Elementary Science: Keep it Simple
- Friday, September 13, 2002
The Fear Factor: Do you ever find yourself intimidated by certain subjects? I know many moms dread teaching science, perhaps because of their own weak science background. Some of them attempt to avoid the subject entirely; others overreact and try to cram years' worth of information into a single year.
I just heard from one parent who has scheduled her little kindergartener for a full, three-day-a-week science program using a complete curriculum along with all the extras. But she's still concerned it isn't enough. Ever been there? I sure have! It's easy to feel either insecure or overly zealous, especially teaching topics in which we may feel inadequate. But let's remember why we are home schooling . . .
We began home schooling in 1991, blissfully unaware that there was such a thing as "home-school curriculum." Not knowing any better, I used our own books, the library, Scouts, the community, the Institute for Creation Resource, and the out-of-doors as our science curriculum. You know what? It worked!
Not only did it work, it worked well. My sons have excelled in the sciences and in all the ways one measures science achievement. Most importantly, they are able to logically and compellingly express their understanding and belief in creationism to skeptical evolutionists. Despite my own weakness in this subject, God has again and again provided. We learn about science as another manifestation of loving and glorifying God.
It's Supposed To Be At Least Interesting!
I'd like to share with you strategies I've used over the years to teach science and encourage you to relax and enjoy the pursuit of scientific knowledge with your kids. It's ever so much more fun than feeling chained to worksheet pages!
I came across this quote by Cathy Duffy a few years ago and found it mirrored exactly what I'd been trying to do with my science courses:
Cathy Duffy, author of Christian Home Educator's Curriculum Manual, Elementary Grades writes: "Field Trips, experiments, observation, and nature collections will all stimulate interest [in science] in children. They should be a major part of our science curriculum. ... The best way to meet these goals is NOT by using science textbooks. We can turn our children on to science by teaching them to observe, experiment, read, and think about the things that surround us."
My husband and I would choose four topics a year to study in-depth, allowing the boys to have some say in the decision. Then we'd find great resources, take field trips, read-aloud, look things up, and discuss, discuss, discuss. (Well, okay, we are a very verbal family!) What were the goals of all this reading, discussing, and exploring?
1. To approach problems using the process of orderly thinking (the basis of the scientific method).
2. To allow the boys time for in-depth exploration when they lit on a topic they loved.
3. To generate and maintain an enthusiasm for science.
I don't always LOVE science!! Some sciences I find to be a bit, *ahem*, well, boring. Other times I might find it to be, technically speaking, gross! (Think frog dissections and bug collections.) This reminds me of a key principle in teaching science to our kids: our attitudes. (Yes, ours, not theirs!) Here's a real life example:
Attitude Is Contagious!
We were studying insects. JB was about 12 and, of course, what is the obvious project to do with an insect unit? Right: a collection. I'd avoided it because I hate using those "killing jars." But I knew my attitude was contagious so I asked God for some gusto and went for it. My girlfriend told me I didn't need a killing jar; she said to "just put the insects in little margarine containers and stick them in the freezer." Perfect!
So that's what JB did. And did. And did some more. In a short while we had a freezer full of bugs. (Note: based on my experience, labeling is highly recommended!) The day of reckoning arrived and it was time to pull all of the little critters out, identify them, and mount them with pins.
We pulled them out. They defrosted. We quickly discovered we weren't supposed to LEAVE them in the freezer for storage; rather we were meant to use it to quickly kill them. Defrosting beetles and then sticking a pin in them is not an activity I'd recommend for the squeamish ... But, and here's the good news, we learned much, had fun, and created vivid memories. Sometimes learning it with our kids "the second time around" is all it takes to ignite a love for a topic.
Ten Strategies For Developing A Love Of Science
Read aloud from interesting science books and provide kids with such books to read independently.
Collect things: this is natural for most kids! Encourage them to classify their collections.
Grow things: cultivate their use of observation and recording of findings.
Visit places: from zoos to doctors' offices and vacant lots - science lurks all around us!
Set up ecosystems: backyard habitats, bug cages, aquariums, terrariums.
Make recipes and concoctions together: experiment.
Observe nature: insects, birds, weather, seasons, etc.
Use construction/engineering toys: blocks, Fisher-Technics, Legos, etc.
Model "look it up" and "lifelong learner" behavior: attitude is (almost) everything. Your enthusiasm is contagious!
Use reference and resource materials regularly. Keep lab notebooks of various sorts.
My Six Step Plan
1. Pick a topic. For example: Rocks, minerals, and fossils; Machines & motion; Solar System; Energy; Human body; Heat, light & sound; Weather; Chemistry; Nature and environment; Creation; Animals; Ocean/seas.
Gather an assortment of resource books, colorful picture and informational children's books, games, and videos about your chosen topic.
2. Encourage the kids to read books and look at pictures as much as they wish. Take special note of any strong interest and foster it.
3. Plan experiments, activities, crafts, and even recipes to use in learning about your topic. Make a list of potential trips to take.
4. Using the materials you've gathered, make a lesson plan for the next six-to-eight weeks.
5. Keep a book list and a record of your studies - either one family notebook or individual student notebooks. Don't forget to take pictures!
6. Finish the unit with a family-fun night based on the topic. Kids need to show what they've learned.
If we are to raise lifelong learners and problem-solvers, we need to teach our children how to learn, we need to cultivate the desire to learn, and we need to provide a framework for what to learn. Remember, too, facts are much easier to learn when you're having fun!
Curriculum Ideas -- Want to develop your own science course? Check out Science Scope for a very detailed scope and sequence - the perfect tool for planning.
Want the fun but not the work? The Scientist's Apprentice (elementary grades) by Hilary Welliver makes it easy to teach science. Topics covered are: Oceanography, Astronomy, Anatomy, and Earth Science. Includes lesson plans, reproducibles, activities, experiments, even songs and crafts. Great for teaching multi-grade levels together.
Next year look for our brand new book: Classical Kids Explore Biology!
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