Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Elementary Science in Keisterland, Through the Years


My kids and I love science! We devour books on nature, plants and animals. We read about weather, the water cycle, astronomy, you name it. We've made body posters, etc. It's a fun topic that we are continually exploring and enjoying.

But what's my "game plan" for science? What is the nitty gritty of how I plan and implement curriculum for science? This year I have a kindergartener, 3rd grader, and 5th grader, and a healthy dose of distraction in the form of a 2yo. You can subtract each age by one and figure out where we were last year, and the year before, etc. Each year changes and I'm all about realism and doing what works for us.

But first, my philosophy. I think science is a huge bonus and exciting adventure for elementary kids. I say "bonus" because I don't technically think a science text is necessary in the elementary years. We often use one, but I don't see it as necessary. I don't see the elementary years as a checklist for studying "x" number of scientific subjects. I mean, I have a mental list of types of things I have tried to cover, but I really and truly believe that it's not a big deal if you haven't studied the human body or astronomy by 6th grade. I just don't.

I want my kids to love science. I think a really important aspect of science is just being outside. Notice plant patterns, animals you see, talk about weather. Nothing fancy. Go for hikes, have a wildflower search. Let them throw rocks into a pond, hopefully not at each other. Rake leaves and talk about why leaves change color and fall. Help them to NOTICE. If an adult is interested in nature and observing the outdoors, a child will follow lead. I am reading an absolutely fabulous book right now called "The Last Child in the Woods." PLEASE READ IT. It is so good!

In fact, the only homeschool group we are a part of is a nature group that just goes to local nature parks and lets the kids roam around and make dirt mounds and collect sticks and play in creeks. Seriously, no formal curriculum. Kids just enjoying catching frogs. Sometimes a parent gives a little "talk" at the end about a certain topic, but the format is short and super informal. The goal is time in nature, in community. Seriously, that's our only homeschool group.

So that's my philosophy in elementary, for science: wonderment, observation, exposure to nature, perusing topics. Oh, and good books. We love good books on science.

We have used a lot of the Apologia elementary series for science. I really just love them. They are so approachable, conversational, appropriate in level, and have always sparked interest in my kids. They are not dry and boring. I love that they "sit" on one area (plants, for example, or all flying creatures) for an entire year, so you really get a chance to think about a whole topic for a while. No racing around from "magnetism" to "skeletal system" to "trees" in the course of three chapters. That gives me whiplash.

We started with Botany when Hans was in kindergarten or first grade, I think? We read the entire text. and did almost all the experiments. I love, love how simple and approachable the plant activities are. We dug up roots, collected and classified leaves, took rubbings of leaves and bark. It was FUN. We started an extremely-amateur nature journal.

Then we read Flying Creatures in its entirety and kept a bird poster. We took a lot of neighborhood walks and learned to NOTICE the birds around us. I learned so much and so did they! Every bird we correctly classified, I found a realistic coloring page online and Hans and Gretchen colored, cut out, labeled, and pasted to our poster. We still talk about the birds we observed. Science fell apart towards the end of the year (health and house woes!), and although we did finish the book and enjoyed all the insect reading, I'm pretty sure zero hands-on projects happened. Ha! Gretchen was only K age, so she was not required to participate in any of this, but she usually wanted to.

For our Swimming Creatures year, I'll be really honest. Our lives were a mess. Rampant health issues, and recently moving to a new state. . WE BOUGHT THE AUDIO. Best option ever. It's the only year I've really wanted the audio, and it helped us through. Oh, also, we watched a LOT of Octonauts. For reals, that turned my now-5yo into a sea creature lover, continuing to this day. I bought the Swimming Creatures science experiment kit, in the hopes that we'd do the experiments, and in predictable fashion, we got through maybe 1/3 of the options. It was just NOT a great year for extras. Keepin' it real!

Last year was supposed to be astronomy, and technically it was. I bought the AIG text "Our Universe," and Hans read it on his own in a week. I honestly don't know how much he read, but he loved it. And I bought a ton of Usborne books about the solar system, space, astronomy, etc. and sprinkled them on the coffee table and let the kids have at it. That was our "formal" science. It was a BAD year for my health (Lyme and EBV), and my oldest was still recovering from Lyme and PANDAS. Remember my philosophy about science being a bonus? YES. The kids savored the Usborne books and read them several times on their own, but I never formally assigned them. Oh, and we FINALLY made it to a local stargazing event (ONE, not the original 3+ that I was hoping for), in late winter.

But you know what we did during that year? We read a TON of science and nature books from the library. Unscheduled, not required, not on a specific topic (since our specific goal that year was astronomy and we'd already covered it), but we loved it. Anytime someone on a blog or FB mentioned liking a given book, I checked if our library had it and put it on reserve. I sprinkled the books on the coffee table, and I read some out loud, as time permitted. The older kids read many to Martin or to themselves.

And we joined our weekly nature group, which gave us lots more informal opportunities to talk about nature and observe things. I got several books from the library that filled in minor "gaps" (remember, it's all bonus, but mental goals are helpful!) that Apologia really doesn't cover, such as the water cycle and weather. We also have taken advantage of the city's free-admission science museum many times. We love the displays and the hands-on room!

(Also in the last 5 years, we've done a mini human anatomy study twice, where we read a human body encyclopedia (I think it was a DK book) and made a human body poster and read about each of the 10 body systems. Fun!)

So that's a bit of glimpse into our science through the years. So what's this year?

Well, my oldest was poised to take a look at some basic chemistry and physics concepts, and I knew he'd love the Apologia elementary-level Chemistry and Physics book. But in flipping through it, I knew that to truly enjoy it and get a lot out of it, this was not going to be a sprinkle-on-the-coffee-table year for science with him. So he and I are slowly picking our way through that book and really enjoying it! My goal is to do some of the experiments, if he reminds me (I love that clause with an older child! Then it's his responsibility), and if we have the supplies or they can be bought cheap.

But in looking at the C&P book, I really didn't think Gretchen would get as much out of it. She's smart as a whip and I could have assigned her the same, but I knew she'd bloom more by cycling back to studying botany (which we'd read informally a lot about the last few years, but hadn't actually focused on them). Why push it? So instead, we are using the Apologia Botany as our guide, but she's welcome to join us for Hans' science. What this means is that she often wants to "pop in" while we're reading, but doesn't have the pressure. And since this girl is all about plants and FLOWERS, this year is a fun year for her!

And note I said the Apologia Botany book is our "guide." It's not actually our main text. I'm using the chapter titles and topics to search for books on the topics. Via friend recommendations and handy internet searches, there are just so many wonderful books out there, and I'm all about library reservations. We are using some of the activities in the text and reading some aspects of the text, but using alternate books for about 90% of our readings. These readings are sometimes together, and sometimes Gretchen reads to herself and sometimes to Martin (age 5). Martin's participation is optional but encouraged.

Why am I not reading through the Botany book cover-to-cover? A number of reasons:

- Having already gone through it myself, I have a much better idea of great options to cover. Reading it through once trained me as a teacher as much as it informed Hans as a student. Now I have a great idea what to cover!
- I am realistic, and knew that I would not get through reading two science books (the botany AND the chemistry/physics) cover-to-cover in a school year without hating it or making the kids hate it. I didn't want to be stressed, as I knew that would transfer to the kids.
- Gretchen is a very proficient reader, but handing her a wordy (even though conversational and approachable) text to read herself wouldn't work as well as handing her a book on flowers to read herself. She is probably reading about 1/2 of the books by herself or to Martin. But I try to listen to her desires to read with me, and any of the more involved books we read, we read together. Just because she CAN read a book herself, doesn't mean I require it at the age of 7 (she is 8 next week). (We have the same philosophy at this stage with her history reads.)
- It's just hard to beat the really gorgeous books I've found for botany. I have a much better idea of where to look and what to look for, for gorgeous and engaging science books than I did a few years ago. And I love using them!

So there you go: what we've done, the better years, the surviving years, the general philosophy, and the changing process of kids getting older and branching into two different fields of study in a year. Hope this is helpful to anyone else trying to figure out the process or needs some grace and space to relax and find your own way. You've got this.

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