New Curricula Part II

19 Jan

Here’s the other big change to our curriculum:


Of all the subjects, science is probably one of the most challenging in terms of choosing a curriculum. If you’re Christian, there are far more choices; there are many creation-based, Christian-centred programmes out there. However, if you’re not a Christian, or you are, but don’t want a curricula with an agenda, it’s slim pickin’s.

If you’re following the Charlotte Mason approach, things are pretty well laid out, too. But what if your child wants to do more than just nature study?

If you’re following the Well-Trained Mind, but want to teach scientific thinking as opposed to simply memorising facts about animals, plants, the body, the earth, space, etc, what do you do?

Well, there are a few choices out there. One of them is Pandia Press’s REAL Science. This is a secular science programme that fits in well with the Trivium. (They have great samples here)

However, I have a few concerns about this programme. One of them is that even though this is a secular programme, it is still a fact-based programme. There may be lots of ‘activities,’ but as you can see from the sample, there are notebook pages full of facts.

Now, I belong to a great Yahoo Group called Well-Trained Mind Secular. When I first joined, I was very new to homeschooling, and I began saving just about everything everyone said about curricula. I made a little Word document and organised it by subject for easy access when I need it; this far beats trolling through the archives. I had a look at the science section and scrolled down to the REAL Science portion.

To paraphrase,  some users of REAL Science feel the the ‘experiments’ are babyish, sometimes do not turn out well, are dull, and worst of all, do not reinforce learning. They’re more like science-y crafts, rather than true experiments and demonstrations.

Essentially, the lessons teach some facts and give the child some (hopefully) fun activities, and provide the child with some experience with writing  up lab sheets. But it does not foster scientific thinking, and it is not very in-depth.

I’m a firm believer of trying things before making a judgement, but even I could see from the sample that much of this was true. (Esa said it seemed boring.)

Having said that, I know there are many, many homeschoolers who love this programme, but we all have different needs, and I don’t think REAL Science would suit us.

What else is there?

To be honest, I haven’t looked at much else. I know there are a few other good programmes out there, but once I found the one I’m going to talk about, I knew my search was over.

(Ok, let me be totally honest…I looked at REAL Science after purchasing the one I’m be talking about, but after a bit of investigating, I knew I’d made the right choice and I won’t be looking at anything else, unless this programme doesn’t work for us.)

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding by Dr. Bernard J. Nebel, Ph.D is a K-2 science curriculum that is not only thorough, but teaches scientific thinking. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

So far, our science study has been largely unschooled and fact-based. Esa chooses a topic and I gather up lots of books, a colouring book, a few story books, and maybe a DVD. Yes, he’s learned a lot of facts about, say, snakes, but has he gained any methods of enquiry? Is he able to relate the facts he’s learned to other areas? Is he learning anything about the scientific method? Has this study sparked interest in something else? What investigating did he really do?

The answers are: no, probably not, no, no, and nothing. His interest just sort of fizzled out. He’s bored with it now. Yes, he has learned some interesting facts, and when he sees a snake on television or in a zoo, he may be able to name it and tell you something about it, and yes his learning has made him like snakes a more…but he’s not interested in learning anymore about them. He’s done with it. And it hasn’t led to anything else.

Ok, I know that when a child is learning about something, he does eventually reach a saturation point, but our study of snakes did nothing to foster his passion for learning. Many days he was bored with it (as was I), and it was all a bit of a chore. Not what I want for science. It’s really lacking in something and just doesn’t feel science-y

And now I know why. You cannot approach science the same way you do history. Science is about discovery, asking questions, digging, investigating, doing experiments (ones that actually answer, or bring up new, questions)…it’s about THINKING, not having bits of information fed to you for memorisation. When a child is interested, making discoveries, and drawing his own conclusions, he’ll learn the facts along the way.

Dr. Nebel has also set up a support group. In the group are some excellent files on getting started. Dr. Nebel stresses the importance of going at your child’s pace, making connections between the lessons, and applying what’s learned to everyday life. There’s also an excellent file written by Dr. Nebel on ‘Learning science versus learning facts’ which echoes my own beliefs on how children should learn science. Once I read these files, I knew I’d made the right decision.

My own copy of the book arrived and after reading the introductory material, I’m even more convinced this is the curriculum for us. I am so excited about this! Dr. Nebel shares  many of my own views about education, such as the flaws of external motivators.

Since writing the above, we have completed the first lesson which deals with organising things into categories. This is something that is already a part of our lives as I love to organise and Esa seems to have picked up this habit, so I was a little worried that he’d be bored with the lesson, but he loved it and he’s seeing categories everywhere he looks and enjoying organising his toys (even more than before). He’s really looking forward to the next lesson (solids, liquids, and gases) and so am I.

We have a winner.

It wasn’t as difficult to implement as I’d thought. Yes, I had to read through the lesson a couple of time and make a few notes, but Dr. Nebel himself says it’s often a good thing when a lesson gets muddled up because you and your child can make discoveries and sort it out together. The lessons shouldn’t be delivered flawlessly.

I’ve discovered that my more teacher-intensive resources are often the best. The pick-up-and-go resources don’t bring about the same feeling of excitement. I think a part of it may be that feeling of newness; each time you pick the book up to have a look at the next lesson, it gives that ‘just-got-a-new-book’ feeling. There’s also the fun of planning. But it’s not just that. The lessons themselves seem more enjoyable and more rewarding.


Posted by on January 19, 2010 in First Grade, Homeschool Planning, Science


2 responses to “New Curricula Part II

  1. Suji

    January 19, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Just wanted to mention that sometimes I find although the kiddo is bored and done with something, he has retained some small snippet of info that will miraculously materialize months or even years later! And thinking back, it is usually the stuff where he wanted to find out something himself, not the stuff where facts were fed to him (guilty me!).

    I enjoyed this post and it was well worth the wait!!

  2. whimsyway

    January 24, 2010 at 9:30 am

    I’ve found that with Esa, too, but the problem was that he was bored with our science studies the entire time! 🙂 Despite this, he did learn a lot, but that’s just not the approach I want. We do so much book-learning and I think for him it was just too much; we needed something more hands-on.


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