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At a recent homeschool convention, I encountered a young man who was the assistant director of an enormous bird sanctuary. He spent his days researching birds, rehabilitating birds, breeding birds, and teaching others about birds. He’d fallen in love with birds as a child after using one of my in-depth Zoology courses. What a joy to my soul!
But what breaks my heart is to hear a child say he dislikes science. And I hear that sometimes.
You see, we all come into the world interested in science. We’re born with an insatiable need to know. When children first begin talking, they want to know everything. Why is the sky blue? Why are the ants walking in a line? Why do the leaves fall? Where do the birds live? They want to know!
They care about science.
Our job is to keep their curiosity—that flame of interest in knowing and understanding science—alive. Yet, it’s all too easy to extinguish the natural curiosity of a child.
Fortunately, I’ve discovered some teaching practices that fan the flame of a child’s inquisitiveness, that fuel a passion for science, and that grow a child’s confidence in learning.
Let’s explore four methods of teaching science that will ensure your children develop a superior science education that builds a strong foundation and develops a lifelong love for science.
The best way to study science is to immerse in one field of interest, to explore deeply one kind of living thing, to plunge in and uncover all there is to know about a topic. When studying botany, let your children dig deep into the processes of photosynthesis, exploring every aspect of it—testing it out, seeing and watching it happen, building a strong foundation of understanding and interest.
When studying animals, allow your children to find out all there is to know about every creature in that scientific order—becoming an expert on the families and developing a working knowledge of the genus and species represented.
For every arena of science you embark upon, learn the information well. Leave no stone unturned before moving on to another science field.
Why? Because the immersion approach has proven the most effective way to boost confidence in a child’s knowledge and comprehension of science. Not surprisingly, this is how science is taught in countries that score highest on international assessments.
Some years ago, the Trends in International Math and Science Study explored the reasons America consistently scores so poorly in science on international assessments. They found American science education was “an inch deep and a mile wide.” Teachers were covering a little about every field of science in a single year—teaching to the elusive questions that might show up on the standardized test. Unfortunately, American students were left with only a cursory knowledge of science in general. An inch deep. When we teach science this way, we extinguish the flames of curiosity, offering only small, unsatisfying bits of information. Crumbs. Our children’s natural curiosity begins to wane. Eventually it is gone forever.
Charlotte Mason, one of the premier educators of all time, tells us the “question is not how much does the youth know when he has finished his education, but how much does he care?”
If we find our children no longer care to learn, care to know, care to understand or comprehend, we must look at the educational materials and methods we’re employing. Are we using materials that present information in a dull, dry manner? Are we speeding through topics without giving a strong foundation?
Living books—books filled with original thoughts and ideas uniquely expressed—are the foundation for an education that breathes life into every area of learning.
How do we know if a science book is living? Is there a personality behind the presentation of new material? Is the topic presented from a source that shows excitement and passion for the subject? If not, the book isn’t living. It’s dull, dry, and dead—and our children will find it to be that as well.
Science should be teeming with life. And the best place to discover this is where science is most alive … outside!
Countries that consistently score at the top in all areas of education, including science, spend a great deal of their school day outdoors. Not only is this beneficial for a child’s mental and emotional health but there is a great deal of natural learning that takes place when a child is outdoors, even without a formal science lesson.
As children observe and experience the outdoors, they come to fully comprehend natural scientific laws and processes organically. Scientific fields like physics, life science, and earth science are experienced in real life, making science studies in the classroom relevant.
Assignments that Assimilate
One of the methodologies used in American schools that should be nixed in the homeschool is the use of worksheets and quizzes. Why? Because they hijack the purpose for learning and fail to increase a child’s retention and understanding of the subject. They’re designed to assess classrooms of students, to score one child above another, to grade them based on their short-term memory.
When children are given a worksheet or quiz after a lesson, they’re no longer learning for the joy of knowing but for the score on a sheet of paper. They don’t need to contemplate or consider the information on a deeper level to fill out a quiz or worksheet. They only need to access their short-term memory.
In public and private schools, children with a strong short-term memory are considered the smart kids, while children who may be brilliant—like Albert Einstein—who think more deeply about topics before coming to a complete understanding, are labeled “not smart,” making Cs and Fs. This is because their short-term memory, the surface level understanding of subjects, is not as quickly accessible.
As home educators, we should use methodologies that encourage deeper thought and creativity. Notebooking, hands-on projects, and relevant experiments are the best way to assimilate the material, moving it from the short-term to the long-term memory, increasing comprehension and retention of the subject. These activities encourage children to think more about the topic as they produce something from their learning.
Although my Charlotte Mason-based science curriculum published by Apologia incorporates all these wonderful ways of teaching science, you can develop your own science course using the unit study approach and teach all your children from K through 12 together. Here’s how.
- Choose one field of science to explore deeply.
- Decide how long you’ll explore that field. One semester is a good amount of time.
- Use a spine, such as one of my science books, to give you a foundation of knowledge in the field.
- Research living books, biographies, videos, and classes that delve deeply into aspects of the subject matter and sub-topics in the field.
- Assign one age-appropriate activity each week: a project (short and long term), experiment, or notebooking activity.
- End your studies with a Family Presentation Night where the children present their special studies, a PowerPoint, or a project they completed.
Science is not memorizing dull, dry, boring facts and information. It’s immersing in a plethora of phenomena that are fascinating when studied deeply. We should encourage our children to discover and explore in a manner that brings joy and excitement—a manner that fuels the flames of curiosity, satisfies their natural hunger to know, and gives them an opportunity to express themselves and their knowledge creatively.
As Albert Einstein once said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”
By teaching science this way, your children just may develop a passion that becomes a
lifelong career in science.
Copyright 2022, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the author. Originally appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.
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