I have often fluctuated back and forth on how we approach science. In the beginning, we only did nature study, but that was when I had three very young children. I wanted to expose them to nature and develop a love for it early on. We read a few living books to complement our nature studies (Burgess books, etc), but the main focus was on nature itself.
Now that I have a sixth grade student, I am trying to create a science plan that is well-rounded, with traditional science topics and nature studies. Unlike some CM mamas, I am a big fan of modern technology and I think that in areas like science, direct contact with living ideas comes primarily from experience, instead of just reading. We use videos and experiments a LOT in our home.
Rather than purchase a curriculum, I purchased an Usborne Science Encyclopedia. I have been making lesson plans based on the topics in that encyclopedia. It’s pretty well-laid out, if you think about it. All of the main sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy) are sectioned in the book and they cover all the important topics. If you get an Usborne book, it will also contain useful links. Even if you use an encyclopedia without links, a simple Google search on your chosen topic, say “photosynthesis,” will yield videos, worksheets, experiments, and more! I choose a couple of the best videos, pull some vocabulary words from the encyclopedia (or the videos), look for a worksheet to color/label, a game to play online if possible, and then find an experiment to complete. My goal through the middle school years is to lay a solid foundation for a more serious approach to the sciences in high school. I have shared some of these lesson plans here on my blog, but then I got busy and, well, I am sure you know how that goes! If you want to see exactly what I am talking about, check out the “Lesson Plans” page above. I get more hits for those than for anything else! I will include my favorite science links/resources in another blog soon. I hope you will be encouraged to put together some lessons of your own. 🙂
So, what about living books for science? Well, we use those too! Living books are still the main method I use for my girls (ages 8 and 6). Cole (11) also uses living books, but I have shifted the focus for him to famous scientists and their discoveries. Right now, we are in ancient Greece for history, so he is reading a biography about Archimedes (Archimedes and the Door of Science). If I can sync up the living science with the history, I do. If not, it’s no big deal. There are loads of wonderful living science books and I will refer you again to book lists already compiled on many other sites, or the SCM book finder.
Don’t overlook the science books that can be found at your local library. Most carry experiment books and LOADS (really, loads!) of interesting books on every science topic known to man. Don’t forget the journals and auto/biographies of the scientists themselves, especially for upper middle school and high school students. There is nothing like reading the failures and successes of the actual men and women who were pioneers in the world of scientific discovery.
If you feel like you need a definite plan, choose the topics you want to cover in any given month (or semester, or year) and then start gathering books, websites, videos, and experiment ideas. Put them all in a document with the links ready to fire and then do it. 99% of this is just doing it. We can hem and haw and fuss all day about planning, but it’s not that hard. You can get a scope and sequence for science online or from the school district and build your plan from there. Or find an actual textbook and use it as an outline. I see them in thrift stores all the time.
All the “Extras”: Poetry, Picture Study, Composer Study, Hymns/Folk Songs, Nature Study
If there is one area where I see CM moms over-think things and FREAK OUT, it is over these extras. These are not “extras,” IMO, but I know that they don’t exactly fall under traditional academics. However, if you were to ask my kids what their favorite school activities are, these are the things they would list. They make our days dee-lightful.
So here is the big secret – just pick something and GO.FOR.IT.
You can use the selections that Ambleside lays out for the year, or you can choose something they did five years ago. You can pick anything you want. I swear, it works out just fine. I literally go on the AO Art Prints Yahoo group and look through the PDF files until I find one that strikes my fancy. We’re are just finishing with Mary Cassatt and will begin John Waterhouse in September. I admit I chose him because he painted many scenes from ancient Greece and Rome. BUT, I had selected Mary Cassatt for no reason other than we hadn’t studied any female artist yet. It doesn’t matter who/what you choose, just choose!
The same goes for a poet, a composer, a hymn, a folk song, etc. You can use the same thing someone else is using, or just pick whatever you like. There are so many options. Here is how we do these activities in our home:
Picture study – I choose an artist and order my prints online from FedEx Office so they will be nice and a little glossy. It runs me about $6-7 each time, so about $18-21 a year. Not bad at all! I look for a book or video about the artist from the library. If there is nothing to help me out, I use Wikipedia and learn a few things about him/her. On the very first day I am presenting the new artist, I teach the kids a little about him/her, then I show them one of the pictures. I tell them the name of the picture and then ask them to study it for a few minutes. Then I turn the picture over and ask my youngest to tell me 3-4 interesting things she noticed in the picture. Then I ask the next oldest, and then the oldest. No one can repeat what someone else said. That’s it! I will bring that picture out again 2-3 more times over a two week period, have them tell me what they know about the artist, ask them the name of the picture, and occasionally have them make up a story about it. Books about artists are almost always on the discount tables at book stores, and the library is ALWAYS going to carry something! You can even download images from an artist and make them your desktop background or wallpaper. You don’t have to spend a thing.
Composer study – I handle this almost the same way. I choose a composer and then 6-7 songs we will really focus on learning. I find a book or video if I can, or resort to Wiki. I especially love when a composer we are learning about has a show on Classics for Kids. On the first day, I intro the composer and we listen to one of the songs 3-4 times on a loop. After that, I let the rest of his/her music play in the background while we do school. If there is something cool, like the sonnets with Vivaldi’s four seasons, we will learn about that, too. Composer study can happen in the car, or anywhere, in just a few minutes each week. Again, discount bins and shelves at stores almost always have classical music, and amazon has an amazing deal with their “99 Most Essential Songs from _______” albums for only $5.99! The library always has classical CDs you can borrow.
Poetry – You will begin to sense a theme here, I am guessing. I choose a poet and find a volume of his/her poetry. I read one each morning as we begin our day. If we especially like one of the poems, we memorize it. In that case, I may read our favorite in addition to a new one each day. Yes, each day. It only takes a minute or two to read a poem, but the effects can last a lifetime. We are reading Christina Rossetti right now, but we will begin Poe in September. Poe just feels autumnal to me, don’t you think? There are loads of free sites to read poems from, Ambleside has several already assembled for you, or use the library. Isn’t the library the greatest use of tax money, ever? Seriously!
Hymns/Folk Songs – Pick one of each, print the words up for each of your children, learn the tune (Youtube has everything!), and then practice a couple times a week! That’s it! We do our hymn on M/W, and our folk song on T/Th. SO EASY!
Nature study – We used to take regular nature walks when we lived in a lovely wooded area in Maryland. Now that we live in Las Vegas, not so much. We do try and head out to nice areas for a hike, but it takes a lot of planning. However, as least a few times a month I have a formal nature study lesson. I learn about a subject, choose a good location to observe it, and my students come and sketch the subject for their nature notebooks while I share all the information I have gathered. If you only have your own kids (I offer this class to basically all the homeschoolers in my city!), this format still works. Use the internet and any field guides or nature books you have access to, and learn about something to teach the kids. This is how The Handbook of Nature Study is meant to be used. The teacher should know about the information beforehand and be able to impart it to the students during the course of the lesson. Of course, Barb has amazing nature study ideas going all the time on her Handbook of Nature Study blog. If you don’t know about that, you are missing out!
That’s it folks! Three blogs and all the nuts and bolts you need to let your imaginations soar with learning possibilities. I hope that some of you will feel empowered to make your own choices and follow your own path for teaching your children. My goal was to help you see that options are a good thing! Don’t let them overwhelm you, because at the end of the day, they are just “options.” This method is very flexible and forgiving, but loaded with quality. You really can’t go wrong.