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Super Science At Home: No Textbook Required, Part 1

  • Lori M. Henry Contributing Writer
  • Published Feb 21, 2006
Super Science At Home: No Textbook Required, Part 1

Pick a textbook, any textbook, written for the elementary grades and you’ll find just about the same thing. Roughly ten science topics covered with varying degrees of difficulty depending on the grade level. Each year students will discuss plants, animals, human body, astronomy, weather, rocks and minerals, electricity, sound, magnets, light and force and motion. I once had a seventh grade student say to me, “Plants? Oh, I know everything there is to know about plants.”


For the adventurous, or the bored, there is another option. If necessity is the mother of invention, then variety is the mother of enjoyment. If science class has fizzled out at your house, these nine super science suggestions might just convince you to put a little sizzle in your scientific pop.


1. Keep a Science Journal


Where would we be if men like Leonardo Da Vinci had not written copious notes with diagrams and procedures? What if John James Audubon had not recorded the species of birds and animals he came upon in his travels?  Invest in a brand new spiral notebook (or heartier journal if you wish) and a pencil or two. All scientists keep records of their experiments, observations, data, hypotheses and conclusions and since we are working scientists, we should too. (It will also come in handy when the grandparents wonder what the children are learning, or when your curriculum is reviewed at the end of the year.)  


Young children can dictate their science discoveries to their mom, dad or an older sibling and then draw a picture of their own. Middle elementary children should be able to make lists of materials used, procedures followed, and results obtained, using diagrams where necessary. Older elementary children should begin writing lab reports that include a hypothesis, a table or graph of the data collected, and a conclusion. In this way, even the same science topic can be enjoyed by everyone in the household, and the level of difficulty will be appropriate for every grade level. 


Your science journal may also contain field trip reports, sketches of thing seen on hikes, ideas for an invention, a weather log for a given time period, or notes on demonstrations done by others. Simply, if its science, write it in your notebook. You’ll be surprised by how many super science experiences your children will have, and remember, simply by keeping a journal.


2. Biology in the Backyard, Chemistry in the Kitchen, and Physics in the Garage


When my son was seven, he was fascinated with bugs.  We kept a plastic critter cage in the center of the kitchen table for those opportune moments when an unsuspecting creature would present itself for study.  For a while a female brown cricket resided in the cage, and later a giant green praying mantis, and many more in between.  Each time we looked up every piece of information a seven-year-old could procure and record our observations about its eating and living habits.  After a couple of days or weeks, we would bid it farewell and set it free, creating a critter cage vacancy ready for the next occupant.


You can learn about physical and chemical changes by making cookie dough (a physical change) and then baking the cookies (a chemical change) and enjoying the sweet results.  You can learn about acid and base reactions by boiling some red cabbage (you’re going to LOVE that part) and placing a few drops of the liquid into various substances in your kitchen.  Why not try out different lawn fertilizers on different parts of the lawn?  Make different recipes of dog biscuits and see which one he/she prefers.  Learn the force and motion principles found in dad’s toolbox.  Find out how your toaster works, or your radio, or your telephone, or your camera.  Visit a nearby pond and learn what lives in a sample of that water.  Make a doorbell for your room.  Learn the physics behind the sports you play or the roller coaster you rode 50 times last summer.  You don’t have to look far or long to find the next science lesson, its waiting for you in the next room.


3. An Experiencing Nature  


John Keats once said, “Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced – even a proverb is not proverb to you till your life has illustrated it.”  There have never been truer words when it comes to education.  Don’t cheat your kids out of true science experiences just because you don’t like to make a mess in the kitchen.  Don’t allow your kids to substitute a simulation on the Internet if it is possible to do the experiment yourself.  A dissection video does not count as a dissection, period.


A friend of mine once complained that 100% of her experiments failed.  If that is true, is there any benefit in carrying out the experiences anyway?  Absolutely!  During experiments, children measure, apply real-life math, create graphs and tables, make inferences and predictions, practice problem-solving and thinking skills, write, reach conclusions and make generalizations about our world.  And once in a while, an unforgettable memory is made (like the time one of my experiments brought the fire department to the door!)


Walter Bagehot said, “To a great experience one thing is essential – an experiencing nature.”  We can nurture this experiencing nature by giving our kids great experiences in science together.


4. Be the Lesson


If you’ve ever seen an episode of the Magic School Bus, you will relate.  Miss Frizzle doesn’t just explain the concept, she piles the kids in the bus and they experience a wild ride.  At home, you can do the same by pretending to BECOME whatever you are studying.


Once I made construction paper cut-outs of the heart and lungs and used red and blue electrical tape on the floor to demonstrate the path of the human circulatory system.  The children represented the red blood cells traveling on the path, holding construction paper circles with red on one side, and a blue paper glued to the other.  As the children walked through the lungs, they were to turn the paper to the red side, but when they got to the cells in the hand, they switched their paper over to the blue side to represent the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide, and followed the blue path back to the heart. 


On a lesson about birds, I piled supplies in the center of the table for building a nest.  There was ribbon, straw, rocks, dirt, grass, twigs, leaves and other options to choose from.  Then I wrote a variety of bird names on slips of paper and put them in a bowl.  Then the children chose a bird name and had to build the nest of that bird.  But, there was a catch!  We all know birds build their nests with their feet and beaks, not with their hands!


Ivan Pavlov, in a speech to the Academic Youth of Soviet Russia, gave this advice to the young people who choose to devote themselves to science.  “Firstly, gradualness.  From the very beginning of your work, school yourselves in the gradualness in the accumulation of knowledge.  Learn the ABC of science before you try to ascend to its summit.”  How much better to learn the basics with hands-on discovery and wonderment than by reading distilled, dry facts from a textbook?  Why let the curriculum writers have all the fun? 

Next time, we will continue with super science suggestions 5-9.


Author’s Note:  We DO use textbooks in our home for science beginning in junior high, and continuing through the high school years.  I’m not trying to dissuade readers from using textbooks, or suggesting that those who do aren’t providing an adequate scientific education.  These suggestions can either be used as alternatives to or supplements for a traditional textbook approach.


Lori is the wife of a very supportive husband and the mother of three terrific teens, who were all completely home educated.  In her forthcoming book, Growing Together, Lori shares what God and the kids have taught her about homeschooling.  Lori is also a powerful speaker giving insight, inspiration and challenges from God's Word.  You can contact her at