Mini Science Reviews (K-6th Gr.)

Think of science planning as a three-stranded braid. One strand consists of your goals, another of your long range plan scope and sequence, and the third involves resources to accomplish the first two. Peel any strand off alone and you might miss the mark. Ignoring the first two strands, you might find yourself swayed by a glowing write-up in a curriculum catalog or the testimonial of another teaching parent. Remember, your family’s needs and goals will not be identical to someone else’s. For example, as much as I love to include plenty of hands-on experiments, I have to be realistic. The years when I had many babies and preschoolers we had to follow programs with more reading and fewer activities than in the days when I had fewer children. With my children getting older and my youngest now in Kindergarten, the amount of activities and labs we can do is one again on the upswing.

This year as I was reevaluating our science plan and determining what materials to use, I’ve considered various approaches we’ve used in the past and taken a look at a few new ones. Here are some of the approaches and programs that I considered as I put together next year’s plan.

My preferred (ideal) approach to elementary science is through unit studies. In our early years of homeschooling we used KONOS, and my kids who did KONOS science units have long-term memories of such things as building a model of the ear they could crawl through, dissecting cow’s eyeballs, and making t-shirts with the major organs of the human body appliqu├ęd on. At other times I created my own unit studies based on the interests of my children or current life events. When we first moved to our farm we spent many weeks focusing on the habitats of woods, ponds, and fields. Sometimes I’ve developed science themes that dove-tailed with our history studies such as bridges and engineering topics while studying ancient Rome. 4-H projects such as Electricity, Aeronautics, Animal Science, Geology, and Wildlife can be used to craft unit studies.

With unit studies, you can incorporate some of the excellent science books and kits that are fairly widely available. If you’re interested in this approach, check out Timberdoodle, Tobin’s Lab, Home Science Tools, or Nature’s Workshop .

Unit studies are great for families with children of many ages, but the down side is that they are time-consuming to create and to pull off. Realistically, entirely self-generated unit studies are not the best way for me to go these days.


The past many years the elementary curriculum we have relied on more than any other has been Apologia’s Elementary series written by Jeanne Fulbright. Currently there are six volumes out: Botany, Astronomy, Flying Creatures, Swimming Creatures, Land Animals, and the new Anatomy and Physiology. I’ve used all but the Anatomy text, and in general, I really like this series.

Taking a Charlotte Mason approach, the Apologia books provide for regular narration. Online you can find some extensive and lovely notebook pages to go along with each text, which children can use to take notes, draw pictures, record experiments and more. (Now you can also purchase sets of the notebook pages.) If you add stickers and other fun embellishments, your children will end up with a very nice keepsake for each course. Some of the labs are a bit lame, and there is usually one main lab for each chapter, or about 16 per book. You may wish to supplement with more labs from a related experiment book or science project kit.

Mrs. Fulbright has continued to grow as a writer and the later books (those after botany and astronomy) have more depth and are written with a fewer, “Gee whiz, this is so amazing!” comments. (Of course creation is indeed absolutely astounding! But often, showing this and allowing the reader to spontaneously respond results in more genuine awe and worship than by providing the response for the reader.)

For the topics covered, these books are the best one volume texts I’ve seen for elementary children. They are easy to use, require little preparation, and do a good job explaining science concepts to children without sacrificing accuracy. They are God honoring and allow you to dig deeply into one area for a full year (or one semester if you want to pick up the pace. Several years I’ve covered two of the texts.) At present all the titles loosely fit into “nature studies.” (All but astronomy are life sciences.) I imagine Mrs. Fulbright will continue to add titles to this series, though I don’t know if she will delve into any engineering, physics, or chemistry topics.

TOPS Learning Systems:

 Designed originally to be used by Peace Corp volunteers in Africa who had very little access to science materials, the TOPS science books use very simple objects to do some pretty cool labs. For example, one of my favorites, Electricity, uses flashlight bulbs, batteries, foil (to make wires), clothespins, paper clips, and a few other such things to teach about series and parallel circuits, conductors and insulators, resistance, and other topics. These are NOT complete curricula, but combined with a good “spine” text, you can make a solid program. Do check out the suggested ages for each book, which seem fairly accurate, though you can sometimes push the lower limit when you are working closely with your child.

R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey 

(Read, Explore, Absorb, and Learn)
This program uses a story-like format to introduce a topic, and then the students do 1-4 related lab activities. All the teacher’s pages, student pages and lab sheets are included in the one volume. It looks like serious science presented in an age-appropriate manner. Currently there are three volumes available: Life Science (Gr. 1-4), Earth Science (Gr. 1-4) and Chemistry (Gr. 2-5). If used 2-3 times/week, it will take a year to cover one course.

I’m planning to use the Earth Science text during next spring with my youngest boys. One aspect of this program that particularly appealed to me about this program is balance between reading and doing. While the course is complete as written, you are given lists of additional books and websites to use as time allows. And I really like that the lab activities are integral to the instruction, not an after-thought. As the introduction to the Earth Science text states, “This is a minds-on and hands-on program. If you hate to touch dirt, wouldn’t think about letting your child stay out late to look at stars, and have no intention of getting gooey and dirty, RUN NOW!”

This is not a Christian publisher, but there are not supposed to be any references to evolution in any of the level one books, which are the only ones out so far.

Here are a couple of other programs that I ran across this spring which look like they might have potential:

- NOEO Homeschool Curriculum: This program is pricey due to the number of excellent books each course uses to cover content. The weak link in this one (besides the hefty price tag) is the labs which consist of simple kits made of basically household objects. If you enjoy a literature-based approach to science and are willing to substitute with your own labs, this one might be a program to consider. I gave this one strong consideration, but decided not to go with it this year because I would have to come up with alternate experiments. Courses currently available: Biology, Chemistry, and Physics courses for Level I (Gr. 1-3) and Level II (Gr. 4-6), plus Chemistry III.

- Mr. Q’s Classic Science: Mr. Q is a Kansas City public school teacher who has a heart to serve homeschoolers. He’s created several courses which are available online as e-books. He has one for Life Science, Chemistry, Biology, and Physics, all aimed at children from age 7-12. Each course has 36 weekly units. The Life Science text can be downloaded for free(!), and the others cost $50 each. Mr. Q provides samples from each book, so you can definitely see if this format appeals to you or not before you invest. (Better yet, if it looks interesting, give the free biology course a run first.)

I’ve used a number of other programs, some fairly well-known and others obscure. Some were excellent (such as Elements: Ingredients of the Universe ) while others were less than satisfactory (like the Christian Kids Explore… Biology/Chemistry, etc. Series.) But I’ve definitely used up enough space on this topic, so if you have further questions, just ask!


Lauren said…
Wow, Anne. You are filled with a wealth of information. Brandon and I are still weighing Public vs. Private vs. Homeschooling for Noah, but when I read your posts they are encouraging and overwhelming. Science, Math, and Bible are what scare me the most about teaching at home. I know I could handle reading and writing, but I feel like I would be a poor teacher of the other aforementioned subjects.
I also wonder where you get the energy to care for the little kids and school the older ones. After 3 hours of playing and taking care of Noah, I need a nap.
I'm glad I know you and others like you that I can ask questions and such. I just hope I get less apprehensive about homeschooling if that is what God is calling us to do for Noah :)
Anne said…
Dear Lauren,
Don't be overwhelmed! God has given sweet Noah to you and Brandon, and He will lead you each step of the way as you raise him. (Not that this stops us from feeling inadequate though! I'm there just about every day!)

Each type of schooling has its pluses and minuses. Happily, you have several years to consider, pray, and investigate schooling options. If you do end up homeschooling, there are excellent materials which can go a long way in helping you teach your children. One of the perks of hs-ing is that you get to learn so much along with your kids. And then, often times it is helpful to pull in some outside teaching, whether from a co-op, a tutor, or an online class. I farm out English classes from junior high onwards!

As for teaching Bible, you'll want to do that no matter what type of school Noah ends up attending. Again - there are some excellent materials out there. I just started pulling together a list of such books to use along with a class we're planning for women next year at CGS. Maybe later this summer I'll post a review of some of the best resources for teaching the Bible and theology to little ones.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Anne! Our coop is teaching two astronomy courses (15 weeks each) to 1-2 grade boys and 4-5 grade girls. (The gender-splitting was just an accident of enrollment). I was planning to use Apologia as the basis for the girls class but I'm looking for some good hands-on stuff for the younger boys. Any other books you can point me towards would be great!

Take care,

Lydia Carter
Anne said…
You might want to consider *Cosmic Science* by Jim Wiese. It has a good collection of activities which demonstrate astronomy principles. Our copy has been around a while, but it looks like this book is still in print, and you can buy it from Amazon Marketplace basically for the price of shipping.

Little boys would also really enjoy building and launching model rockets. You can usually find kits at hobby or craft shops.

Finally, if you have access to a local 4-H program, you might want to take a look at the aerospace project manuals. My boys do rockets with 4-H, and we've found the manuals have some very good activities. Here's a link to the books from IN's 4-H store, just for info.:
PragmaticMom said…
I wanted to share a list of good yet easy Middle School Science projects at

Pragmatic Mom
Type A Parenting for the Modern World
I blog on education, parenting and children's literature
Anne said…
Pragmatic Mom -

Thanks for sharing the ideas for Middle School Science projects! That is the age group that most lacks excellent science materials, in my experience.
Anonymous said…
Have you looked at God's Design for Science by Answers in Genesis? Any thoughts for or against?
Anne said…
The only book in the God's Design for Science that I have used is *Our Planet Earth,* part of the *God's Design for Heaven and Earth set.

It's been a number of years since we used this book, so my memory is not terribly strong about the pros and cons. From what I can remember, it was an easy to pull off the shelf and use book, the content was decent though somewhat light, and the hands-on activities were middling. However, my book was the first edition (2003), and from what I have seen from the AIG samples, the curriculum has been beefed up in subsequent editions. So, it does look like one worth looking into.

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