Science is not my favorite.
I am beginning to suspect that this is largely because of the ways in which I was forced to interact with it. It’s not you, science – it’s me. I never saw the story or mystery or beauty in this particular discipline. And so in my homeschooling career, I’ve rejected planned curricula and erred altogether on the side of ‘do mostly nothing.’
We tootled along happily this way until last year, when for the first time I bought an actual science curriculum. Now, I know there are lots of great programs that people love and use to great success. Since this abundance of fantastic planned science curricula exists, and we were entering upper elementary, it seemed like….shouldn’t the boys be using something?!
So I bought this thing, we did it twice or maybe thrice, no one loved it, there was too much writing, it involved a lot of gathering and pieces and effort and – the end. Science curriculum fail.
We continued with science as we always have: interest-led, natural, informal. A bookshelf full of books, a worn-out library card, free reign in the backyard, lazy nature journals, conversation, kid-initiated (and kid-run) ideas. Supplemented by any CC memory work that sticks and the weekly in-class activities.
Doing more can be fine, but not just because everyone else is doing more. Our homeschools are diverse in interest and personality, in the ways we spend our time, in the resources we gather, and in the interests that drive us and our own children.
So this next year, we’re approaching science in true Johnson-family style. We’re taking that drive for more and mixing it with history and literature, and we’re kicking interest-led learning up a notch.
ELEMENTARY SCIENCE AS MUSICAL EDUCATION
Thanks to The Liberal Arts Tradition, here are two ideas I’m connecting: the first is that the ancients believed that the fundamental purpose of education was to shape and order our loves, and that what one loved could be right or wrong. This is what drives the current classical movement as well. It’s not a new idea, but it is a foreign one in our culture.
The second idea finds form in what the authors write about musical education as understood in antiquity, which is a critical piece of this ordering-of-loves process. Musical education is part of what we do with our young children, who delight in stories and play. It’s foundational to the Trivium and everything else.
“Music…treats of what the ancients believed to be inspired by the Muses. This aspect of education includes what we now call music, but also poetry, drama, fine arts, and literature….history, geography, and even astronomy are ‘musical’ subjects as well.” (p 21)
“Musical education is soul-craft: carried out properly it tunes the soul, and makes one receptive to truth and goodness.” (p. 27)
Connection: it matters what we love. Our loves can be tuned and in turn, they tune our souls. This begins with the Muses- with delight.
In my own science education, I missed the music entirely. I don’t remember delight; I only remember procedures. I enjoyed science when it intersected with math and logic in tangible ways (balancing chemical equations, physics), but by then it had bypassed my imagination altogether.
This is not the case for everyone, I know that. Delight works in mysterious ways. If experiments make you giddy, if you have a science curriculum that you love, I can finally stand and genuinely applaud you without feeling guilty that I’m not doing the same. Progress! And if you’re a part of my own kids’ lives, I’m even more grateful for you and the ways in which you are different from me.
So. What did I buy, and why did I buy anything?
SCIENCE + HISTORY
I bought Beautiful Feet Books’ History of Science (subtitle: A Literature Approach to Scientific Principles and Their Discoverers for Intermediate Grades). This simple, lovely program is really just a guide and a stack of books (plus an audio CD) – 13 books in all. They’re an assortment of picture books, chapter books, and other sorts of non-fiction books, and they focus on the people, and thereby on the whole arc of the scientific process through human history.
From Leonardo da Vinci to George Washington Carver, Marie Curie, Isaac Newton…the list goes on and on. There are 85 lessons, and yes, some include experiments or activities. But the books are the heart of this thing.
We’ll go very slowly – this is a long game. Since we’re studying the Middle Ages this next year, we’ll only do Lessons 1-30 (through Galileo). That’s less than one lesson a week – y’all, I can handle that, and I can enjoy that.
SCIENCE + CLASSICAL UNSCHOOLING*
*can we agree this is a Thing?
I asked both of my big boys what they were interested in taking a closer look at this year. It wasn’t quite as broad a question as it sounds – I had a number of ideas ready for them. They each chose, and we set about finding resources. Here’s what we came up with.
My sixth grader wants to dig into chemistry – this works out terrifically because we’ll be doing a lot with chemistry in our CC work this year.
He’ll be reading through The Mystery of the Periodic Table and complementing it with a book we’ve had for years – The Elements by Theodore Gray. (This is a gorgeous book!) Our idea right now is that he’ll read a chapter from ‘Mystery’ one week, and then dig into a specific element that piques his interest the following week via The Elements. We have plenty of experiment books and tools on hand, so if he wants to follow up in that way, he should be able to find something that suits.
My fifth grader wants to study insects. He’s the child who is always drawing and sketching the natural world, so this didn’t surprise me. I hope what we’ve found is a good fit, because he is very excited about it. He’s going to do an insect study offered by Simply Charlotte Mason – it’s a story book (chapters, though) called Jack’s Insects. There’s an accompanying Narration & Nature Study Notebook that he’s asking for- I suspect mostly for the insect-drawing tips. I’ll probably get this piece in ebook format, because I doubt he’ll do all of it.
My second grader will not have any particular area of study – only her nature journal, what we all talk about together, and her own interests.
SCIENCE + OUR NEIGHBORHOOD
I have a simple nature study goal – to identify and learn a little about each type of tree growing in our yard. Though we can name several, we don’t know much about them beyond what we’ve observed. I’d love to tie these observations into known facts. We already have all the resources we need for this small project; we simply need to walk outside.
Once again, what I love about homeschooling so often involves the continuing paradigm shifts it pushes me through.
Those shifts and my refining philosophy of education are one reason it’s taken me much longer than usual to nail down the pieces, rhythms, and resources of our next school year. Usually I do one giant post on my plans and curricula, but this year I’m taking it piece by piece. I hope you don’t mind.
Part of why I blog at all is to know my own mind. Knowing my own mind is critical in making good decisions for my children; thank you for your indulgence in reading.
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