Can You Teach Science Without Textbooks?


As I tackle this question I would like to first point out that two of my grown children are “scientists.”  My daughter has a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in the sciences (her Master’s degree is in Forensic Drug Chemistry) and my middle son is a Computer Engineering major.

And over the course of my 23 years of homeschooling I believe I used science textbooks for a total of 3 years.

Like many homeschoolers starting out I thought that I needed to use textbooks for every subject, including science.  So when I began homeschooling my daughter in first grade, I used a science textbook.

To quote Babs from the movie Chicken Run, who has a near-death encounter and sees her life flash before her eyes: “it was really boring.”

Besides the fact that this science text was boring, I found that there was no cohesiveness to it.  For instance, there would be a chapter on trees, then a chapter on the planets, then a chapter on reptiles, then a chapter on flowers…and so on.

There was no connection between the topics, and this seemed to me a very impractical way to teach science since it was unlikely that my daughter would remember much due to the lack of connections.

And I would point out that the text I was using was from one of the top curriculum publishers used by private Christian schools (and homeschoolers).

So if I haven’t used science textbooks, what have I used that has, clearly, been effective enough to already have produced two scientists out of my four kids?

Over the last 23 years I’ve used a variety of resources to teach my kids science.  Here are some examples:

4-H CurriculumFor several years I used curriculum available from the 4-H county extension office.  At the time these workbooks were free.  We didn’t have to go to any meetings or be involved in a 4-H club, though my daughter did end up getting involved with our local 4-H chapter as she got older.

Now you can get 4-H workbooks online, and in my opinion these workbooks are very affordable.  There are several other benefits to using these workbooks.  For instance, you can use them with more than one grade level, and they focus on one subject so your child gets an in-depth education on whatever topic you are studying.  You could even use these workbooks in conjunction with other resources to develop a solid unit study program that you and your child can enjoy.

Science DVD’s – There’s a reason that public television nature programs are so popular.  It’s a part of our make-up, I think, for us to be curious about the natural world.  And when that is combined with good cinematography it makes these programs hard to resist.

I’ve used many nature DVD’s (or, not so long ago, VHS tapes) as part of our science curriculum.  They can be a wonderful supplement or even serve as the core of your science program.

I’ve no doubt you can find many good nature videos through your public library.  Or you may wish to purchase a video course, as I did this year for my sixth grader.  We’re using “Biology 101: Biology According to the Days of Creation” for our science curriculum and we’re enjoying it immensely.  I will point out that this is a decidedly Christian program with a creationist perspective, which for my family works just fine.  I’ve learned quite a bit myself from watching this series.  Though this is considered a high school level program, from the research I’ve done it seems that families have been able to use this with children of a considerable age range.  An added feature is that it comes with a 114-page guidebook, should you want to delve even deeper into the subject matter.

As with the 4-H courses, DVD’s can serve as a supplement to your science curriculum or as the core – it’s up to you!

Unit StudiesOf all the different ways that I’ve taught science, I’d have to say unit studies were the mainstay for us.  As I discuss in my post on this teaching method, I love how unit studies allow you to teach a variety of subjects at once, to a variety of ages.

When we’ve used unit studies as our science “curriculum” I’ve also been able to introduce vocabulary, history, literature and other subjects as well.  When I was teaching two or three kids at a time it was a great way for us to be able to interact with these subjects together.  It made for some wonderful, lasting memories.

If you’ve never tried unit studies, I highly recommend you give it a go.  There are a variety of prepared unit studies that you can purchase online and/or you can use the suggestions I’ve offered above.  Also consider the possibility of getting together with a few families and doing a unit study co-op.

Finally, as you can see from this brief overview, there are many ways to teach science without textbooks.  I’ve just touched on a few.  Not to be too cliché, but maybe it’s time to “think outside the box” when it comes to teaching science.  I think you’ll be glad you did!