By Katherine Headley
I’ve met many homeschool parents who pay only passing attention to science or ignore it all together. That really is a pity since so much of creation is fascinating. Science needn’t be difficult and whether your experiments work or fail they should always be fun.
A good science education should include learning in the content areas as well as science skill building. Content areas—that’s the facts, ma’am. Science skills include understanding the scientific method, how to collect data, what makes good science or bad science, and how to use the basic tools of a scientist. That sounds like quite a lot and all you science phobics are reinforcing your anti-science barriers. But wait....you don’t have to do all that in one or even two years. You’ve got time. Dabble a little in a study of plants while you prepare your garden one year. Learn more about the human anatomy and nutrition during your post holidays diet. You don’t need to plunge into elaborate experiments immediately, and by the time your kids want elaborate experiments they’ll be ready to do them on their own. By that time you may be ready to participate yourself.
Where do you turn for easy to use science resources? First, science resources really fall into two categories—curriculum and equipment. You will probably want to start out with curriculum adding a piece or two of equipment as you go along.
When looking for good science curriculum you should really start at your local library. Remember that curriculum is anything you use to help your children learn. Too often we think of it as textbooks. It’s more. Most of us know that the library has many wonderful resources, but particularly in the area of science it often surpasses other resources you may choose to use. A good library continually updates its collection with the most recent books published. Text books are often years behind current scientific discovery even when they are brand new. The textbook editorial process just doesn’t allow for quick turn around. Libraries also carry a wide variety of magazines which offer the very latest in scientific discovery. If you are working on astronomy, you can read an astronomy magazine. Magazine subscriptions are expensive. It’s so nice to have many different magazines to choose from at the library including all the back issues.
That doesn’t mean that a textbook can have no place in your homeschool. I have several elementary level textbooks that I purchased our first year of homeschooling. That’s when I was deep into the school at home mode. Now I use those textbooks as reference points. And every so often I pull one out to actually read to the kids. Especially in the younger grade levels science textbooks can have great illustrations.
For elementary level education I also have a set of books published by World Book, The Young Scientist. Usborne has several science series on different levels that are good resources to have on hand. I also recommend that you get some nature guides. For kids I recommend World Book`s Science & Nature Guides. Each book covers a particular topic and has many easy-to-do science projects. You could spend a month or two on birds, fossils, rocks & minerals, seashells, wild flowers, trees, insects, amphibians & reptiles, butterflies and mammals. We’ll be using Freshwater Life this spring for a study on ponds we have planned. If you find you have a burning interest in a particular nature topic, you may want to get an adult field guide.
I mentioned a plan to do a study on ponds. You may be wondering what I mean when I say I have a plan. It’s usually not very elaborate. We pick topics in the summer, four or five. Then I find resources to use for each study. For our ponds study I’ve chosen a couple of books and a project which will be to build a backyard pond. This study came as result of my desire to have a backyard pond. I don’t undertake huge projects like that purely for the sake of science learning. In fact, the pond will be our single largest science endeavor. Prior to that it was probably the fish our family and another dissected one afternoon. Nature units are the easiest to plan because they require a little reading, watching an Eyewitness video or nature shows on cable TV, and a day or two out in the field looking for our subject of study. When we studied birds we set up bird feeders.
For physical science I rely on kits which are available from many different sources. Stop by your local toy store or hobby/craft store. I’ve gotten great deals on science kits in clearance racks. I really like the Scientific Explorer kits because they cover a variety of science topics in each kit. For example the now-out-of-print Galileo kit included some astronomy, optics, force & motion, and matter. You built your own telescope and thermometer, discussed our solar system and used your telescope to look at the night sky, conducted your own Leaning Tower of Pisa experiments, and learned how a pendulum clock works. If you would like to track what areas of science your child has covered and what he hasn’t, Kathryn Stout’s Science Scope will help you do just that. If you need to prepare a scope and sequence for the state, this book lists objectives by level for the different areas of science.
For those who are don’t feel comfortable planning their own science units, there are two resources that allow you to do hands on instruction. Developing Critical Thinking Through Science Book One and Book Two help you by providing step by step instructions and a complete dialogue to go along with each lesson. Yes, the questions to ask your kids and the correct answers. If you plan to use this book, I suggest you get a box and start putting all the supplies for the lessons in it. Things like baby food jars, rubber bands, chalk and paper clips. I found I was more inclined to do a lesson if the supplies were already in one easy to find spot. These books cover the scientific method and physical science. Task cards and task activity sheets are the approach TOPS Learning Systems uses to provide easy to do science investigation for all ages. By copying these reproducible pages you can have a science workbook for each of your children. Since these books can be used for multiple ages, they are a good investment for larger families. Topics include pendulums, light, oxidation, sound, electricity, corn and beans, planet and stars and many more. You can also get Global Tops which contain 100 activity sheets taken from the elementary level books all of which can be done with only 15 things. You’ll want to visit their website for their list of Simple Things to put together your own science supply box of recyclable, consumable and non-consumable science supplies.
Eventually you will want to start investing in equipment. One of the earliest tools you will want to have is a good balance. If you are planning to use the balance all the way through high school, you’ll want to get a good one that has at least a 0.1 g. minimum sensitivity. Some high school curricula require a 0.01g. sensitivity. You’ll also want a set of glass beakers, some test tubes and a stand, petri dishes, thermometer and an erlenmeyer flask. Home Science Tools is a good inexpensive source for these supplies. They have many instructive articles about teaching science and choosing equipment on their website. I recommend getting glass rather than plastic beakers. I chose plastic to start with in elementary school. We used them only occasionally. By the time we really needed beakers in junior high and high school plastic wouldn’t work. We’ve also used magnets, iron filings, bulb holders, batteries and many other things which went with specific units of study. Because we were steadily adding to our stock of equipment science has often been the most expensive subject for us. If you are able to participate in local science workshops you may be able to avoid completely the need to buy your own equipment. However, it’s always nice to have some of the basic glassware on hand and a science experiment book or two to let kids do their own thing. If you plan to do high school science at home, you will probably want to purchase your own microscope. Plan on spending between $250-300 for a good basic microscope. For the elementary years there are many inexpensive microscopes available. If I had the funds I’d get a Brock Magiscope. They are close to indestructible, can be used in the field and have excellent optics. At a cost of around $119 they are a definite wish list item.
With good resources you will find that science is a little less intimidating. Be warned, though, it will never go smoothly. If you expect it to, you are bound to be disappointed. Once I placed a soda and vinegar powered balloon vehicle in the bathtub ready to foam it’s way across the tub. When it didn’t shoot forward as it should, I picked it up to inspect. Naturally the soda and vinegar finally mixed and I had foam shooting out all over the front row of kneeling expectant preschoolers. Much screaming ensued but fortunately soda and vinegar are both excellent cleaning agents, so the bathroom got a scrubbing and my kids have never forgotten the day mommy sprayed stuff all over us. Science can be messy, sometimes it can be boring as you wait for your liquid to boil. Sometimes it takes three or more tries for something to work right. But when it finally works, what a thrill. Figuring out why something didn’t work can be equally instructive. And sometimes the words, ‘I don’t have a clue" are all you are left with. However your science learning turns out, it will be learning and your children will be blessed.
Where to Get These Science Resources