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Teaching Science Stage by Stage

Math, language arts, and history tend to take priority in many homeschool curricula. Subjects like art and science can be messy and time-consuming. Or it can be tempting to reduce science to reading from a textbook and answering questions. But to really bring science to life for your children, they need to do science. Here are some ways, stage by stage, to make science happen in your busy school days.

Starting Out

PreK - 1st Grade

Science at this age can be kept very simple. Introduce your child to science vocabulary and concepts gently and naturally by using them in everyday life. Don’t think science textbooks and workbooks here. Think about allowing your child to do what already comes naturally: experience the world around him or her.

  • Learn about the five senses and practice using them to explore the world.
  • Take your children on nature hikes and discuss everything that you see and hear.
  • Collect objects such as leaves or rocks and make observations.
  • Begin using the terminology for the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, prediction, test, and theory.
  • Use science vocabulary in everyday life.
  • Do some basic, interesting science experiments using safe materials from home, such as making a volcano with vinegar and baking soda or testing which items float or sink in a tub of water.
  • Teach your child to never eat a science experiment unless given permission by the adult.
  • Provide and read aloud simple non-fiction books about science topics. Look for engaging text and colorful photos.
  • Encourage your child to ask lots of questions. Don’t feel like you need to know all the answers! Show your child how you can look up the answer to a question you don’t already know the answer to.
  • On the flip side, ask your child questions, too. Ask why she thinks something happened. You might be surprised at how much insight your little one can have!

Getting Excited

2nd - 4th Grade

This stage is where the real science fun begins. Begin to develop an appreciation and enthusiasm for science that will carry your child through some of the more difficult content later on. This is a time to demonstrate the amazing parts of science.

  • When choosing a science curriculum, look for hands-on activities as well as interesting text. Children need to do science to learn science. Try to avoid an overly strenuous curriculum, though. A couple of days of science each week is enough at this stage.
  • Whenever possible, start off a science topic with an interesting demonstration. Look for the “wow” factor that will get your child excited about science.
  • Follow your child’s lead. See what science topics interest your child, and then consider developing a longer unit on that topic.
  • Teach the scientific method, using correct vocabulary.
  • Insist on proper safety procedures and equipment. You want to train your children to do science properly so that they will follow procedures when using more dangerous equipment and materials later on.
  • Purchase basic nature study guides, sketchbooks, and drawing materials to use during nature hikes.
  • Get a pet.
  • Investigate getting an incubator and eggs. The same organizations that rent or lend these items to schools will sometimes do the same for homeschools, especially if you are willing to complete this activity after most schools are out for the summer. Alternatively, or in addition, consider purchasing a butterfly, ant, tadpole, or sea monkey kit from a science supply company.
  • Begin building a “research library” as part of your home library. There are books and websites full of science experiments that you can do at home for this stage, using materials you have at home or can easily obtain.
  • Integrate history and science, teaching about scientists that lived and scientific discoveries that were made during the period of history you are studying.

Beginning to Understand

5th - 8th Grade

The middle school and junior high years usher in the more formal study of science that is necessary in high school. But formal learning doesn’t have to rob science of the enjoyment!

  • While it can be tempting to move into the read-and-answer-questions method only of teaching science at this age, don’t! Continue to do fun hands-on activities even as the science concepts increase in difficulty.
  • Shift from doing science a couple of times a week to completing daily lessons.
  • Look for experiments and activities that will amaze and engage your child.
  • Make sure your child realizes that scientific understanding is always being tested and updated. Discuss scientific theories that were once accepted and now have been proven false.
  • Don’t shy away from discussing evolution. At some point your child will be faced with defending her beliefs, so arm her with correct information on creation science now so she will be ready later on.
  • Let your child take things apart. Find used items such as personal DVD players, old computers, and lawn mower engines and allow him to “dissect” them.
  • Science is often more fun when done with more than one person and can be done over a range of ages. If you have more than one child in this age group, rather than purchasing grade-level curriculum, consider teaching them together. Or team up with another family. The work of preparing science experiments can be offset if you share the duty.
  • Read science biographies. Whenever possibly connect these to your history studies.
  • Purchase full field guides for your student to use. Have fun as a family trying to identify animals, birds, and plants that you see as you travel or hike.

Learning to Reason

9th - 12th Grade

Science is a required course for both high school graduation and college admission. Your child will most likely need three or four credits of science, with at least one being a life science and one having a lab portion. Higher level science and math can sometime dissuade parents from homeschooling the high school years, but there are ways to provide a quality science program while homeschooling.

  • Choose a high school science curriculum that was developed for homeschoolers. Most will use equipment and materials that homeschoolers can easily obtain.
  • While many traditional schools teach physical science, biology, chemistry, and physics, sometimes with an advanced biology or general science option, your science curriculum does not have to follow that pattern. Check your state’s graduation requirements and consider your child’s future career plans, but don’t be afraid to choose topics like botany, astronomy, or marine biology.
  • Do experiments. There are many experiments you can do with items you already have at home, but you can also purchase dissection materials, chemistry equipment and supplies, and lab kits online. There are science supply companies that have homeschool proportioned items instead of having to purchase enough for a whole class.
  • Make sure that your child has successfully completed prerequisite math courses before moving into the corresponding courses in science. Students will do much better in chemistry if they have completed at least Algebra I, for example, while completing Algebra II will help your child succeed in physics.
  • You can purchase preserved dissection specimens online, but if you aren’t comfortable with this option, there are websites that show detailed dissections or YouTube videos that you can watch. (Note: Keep in mind that this isn’t the best option for a child who is interested in a career in a biology or medical field.)
  • Just because you aren’t comfortable teaching higher level sciences doesn’t mean you can’t homeschool high school. Consider options such as co-oping with another family or group of families, having your child take an online course, or dual enrolling your child in high school or college just for science.
  • Include science options in your field trips to show how science is used in the real world.

With five kids in their teen and early adult years, Rebecca shares the many ups and downs of parenting, homeschooling, and keeping it all together. As the Well Planned Gal she mentors women towards the goal of discovering the uniqueness Christ has created in them and their family and how to best organize and plan for the journey they will travel.

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