I started off the school year wanting to take a different approach to science. I felt the need to streamline and minimize a bit this year, doing more of what we like and less of what we don’t. In years past, it sometimes felt like science wanted to take over our homeschool, with all the fun projects and activities and experiments. But it wasn’t as much fun as it should have been, partly because it was all too much. So this year, I thought the answer would be to “unschool” science rather than using a traditional homeschool science curriculum. I thought that a child-led, child-directed approach would allow my kids to delve more into their interests while putting less of a burden on me.
So did that work? Welllll…..yes and no. Instead of “unschooling,” we ended up falling into unit studies that I created by supplementing Little Passports Science Expeditions boxes. And it was fun. For the most part, the Science Expeditions learning activities were high quality and well-thought-out. It was nice to not have to hunt down supplies for experiments. And it wasn’t hard to find supplemental activities so that all three of my kids could participate.
But it wasn’t what I wanted. I really did want my kids to explore their interests more, but that wasn’t happening because I was letting Little Passports choose the science focus. And it really wasn’t any less work for me. It was actually more work because, instead of planning way ahead like I usually do, I had to do last minute planning when I would learn the focus of the next box. (If you plan to use Little Passports Science Expeditions for science, I would suggest beginning your subscription a few months before you need them so you can plan ahead.)
Plan to Unschool Homeschool Science
The first decision I made was to forego treating science as a group subject. I found that “child led” and “group work” really didn’t go hand in hand because group work requires agreements and compromise. While those are skills that I want my children to learn, I don’t want to use science to teach it to them.
Preschooler – Science Tag-a-long
My preschooler will participate in activities with his older brothers if appropriate and if he’s interested.
First Grader – Traditional Science Curriculum
For my first grader, I determined that unschooling really isn’t the answer. At his age, so much is new and fascinating to him that really any science topic will do. And there is foundational scientific knowledge that I’d like him to learn. So I decided to go back to notebooking with him, using Carson-Dellosa Interactive Notebooks. He gets a thrill out of putting together the notebooking pages, and we both enjoy the recommendations for furthering learning so that he can process what he’s learned in a simple, creative way. (I explain more about this in the video, so please watch it if you’re interested. 🙂 )
My first grader will likely also participate in some of his older brother’s scientific activities if appropriate and if he’s interested.
Fourth Grader – Pursuing Unschooling
I considered going the notebooking route with my fourth grader, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try unschooling with him. The main reason is that I think that this is a good opportunity to teach him how to learn in a way that will serve him for the rest of his life. I also think that this could be another step toward fully independent learning for him.
Since he’s only 9, and since this is our first time trying this, I felt that I needed to give him a bit of structure as I guide him in this learning experiment. So I created a printable to facilitate this learning process.
Any good science exploration begins with a question, and the printable reflects that idea. My son quickly chose a topic (electronics), and I encouraged him to write a couple of questions he has about that topic.
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The printable then shows him different ways to learn about that topic, and gives him ideas for each of these learning categories.
- Watch – My kids watch a lot of science-related educational programming on PBS Kids, so I had that in mind for this category. They also love the Magic School Bus and the newer version of that show, The Magic School Bus Rides Again (both on Netflix). There’s a wiki for both shows that tell you the scientific focus of each episode, which is really helpful for when you’re looking for something specific. I’ve also found helpful short videos on scientific topics on YouTube. Documentaries are also a good option, if you can find one to hold your child’s attention.
- Read – Fiction and non-fiction are possibilities here, even fun reference books targeted to children (like a children’s encyclopedia).
- Play – Games, kits, puzzles, experiments, apps, even Minecraft are possibilities here. For my son’s focus on electronics, we needed to look no further than our shelves. He knew right away that he wanted to dig into Snap Circuits again, and we have several kits that he can put together and experiment with. We also have a subscription to Minecraft Homeschool, which has courses on many topics.
- Create – My thought with this category was for my child to find a way to be creative with the things that he’s learning. So he could create a model, drawing, a Scratch program…even charts and diagrams could be fun creative outlets.
- Write – This could be as simple as having him write three sentences in his science notebook for each activity he does. For a child that loves to write, this could be report or even a story.
- Teach – I’ve been entranced by the leadership benefits for older children in a one-room schoolhouse as they help younger children to learn, so I was hoping to explore that idea in this context. Possibilities could include him creating/running an experiment for his younger siblings, giving them a short lecture about an interesting aspect of his learning, or even designing a lapbook or notebooking page for them to use.
This isn’t meant to be a strict plan. These are just ideas. For his electronics topic, I sat with my son and explored learning activities in the Watch, Read, Play, and Create categories. He wrote down the ones that interested him. We’ll revisit these ideas, adding and subtracting as we go. When he’s ready to close down this topic, I’ll encourage him to share with his brothers an aspect of what he’s learned (the Teach category).
Not a Magic Bullet
I should point out that this isn’t a magic bullet for learning. I child that is naturally more academic will eat this up. Otherwise, there might be some resistance. In our situation, my son vacillated between the excitement he feels over the freedom of choosing learning activities in his area of interest, and angst over it still being “work.” Laying out his options (“You can either choose your activities and do them with a good attitude, or Mommy can purchase a science textbook and workbook for you.”) went a long way toward getting buy-in. 😉
Implementing the Learning
Once we had some ideas in place, I needed to decide how we were going to actually implement them. Possibilities range from the very relaxed (“What science activity do you want to do today?”) to the very structured (transferring all these ideas to a lesson planner). I can see myself doing both, depending on the topic and the season of life we’re in. But for the most part, we’ll probably lay somewhere in the middle.
In our case, we’ll keep a copy of this printable in my son’s science binder. I’ll highlight any activities that are ready to go (we have the book, or the show, or the supplies) for him to choose from on a day that we’re doing science. If an activity requires a lot of help from me, or for someone else to be involved (ex. my husband, a grandparent), we’ll schedule a specific day and time for it. I think that this is a great opportunity to teach him the need to respect other people’s time (a social skill that is sometimes hard to come by!).
Keeping Track of Learning and More Questions
Besides the learning ideas page, I created forms for my son to keep track of any new questions he comes up with during his learning process (possibilities for future learning!), as well as a form for him to keep track of his learning activities. I’ll also add his activities into our online lesson planner for my records, but I like the idea of my son learning to track his own work. He’ll keep all of these forms in his science binder.
What homeschool science curriculum or approach have you loved?
So now that you’ve had a peek into how we’ve approached science this past year, and what we’re planning for the future, I’d love to hear about your family! What homeschool science curriculum or approach has your family loved and why?