To some extent, I understand why a number of homeschoolers don’t get science curriculum until perhaps the student is pre-teen or entering high school:
- They believe the popular notion that science isn’t one of the “basics” and want life to be simple in order to have time for favourite activities so they ignore anything that isn’t considered a “basic” school subject or a “family favourite activity”.
But when you think about it, science is about as equal in necessity as reading skills. No one argues the importance of literacy – people who read can learn about anything, right? We agree that placing a high value on reading skills is important, even though there are individuals and even illiterate cultures who can learn the necessary stuff by just hearing, watching, and doing. Yet it would be very difficult for them in their practical day-to-day life if they did not know about science – both the natural things that surround them and their own bodies (biology, ecology, botany, water) plus how to use things to make other things (chemistry and physics). Science is important for almost every part of our practical life!
While homeschoolers talk about wanting a “real life” education in math, they sometimes fail to see that “real life” application doesn’t need to mean putting in stories with familiar nouns to do a math problem like “Jane put 2 carrots and 3 potatoes into a pot so how many vegetables are there in total?” Did you know that a fair amount of science is actually a “real life” math application by just naturally being what science already is! Think about the charting and graphs for ecological populations, the simple machine equations for how to have the most effective outcome to make work easier, even how much baking soda to add when doubling a cookie recipe (an exception to the general rule of ratios). And safety – think about not only the health sciences (how many days does it take for a broken bone to fuse together) but also things like when and how does water become too unsafe to drink, why you need an insulative material on your hands to get those cookies out of the oven, when you might want a screw instead of a nail to build with (and vice versa) depending on the stability needed in a certain structure. These things do use math in real life situations.
2. They believe that since “natural” is less intimidating, to only enjoy an artistic study of nature and there, they’ve covered enough science.
But studying nature should be more than just drawing it and learning some vocabulary – it is also about how to use nature. This involves learning about chemistry, biochemistry, engineering (e.g. structures of webs and dams), and much more. There are foundational principles that everyone should learn since we live in a very orderly natural environment although it is getting more polluted. Learning a bit about plants and animals and the sky in order to know some definitions, that is a start – but there is so much more to nature study than just that. We should want to go beyond the “what” and learn the “when”, “where”, “why”, and “how” of topics.
3. They can’t find suitable materials for having “science” as a regular subject every year in a homeschool setting, especially for the earlier grades. The typical resources might be too expensive, too time-consuming for “mom” (e.g. lots of experiments or demos to prepare or clean up), too booooorrrrriinnggg, too long to read aloud, too geared for older ages, too hard to find in the market, etc..
If you aren’t a science person, you will find it even harder to come up with your own stuff to teach your children and yet science remains critical to practical life and CAN BE so much fun! Did I say fun? Yes!!!! Science not only is a “basic” like math and reading skills, it adds a lot of fun into a lifelong learner’s day!!!
As a homeschool parent, you have all these hours anyways for your child to do something. Try not to squelch their enthusiasm to learn by limiting “school” to just a couple hours in the morning for the “3R’s” and then giving them “free-time” to waste on entertainment or meaningless activities. A guided science study does not need to involve much of your time if you have taught your kids how to learn independently. Nor does it need to take up every afternoon. Plus, if you start in the early years, then the upper levels won’t seem so difficult to cram in all that stuff fast when they’re already dealing with pressure with details from other subject areas and pre-teen/teen life. And such a science study will be packed with worthwhile concepts, relevant knowledge, and creative skills which can help your students soar in their thinking!
Here are some ways to include SCIENCE in YOUR homeschool:
No or nil effort – Casual conversation: Include your children in your every day life AND explain why you do something or something happens. This can be gardening, kitchen science, simple and safe building projects, care for a pet. But to be “science”, remember there should be not only observation but also explanation. This is the type of science that one might do if overwhelmed or in transition or just beginning to homeschool. It might also be done when low effort curriculum cannot be found. May I encourage you to at least have this type of science regularly in your homeschool.
Low effort – This offers guided and independent learning with curriculum such as our own Peppermint Stick Learning Company’s science resource books. Written at student level, this curriculum covers lots of concepts in a broad topical base for students to discover even more. Parents/teachers can be involved but aren’t required to be available all the time for lessons so there is a lot of flexibility for real life without delaying or frustrating a child’s science education. You can run after a youngster while your science student continues on happily for a while rather than shouting “Stop and wait for me to come back!” And the lesson outline, notes, worksheets, activity ideas, etc. are essentially completed for you so you don’t have to prepare much at all, if anything.
Medium-effort – Spend time online or in libraries gathering worksheets, videos, website activities, and other “stuff” to create your own guided unit study. By experience, I can say that this seems less demanding for time in comparison to “tweaking” science curriculum to fit individualized learning when it was written for classroom groups. However, it does require time and a good unit study with some depth to it isn’t just thrown together overnight.
Can I add here that DEPTH is very important to any subject area and any topic! Too many times lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of “depth” put into decorative notebooking pages available online for studies – they ARE absolutely beautiful but the depth is seen in the artwork, not in the science. And that part concerns me because it might be marketed as “complete, all-you-need” rather than “supplemental”. If you are wanting CORE curriculum, make sure that what you are designing as a unit study yourself or purchasing from another, isn’t just a reviewing concepts or a piece of pretty notebook paper for you to provide the depth of the content on it (unless your goal is to just have pretty paper to work with). Core curriculum teaches in-depth whereas supplemental curriculum reviews. Both core and supplemental can be excellent when used in balance of one another but I strongly recommend that you carefully consider the level of actual content presented or queried inside the unit study, especially for your older students and focus more on science than art for science class.
High-effort – Use a curriculum that needs you as a parent-teacher to do lots of demonstrations or experiments (clean-up plus supplies to gather), lots of marking of fill-in-the-blanks or other corrections to schoolwork, and/or lots of oral reading of paragraphs, scripted for you to hold in your hands, holler out while keeping crowd control, and help to reinforce with a discussion afterwards. It means that the adult must be present, available and focused on a manual to follow detailed words at all times, every day. And to read aloud, read aloud, read aloud, listen, listen, listen, or do, do, do. To me, that’s too much effort for a busy mom with preschoolers and should be unnecessary if a student is a fluent-enough reader. It can be fine for families with few and/or older students. My guess is that seeing this type of high-effort science is why so many beginning homeschool moms shrink away from including science as an academic subject.
The importance of studying science in all grade levels from a Canadian perspective without overwhelming busy moms was the main motivation for us to begin our business. Watch our online shop as more of our titles move from “draft and ideas” to being published and occasional blogs, like the next blog, where I share about some resources we have really liked to use in our homeschool for junior/upper levels of science.