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Homeschooling 101, Part 6: No Rocket Science Degree Required



In the last post in this series, I gave you some ideas on where to begin teaching math to your homeschooled child. In this post, I am going to talk about the first cousin to mathematics – and another topic than can be intimidating to beginning homeschooling parents – science.

The worst way to teach science

Since math and science are closely related subjects, you might think that I recommend homeschooling science like I do homeschooling math: purchasing a structured curriculum.

Actually, the exact opposite is true. Unless you live in a fascist state that requires you to use a curriculum similar to the ones that the state requires its schools to teach, using a textbook to teach science is the last thing you want to do. Why? Two reasons. First, science textbooks are boring as all get-out, no matter what grade level you’re talking about.

I remember my first year teaching. I had a third-grade classroom, and when I first scanned the science textbook my jaw dropped to the floor. It was the exact same information that I had learned in third-grade science back in the ‘70’s! And just as boring. From what I remember, there was probably one experiment or semi-scientific activity every three chapters or so. Otherwise, it was the same thing I had grown up with: “read the chapter, then answer the questions at the end.”

I don’t think my kids ever touched the textbooks that the district had spent so much money on. I only used it as resource so that I knew what content I needed to teach. I made up songs to teach the main content, created my own (more fun, I thought) worksheets, and tried to focus more on classroom experiments than shoving information down my students’ throat.

The worst way to teach science is from a textbook.

How to stay on track with science for your elementary student(s)

If you are new to homeschooling, I recommend that you use the Core Knowledge series of books as your main resource. They are not only free at your local library (if they aren’t, ask the librarians to buy a set!), but they contain all the same basic information – no, better, I would say – as your typical elementary school science curriculum. But they are written with a much more interesting, engaging style than school textbooks are, are more informative, and also include biographies of well-known scientists in every book.

Best of all, at the end of each science section in each of the books there is a list of resources for getting into more depth with the topics covered in each particular grade level book. This list always includes a book of science experiments for children.

Which brings me to the next point…

Science is all about observation and experimentation

The problem with sticking to a textbook to teach science is that science is not about memorizing information and reading comprehension. It’s about learning how the world around you works.

While it’s important for your child to learn about the three states of matter, it’s more important for them to experiment with causing water to change from one state to another. While it’s important to learn about the life cycle, it’s more important to actually raise their own caterpillar or tadpole to adulthood, and observe and record the daily or weekly changes.

In other words, to learn science best, a child must become a scientist, not an information dump!

Resources to start with

First, check out from your library or purchase the Core Knowledge book that corresponds to your child’s grade level (What Your First-Grader Needs To Know, etc.). Check out or purchase science experiment books and other books that delve deeper into science-related topics.

Our library, for example, has three science-related series that we enjoy. The first is about the various body systems. The second is a “gross” series, in which each book covers a topic such as fungi in food or bacteria on your skin. The third series teaches things like what happens when you break your bones.

The next resource to consider is the Rock ‘N Learn four-DVD science series. In about forty minutes per DVD, each one covers all the basics in one of four areas of science that are covered at the elementary level: the human body, physical science, life science, and earth science.

In my opinion, the DVDs are overpriced, but my son has enjoyed them and learned a lot from them. You have to have your child watch each DVD several times, however, in order for them to retain the information. I recommend having them watch the same DVD twice a week for a month or two, then move on to the next DVD. After they have watched all four, give them a break for a few months, then repeat the cycle one or two more times.

If you use the DVDs as your primary elementary science curriculum – at least for the basic information – then all you need to do is augment it with books from the library and an experiment two to four times a month.

If you have the money, Amazon.com is a great place to find different kinds of science kits. After watching the physical science DVD, my son begged us for some sort of electricity kit. We found a great one that was electricity and magnetism, and he has enjoyed it and learned a lot from it. But it’s not the kind of money I would want to spend every month for the sake of having hands-on science! (I think it was about $50).

What about secondary school?

Once your child has mastered the basics, where do you go for the advanced science courses like biology, chemistry, and physics? Great Courses provides several introductory courses to a variety of science topics. But beware – if you buy something from them once, you will be on their mailing list forever! (Insert evil laugh here.)

You can also find high school science courses on DVD online. There’s also neok12.com, where you can find a variety of short videos that teach on a variety of topics, including high school science. As I mentioned in the post about math, if you belong to a homeschooling co-op, there may be a parent who teaches one or more advanced-level science courses. And there are always the online homeschooling courses.

How to work science into your schedule

Homeschooling parents approach science in a couple of different ways. Some teach science two to three days a week, from thirty minutes to an hour, and teach social studies on the other days. Others will alternate teaching science and social studies. One year, they teach science every day, the next, social studies. That decreases the lesson planning, and is also great for student retention because when you do an intense, in-depth study of any topic you remember more of the information for much longer.

Most homeschooling parents (if not all) schedule science for some time after lunch when people’s brains are a bit more lethargic and/or people need a break from the more intense language arts that are usually scheduled in the morning. When you approach the subject correctly, science will likely become one of your child’s favorites. And because it centers around hands-on activities, it makes for a fun period, often not even feeling like school to the homeschooler!

Summing it up

There are plenty of resources available – online and at your local library – to help you teach science. So don’t worry if you don’t have a degree in rocket science, or didn’t even take physics in high school. You still can make this an interesting, even exciting, subject for your homeschooled child.

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