Really? I Need to Do Science Experiments at Home?
Experiments are annoying. First, you have to gather the materials. Then you have to follow the instructions. Sometimes the experiment works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Worst of all, you have to clean up the mess after you are done.
Are science experiments really worth the hassle?
Yes, they are. For at least two reasons.
First, experiments are one of the best ways to ignite the curiosity of a child. When your child mixes a foul-smelling liquid like vinegar with a common solid like baking soda and sees lots of popping and fizzing, it can be almost magical. It ignites the student’s curiosity. What’s causing all that commotion? Why do vinegar and baking soda act like that, when ammonia and baking soda don’t? Are there other things we have around the house that can do this kind of cool stuff?
Second, if your children are college-bound, they will be required to do experiments in high school. Most universities want to see at least three years of science courses in high school, and at least two of them have to have a laboratory component. Not only will your children have to do experiments for those two courses, they will also need to record them as proof that they had a laboratory experience.
As annoying as they might be, then, experiments are something that you need to do as a part of home education. Does that mean you need to outfit your house with a $20,000 OSHA-approved laboratory? Of course not! Today, there are all sorts of resources that allow you to do experiments at home in a reasonably inexpensive way.
Science Experiments at Home
Many homeschool science curricula have built-in experiments. They are designed with the homeschool in mind, and even though they don’t use fancy lab equipment, they allow your students to do amazing things. In my elementary science series, for example, I have students light a compact fluorescent light bulb with nothing but their hair and a balloon, make plastic out of just milk and vinegar, and launch a teabag in the air with nothing but a match! They even analyze the spectra of different light bulbs using a CD and a cereal box.
In my high-school-level science courses, students measure the width of a molecule using a ruler, pepper, water, and soap. They investigate enzyme activity with a pineapple and Jell-O. They probe the speed of chemical reactions using an antacid tablet and vinegar. They even learn about the concept of impulse by throwing and dropping eggs. These elementary and high-school-level experiments are not only awesome to experience, but they also illustrate very important scientific concepts.
Of course, you don’t have to use my curriculum to do science experiments. Most science curricula designed for the home have experiments for you to do. In fact, you don’t even need to use a curriculum to do great science experiments. If you go to your local library, you will find an entire shelf of books by Janice VanCleave. These books have great experiments for elementary students. If your children are reading about the living world, pick up Janice VanCleave’s Biology for Every Kid and do some of those experiments. If they are reading about the stars and planets, pick up her Astronomy for Every Kid and do some experiments from that book.
As your children grow older, experiments can become a social event as well. If your junior high or high school student is studying a specific subject, find a couple of other students who are studying the same subject. Arrange for them to get together once a week or so to do experiments. You don’t need a teacher. You just need a parent who is willing to host the event. The students get to socialize while they learn, and the mess is restricted to just one home. These kinds of events can be particularly useful for college-bound students, because most college laboratory courses will require them to work in a group. Working with other homeschooled students will help prepare them for that.
You don’t even have to do your high school experiments while you are doing the course. Suppose you just don’t want to deal with the mess and hassle of doing one or two experiments every week, which is what you find in most high school courses. Save them all up until the end. You can get together with a few homeschoolers near the end of the academic year and do all the experiments over a few days.
In fact, you don’t even have to do experiments that are specifically related to a course. Suppose your student is taking high school biology. He or she can take the course at home without doing any labs. Then, you can send your student to a summer science camp where the teens spend several days doing lots of biology experiments. Many universities have such programs, and there are also specific organizations that host them. Just Google something like “summer science camp” followed by the state in which you live. You might be surprised at what comes up.
However you decide to do it, make sure experiments are a part of your child’s science education. They may be a hassle, but they are definitely worth it!