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Why we don’t stress the sciences in elementary school {even though we think they’re important}

Why we don't stress the sciences in elementary school {even though we think they're important}

I recently shared my thoughts on a variety of language arts curricula and what has or does work for us as well as the importance of just reading good books.

Several people asked if I’d be doing the same thing for other topics like math and science, but we really don’t have a lot of experience with different curricula in other subject areas, so I don’t have the same type of posts planned for those.

And truthfully, while I love language arts curriculum, I’m not a huge fan of formal science curriculum at the lower grade levels.

I know that’s almost sacrilege in today’s STEM-focused culture (especially as the mother of girls), but it’s not that we don’t value the sciences or want to give our girls a love for them; it’s that we think there are better ways to accomplish that than a box curriculum.

For us, that means lots and lots of living books about the sciences. We have books about the human body and outer space, about famous inventors and physics, about animals and plants and the life cycle of each.

And more than that, we consider the world our science curriculum. We observe things in nature, the pattern of the stars (and the Milky Way, which we’re lucky enough to be able to see on any given clear night), the plants that grow in our yard and in the places we visit, the habits of local animals, and so on.

When I was young, my dad and I used to play a game in the car where we’d come up with a science question (for example, “How far does the light from a flash light travel?”) and talk through it as we drove. I don’t even think we always came up with an answer, but I loved those discussions and the things I learned about the world just through conversation, and I want to create the same type of environment for my kids.

Why we don't stress the sciences in elementary school {even though we think they're important}

While I don’t think standardized tests are the be-all and end-all by any stretch, I also think it’s telling that our girls have scored almost 100% on the science portion of those tests every single year without ever cracking open a textbook.

This summer, we did end up adding two Apologia elementary programs—Chemistry for our oldest and Land Animals for our 2nd and 4th graders—because they were asking to “do more science.” They’re working through them slowly and steadily without any real rush or end goal in mind, and I love that each one includes tons of hands-on activities and experiments.

(Actually, in full disclosure, we attempted the same program once before, when they were little and before I had fully figured out how I felt about formal science curriculum, and it was just too parent-intensive for my style of homeschooling. Now, however, they work independently 99% of the time.)

In addition, the two big girls like to poke around the science topics on Khan Academy, TedEd and BrainPop. We also have several of the Planet Earth and Life DVD series plus the classic set of Magic School Bus episodes. And while we’re not getting them monthly right now, every few months someone will pull out an Groovy Lab in a Box and work through a couple science experiments as well.

I do think formal sciences are important in the later years, if only to give them a chance to discover their own talents and interests (I had no idea how much I loved chemistry until college and occasionally regret not pursuing that more), but my most important goal for now is to develop a natural and organic love for the sciences through our every day interactions with the world. And that we can do without a box curriculum.

How do you approach science in your homeschool?