Science is my favourite homeschool subject. I love it because it’s hands-on, my kids are always enthusiastic about it, and it’s so varied – there’s always a new way to make things pop, whizz, bang or explode!
To get straight into how we do science, skip down to “How I plan (or don’t plan) science” below.
Free range science
Science is: an objective, self-correcting method for gathering and organizing information about the natural world through repeated observation and experimentation.
Robert Krampf (“The Happy Scientist”)
One of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is the abundance of time children have to explore and gather information about the natural world during their everyday lives.
My kids “do science” while they’re playing in the garden – whether they’re designing rope swings, making mud and berry pies or just lying on the trampoline gazing up at the trees. They’re “doing science” when we’re out with our dog in the woods or by the river, admiring wildflowers and distinguishing breeds of geese. And they’re “doing science” when they combine ingredients and follow recipes in the kitchen when they cook lunch or bake cookies for poetry tea.
I wouldn’t want any formal science curriculum to take my children (aged eight and nine) away from these free-range explorations. The way I see it, there’s plenty of time for learning how to formally write up experiments. My goals right now are for my children to enjoy finding out about the world about them, and for them to think of “science” as something that they enjoy.
As with our other subjects, despite not using a science curriculum I try to find a balance between giving my children time for their own explorations, and sharing with them the delights of the world as I know it. So we “do science” as a subject, in a variety of ways.
Strewing and projects
The least formal ways we do science are via strewing and project time. I strew interesting materials – a prism, a magnet, a book about space, a DVD about whales – and often the children will explore them and ask questions. Sometimes this leads to a project. C(9) spend a couple of months learning about electricity, during which time she and her brother played with snap circuits every day.
At the moment she’s finding out about light and colour, which involves activities like burning crisp packets with a magnifying glass and making rainbow iced cookies.
Another perk of homeschooling is the time we have to go on field trips. Whereas school children might visit the London Science Museum or Natural History Museum once or twice in their elementary years, we can go as often as we like. We’ve participated in some excellent educational workshops at RHS Garden Wisley, Benjamin Franklin House, our local zoo, and even a University space laboratory.
Because we can go on holiday out of peak season, we’ve been lucky enough to visit the Kennedy Space Centre, and this week, in preparation for cruising the Norwegian fjords in June, we’re learning about how glaciers shape the landscape.
We’ve had time to enjoy weekly trips to our local pond, which is giving us a great chance to observe how the plants and animals there change with the seasons.
How I plan (or don’t plan) science
Science is a huge subject, encompassing everything from nature-study to astronomy. Using a curriculum can help make sure you approach science in an organised way, covering topics in a methodical order – but curriculum isn’t for everyone.
I tried it once – the Pandia Press REAL Science curriculum. We spent a fun term learning about the human body, transporting blood cells around our model giant, using string to map our intestines, and making “blood” out of vegetable oil and kidney beans. But then the curriculum moved onto animals and the most hands-on it got was assembling a lap book, and my kids’ groans at the mention of science told me it was time to do our own thing.
If I were very organised I’d make a list of core science topics and plan a series of experiments and activities covering those areas. But… if I waited until I’d done that, we’d probably never do science. Instead, I throw perfectionism out the window and leap into actually doing experiments and activities, taking one week at a time.
Each weekend I plan one activity or experiment to do during the week. I take inspiration from many places: books, Pinterest, friends, blogs and DVDs (see below for a list of my favourite resources).
When I say I “plan” an activity, I mean I make sure we have the supplies ready so that on whichever day feels right I can just set everything up and get going.
If I’m having an organised week, I might also:
– research some related materials like You Tube or Brain Pop videos
– find relevant books to strew or read aloud
– read up on scientific principles involved so that I can talk about the activity with the children conversationally, answer their questions, and generally draw out their understanding of what we’re doing
These “organised weeks” only happen about half the time, but imperfect science is better than no science at all.
On the weeks when I haven’t managed to do much in advance, we learn together as we go. I like to see shortcomings in my preparation as opportunities for the children’s ideas to surface. After all, if I planned everything to the last detail, where would be the space for their ideas? 😉
The scientific method
Children naturally follow the steps of the scientific method: they ask questions, make guesses, seek information, try things out and talk about their discoveries. I don’t require my children to make formal records of our experiments, although sometimes they do so anyway.
I have one child who is still working to acquire the cognitive and neurological skills for handling mistakes. No matter how many times I assure him that mistakes are part of learning, point out my own, and read stories about the value of mistakes, getting things “wrong” can cause meltdowns. For this reason, we keep scientific hypotheses very informal and conversational!
Sources of inspiration
Science Experiments: Loads of Explosively Fun Experiments You Can Do – My absolute favourite source of inspiration. Almost all our experiments this year have come from this book. I’m very visual and terrible at following instructions, so I love the large format, colour pictures and short chunks of text.
The Usborne Book of Science Activities series – These little books are packed with experiments, simple explanations and colourful artist illustrations.
Wholly Irresponsible Experiments – Clearly laid out and amusingly framed with sections like “The Scientific Excuse” (which explains the science). Not many pictures though.
The Ultimate Book of Kid Concoctions – One for the summer – full of fun activities like paint and play dough recipes. Nothing you can’t find on Pinterest, but handy to have in one volume.
Science in Second for Kids: Over 100 Experiments You Can Do In Ten Minutes or Less – Stacks of quick experiments laid out in twelve sections – air, animals, colours, energy, gravity, the human body, light, machines, magnetism, magnification, water, weather.
For an overview of elementary level science with simple but thorough explanations and plenty of colourful illustrations, I love The Usborne Book of Science: An Introduction to Biology, Physics and Chemistry (also available in separate volumes).
Sometimes rather than picking an experiment at random, I look for a hands-on activity related to a specific topic. When we were looking at the rock cycle, I searched for “rock cycle hand-on learning” and “fun rock cycle experiment” which led to us doing the crayon rock cycle.
In preparation for our Norway trip in a few weeks, I wanted to teach the children about how glaciers shape the landscape, so I searched for hands-on glacier experiments and found this article which contains a couple of wonderful elementary-level experiments with ice and dirt. I love the internet!
And don’t forget blog parties like Adventures in Mommydom’s Science Sunday.
Video (DVDs and You Tube)
Again, so many to choose from! Among our favourites are:
The Magic School Bus – there’s a surprising amount of science packed into these shows and books
Mythbusters – crazy experiments on a grand scale.
Bill Nye the Science Guy – loads of full-length episodes on You Tube.
Another reason I love science is because science is the subject in which I learn the most alongside my children.
I remember next to nothing about my own primary school science. I have vague memories of the fun being drained from experimental play by being made to fill in worksheets. And I have a very clear memory of being told, “Whatever you do, don’t put your magnet in the iron filings.” Guess what this curious seven year old did?
The most vivid memories I have are of a five day school trip I went on (aged nine) to a residential science centre. During those precious days I learned that the striped patterns in the cliffs that lined the beaches I’d grown up on were layers of shale, limestone and sandstone. I learned how you can tell how polluted a place is by the colour of lichens. I learned that my left eye was dominant, and that different parts of my tongue were sensitive to different tastes.
I didn’t learn these things by reading a book, or listening to a teacher in a classroom (even though I enjoyed both those activities). I learned the science I remember most by walking on beaches, by rubbing my finger against rough lichen-covered walls, and by moving markers in front of my eyes. I learned by being outside, by doing, by having fun.
You won’t be surprised to hear that I don’t have a detailed plan setting out what we’re doing for science for the rest of our homeschool years. What I do have is a couple of kids who often choose science topics for their project work and who happily drop what they’re doing when I suggest doing a science experiment. In my experience, where there’s enthusiasm, there’s learning.
This post is part of the Homeschool Help series. Next week we’ll be talking about our favourite Apps.
For more ideas about how to do homeschool science, visit:
Hwee at The Tiger Chronicles – Science in our home. How we learn science has evolved.
Julie at Highhill Homeschool – Creating your own science curriculum.
Savannah at Hammock Tracks – Science with my scalliwags. Science without a formal curriculum.
Nicole at One Magnificent Obsession – The epic failure that wasn’t. Science is so much more fun than a curriculum.
Chareen at Every Bed of Roses – Science in the junior years. It’s about exploring the world around you.
Erin at Seven Little Australians – Kindling and fanning scientific minds. Sharing how our family kindles an interest in scientific matters and how we keep that interest alive.
Bernadette at Barefoot Hippie Girl – Scientifically speaking. Shoes off and hands on.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I paid for and use all the products linked.