Teaching Elementary Science
To DIY science, there are an incredible number of options. Here I’ve attempted to list the main categories. If you have other ideas, please leave them in the comments!
Library books! Reading books about science topics can really spark interest and become the springboard for further study. Let’s Read and Find Out and DK Eyewitness are two of our favorite science series. For older elementary kids, Max Axiom graphic novels bring science to life.
Documentaries! These are available at libraries, on video streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and for purchase. These are available on essentially every science subject imaginable. Some of our favorites are MicroCosmos (extremely detailed bugs-eye view) and anything by NOVA.
Science shows! These run the gamut from Popular Mechanics for Kids, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Beakman’s World to Magic School Bus, MythBusters, and Wild Kratts. Again, these are available in libraries, video streaming, and for purchase.
Nature study! Walking outside regularly, making observations, collecting specimens, and drawing/writing about what the child sees provides a thorough education in itself. Catch bugs and watch their life cycles, compare drawings of the trees in all four seasons, and look up the names of local flowers in a guide book. If you want some guidance, the Handbook of Nature Study is the top resource (this book is available for purchase but it is also free online as it is in the public domain).
Science fun! Science supply stores like Home Science Tools (http://www.hometrainingtools.com/) and local hobby shops have enough hands-on science experiences to last for years! Taking apart and examining the world around them is a perfect way for your children to discover their inner scientist. Microscopes, bug catchers, dissection kits, binoculars, and magnifying glasses let children learn in unmatchable hands-on ways. There are experiment kits, anatomy models, solar-powered robots, grow-your-own crystals, rockets, bacteria culturing kits, telescopes, and more! Other fun ideas include Legos, K’nex and other building kits, Snap Circuits, even just a supply of ½” PVC pipes cut in various lengths and a lot of matching joints. See what floats and sinks, make potato batteries, or construct catapults. Don’t forget about buying old broken electronics and appliances at thrift shops and taking them apart carefully!
YouTube! Use it at your own risk, but YouTube has many DIY instructions available. On a bookshelf I have the small robot my daughter and her mentor built following YouTube instructions.
Coding! Coding is becoming more and more important in many fields. Thankfully, there are many free and low-cost coding resources for kids. Free online programs like Scratch, Hopscotch, and Tynker allow children to understand the basic ideas of coding. Simple robotic programming kits are available that function on a similar easy coding level, such as Lego WeDo. There are pay sites for more advanced coders, such as GameStar Mechanic. Www.code.org is a new site devoted to the ideal that every single child should learn basic coding. It offers free online tutorials and resources. There are also many coding apps, including Hopscotch, Lightbox, Move the Turtle, Daisy the Dinosaur, and CargoBot. For “real” coding, books such as Python for Kids abound, as well as serious coding apps.
Apps! Science-related apps for various devices are nearly endless. I could devote an entire blog post just to apps. There are also games online. Choices run from physics hidden in simple games (Cut the Rope) to overt science (Monster Physics, iLearn Solar System) to advanced scientific work (3D CellStain). There are hundreds, maybe thousands of options.
Dissection! Dissection allows students to really see and understand anatomy and botany on a higher level. Pictures in a book aren’t the same. An easy way to start is by dissecting flowers. There are many free online flower dissection guides, worksheets, and videos. This is one of the simplest examples, with photographs and explanations showing preschoolers carefully dissecting lilies. Animal dissection is a step up, but still well within the capabilities of most elementary students. A dissection tools kit will allow students to dissect multiple specimens, even the inevitable, “Mom! There are tiny squid in the deli! Can we buy them and dissect them, pleeeeeeeeeeeease?” You will need a scalpel with exchangeable blades for cleaning, scissors (preferably the sort that comes apart for sterilizing), foam trays, gloves, and T-pins at a minimum. Biologyjunction.com has many free pdf dissection guides that I find more user-friendly and helpful than the guides I purchased with the specimens. I recommend having your student read library books on whatever you plan to dissect, and then download your favorite worksheets to do the next day to cement their learning. Notebooking and writing/drawing their observations also works well. For those who do not want to participate in actual dissections, there are many virtual dissection options, from owl pellets to frogs to salmon to cow eyes to brain surgery! I was going to link them but there are far too many. Google “virtual dissection.”
Find a mentor! If your child is heavily into science, find a local scientist and let the magic happen. Friends, family members, friends of family members, workers at the local science centers and museums are all possibilities (always taking care whom you allow access to your child). As you observe their sessions, you might gain some science ideas to work on at home!
Once you have a firm grasp of the basics, you can branch out in many exciting ways. One of my favorites is the self-designed experiment:
Read extensively about one particular branch of science. Watch documentaries on it. Find one part that really piques the student’s interest. Gently guiding when necessary, have the student formulate an experiment of his or her own invention to do in that area of science. Then follow through! Make observations, repeat the experiment multiple times, play with variables, record data meticulously, and prepare graphs and a report showing the findings. Take copious pictures to record a Scientist in Action!
This is barely scratching the surface of scientific possibilities. Go forth and DISCOVER!
Faith–Faith is a highly distractable mother of four. She believes in doing what is best for each child and has experimented with various combinations of public, charter, and home schools. Her oldest child is diagnosed with Asperger’s with ADHD-Combined and anxiety, and she suspects her third child struggles with it, also. Faith is an unabashed feminist and “crunchy” mom, strongly LDS with a passion for knitting, avoiding cooking, and Harry Potter.