I loved the lesson planning, because there is such a wealth of ideas, I would often plan more than we could realistically get done. Or, in all honesty.....I got such a kick out of lesson planning that some weeks I would pour myself into planning, but when it came time to actually DO the lessons I was a bit "burned out" and we perhaps accomplished half of what I intended. I think the burned-outness also was a result of my oldest really not being all that into "projects" as a child.  Because he wasn't naturally drawn to all the wonderful hands-on projects they began to take on a contrived-ness for us and I really didn't want to spend our time on contrived activities.

What it DID do for me, though, was help me see how the activities that my sons were naturally drawn to were valuable learning experiences and it helped me trust that I could evaluate what my young children were learning without the use of devices like tests and endless workbook pages. For example, I would see them playing "war" and noticed that they weren't just running around playing "shoot 'em up". They were actually taking on names of historical figures and were recreating (what they perceived would have been) realistic battles. We bought a lot of historical play gear (meaning we scrounged up some close facsimiles at thrift shops, garage sales, and occasionally I put my sewing skills to use), and they came up with things on their own if we didn't have it.

They did the same when setting up their little men (we have LOTS of figures from different wars and time periods). When using Lego's they would often create designs relating to what we were studying (e.g., creating castles and catapults -- as best they could). They used their erector set to create cranes and buildings and learned a bit about physics and mechanical principles. My middle son went through a period where he would create all sorts of things using paper, tape and scissors. They loved making shields and swords out of K'NEX and having sword fights. They built forts out of Lincoln Logs and wooden blocks. They built zoos out of blocks and designed the special areas where different animals lived. They built space stations and laboratories out of LEGO's and blocks where little Lego men were posed to performed their scientific experiments and they explained their designs to their dad and I for as long as we were willing to be their captive audience ;^).

Our family is not unique. These are the things of boy-play (and any girls who came to our house in those days joined in on this kind of play as well).  And again, having gained experience in doing Unit Studies, I could see beyond what looked like "just play" and recognized and trusted the knowledge that was showing itself in the things the boys were creating and the words that were coming out of their mouths.  Testing their knowledge would have, at best, been redundant.  At worst, it may have turned a love of history into a chore, and something to be unnecessarily evaluated at a young age.  

They also enjoy watching historical documentaries and visiting historical reinactments to give them a visual of the things they read about. They enjoy building models and dioramas of real things and events. They love doing things that they are inspired to do.  Don't we all?  These are the things that cause real learning -- as opposed to contrived projects that I came up with to try to get them enthusiastic so they could have "learning experiences".

I can say I'm extremely grateful for the KONOS curriculum (and other unit study materials I've used) because it did help me see how much valuable learning happens outside the box of textbooks and workbooks. And it helped me learn how to trust this type of learning and how to evaluate it for its educational value.

Eventually, I concluded that while it is a great curriculum I really couldn't justify the investment cost-wise and time-wise considering how less effective "prepared" unit studies and someone else's ideas of great projects were for our family, versus drawing from the things that my sons were naturally drawn to or, for example, drawing from an historical period we were already studying. I learned that I was quite capable of pulling together a unit study that fit the boys' different styles of learning and by not being so invested in a formal unit study curriculum, I could insert unit studies into our schooling any time I felt like it.

For children who love hands-on activities and are self-motivated to jump into the activities (once you've provided the materials and have led them into the projects) I think Konos will likely make a wonderful and nearly complete curriculum.  For children/families who find such "projects" contrived, it may not be a perfect fit, but it may help those families reach outside their textbooks and tests.  Or you may enjoy it for a while, as we did, and simply find yourself growing out of it eventually and growing into your own unit study ideas.  Regardless, Konos and other unit study curricula have a valuable place in the education of our children - of all ages.  If you haven't explored the idea of how unit studies may enrich your homeschool experience, I suggest giving them a try.


  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
    I'm going to use Konos this summer to do some morning schooling with my kiddos. I hope it will help us learn some valuable character lessons from the Bible and see if it is a good fit for us for our regular schooling.
    Thank you - momma to 4

  2. Hi Becki,

    I'm Tammy....was searching info for a fresh look at a KONOS sample unit and your blog came up. Many years ago I used to lead the F.A.I.T.H. Homeschool Support Group. I believe you and your husband were the Regional Reps. for awhile. I recall my daughter Dawn and your son, Nathan being in a Spelling Bee together. Just wanted to drop a line. Small world. Blessings to you. Tammy of FCC (formerly)


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