Note: I received a free copy of Air is Not Oxygen: Essential Science You Should Have Learned — But Probably Didn’t for purposes of review. I chose to write about elementary homeschool science curriculum and was compensated for my time, but I was not required to be positive about the book. I will always be honest with y’all.
Some people LOVE science. To them, learning about atoms and molecules, or birds and bugs, is a blast. Others, such as myself, are not that jazzed about science. Squishy things? Blecky. Chemical equations? Meh. Definitely not my cup of tea. So when it came to choosing a homeschool science curriculum for the elementary years, I looked for ways to make it easy for me (transparency, y’all; don’t hate me) and fun for the kids.
The thing is that science does NOT have to be boring. And I quickly discovered that most of the offerings for elementary science out there actually turn it into a very dull and SO not fun enterprise. So my recommendation for the best homeschool science curriculum for the elementary years is — NO CURRICULUM.
Gasp!! You mean we don’t have to assign lessons and give tests? Nope. I mean, really, how much science do you remember from your elementary years? I’m hearing crickets right now, right? That’s probably because it was most likely almost all done by reading the text and answering the questions and taking the tests. BOR-ING. Maybe that’s why I don’t enjoy the subject that much. Maybe if someone had made science come alive for me, I’d be more interested in it today. And maybe, just maybe, we can correct that deficiency as we homeschool our children, so that science does come alive for them.
I do have to pause a minute for some true confessions here: I did not do all the things I’m going to recommend. This is one of those “hindsight is 20-20” moments where I’m going to share the type of things I WISH we’d done, because now I know how much better things could have been for us. (I’ve already discussed this in general in my posts How I Wish I’d Done Homeschool and Advice for the Young Mom Starting Homeschool — check them out to learn from my mistakes.)
What I did do right, though, is that I didn’t treat science as a SERIOUS subject in the elementary years. I did not give a grade for science; the kids did not take tests. Science was a topic to be explored, not mastered.
And that’s my main point. Do not use a homeschool science curriculum for your elementary kids, thereby turning it into a lesson-a-day, memorize the facts, and take a test type of subject. EXPLORE science with your children. There are many ways to incorporate science into your elementary child’s homeschool day without it being a chore.
Here are some ideas for avoiding homeschool science curriculum during the elementary years:
1) Stock up on Christian Liberty Nature Readers — We had several of these and the kids read through them multiple times. They are simple yet engaging. The first books in the series are perfect for the younger readers in your family. There are questions you can discuss with your kids. You could assign pages from these each day, if you feel the need to do so; but I think it’s more effective to just have them on the bookshelf for the kids to pick up when they are interested. You can spark that interest by doing some of the other activities listed here.
2) Purchase the Abeka elementary science textbooks — WAIT, I THOUGHT YOU SAID NO CURRICULUM!! Yes, I did. But the trick is in how you USE the textbooks. Yes, I did assign pages to read and had the kids answer the questions. But I didn’t do it with any expectation of mastery. I did it to give them some exposure to science each day.
The Abeka science books are fascinating to elementary kids; they cover all the fun stuff like insects and snakes and tornadoes. I bought them VERY used from Ebay ($5 or less, usually) — and I did NOT buy any test books or teacher’s guides, JUST the student texts. I also did NOT check their answers to the questions (although they never knew that, lol). Again, my goal was regular exposure to science — and incidentally working on reading comprehension while they were at it.
3) Here’s one of those “I wish I’d done” things: regularly take the kids outside, with the underlying purpose being to explore and discover. One gal I know says that over the years she has spent literally weeks at a time down by the creek, letting the kids roam and play. They see first-hand what lives under the rocks; they become familiar with the plant-life; they watch how the water ebbs and flows. They come to her with questions; they look up answers when they get home. What a wonderful way to learn — by discovery. This sets up the motivation to search for answers, which will lead to better mastery overall than using a formal homeschool science curriculum.
4) Don’t let not having a creek be your excuse. It is possible to go to the park and ignore the jungle gyms, lol. Get down on the grass and peer through it at eye level. Check out the trees and how their leaves are attached, or which birds are there and what their nests look like. Time how long it takes different objects to get down the slide. Collect rocks. The possibilities are endless. Again, science is being absorbed and remembered. And it hardly feels like school.
5) Since starting with Classical Conversations I’ve learned the value of drawing. You can do this with the kids outside, or they can bring leaf or flower or insect specimens inside. Or they could try to draw a picture of a something from a book. Drawing forces them to use their powers of observation. They notice the tiny parts of things — the stamen in the flower, the antennae on the butterfly. They notice coloration and form. Drawing causes wonder. And wonder leads to WANTING to learn. THAT is what we’re after!
6) I’ve come across a really fun resource recently. It’s a book called Air is Not Oxygen — Essential Science You Should Have Learned, But Probably Didn’t!, and it was written specifically to make up for the typical I-didn’t-learn-anything-cuz-it-was-so-boring science curriculum. The author was chosen Teacher of the Year in two different states, and he also homeschooled his own children, back when hardly anyone was doing so. The concepts in the book are based on national science education standards, but they have been simplified for the common man. :-)
This is the type of book you could use to bring fun activities/experiments into your science day. The book is written in an engaging style that elementary students will find appealing (and depending on your child, it might also work for middle school — although it was a bit young for my precocious 13-year-old). Each section is short enough to not stress the ‘ol attention span, lol. And each section has multiple activities to do that will illustrate the concept presented. You could use the book as is or as a springboard to further studies about a given topic. It covers physical science, life science, and earth/space science.
The best homeschool science curriculum is NONE.
Air is Not Oxygen represents the type of thing to look for when doing elementary science, in my opinion. Fun. Engaging. Hands-on. Encouraging wonder. Creating a desire to know more. If we can make science enjoyable during the elementary years, our children may just keep enjoying it into adulthood. Do we need a formal homeschool science curriculum for that? I don’t think so.
What has been your experience with homeschool science curriculum? What resources for making science fun and interesting can you recommend?