A Tour Through Our Science Curriculums – Past & Present

04 Feb

Over the years I have used a number of different Science curriculums and so I thought I’d give you a quick overview of where we’ve been and how much we love where we are right now.

Initially I tried pulling together my own unit studies using Janice VanCleaves great experiment books but I found that that approach lacked cohesiveness.  There were lots of great experiments to choose from but just not enough content to draw it all together.

We did read a lot of great books during this time though.  My all-time favourite series of living Science books (which just means, ‘great’ or ‘high quality’ in lay language) would have to be the “Let’s Read and Find out Science’ series.  I ended up buying them all, bit by bit, and they have been well loved over the years.   They are evolutionary in their worldview but it’s mostly contained in the dinosaur books.

Our first riggy-dig, not ‘pieced together’ curriculum was Jeannie Fulbright’s, “Exploring Creation” series published by Apologia.   We started out with the flying creatures book and my boys nearly died of boredom – partly due to the content but mostly due to the very dry nature of the text, with its many technical terms, and rarely any decent hands on activities.  Nowadays they’ve produced journals which may help break the monotony of the text but it’s not nearly enough for our likings.

Later we came back and tried Jeannie’s Astronomy book.  This one we liked; loving the content certainly helped.  But Astronomy was also a topic I was very familiar with and could easily find plenty of hands on activities to help break up the text.  So it was the extra mile we went that made the unit a success and not so much the book.  Remember, that was the year we drove to Canberra and stopped at every optical and radio telescope from here to there and back again.  That was also the Year of Astronomy so there were all sorts of events on and we made it to as many as we could fit in.

While I probably won’t use Jeannie’s books for curriculum anymore, I have purchased all of her books for us to use as reference.  She covers so much in her books, in such great detail, which is perfect for reference books.  Just the other day we pulled out the swimming creatures book to read about mussels, after observing several we had in a bowl on our bench for a week.  There were several pages on them and she made them sound like fascinating little critters.   We just found her books way too much for everyday Science, particularly if biology isn’t your thing.

When we studied Chemistry, there weren’t many curriculum options so I went with Real Science For Kids. I liked the simplicity of their explanations for the younger crowd but the experiments were a little too simple and ‘safe’ (read ‘dull’) so we ended up abandoning them in favour of an ordinary Chemistry Science kit  While the RS4K explanations were good, it turned out that the manual that came with the Science kit actually covered more content than our text (and the kit was waaaay cheaper than the books too!).  So RS4K was a fizzle for us too, which was a shame as I had hoped to use their physics books too.  Physics was another piece meal attempt at a unit study but we limped through.  (Oh and the RS4K books claim to be ‘worldview friendly’.  It just means that they exclude mention of anything controversial.)

But now, finally, we have struck on the perfect, for us, curriculum.  Sadly, it’s not for purchase yet, but Aussies can download volume two for free in return for feedback.  The series is by Dr Jay Wile, a Creation Scientist from the States.  He has a vastly popular homeschool high school textbook series and this will be his elementary series.

It is excellent!  It’s all of the things I have wanted from the failed curriculums, rolled into something that is just right.

Dr Wile’s explanations are succinct and not unnaturally God-gushy as Jeannie’s books tended to be.  The concepts are really well explained and I never have to preview his lessons as he just has this knack for making the complicated seem so clear.

Every single lesson starts with a hands-on activity, which is easy and quick and doesn’t involve anything too complicated; yet so often we’ve been amazed by what we saw happen.  The activities can’t be skipped though as they are integral to the text.  People looking to avoid experiments may struggle with the books or they may find that this is a series of books that will hold their hand through their fear of Science.  Whether mums like or despise experiments, kids usually thrive on them, so one every lesson is a dream come true for them.

I also like the narrative dialogue that Dr Wile uses.  This works really well in a homeschool setting as you can pause and let the kids answer Dr Wile’s questions, as though he’s right there in the room with them.   And he’s not long winded in his explanations, which is important with kids.

At the end of each lesson is a written task.  There are always three levelled options from which to choose.  The first level is merely answering two key questions and the older two levels usually involve some sort of diagram or explanation of what they’ve learned.  Often I combine the idea to suit my learners.  At the end of the book there are also answers to these written tasks, as well as optional quizzes and their answers.

So far there are two books in the pipes.  The first, which was released as a free pilot text last year, was “Science in the Creation Week” and contains the following topics:

Day 1 – Light

Day 2 – Water and Air

Day 3 – Land, Sea and plants

Day 4 – Sky/space

Day 5 – Swimming / Flying creatures

Day 6 – Land animals and Humans

His second title, available as a pilot at the moment, is “Science in the Ancient World”.  It follows Science sequentially through the Ancient world, exploring topics as the Great Scientists explored them.  We haven’t started this one yet but it’s killing me to have to finish the other book first before starting the new book.  It looks so good!

But our textbook isn’t the only thing that creates our Science Curriculum.  That’s just one part.  In addition we have all sorts of ‘extras’ happening.

We don’t do a lot of formal Nature Study (okay barely any), but if a bug crawls into our house it’s always fair game for the computer microscope or observation over a period in our old fish tank (kept specifically for this purpose).  We’ve studied all sorts of things this way – we kept a stick insect for a few weeks; for a week we tried desperately to keep up with the live food a pray mantis requires; we watched several caterpillars transform into moths (but no butterflies yet); and we’ve bred silkworms from eggs and fed the hungry critters until they cocooned, hatched, mated and laid their own eggs.  So while we don’t go out seeking these things, they seem to find us and provide plenty of naturey things to do.  We also have “The Wonderland of Nature” and various other books and field guides to refer to as well.  These are always handy.

We have our annual passes to the Science Centre as well, which we visit several times a year.  The kids also enjoy several Science dvds (Inquisikids, Magic School Bus, Backyard Science etc) and then get all sorts of experiment ideas and delight in making a grand old mess in my kitchen.  What was I thinking when I bought those!  Oh and our cupboards are well stocked with all sorts of Science kits for when the kids are looking for something interesting to do.  I purchase them for gifts or just when I see them on great discounts.

Another valuable Science recourse, we don’t always think about as central, is a collection of Science materials, like magnets, pulleys, magnifying glasses, binoculars, mirrors, insect catchers, torches, etc.  Formal Science only happens a few times a week but with a nice collection of Science goodies the kids can continue to explore their world and make their own observations.

Oh and don’t forget the events in the world around us.  They are Science opportunities too…like reading about tornadoes or cyclones when they are predicted for your area; making sure to catch the eclipses and celestial events when they happen nearby; going to the planetarium as a family for the latest showing; or just helping the kids find answers to their questions.  Science is the study of the world around us, so we can’t help but learn about it, whether it be from a book or directly from life.  I think book learning and life learning work perfectly together.

Science is now one of our favourite things, especially since Dr Wile’s books came along. We are in curriculum bliss now that we have a fantastic text to bounce off from.  🙂


Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Science


2 responses to “A Tour Through Our Science Curriculums – Past & Present

  1. JoAnn

    February 5, 2013 at 8:52 am

    They sound like some great curriculum. 🙂

  2. Marianne

    February 5, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one to have chopped and changed from various science curriculums (including Jeannie Fulbright’s). I was beginning to think there was something wrong with me 🙂 We’ve being doing Dr Jay’s pilot programme too and have loved it. Thank you for sharing your experiences, it has been such a blessing to me.


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