Some subjects I don't plan ahead, we just pace through the lessons fast-enough-on-average: math, spelling, Latin, English grammar, composition, and fine arts, plus reading lessons for my 5yo. We continue most of these through the summer at a lighter pace.
Other subjects, the ones I don't do during the summer, I usually set up a week-by-week schedule to spread out the workload evenly through the year and so I can see at a glance what I need to prepare for the upcoming week: our family read-alouds, American history, world history, religion, and
science nature study.
I was really stressing out about nature study. "Why, Erin?" you might ask. "Why, when there are so many fine elementary-school-age science curricula, all boxed up and ready for you to purchase?" The answer is that I am a bit, um, opinionated when it comes to so-called science curricula. I can't help it. I see a hundred flaws in every one I examine. The problem is I am trained.
So, for example, I can't stand to use any curriculum that is "Designed for the parent without a strong background in science!" That eliminates, um, a lot of them.
And then -- let me pause to add that this is a matter of personal taste, and I do not think less of you if you differ from me on this one -- I am unsatisfied with most science curricula that present elementary school science in a Christian worldview. It is not just that I prefer not to use a young-earth-creationist curriculum; obviously, not all Christian curricula are young-earth-creationist. Mostly, my problem with them is theological-pedagogical: they try too hard, and it feels forced and superficial. Perhaps it's just that, having studied so much chemistry and physics myself, I would personally illustrate the connections among the structure of the universe, Christian revelation, natural law, and mathematics in a different way than the elementary school textbooks choose to do it. I guess I think the universe so obviously bears the fingerprints of a Creator, and the more I learn about it the more sure I am of that, that it seems extraneous to me to stick God-language to a science curriculum. Learn about the Big Bang; read Let there be light. It's much cooler if you allow a child to discover these connections on their own.
And then, I don't like the "Exploding Color-changing Slime" school of science curricula, you know what I mean, nor the especially cringe-worthy subcategory of Science For Girls! in which you explore the science of, say, bubble bath and perfume. (I have before me a 1959 book called The Challenge of Chemistry: Careers in Tomorrow's World of Chemistry, by O. A. Battista, in which the chapter called "The Challenge of Chemistry for Women" presents a more liberated world view than does the cover of today's bubble bath science kits.) The Exploding Color-changing Slime curricula are all about grabbing kids' attention -- they don't build a grammar of comprehension of how the world works. They are toys, pure and simple: and they are fine toys, but not something to build a curriculum around. (Occasionally a kit comes along that you can really do something with: last year I had Oscar do a unit study on electrical circuits using the Snap Circuits kit, supplemented with an old library book about electricity, and also many wonderful dinner-table discussions.)
And finally, even if a curriculum manages to pass all those tests, I always find some explanation of something in there that's oversimplified to the point of not being true, and it bugs me. A LOT. I guess you could say I am sort of a perfectionist about science.
(Maybe everyone has that about some subject. I have a friend who's done so much research about emergent readers that she can't stand to use any prepackaged phonics/reading curriculum at all, and was finally forced to write her own curriculum. A good one, too, I should add.)
The way I see it, there are several definite purposes to elementary school nature study. (I really prefer that to the term "science" because to me, "science" means doing original -- not contrived -- research and discovery, which is only PART of the work kids are doing when they're studying nature -- and usually it's a pretty small part, if they're lucky enough to do it at all.)
- First: it's for learning a lot of random stuff about the world, the vocabulary of nature: whatever interests the child, from how to recognize the species of birds in your back yard, to what makes the moon have phases, to what we call the reason why stuff falls down.
- Second: it's for understanding that mostly, we can learn from our experiences and make predictions about the future, and when our predictions are wrong we have still learned something.
- Third: it's for learning that mathematics is wonderfully useful for describing the physical world.
- Fourth: it's for developing skills of safely handling, carefully observing, accurately describing, faithfully reporting, and logically analyzing.
All of these are to be harnessed in formal instruction at the high school level, but it can all be done informally with a young child.
And you don't have to hit all of those goals every single year, with every single curriculum.
Aaaaaanyway. I finally found something I am pleased with -- not a curriculum, not a kit -- but an ordinary children's library book, which I've been able to track down from a used book dealer, thank goodness. We could do almost everything in it with kitchen equipment, but I think I will choose to buy some lab equipment, too. I think it'll serve all of the above purposes at least a little bit, but especially the fourth one. I had to sit down for an evening and break it down into a week-by-week schedule, and to my pleasure it filled about thirty weeks, which is just about perfect because it's a "full year" and yet leaves me about six weeks of leeway.
I'll introduce you to the book in another post -- this one's gone too long already!