DIY Science Curriculum for the classically inclined

DIY science curriculum | classical science | classical homeschooling | DIY homeschool curriculum

Of all the subjects, science has probably taken me the longest to find a curriculum that I really like. Over the last several years, we have tried a number of approaches for science.

  • We’ve learned science through lapbooks and creating mini-books.
  • We’ve done unit studies and read living books.
  • We’ve watched a whole lot of Magic School Bus and Wild Kratts and Bill Nye the Science Guy.
  • We’ve dabbled in a few different curriculums: God’s Design, Christian Kids Explore, and Sassafras.

And while we’ve enjoyed different aspects of these, none have been even close to ideal. So, I did my own thing this year, with some inspiration and direction from the Well-Trained Mind. And just in case you are a DIY homeschooler, too, I’ve assembled a few steps for a DIY science curriculum.

4 Steps to a DIY science curriculum

Step 1: Find a core resource or encyclopedia

Any resource you love will work: Usborne, Kingfisher, DK, etc. I found the World of Science encyclopedia from Master Books and have absolutely loved it. World of Science is formatted similarly to an Usborne or DK encyclopedia, except that this resource is Christian. No millions of years or evolution to wade through, but rather the book begins with the idea of a Designer who had a thoughtful design and a creation that reflected His order. It’s colorful, interesting, easy to use, easy to follow, and includes some experiment ideas in the back of the book as a bonus. This particular book covers basic physics and chemistry topics. A companion encyclopedia World of Animals covers some simple biology and animal science.

DIY homeschool curriculum | DIY science curriculum | Master Books | World of Science

True to the classical homeschooling method, I assign a couple of pages a week for my fifth grader to read and outline. His outlines consist of Roman Numeral main points; he is learning to pick out the main ideas or topic sentences. Occasionally, I’ll require him to write a summary paragraph or copy a diagram. He also looks up new terms in the glossary at the back of the book and copies them for his notebook. He has loved using it as much as I have.

Step 2: Choose an experiment kit

Search Amazon or Homeschool Science Tools, Target, Wal-mart, Hobby Lobby, even local thrift stores. Choose an experiment kit that fits with the topic you are covering. For instance, when we learned about electricity, my son had a snap circuit kit we picked up from the thrift store; this term we are studying principles of physics and simple machines, so he is using a gears and levers kit. Later this year, we will begin some chemistry and try out a couple of chemistry experiment kits.

DIY homeschool curriculum | DIY science curriculum | experiment kits

Each week when his outline is complete, he is free to select an experiment from a kit that I’ve purchased to go with what we are studying. This is the “delight-directed” component of our science; he is free to pick an experiment from the kit that interests him. I know that these experiments are on topic, and he loves being able to choose his favorites. Then, after completing an experiment, he fills out an experiment form. We are using forms from notebookingpages.com, but there are tons of free printables online and on pinterest.

Step 3: (optional) Find science DVDs at the Library and on Netflix

As a fun bonus, I search for DVDs in our local library and on Netflix for the topics we are learning about. I’ve found that searching by specific topic has the best results; for instance, searching for gravity, light, force, motion, energy provides better results than searching for physics, geology, chemistry, etc. Some of these DVDs do contain evolutionary ideas (Bill Nye, for instance), but I’m okay with discussing that with my kids, especially since they’ve had an opportunity to begin studying from a Christian source. Use your own discretion.

You could also use the same strategy to search your library for additional reading on your topic if you prefer. Because of all the reading I assign in our other subject areas, I don’t choose to assign additional science reading. 

Step 4: Make a plan

Be as detailed as you need to be, but I love to keep it simple, personally. Below is a picture of my actual plans for this last term. I counted up the number of pages in the unit we wanted to cover and divided by our 12 week term. Since it wasn’t a perfect fit, we needed to outline more reading pages on certain weeks. On those weeks, I did not assign an experiment. Of course, he was welcome to do one after his assignments were complete, but it wasn’t required.

I did not assign specific experiments. You could easily do that by looking through your experiment booklet and comparing it to the topics of your encyclopedia. But for us, this is a great compromise. I provide some parameters (“you are going to learn this topic and use this kit”) and allow him the freedom to pursue his interest within those parameters.

DIY homeschool curriculum | DIY science curriculum | lesson plans | classical homeschooling | classical science

I printed off a bunch of experiment forms and placed them in his notebook. He can choose from several different styles to find a form that fits best with his particular experiment. Each week, I look over his outline and his experiment form (and he usually can’t wait to show me his actual experiment).

What about the youngers?

Middlest (3rd grade) and Littlest (preschool) usually join Oldest for the experiment demonstrations and videos; in a sense, he teaches the material to them. Middlest also fills out her own form.  I did pick up a Magic School Bus chemistry kit for our chemistry unit later this year so that she has some age-appropriate experiments. As she gets older and more skilled in her reading and writing, I’ll have her completing more assignments (reading/outlining). But for right now, I limit the amount of writing I require from her.

So far, I have loved our DIY science curriculum. The kids are learning a ton, are very independent, and are still able to incorporate a lot of hands-on experiments that don’t require my constant supervision. It’s been a win all around. For the first time in years, I feel good about science.

Hip Homeschool Moms

Preparing Tapestry: our Fourth Year

We are headed into our fourth year of our Tapestry of Grace curriculum, which means we will have completed the cycle at the end of this year. (It also means this is my last year of all grammar level.) Last year, I felt like we really made Tapestry our own and found our rhythm, our stride. It felt good, like a fitted glove. Of course, when you end a year like that, it makes planning the next year exciting. I love the aspect of homeschooling where I trouble-shoot and research and find our answers, but the Lord knew I would be doing that in several other areas of our life; so homeschooling was off the hook. No massive revamping this year. With that said, preparing Tapestry for this year went really smoothly.

In summary, I love manilla folders. I keep 36 folders for our weekly “must-do” assignments like language and math and Latin. Then I keep a second set of folders for Tapestry that are labeled by Term (we do three 12 week terms) and by topic (I don’t cover everything; instead, I select the events and topics that will best suit my learners). All of our reading lists, media lists, and project papers are printed off and filed in these topic folders.

So here’s what it looks like. At the beginning of a week, I pull out two folders: the week we are in and the topic we are studying. Within the weekly folder, I pull out assignment pages and file into the kids’ daily pockets inside their binders (we use case-it binders with the accordion file inside). Within the topic folder, I look at my list all of the books and projects assigned for that topic and the number of weeks that I’ve guessed it will take us to complete (i.e. Titanic, 2 weeks). I then allocate those assignments that will fit with our week’s schedule. Last year, this method cut my weekly prep to about 30 to 45 minutes total! Both kids filed and ready to go in around a half hour. It was beautiful.

Reading Lists

Tapestry’s reading lists are copyrighted, so I can’t share the specific book titles that we are using. However, I will list a couple of other resources I use to compare and substitute book titles. SimplyCharlotteMason.com has a book finder feature that I love. Just type in the event or person you are studying, the reading level of your students, and a great list of engaging living books is listed for you. My second resource is my local library online catalogue search feature. Again, I type in the event or person, narrow it to children’s resources, and voila! I love my local library. It has an enormous selection.

I also use SimplyCharlotteMason’s Story of America and Story of the Nations ebooks as my core. These are not Tapestry titles, but the table of contents make it very easy to assign chapters that fit what we are covering. And the books are very engaging. We love them.

I select my favorites. Depending on how long we intend to study a topic, for each week I will select one to two read-aloud titles, one to two independent reading titles per child (depending on the length of the book), and the rest will be assigned merely as reference, as in “let’s look at more pictures.”

Media List

I love audios. Awhile back I scored Diana Waring’s history audio from Answers in Genesis‘ history program. We love listening to these on the way back and forth to karate and co-op. So, on the days we don’t get to our reading, we are still getting to our history. And this is another very engaging resource.

Netflix is also a resource where I search for related films to what we are studying. We don’t always get to this, but it is great for those off-days or sick days to already have this list compiled.

Projects

Homeschool in the Woods is not a Tapestry resource either, but we LOVE these projects. I use the Time Traveler activities. We make notebooking pages using both the notebooking and lapbooking project ideas. Especially since my kids are finally old enough to do their own cutting and pasting, these have been really fun activities to assign. They work on these while I read-aloud. It keeps their fingers busy but doesn’t distract them from the reading.

I generally choose the projects that fit what we are studying, our time-frame, and my kids’ interests. I spend one long afternoon printing all of my chosen activities and filing into my topic folders. This saves me so much time during the school year.

I also have the Draw Through History titles. My son loves to draw; my daughter loves to trace. And it gives them some ideas for drawing and enhancing their notebook with images of what we are studying.

Our Rhythm

I mentioned that I note about how many weeks I think a topic will take us. Last year, this was very fluid. We moved on when our books were read and our projects were done. And I found that in the end, things balanced out. Some topics took longer than I estimated, and some topics didn’t take as long. If we read everything in a week, we moved on. If it took us five weeks, because of interest or illness, we took our time and enjoyed it all. Sometimes, it was just a dud, and rather than struggle through 3 more weeks of something we were not enjoying, we covered the basics and moved on.

I’m also sensitive to my kids’ reading interests. There were some books that my son just hated, and while I realize that not all learning can be interest-driven, I think at the younger levels, reading should be. Occasionally, I’d make a call that he just needed to get through a book. But if I made that call, I ensured that I had a very tantalizing book as a reward when he finished. There were books we didn’t read cover-to-cover. (Pause for you to gasp in horror.) We survived, and were no worse for that decision.

In spite of all that flexibility, I was amazed by how much my kids retained and learned. A little went a really long way.

What about discipline and teaching kids to push through the difficult stuff? I split my subjects into two categories: our discipline subjects like math, grammar, spelling; and our inspiration subjects like history, science, and reading. This helped me define my objectives. My discipline subjects were challenging but in short spurts (no more than 15-20 min. per lesson/subject). My inspiration subjects were kept inspiring and interesting and often took closer to an hour or hour and a half (hands-on projects take awhile). But again, I watched my kiddos. If they were engaged, we took our time. If their eyes were glossing over, it was time for lunch.

Want to know more specifics? I’ve listed our specific curriculum choices here. Feel free to browse those links. Not sure what your homeschool style is? Be encouraged with my post about losing the labels.

I’m looking forward to another really great homeschool adventure, and I hope you tag along on our journey.

An Update and Review of Christian Kids Explore

It’s that time of year. I see it all over blogs and pinterest. It’s the time of year when curriculum goes on sale and homeschoolers come out of the woodwork offering advice on how to evaluate your year. And because of all that evaluating, I’ve been in a very reflective, evaluating frame of mind. One of the areas I’ve been evaluating has been our science, specifically our Christian Kids Explore curriculum.

This is the first year for me to attempt to tackle something resembling formal science. Nature studies, lap books, read-alouds and living books—yes, yes, and yes, but up until this year there’s been very little in the way of science experiments and formal observation and terms (well, unless you count the parts of the skeleton and body organs as “terms”).

But honestly, during my evaluating, this is one of those areas where I’m realizing that I’m not superwoman, that there might be somethings I’m just not ready for. While science has been a highlight for the kids, the subject always listed as their favorite when we talk about school, I’ve felt like a total failure in this area—and I’ve missed our nature study, something we really haven’t had time for (or the weather for lately; it is winter after all).

So, on one hand, my first reaction was to decide to purchase a formal science curriculum next year. Something more structured, more like the real thing. But then, how would I have time for that? As I confided to my husband my struggle, he gave such a terrific insight. He mentioned that he didn’t remember having formal science until 5th or 6th grade, so why not enjoy nature study and simpler science activities until the kids were old enough to be doing most of history independently. Then, I could feasibly switch my teaching efforts to science at that time. Ah, bless that man!

So that’s what I’m doing, starting now. I have a fabulous nature-oriented study on rain (welcome to the Pacific Northwest, folks!) that we are doing, and it’s been such a balm to my nature-loving soul.

 

What’s the deal with our other science, Christian Kids Explore Earth and Space? Here’s a quick list of what it is and isn’t:

 

Christian Kids Explore science review

It Isn’t…

  • a textbook, which is a good thing really. But that also means that there are no photos or colored illustrations. It’s an introduction into a topic, some terms to learn, and some coloring pages and experiments.
  • a complete science curriculum. Really, my best description is that it provides the backbone, the jumping off point for you to create your own unit study. There is a great list of both book and video resources by topic and grade at the back. But it takes a lot of time to piece together a study on your own, as I’ve learned first-hand.
  • watered-down, in the sense of a shallow little kid’s book on science. I loved that it used real science words and explained concepts for all ages.

It Is…

  • just barely scratching the surface of the subject. To me, it didn’t feel complete on it’s own. I felt that it needed embellished with those “additional resource suggestions.” And that took more time than I had.
  • for all ages, but sometimes that idea felt like it compromised some of the quality of the activities. Maybe it tried to be too all encompassing?
  • a great jumping off point. If you are looking for a place to jump-start your science unit studies, this is a fantastic resource, providing the activities and terms and allowing you the freedom to customize for each level. If you are expecting that, and allow the time for yourself to do that, it’s a terrific curriculum. I, on the other hand, was rather caught off guard and out of time.

So, while Christian Kids Explore is a great science curriculum, particularly for those that like to create their own unit studies, it has not been a good fit for us. What have you found yourself evaluating lately?