How To: Teach Science


I am anti-textbook.  Well, not really.  I use them throughout my children’s schooling for math, and for reading up until 6th grade.  But for most other subjects I feel you can do better without textbooks.

I started home-schooling in 1990 with my oldest child (my only daughter).  She was in first grade.  It only took me a few months to decide that textbooks were not the way to teach science…at least not before high school.

A grade school science texbook goes something like this:

  • Chapter 1: Trees
  • Chapter 2: Mammals
  • Chapter 3: Oceans
  • Chapter 4: Flowers
  • Chapter 5: Planets
  • And so on…

Get the picture?  There is no continuity, there is no context.  It makes no sense.

I very quickly dispensed with the insipid textbook method of teaching grade school science and found other ways, much better ways, to teach science to my kids.  Here are some of the resources I used:

1)    4-H:  I learned about the value of 4-H from other home-schooling parents.  For many years my primary science resource was the free workbooks that I obtained from the local 4-H office.  Offhand I don’t remember all the subjects we studied because it was a number of years ago, but I know one year we made an in-depth study of the trees that grow in our area.  Another year my oldest son studied about rocks and subsequently gave a talk/demonstration at the annual 4-H contest. In addition to using 4-H workbooks for science, our family took  advantage of many other opportunities that 4-H offers.  For instance, my daughter participated in a number of 4-H events including fashion shows (modeling clothes she had sewn herself) and dance performances (ballet dances she had choreographed herself).  In high school she helped plan the annual 4-H banquet and the summer after she graduated participated in “4-H Congress” where she performed one of her dances and participated in other activities of the week.  As you can see 4-H offers a variety of opportunities for your child to demonstrate their talents and gain knowledge.  At our annual 4-H Banquet my children were also recognized and honored for their accomplishments.  If you are looking for a low-cost way to expose your children to some valuable resources and opportunities, 4-H is certainly worth looking into.

2)     Unit studies: The year after I abandoned textbooks (for teaching science, that is) I participated in a home-school co-op.  There were a handful of moms and a dozen or so kids (ranging in ages from 6-12) and we used KONOS as our guide.  Unit studies can be an ideal resource for teaching science because of their in-depth quality and because, teaching across the subjects, you can give context to what the kids are learning. To give you an example, when we were studying the character quality “Obedience” we studied horses.  The children defined vocabulary words, read books, looked at a horse’s skeleton, went to the local youth fair and met some Percheron horses, studied various breeds, and more.  As you can see, we made a thorough study that ensured the kids would actually learn what we were studying, not just picking up a little of this and a little of that.  Moreover, it was fun.  Win/win.

I also used unit studies in other scenarios: once another home-school mom and I switched out teaching a unit study on the human body.  Other times I have simply developed my own unit studies based on something we were already studying or something I wanted to explore.

3)     DVD’s:  I don’t know about your family, but my family loves nature shows.  We don’t have cable so we only see nature shows on TV if we happen on one showing on PBS.  On the other hand there are some wonderful nature DVD’s available from publishers such as the Moody Classics.  I have also used Anatomy and Physiology DVD’s from The Teaching Company (though these are college-level courses that are only appropriate for older children – I have used them for my 16- and 17-year old sons).  DVD’s can be a good resource to supplement your unit studies as well.

The only science textbook I have used in 20 years is a General Science
text published by Apologia.  My now 17-year old son (who is dual-enrolled at the community college) used it for 9th and 10th grade.  I supplemented it with the anatomy DVD’s I mentioned above, and other resources as well.  That’s just how I roll.

Apologia does publish quality textbooks for high school students so if you want (or need) something more structured for your child’s high school science, I recommend them.  And they are loved by home-schoolers far and wide, as you may already know.

I will ask, if there is anyone out there that has an “in” with Apologia, will you do me a favor?  In their “Solutions Manual” for the General Science text they make this statement: “I understand that most homeschooling parents do not know science very well at all.  As a result, they consider it nearly impossible to teach to their children.”

Did no one at the publishing company stop and say, “Uh, hey, you just majorly insulted home-schoolers…the very people you are trying to sell to.  Not very smart.”  I really couldn’t believe they would make a statement that insulting.  I had no trouble teaching my kids science, without textbooks, for the better part of two decades.  I must have done okay since my daughter has a Master’s degree in Forensic Drug Chemistry and runs the science labs at a small college in Georgia.  Sheesh!

I don’t tolerate condescension very well, do I?

So what science resources do you use?  Be sure to let me know in the comments.

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  • I don’t know why I still don’t like science. All the other subjects that I disliked as a coerced student eventually became interesting: english, art, music…

    I guess I just like *people* things. Something about science, with its infinite decomposition, is just too dehumanizing.

    It just figures that science would be my firstborn son’s favorite subject!

    Most of our homeschool co-op classes are of the science variety – thankfully. His grandmother is a science teacher. We just check out science books for him at the library. And his relatives buy him all sorts of science kits (microscope, electronic circuits, etc.) for his birthdays and Christmas presents.

    Science, IMO, is a *content* subject. Just throw books at them and leave them to do the work alone!

    • Anonymous

      The thing about “science” is that it really is all around us and children are actually natural scientists. Think about all the why questions they ask. They don’t realize they are learning science, they don’t care, they just want to know why!

      As young as your son is you’re probably on the right track. Give him books he’s interested in. Given how much you like using the internet there’s got to be a lot of good science stuff on there too.

      For science kits, check out (or have your family members check out) Tobin’s Lab. Awesome stuff!

  • Anna-Marie

    Coming by from hip Hop Homeschooling. I do unit studies for science too. Right now we are studying space in depth and loving it. Next we are doing an Ocean unit. I also do history this way and it works for my kids.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for stopping by from the Hop! Unit studies are one of the most effective methods for teaching and are wonderful for home-school families (I have an entire post dedicated to unit studies in fact! You can find it under my “Teaching Methods” category). In a couple of weeks I will be sharing my thoughts on teaching history. I hope you’ll stay tuned!

  • Want

    You have a great story of learning, Anne. I’m also using some textbooks in learning science but I am not fully satisfied with my needs, so I tried another method by doing science research and it was an effective thing in my learning.

  • Alwat1979

    I’m also using some textbooks in learning science but I am not fully satisfied with my needs, so I tried another method by doing science research and it was an effective thing in my learning.

  • Dialt1941

    Using this kind of science resources in learning would surely give a lot of good benefits for grade school. They will be able to learn good properties in science by simply using some information to these resources. Learning in grade school with good resources is a big factor to adapt good education.