Creating A Unit Study with Letters From Afar
What Is Letters From Afar?
If you haven’t heard of this incredible company, then you’re in for a real treat! Started by a wonderful woman named Shawnee, Letters From Afar is a beautiful collection of travel letters delivered to you each month! Shawnee is the author and illustrator of each letter and they are absolutely gorgeous! She writes to you as ‘Isabelle’ based on the historical world traveler Isabella Bird. Each month you get a glimpse of a new location complete with bits of geography, history and culture. As an extra cherry on top, a portion of the subscription fee is donated to Pencils Of Promise. So, supporting Shawnee and Letters From Afar is not only creating learning opportunities in your own home, but also supporting education worldwide.
We have fallen in love with these letters and use them as a launching point for weekly unit studies.
How We Incorporate Them In Our World Unit Study
This year we are working our way through a World Unit Study. Each week we learn about a new country and delve into the history, nature, geography, culture and arts of each location. Since we are a child-led homeschool, my children have the opportunity to choose which location they want to learn about each week. But, when our monthly Letters From Afar envelope arrives, we are all excited to see where Isabelle will take us for the week!
The letters contain enough information to launch a mini-unit study or day study on the area. We like to take it a step further and spend a week immersing ourselves in the history and culture of each location!
Examples Of Our Letters From Afar Lessons
Below are some photos of our Letters From Afar lessons to date. You’ll see history, poetry, geography and more incorporated into each of our studies.
Galapagos Islands Letter and Maps by Aleksandra Mizielinksa
Galapagos Island Tea Time with An Old Shell: Poems Of The Galapagos by Tony Johnston
Irish poetry tea time inspired by Cliffs Of Moher Letter
Petra Letter and rock unit study
Tips For Getting Started
So how do you begin? Make a list of the subjects and concepts you’d like to include in your study. Then, find how those relate specifically to the location in your letter.
Some examples of subjects we tend to cover are:
History and geography tend to flow together easily for us. A little mapwork is easy to incorporate (drawing country’s borders, reading a compass, creating a map legend for landmarks, etc)
For reading and poetry, I browse our home bookshelves or hop onto my local library’s website to request books about the location when the Shawnee announces the location of the next letter. This allows us 1-2 weeks to secure these materials before our letter will arrive. I like to choose both picture books and living books, as well as titles that support the subjects we will be covering.
Science and nature can be about anything related to the city/country! For Petra, we chose to focus on rocks and the rock cycle. Weather can easily be wrapped up into the lesson since erosion and metamorphic rock relate to the elements. You could also study the animals, climate, or terrain of the general area.
Art is something we mainly focus on for our Enrichment Fridays. We do handicrafts all week, but Friday is reserved for enrichment studies and poetry tea time. We cook a authentic meal item, listen to traditional music and language, read and discuss a poem, and create physical art, all from the region or country we are studying. We often re-read our letter on this day as my kids like to connect the dots and draw familiarity based on what they’ve learned all week.
Try looking up a famous painting or historical artwork to paint your own versions! Bust out some clay and recreate a sculpture or obelisk that resides there. Use legos, food, or craft items to build landmarks from the location.
The reaction my children had to this wonderful service inspired me to create “Letters To Isabelle” where my children write postcards back to her about what they’ve learned. Grab your Letters To Isabelle template for FREE on my Freebies tab to add to your lessons!
We find these studies to be a lot of fun and jam-packed with useful information all tied into a cohesive learning pattern. Learning this way creates a deep connection with humanity, history, and nature. My children feel as if they’ve been to these places because they’ve had a well-rounded peek into what life is like in these various countries.
If you have any questions or would like more suggestions for getting started, leave me a comment below!