I frequently get questions from other homeschooling parents about how I teach science. I suppose this is not terribly surprising. Most people (including most elementary school teachers) don't have heavy specialization in science and math. I can make the analogical leap: I don't have much education in art or music, and so I am often interested in how truly creative and knowledgeable people train their children in these fields.
(Although sometimes I avoid asking, because I periodically feel guilty about how little art and music we do in our homeschool.)
When it comes to science curricula, I'm afraid that I suffer from Expert Paralysis. That is, I know enough science to hate every elementary school science curriculum I've ever seen. NONE OF THEM ARE ADEQUATE. There. That is my opinion. They all dumb things down. They are all nonrigorous, insufficiently mathematical, and generally artificial in the way they set up so-called "experiments." Probably they dumb things down in entirely appropriate ways. But I can't bear to teach from them. So I don't.
I think of it this way: The academic goal of teaching elementary school science is to ensure that they are prepared for high school science, which can be rigorous and not dumbed-down. And this is what I think kids need in order to be prepared for high school level science education (physics, chemistry, biology):
- Strength and comfort with mathematics.
- Memorization strategies and skills.
- Strategies for acquiring unfamiliar vocabulary.
- Practice in making direct observations and accurately describing them in writing.
- Logical thinking, especially in classification and identification of cause-and-effect.
- A grasp of the scientific method and why it represents an ideal process for learning from observation. (A historical approach can work for this, I believe, even better than an experimental one.)
- Wide-ranging reading and/or documentary film viewing on topics of the natural world and of human technology (again, a historical approach can work for this), to build a broad base of information and vocabulary.
- Deep interest in any one aspect of the natural world, or a few, and the opportunity to have developed it freely.
- An understanding of the value of scientific inquiry among the various fields of human endeavor: its powers and limitations.
None of this requires a science curriculum. None. You can certainly borrow units from textbooks; probably there's something out there that does a great job of teaching the scientific method, for instance. And you could certainly use textbooks to help a child develop his or her deep understanding of a subject that is dear to him or her. And of course most people will choose a math curriculum of some kind. Some will choose a logic curriculum, or will rely on some other subject (say, Latin grammar or proof-based geometry) to develop logical skills.
My kids aren't in high school yet, so I can't say whether my approach is "working" or not. (I'll define "working" as "they succeeded in high-school level chemistry, physics, and biology.") But this is the form my approach has taken:
- Lots of books around on various science-type topics.
- The kids are encouraged to watch nature documentaries and other similar videos -- pretty much freely.
- I do pick a topic or two each year -- but I have taught it by getting living books out of the library, reading aloud from them, and talking about it. I'm a scheduler by nature, so I tend to plan ahead what books I'll check out and what topics to discuss, but there's no reason why this couldn't be done more spontaneously.
- Science kits are great, but I think that unless you have a fairly methodical kid, then the sort of thorough learning that I consider to be school-worthy won't happen on its own. (It's fine to use science kits as free-exploration toys. I'm just saying that I wouldn't necessarily count that kind of play as "school.") So I use science kits but assign the projects from them in a specific order.
I need to get ready for my co-schooling day, so I have to stop here, but I will make another post with a detailed description of one "electric circuits" unit study I did for a third-grader using the Snap Circuits kit and some other resources.