Science in Homeschooling

Next week is homeschool week here in Kansas City. That means all the homeschoolers come out of hiding and visit the places around town who will be opening their doors to them. I love this town! Never knew there was such a thing as homeschool week, but it’s fun. I am excited. And, I plan on finally meeting another homeschool mom, through a mutual acquaintance, so yay! The only homeschoolers I knew moved to Topeka last month. So we’ve been relying on the mega-church up the road for contact with others. The kids and I decided not to join a homeschool group this year, but we have our sights on the perfect group for us and we’ll be joining them next year. I have several medical issues we are getting resolved now through spring and I’ll be out-of-commission here and there do I was not ready to commit to any group. I am happy to report that we will be attending the Teaching Them Diligently Convention in Omaha, NE the beginning of April. It’s only 4 hours away and Tim Tebow’s mom is one of the speakers. I love her story. If you haven’t heard it, you should. It’s very inspiring. We won’t need to buy any curriculum for next year, but I will be checking out all the homeschool booths and meeting some of the authors of the curriculums I love best, namely, My Father’s World. So that’s the skinny on what’s going on this Spring with us.We have always been an unschooling science family. I could never provide a curriculum for them that is better than what they do themselves. Once in a while if I see they are having trouble with inspiration, I’ll read with them and plan experiments. My oldest has begun to learn how to record the madness that goes on in his head through a weekly assignment in The Critical Thinking Company’s Science Detective, Higher Order Thinking Workbook. It’s super advanced as me and my husband occasionally get stumped by the questions in the worktext, but my kid powers through. Sometimes it hurts his brain to have to think so hard, but he truly has an amazing way of looking at things. The fact that he’s 8 and doing 6th grade science lets me know that the unschooling method works. However, like I said, sometimes I need to provide the inspiration when science gets a little dry. Most of their art, journaling, and creative writing, and reading sprout from this subject. In addition to Science Detective, although that’s the only book I use faithfully each week, here’s what we have and how I feel about it…

On hand at all times because we are a Charlotte Mason inspired homeschooling family, are my nature reference books. We’ve collected several Peterson’s field guides as well as the Usborne First Book of Nature, which is only available used. It’s no longer in print, but is amazing for young and elementary children. Along the way I’ve also picked up I Love Dirt, and Sharing Nature With Children. Both of those books are full of ideas to connect children with the outdoors. Wildlife Habitats was one of my favorites years ago and I got many ideas from that book, but now that the boys are able to read they have taken it and I have not seen it since. They like to build homes for animals and the book show them how.

A page out of our Nature Walk With Aunt Bessie book.

A page out of our Nature Walk With Aunt Bessie book.

I came across a book called the Nature Connection, An Outdoor workbook for kids, families, and classrooms. I bought it immediately and gave it to Ben. Then I saw the same one in the clearance bin at a Cracker Barrel off the highway when we were moving here and bought it for Hunter. When Jake is writing words, he’ll get one too. It’s a bit of a field guide mixed with a field journal. It’s broken down by month and it’s wonderful. My kids would not know how to keep a nature journal at their ages if I just handed them a plain notebook. This is a wonderful resource. A more complete nature study program in Sandi McQueens’s Nature Series. We have a Nature Walk With Aunt Bessie. The name is corny, but the book is amazing. It’s really pricey and each kids need’s their own, unless you want to spend two weeks at your copy machine. It’s a big book to copy. In my opinion, it’s worth every penny.

Our favorite nature study resources.

On one of my homeschool websites I read another mom recommending My Side of the Mountain as a science read-aloud for kids. My boys LOVE it. There happens to be a Pocket Guide to the Outdoors to go along with the book and each activity is correlated to the chapter. The Thornton Burgess collection of stories are gentle, factual read-alouds, or could be readers for older kids, filled with animal and nature stories. Christian Liberty Press puts out a series called Christian Liberty Nature Reader and each book correlates to the appropriate reading level. I love them! My oldest finds it a little dry, but he doesn’t hate it. We all learn a lot from reading these books together. These books help us knock out our reading and science in one swoop on days we are pressed for time. One Small Square is by far my favorite read aloud science series. They are amazing, give notebook suggestions, and include experiments. It is full of photos and explains things in a way the kids can understand. One Small Square series=A++

Inside the One Small Square series.

Inside the One Small Square series.

Next I want to share my favorite pulled together, science in a box curriculums… Sonlight, hands down amazing. But at $200-$300 a year we can’t reall swing it. If I had the money, that would by the one I went with. A close second is My Father’s World. That’s what we’ll be using next year and every year after. I have owned MFW for several years, but the boys weren’t old enough to use it yet. I am waiting until they can all be a part of the unit study. I have read through ECC, year 1 of MFW’s 5 year cycle and I am super-duper impressed. Right now we use Five in a Row more than anything and it’s a wonderful starting point to jump off from. We used heart of Dakota for years and the family who writes that curriculum is clear that they are gentle on the science and give their reasons. We always had to add to it and to be honest, my boys found their science boring. It’s one of the main reasons we dropped HOD.

Next year's My Father's World all ready to go!

Next year’s My Father’s World all ready to go!

I can’t write about Science with the shameless plug of Usborne Reference Books. (I am an Usborne Educational Consultant)… The Complete Encyclopedia of… you fill in the blank… is a great series. We have the Ocean Sea, Astronomy, General Science, and Microscopes. Four specific books we refer back to over and over again are, 1)The Usborne Encyclopedia of Planet Earth, 2)Usborne Mysteries & Marvels of Nature, 3)Usborne Mysteries & Marvels of Science, and 4)Usborne Weather and Climate Change. Great elementary encyclopedias which encourage research because they are colorful, have great photographs, and have short, easy to read bursts of factual info. Perfect for my boys.

A small slice of our Usborne Collection.

A small slice of our Usborne Collection.

Now onto the homeschool textbooks. I have only used 4 companies. I’ll begin with A Beka because they were the first ones I used and only for 1 grade. I like their workbooks and found the teacher manual to be useless in my case. If you are not crafty or don’t feel like being creative with projects and experiments, get the teacher manual. The next is the Christian Kids Explore Series. We have Chemistry, Earth & Space, and Biology. I like them as supplements. If we used them all year I would be bored as would the kids. There’s a lot of copying to do also. Great ideas for when I need to supplement a topic, or when I need the kids to show they have learned about something. The super short lessons make it easy to use. If I had to just get through a year and didn’t have time to plan anything out, this would be the series I would use on Monday through Thursday. Friday is Nature Day. Next up, Apologia. I have to hand it to them, they have some great books. The only thing is, my kids get bored with these. With one exception… the Astronomy book. It was the first one they published in the Young Explorer Series. We had planned on using 4 of their books and rotating so we didn’t spend one year on one topic, which is what they do, but they are a little dry for us. We bought Zoology, the notebook for Big Bird, 2 junior notebooks for the younger boys, and the kit for the experiments. It was still pretty boring. I use the 2 that we own as reference books. They are fascinating, but just not the right fit for us. Rod and Staff is a sweet little Christian company that publishes homeschool books. They are extremely inexpensive and wonderful, in my opinion. Just the right amount of facts, of research, and writing. Art is incorporated as each leson has a beautifully illustrated picture to color ising fine colored pencils. We practice shading and blending in these books. They are marvelous and simple.

Most of it in one place, The text books are in the middle with nature and reference on the outslirts.

Most of it in one place, The text books are in the middle with nature and reference on the outslirts.

One of the worst books published I have found is…I hate to say it, the Astronomy series by Rebecca W Keller. She published a whole line of books, not just astronomy. We have only used astronomy and it was while my kids were really into astronomy and they found them to be dreadful. They literally dreaded doing anything in these books. I thought they were okay, expensive, but okay. The kids did not. The pre-level books were below their level and the regular astronomy was like a dry text from school. The vocab was horrendous. The go-along workbooks, called lab books, were a ton of writing. Way too much for my boys. We may give it another go when they are older and can write that much. I hate to give a bad review of any homeschool publisher, but if you are looking for a fun book that will fit into your unit study, this is not it.

Finally, there are a ton of books to supplement any science curriculum. Daily Science is one of our favorites and go nicely with some home-made projects and fleshed out with library books. Classroom Critters and the Scientific Method and Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method (both by Sally Kneidel) are fun for pre-K through 2nd and would make a fun science program. Start Up Science (a four work-text series) is the best bang for your buck and is full of information, experiments, and pages to write as they learn.

A peek inside Daily Science.

A peek inside Daily Science.

We get our science kits from and while expensive are worth it. I highly recommend Intro to Engineering and Primary Science Lab Set. Home Science Tools has everything a homeschooler could need from beakers to fetal pigs for dissection. And they are not expensive. We’ve dissected cow eyeballs for less that 6 bucks.

Well, there it is… my mini review of Science books, and things. I intentionally left out programs like KONOS and Weaver because they are wonderful, but in a league of their own. We learned more with them than anything else, but unfortunately they were not a good fit for us in other areas. Five in a Row is what we use now and it’s similar in that we can go as deep or as shallow as we choose. Those are a whole other blog post, maybe for another day. I only included Science curriculums, not complete curriculums, with science included.

Thanks for reading!




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