KONOS Unit Studies

One online reviewer referred to the KONOS emphasis on godly character as "icing on the cake," but for authors Carole Thaxton and Jessica Hulcy this is the whole point of education. Christian parents don't take their kids out of school so they can reproduce the same atmosphere at home—the purpose of homeschooling is to raise godly children who can think outside the box and don't need step-by-step instructions to get through life.

The KONOS curriculum evolved from Thaxton and Hulcy's early efforts to teach their sons at home. The program's content and structure (or lack thereof) evidences these origins: it's easier to use any of the levels in a co-op situation than by yourself. Individual families can and do use KONOS successfully (and have a lot of fun doing it), but the more the merrier as they say. KONOS is set up to be used with kids in multiple grade levels simultaneously, so you don't need to worry about buying separate guides for different kids.

Unlike some curricula which bend over backwards for the parent or teacher, the authors of this one expect moms and dads to invest in their kids' education, to do outside research, and to plan lessons well in advance. This leads to complaints from parents unwilling to invest more than an hour or two a week into the education of their children, but for those who make the sacrifice it often means kids who love and are able to learn.

How Do These Work?

These courses bring a whole new meaning to the term "teacher-intensive." One thing to know from the outset: each day will take a lot of planning, and there aren't a lot of shortcuts (even they take quite a bit of parental effort). The authors are trying to dispel the myth that real learning comes primarily from a textbook or workbook, and that learning by doing is a much more effective method, especially for younger kids.

Another important note: everything is covered except math, phonics, spelling, and upper-level grammar. The authors suggest covering math and language arts in the morning, and leaving afternoons open for the more adventurous KONOS activities and research. This even just makes sense—attention spans fade later in the day, and "discovery learning" is a good way to boost interest and energy.

Discovery learning is the focus of this program. Kids learn best when they're actually able to do, and the KONOS activities engage all of students' senses as they build teepees, create models of the human ear, make working catapults, bake fortune cookies (with Bible verses inside), etc. Of course, books aren't ignored (there are extensive lists of titles that appear regularly throughout each text), but KONOS isn't primarily literature-based.

KONOS is Greek for "cone," the idea being that God is the apex of the cone that defines and lends meaning to all the other things in life, including science, history, writing composition, music, physical education, and everything else we study and teach our kids. Throughout the curriclum, the element that brings all the others together is the study of God and the development of good character, setting this unit-study pretty far apart from most others (that use literature or historic periods as the controlling element).

At the center of KONOS are three large books. KONOS covers grades K-8, with each volume containing 2-3 years worth of school material. Originally the program was only designed to cover through grade six, but as the authors compared it to state scope and sequence standards they realized it went much further than they'd originally supposed.

Each volume is divided into a number of character trait subject headings. Within each of these sections is too much information for any one parent to process. Some have tried, but there's simply too much there. Fortunately, there are lesson plan pages which help you determine what you'll use and when, so you aren't floundering on a day-to-day basis.

Ideas for science experiments, writing prompts, suggested field trips, recipes and sewing patterns, plans for building a mini-sailboat, room-cleaning and personal hygiene checklists, huge lists of books (most of which are available at your local library), instructions for making corn husk dolls, Bible studies, lists of Bible verses relating to the character trait being studied, discussion questions, wind charts: these are just a tiny fraction of what you'll find.

The idea is not to try to get all of this done. The idea is to choose what works for your family or co-op, and do those things. At the beginning of each section are objectives, and you want to do enough of the activities to meet those objectives, but not so many that you can't finish your lesson plans or either you or your kids get bogged down.

To help avoid this problem, and to help you plan your lessons most efficiently, the KONOS Compass offers the philosophy behind the program and its approach, a scope and sequence for its implementation, a typical state standards scope and sequence (so you can know your kids are on course), and lots of help from the authors and users on planning lessons, teaching writing, getting support from your spouse, keeping a good attitude, planning your own day, etc.

Other helps are also available, and more seem to be introduced as the years go by. Author Jessica Hulcy now offers her services (for an affordable fee) to mothers who need help putting KONOS to work for their family. There are also KONOS in a Box and KONOS in a Bag kits which offer ready-made daily lessons along with some of the materials needed to complete the projects. This takes the flexibility aspect out of the course, as well as making it less family-specific (you can tailor activities precisely to your family's needs when using the main texts by themselves), but they are helpful.

The KONOS in a Box kits simply offer a manual for the character trait under consideration (Obedience, Attentiveness, etc.), as well as craft supplies, timeline characters, extra readers, and more. KONOS in a Bag is more introductory, a way for parents to decide whether KONOS is for them, and consists of the book of lesson plans, suggested writing and reading assignments, and art supplies; these products revolve around a place (currently Africa or Russia) rather than a character trait. Timelines with laminated characters are also available to aid historical perspective.

A four-year high school course has also been developed based on the same KONOS unit study methodology, but none of these have been available for review at Exodus Books. This is a more academic approach than is taken in the later grades, though students are still exposed to a variety of study and learning methods, and don't have to rely simply on books to get their information.

There is an extensive online community of KONOS users who constantly share ideas, methods that work for them, support, and simple encouragement as they tackle the enormous task of teaching their kids. This is in many ways the original unit study for homeschoolers, and it has been fine-tuned both by the creators and its users for several decades. Between the support and the helpful supplements, we think anyone who really wants to can use KONOS to great effect.

Our Honest Opinion:

This is certainly a commitment, and you need to know that before buying the book or deciding you're going to use this for an entire school year. That said, it's a great approach to learning that can't be replicated in a classroom or anywhere else. The emphasis on Bible study and character development is particularly appealing, as is the idea that kids are born with energy and we should learn to channel and focus it rather than chain it to a desk with textbooks and workbooks all day.

KONOS is what you might call "life learning." Many of the activities relate to everyday events, and this further helps kids understand and contextualize what they're learning. Thaxton and Hulcy are adamant that the alternative to school education is not simply school at home, but a well-rounded approach that includes a child's whole body, mind and spirit in the pursuit of virtue and knowledge. Again, this is a taxing course, and even our lengthy review here doesn't really begin to cover everything, but KONOS has the potential to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your family's homeschool career.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.


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