The Best Tools for Teaching Homeschool Science
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What is the best homeschool science curriculum?
Science at it’s very root is about wonder. For elementary and junior high students then, the best tools for teaching homeschool science always foster a sense of awe about the world we live in. Science is also about logic and process so it’s equally important that as children grow they learn the scientific method. This framework gives them context for their sense of wonder—an ability to understand, question and communicate the marvelous information they have gathered about the world around them.
When it comes to science there are many advantages to homeschooling, but there are also some challenges. Children have opportunities to explore their world in ways kids in a classroom will never have. The difficulty arises though mostly with the lack of expensive tools and equipment to which schools have access for the older grades. How can you teach homeschool science without spending a fortune?
When determining the best homeschool science program then there are two things to consider:
- How does this curriculum overcome the challenges of teaching science in a home environment?
- How does this curriculum capitalize on the unique opportunities of homeschooling to explore and discover the world?
I have found to address these two issues the best tools for teaching homeschool science are both a strong core curriculum with an intense lab component supplemented by lots of nature study and additional activities to bolster students interests.
In elementary school you can continue science on your own by using the library to focus on individual topics of interest to them. Read books and do projects as you see fit and then once your child has satisfied their sense of wonder on an individual topic move on to something new. Alternatively if you prefer you can use one of the core curriculums below both of which have excellent elementary programs without bogging children down with busy work.
By junior high though you should start using a core curriculum with a strong lab component and complementing that with opportunities and supplements that foster continued scientific wonder. At this point students should start to learn more about the scientific method and the process by which we develop and progress in scientific knowledge. In high school students will dive deep into the pure science and focus on applying the scientific method to their study. Even though the focus shifts from fostering a sense of wonder to teaching the context of the scientific method students of every age should regularly take time to explore and discover independent of a formal science program. Never let your homeschoolers get so absorbed in curriculum that they lose the sense of wonder.
Core Science Tools for Teaching Homeschool Science
My top pick overall: Apologia
I hesitated to use Apologia for a long time because it takes a strong religious view point. While I am very strong in my faith and appreciate integrating that into my children’s education I really wanted a science program that didn’t teach theology so I never even considered Apologia. Boy was that a mistake.
Since the day when I first looked inside one of their texts Apologia has been the core curriculum of choice for my kids from elementary all the way through high school science. I am 100% confident we never would have survived Chemistry without Apologia. The science is thorough and intense. I highly recommend Apologia.
- Two different levels of notebooks at the elementary level so you can use with multiple ages
- Delves deep into a single subject for a full semester which keeps kids engaged and makes them feel like masters of the subject.
- Easy to do experiments with a list of required resources included in the text. Lab kits with everything you need are also available for purchase. For upper levels these kits are awesome and give kids the opportunity to experience real labs despite the limits of the home environment. Younger kids can either use the convenient kits or just gather the materials at the start of the year.
- Excellent high level quality instruction
- Although younger kids will benefit from the parents reading the text to them they also have Audio CDs so you could put on the CD and let your pre readers listen giving you time to get your work done.
- High school texts are self-directed so even a parent with little understanding of the topic can guide the students with ease.
- Fantastic customer service—if you ever don’t understand something or need help you can contact them and they will answer your questions. No other text book that I know of has that kind of support.
- Some people may not like the Bible references and Creationist perspective integrated with science. I just used this as a point of discussion with my kids. The vast majority of the books are not religious at all and really it was mostly an issue with sections in the elementary texts.
- My one daughter hated drawing pictures in the notebooks. We just had her find and print pictures on the internet to glue in her notebook.
My top pick for homeschool secular science: Moving Beyond the Page
Moving Beyond the Page is an integrated curriculum of unit studies and while it works really well when you use all their components together it also works to just use a single subject. Their unit studies are based on living books rather than a single textbook and the choses are engaging and varied. Similar to Apologia in the notebook approach children are given a wide variety of activities to demonstrate what they have read through a series of worksheets and activities.
- Although a bit more involved than Apologia, Moving Beyond the Page is still very parent friendly.
- Quality science instructions
- Unit Study Approach works well for kids who get bored easily
- If you use it with the entire curriculum the science component complements the other subjects studied.
- Lab kits are easy to use and include almost everything you need.
- High school options are not available.
- Some of the notebooking activities are too “workbookish” for some kids. We just skipped over those activities.
Online science class options:
I usually prefer to keep kids off the computer as much as possible when they are in elementary school, but there are some excellent selections of science classes online taught by amazing teachers. If you work and would like to outsource science or if your child is interested in something you know nothing about online science is extremely helpful. It is also necessary for upper level high school classes especially if you are looking for something more secular than the Apologia texts. The following three providers are all excellent. I have used them for many different courses including science. My younger daughter particularly enjoyed a science class all about dogs through Homeschool Connections.
Including nature study at every level of a child’s education is so important. Nature study teaches respect for the environment, understanding of biodiversity, connection with the land, observation of living things, appreciation of the food chain and recognition of our interconnectedness to the wild. Wrap all of this up with a healthy dose of fresh air and exercise and truly there couldn’t be a better way to learn.
There are tons of resources for nature study, but very simply all you need are:
- Nature guides to trees, birds, insects etc. of the region in which you live
- A journal with sturdy colored pencils
- A backpack
No curriculum is needed. Just put on the calendar at least monthly trips to various hiking spots in your region for formal nature study. Also include some time outside daily if possible which doesn’t even need to be nature study. I also suggest putting a bird feeder outside where you can observe birds easily throughout the day. (If you do this in winter though be sure to keep a steady supply of seed and/or suet as birds become dependent on their food source and will starve if you stop the supply)
In elementary school it is perfectly acceptable to use nature study as your entire curriculum. If you choose to do that I can highly recommend the Memoria Press Nature Study Series (Mammals, Birds, Insects and Trees). They include readers, teacher’s guide, workbook (pick and choose assignments—the workbook can get tedious) and the Peterson First guides recommended above. Your child will learn all about nature in depth.
Enjoying nature should be a lifelong habit for both you and your children. In addition to the academic benefits time in the outdoors is good for both mental and physical well being. Make it part of your routine early and continue throughout highschool.
For more information on including nature study in your homeschool visit one of my other articles on the topic:
- Ten Tips for Homeschool Nature Study
- My Three Step Process for Easy Homeschool Nature Study
- How Nature Study Teaches Us About God
Supplements and Other Tools for Teaching Homeschool Science
MEL Science is real chemistry with quality lab supplies. I highly recommend this subscription for kids who are interested in science. It will make them feel like real scientists and they will learn a great deal. These definitely involve adult supervision.
Kiwi Crate offers STEM and STEAM based kits that are fun and easy to use. My daughter has really enjoyed these through the years.
Little Bits are tiny components that allow kids to build and program a variety of electronics. They work with Legos and are really full of endless possibilities. They are very expensive, but if you have multiple children they might be worth the cost.
Great Courses are video courses taught by some of the best professors. These could be used to teach an entire high school course with additional effort on your part, but they are best for older kids who find science interesting and just want additional learning.
In conclusion your homeschool science program can be a strong foundation for future scientists. Just be sure to engage your children not only in a strong core component, but also in a variety of supplemental learning opportunities and nature study. Together these are the best tools for teaching homeschool science.
If you need additional help picking the perfect homeschool science curriculum please consider my consulting service for more personalized options that will help your child achieve their science goals.
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