Science, Uncategorized

Textbooks in Moderation


First, I’m a fan of Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU) by Dr. Nobel. It’s entirely hands-on, written to the parent. It meets and/or exceeds California state standards for science education, as well as the science standards drafted by the National Research Council, (the staff arm of the National Academy of Sciences), the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science–the Next Generation Science Standards. In my opinion, no other science program I have reviewed has such depth of inquiry in the early grades. Finally, BFSU is integrated science, which is essential for building practical skills in science–working scientists don’t tend to silo themselves in their disciplines.

However, BFSU is not open-and-go for educators. Some of the factors that contribute to its quality as a science program — the lack of a textbook, the depth of inquiry, the hands-on nature of the program — also create difficulties for day-to-day implementation. It’s written in dense text that can be difficult to parse with a busy classroom or screaming toddler in the background. Also, the highly verbal nature of the program can make it difficult for some students to cement understanding or skills. Further, it lacks some of the rich background content that classical education (and some traditional science textbooks) bring to science education. BFSU attempts to make up some of those lacks with a recommended reading list and some written assignments, but they produce little or no historical illumination.

To address these concerns, I have created a custom unit-based science program for my elder daughter that blends BFSU, Prentice Hall’s Science Explorer textbooks, and the book list from Beautiful Feet’s History of Science program.

The first week consists of reading, section questions, and narration from Prentice Hall’s Science Explorer textbooks, as well as a lab from the accompanying lab manuals–all centered around the BFSU chapter concept. This week helps cement the science concept and hands-on skills.

The second week consists of reading and narration from a middle grades biography of a historical figure central to the idea (when possible, and when not, a key historical figure or concept in the history of science), as well as filling in a science historical timeline. This week brings in the richness of classical education.

The third week consists of the discussion questions and lab with accompanying student-written lab report from the BFSU chapter. This week uses the understanding and background from the prior two weeks to dig deep into the BFSU chapter concept.

This science blend is an ambitious project. To make the project more manageable, I created a spreadsheet that listed all the BFSU chapters and sections in the order I want to use them and then listed the concepts addressed in those pages. Next, I listed relevant pages from the Science Explorer textbooks and the page numbers of the relevant labs in the lab manuals. Then, I listed the relevant page numbers in the Beautiful Feet History of Science pamphlet. Finally, I listed the books I want to use from the Beautiful Feet Booklist, the BFSU recommended reading, and others I’ve researched for supplementing the list. This overarching view helps me stay organized.

I’m using the spreadsheet as a guide. To make using the BFSU chapter easier, I also write lesson plans that pull out the key questions from the BFSU chapter, list lab materials, and dictate the lab report contents. The lesson plans are time-consuming because the BFSU text is so densely written, without any notation of key questions or manual lab items. I realize that Dr. Nobel wishes to make it as flexible as possible for educators, but that same flexibility and density are intimidating to the casual user. These lesson plans help me outsource some of the daily instruction time, which is critical to me. I did ask Dr. Nobel for permission to sell the lesson plans I write, but he refused, saying that he had already made an agreement with someone else. As of now, the lesson plans are apparently not published, so I continue with that work.

Finally, I’m creating a daily guide as I go, listing books and page numbers. The guide is a Word document, like the lesson plans. This work helps me keep track of what we’ve done, as well as where we need to go. Flipping back and forth between the three Prentice Hall textbooks and their accompanying lab manuals, the trade books and biographies, and the BFSU lesson plans can be confusing. As a result, the daily schedule is the document I refer to most often. It’s laid out in calendar format, in three-week chunks — again, based around the BFSU chapter concept.


One of the joys of homeschooling is the ability to be flexible. Blending three different styles of sources of information (while using one as a spine) is more flexible than the do-the-next-textbook-page science that is unfortunately so common. We can compress a week if the reading is short or she finds the book so attractive she can’t put it down, skip a lab if we’ve done it before, or watch a video for a supplemental background. But I can do any or all of those things knowing that the overarching goals of knowledge, skills, and competencies are being met.


Courtney– Courtney is a relatively recent, accidental homeschooler of the secular, classical persuasion. Courtney has been teaching online (mostly community college algebra) since 2000, while working towards a ridiculous number of college credits for teaching certifications in general science, social studies, and visual impairments. Along the way, she’s done substitute teaching, face-to-face college adjuncting, technical writing, web design, public relations, data analysis, teaching in a public school, homeschool portfolio evaluations, providing vision education services for Birth To Three, and a whole host of “other duties as assigned.” In her spare time she enjoys reading, photography, cooking, sewing clothes, and other various domestic arts. She lives in the middle of the Appalachian mountains on the east coast of the USA with her husband, her two children, and her mother. Her family’s menagerie currently consists of a dog, assorted lizards, assorted cichlid fish, and assorted cats.


Elementary Astronomy My Way, by Cheryl

My plan last year was to spend a semester on Astronomy and a semester on Biology. I planned so well that we had way too much to finish in one year. So we did Astronomy only, and we loved it!

My kids were 6 (first grade) and 8 (fourth grade) when we started. Our main text was Real Science for Kids Elementary Astronomy. We added several books from home and a few we picked up at the library. We also did a lapbook I found on


Our extra books included The Kingfisher Encyclopedia of Questions and Answers 1: Earth and Space Science, The Usborne Science Encyclopedia and Janice VanCleave’s Solar System science experiments,

The lapbook is Knowledge Box’s Astronomy Basics Lapbook, which I downloaded as a PDF from Currclick. It had some basic information, but we used it as a fun review after studying a topic.

We started each new topic with the text book and the lab activity, which took our two science days that week. The next week, we read from Usborne one day and Kingfisher another. The last week, we read any other books I had and did the lapbook section.

We usually covered the same information 3-4 times this way, but each book added something a little different. Plus, repeated exposure leads to better recall.

When it was time for the Super Blood Moon Eclipse in September of this year, the kids recalled the information we’d learned, and we expanded that knowledge with topics we had not covered including apogee and perigee. I loved seeing how excited the kids were about the eclipse and everything they knew about it! It led to even greater excitement about studying it in-depth. That’s what we want, right? Feed them enough information on a topic that they get more interested and want to learn more.

After the reading, labs, and lapbook we did a few other fun things. We have an inexpensive telescope that we pulled outside multiple times. We were not very successful at using it, but we did find craters on the moon one night!

The science museum was a huge aid in our studies as well. Our planetarium has some great programming, and the space exploration section is still a favorite of my kids.

I know my kids have a solid base on which to build their astronomy knowledge, so I’m eager to move into more advanced topics the next time we hit astronomy in the science cycle. It was thorough, easy, and most importantly – FUN!

Bonus: We watched some episodes of our favorite space and time traveling Doctor. (Okay, maybe it isn’t REAL astronomy, but it makes astronomy even more exciting!)




Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.


Guest Post: On Not Teaching High School Science, by MacBeth

I have often made the claim–or perhaps it is a confession–that I do not teach, but I do facilitate. This is not precisely the case now, as in my “retirement” from homeschool, I do “teach” classes for other homeschooled students. But my goal is to mentor more than teach, and I hope that’s how it actually turns out. I truly hope to inspire a love for science in my students through encouragement and observation as we examine the world around us through scientific eyes. School as leisure is the key, just as it was in the elementary years.

Lately, I have been asked by a few folks to outline an approach to high school science using living books, and I am glad to have a few moments to do so now. I’d like to begin with some real honesty: A living books education for a student of science is more difficult to throw together than a textbook education. But don’t panic. The difficulty sits squarely on the shoulders of the student, and rightly so. By high school, the student should have a good idea of his strengths and weaknesses, of his learning style, of what appeals to him, and of his particular areas of interest. He need not love science in order to complete his coursework, but he ought to love the books he chooses and the aspects of scientific topics he pursues. In the end, a living books science education will provide the student with a depth of understanding that a high school textbook education cannot approach.

Let us suppose your high school student wants to study biology. Biological sciences are broad and deep, but for the high school student, most of biology is a list of definitions. In anatomy, for instance, we identify body parts. In botany, we identify plants and their features. In behavior, we categorize actions. In genetics, perhaps, we must consider statistics but only on a basic level (for high school); we are still simply defining the agents of inheritance. But definitions are best learned in context, and living books are the context. Written by one author who loves his subject, living books are the author’s way of sharing the love.

So to begin, head to the local library. There on the biology (or chemistry, or physics, or geology…) shelves your student will find books written at every level on each particular subject. Browse the books, starting with the most basic (do not be embarrassed to check out books from the children’s section), and bring home a stack. It does not hurt to look at the table of contents of a biology text if you don’t want to miss any particular topic. And I do recommend the Self-Teaching Guides for an overview of a subject (Astronomy, for example). If you have a student who is preparing for SAT subject tests, a prep book is not a bad idea. Such study guides will not convey the love of science as a living book will, but they are useful to ensure that test topics are covered.

Back at home, take note of the topics which most interest you, and head back to the library with those topics in mind. Examine a few more complex texts and delve deeply into them. If the author goes too fast, find another book or take it slowly. If you need more illustrations, look for a book that suits you (oversized books may be on a different shelf). Periodicals and professional publications may be available at a local college or university. Find out how to gain access to these or subscribe yourself. Sometimes students get discounts on subscriptions; it does not hurt to ask.

The student might take notes, but one of the great features of a living book is readability. A fast reader with good comprehension skills will enjoy a living science book as he enjoys a good novel. One hardly takes notes when reading for pleasure. After reading, a homeschooler, pacing himself, has time to go back and reread a part or take notes on a section that is more difficult or complex. The student of biology might need to make vocabulary lists. The student of physics will need to keep track of formulae. In those cases, the student should read closely and take good notes. The style of note-taking will depend on the student, but systems such as Cornell Notes or SQ3R Notes are helpful for some students.

But what about labs? Laboratory demonstrations are great for hands-on experience with equipment and will give a student an opportunity to write a lab report in a formal way. For the most part, a high school student is not experimenting to make a new discovery but rather repeating tried and true procedures in order to make a concept clear and, for the sake (especially in chemistry) of learning, how to handle the equipment. In theory, a student may successfully watch virtual labs online while trying only a few demonstrations at home. The student who is very interested in a particular topic may desire the hands-on experience that labs provide. For that student I suggest living books again. A student with an interest in anatomy might want to do a cat dissection. (Cats for dissection–I know this is sad–may be purchased from companies which acquire euthanized cats from shelters.) A student of chemistry may want to set up some sophisticated equipment in a garage and try his hand—with care–at distillation or synthesis. A student of physics may wish to learn how to grind lenses and experiment with optics. I am a firm believer in hands-on science with good equipment, and there are books available for these projects. A student who saves his own money for such purchases is learning another lesson as well.

In this age of YouTube and social media, students can and should take advantage of the brains of others. College lectures through open university courses, simple how-to videos posted by enthusiastic amateurs, and everything in between are available on the internet. Your student of physics can fix your car. Your student of biology can learn bird calls. Your student of chemistry can learn how NOT to perform certain hazardous experiments. Astronomers can learn star lore, follow NASA spacecraft, and calendar celestial events. Geology students can get an app that will alert them to earthquakes as they happen. Never before has so much scientific raw data been available to students in real time. And it’s free!

Despite the ubiquity of video presentations from around the world, don’t forget the real live field trips. Go to a mine and break rocks. Go to a dark field and look at stars. Go to the sea or a pond with a net and find critters. Go to a laser light show. Visit museums and attend university lectures intended for the public. Purchase and use a good microscope.Your enthusiastic student will be welcomed by amateur and professional societies. Mineral clubs, birding clubs, astronomy clubs, ham radio clubs, etc. are always pleased to greet young people who share their passion. And unlike video resources which engage sight and hearing, a live experience engages all five senses. Smell the sea! Smell the barn! Feel the wet grass! Taste the wild edibles!

Which leads me to my last point. Talk to strangers. For instance, if you are hiking by a pond and a scientist is tagging fish, politely engage him in conversation. (Birders will expect you to be very quiet as they observe but will be willing to point out a rare sighting if your student conducts himself appropriately.) Over the years we have met some fascinating people with interests in a wide variety of topics. Real scientists working in the field are always an inspiration.

I have, in the past, provided living book lists—suggestions, really—for high school students. It is the nature of science that new books based on new discoveries and new perspectives are being published all the time. Please look to the lists, but don’t feel limited by them. Some can be found on the sidebar at MacBeth’s Opinion and on the very old and outdated site (some links might not work)

A living books education is not just for those interested in humanities. A motivated student of science will enjoy the challenge of a living books education. A reluctant student of science may enjoy the engaging style of a passionate science writer. Either way, the living books approach will open the eyes of the student and inspire a new way of looking at science.

(Two days later, Macbeth was having a conversation about this post on her facebook wall, and she offered some more advice we wanted to pass on.)

“No tests. No quizzes. Conversation, always. If there were labs involved, we sometimes did them together. If anyone had a problem understanding, he would look for another resource, or ask for help. New and exciting concepts were frequently shared at the dinner table. If we visited a lab, I expected to hear (and did hear) good questions about the research. If we visited a mine, concepts and vocabulary were reinforced. And grades on transcripts are arbitrary things at best…I suspect this aspect of unschooling makes folks uncomfortable, but it worked well for us.”

MacBeth Derham is a biologist, and veteran homeschooling mom with four outstanding college graduates of her own. She taught natural history for 25 years and now mentors for Aquinas Learning.


A Day at the Museum (and More if I Convince You Properly), by Jen N.

When I heard Science Week at Sandbox I thought: field trips. I resisted the urge to add an evil laugh. Those of us following any set curriculum including day to day plans that we’ve purchased or created ourselves may find that a field trip becomes the enemy. Especially at the beginning of the year. Those plans are new, and my impulse is to reject anything that comes between me and my plans. In the dead of winter or the first warm days of spring, it may be a different matter. By then life has already intervened. There have been sick days, days of running errands for family, days when you babysit to help a friend. But at the beginning of the year, plans are almost sacred.

I’m here today while you are still planning and scheduling to encourage you to plan days at the museum now. It is not an intrusion if it is part of your curriculum. I think the term “field trip” has become a sort of euphemism for a day off from learning. I know that my children learn as much or more when we are in the field than on the days where we are home with our books. This year I am going back to a set curriculum,  and as I sat with the plans and my calendar I too fought the impulse to leave each day intact. I really want Monday to be on Monday. Throwing the entire week off-kilter on the first day seems counterproductive to keeping on track.

There are two ways to get around this feeling. I’m giving you permission from the high council of homeschoolers here at Sandbox to Socrates to adopt either method.

The first is easiest. Just decide that the schedule and plans are not going to be the boss of you. If you want to take your kids to the museum regularly and then do it. Be comfortable with doing Tuesday’s work on Wednesday thereby throwing off the pre-printed schedule. Don’t worry about fitting it in with anything that you are reading or studying. Those connections will come later as you get to those subjects. Did you study the ancients last year? Or not for two more years? It doesn’t matter. Some part of the mummy exhibit will stick with the kids. We were at the Field Museum recently and thoroughly enjoyed their Mammoth and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age.  We studied the Ice Age during our study of the ancients two years ago. It turned out to be the highlight of our day. We actually went there to check out the insects on display.

When you encounter something you studied awhile ago, you’ll get a “Oh, yeah that guy- we read about him.”  If you haven’t studied that subject yet, you’ll have to wait to hear,”We saw that at the museum, I remember that.” As Susan Wise Bauer says,” Your goal is to supply mental pegs on which later information can be hung.”

The second way takes a bit more planning. If you are a planning junkie,  you probably won’t need my step by step directions either – but humor me. I’m actually sitting down this morning hoping to do this myself. I’ve got my plans out, and I’m reading through them and the texts to see if any obvious connections between museum exhibits and subject matter jump out. Then I look at the websites of all the museums that we could possibly get to and take a look at both the permanent and temporary exhibits.

My point is simply this: Don’t let the schedule rule the year. Any kind of home education takes so much dedication. You are already a hero for taking it on. The memories that my graduates talk about are all field trip-related and since I am down to two students, I am trying to keep that in mind. The one thing I can’t help you with?






Jen N. Jen has spent her time homeschooling her five children since 2001. She has read over 5,000 books aloud. A fan of all things geeky, she calls her children her horcruxes — each one has a talent for something she might have pursued herself. Jen and her husband have created a family of quirky, creative people that they are thrilled to launch out into the world. With the three oldest graduated, Jen now has time on her hands and has started a blog:


Excited About Earth Science, by Lynne

Last year I wrote a post about our grammar stage earth science which was really fun for all of us.

This year, we are going to be doing logic stage earth science. Actually, I should say THEY are going to be doing logic stage earth science this year. Unbeknownst to my children as of yet, I am going to have very little to do with teaching science this year. They will be doing most of the learning themselves. In fact, I have not purchased or borrowed any materials whatsoever for earth science this year. (I feel positively un-schooly about this!)

We happen to have a membership to a decent natural history museum. I’ve decided to take advantage of this membership and let the museum be the cornerstone of our science curriculum this year. Here is my plan:

Before we begin, I’m going to purchase notebooks in which they can draw and write Perhaps something like this or this. I will take them shopping or let them browse online to pick a notebook they will enjoy using.

Once we’ve started our new school year, I’m going to have them look at some websites, such as to learn what Earth Science is. Then I will have them pick a particular field in Earth Science to study first. So, let’s say Boy #1 chooses meteorology. I am going to assign him several tasks relating to the meteorology exhibits at the museum. First, he will have to list all of the meteorology exhibits he can find. Next, he will have to choose one particular exhibit and write a summary of what he has learned from that exhibit, including a drawing, graph, diagram, or some other type of illustration that demonstrates that he understood the exhibit. I will then discuss with him what he has written and drawn and assign him the task of doing more research on that topic using library books, websites, or materials we already have at home. I may assign the topic. For example, I may decide that I want him to learn more about the causes of hurricanes. Or, I may let him decide what aspect of meteorology has sparked his interest enough for further study. I will ask him to include the new information he has gathered in his notebook. We will discuss the topic again, comparing what he originally learned at the museum to the new information he has gathered.

Once I’m satisfied that he has thoroughly ingested this one topic, we will return to the museum where we’ll start the process over again with a new exhibit. I figure we will probably end up at the museum once every two weeks or so, with lots of reading in between. I’m looking forward to seeing their completed earth science notebooks this time next year.


Life is Science-y, by Faith

In our house, we love science. My father is an engineer. My husband’s father was an electrician. Both of us spent a lot of time outdoors seeing science and nature up close and personal. Insatiable curiosity is in the blood. So in our homeschool, I teach a lot of science.

We’ve used Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (my favorite elementary science for hardcore science fans), Sassafras Science, Singapore science, TOPS science, and more. But most of our science happens outside science hour.

You don’t need “science time.”

Life is science-y.

We go outside and explore. We do nature study, carefully observing what we see and questioning why it is that way. We draw or paint or collect samples of our observations. I send kids up trees with binoculars and a bird guide. We notebook. My daughter took apart a huge (previously sprayed/killed) wasp nest. I brought out a science notebook and some colored pencils so she could draw and note the different stages of wasp she found in the nest. We take glasses of water, put food coloring in each, and run a paper towel strip to a class of clear water and wait. When someone gets a bloody nose, a bit of the blood is smeared on a slide and examined under a microscope. We check out most of the nonfiction section at the library on our current subject. We watch Bill Nye, Beakman’s World, Magic School Bus, and all the documentaries Netflix and Amazon Prime have to offer.


But that’s not our main science time either. Life is science-y. Mostly, we talk. We observe. We talk. We question. We talk. We answer. We talk.

We talk about the difference between the tasty purslane and the poisonous woody spurge when we spot some in the church lawn. We talk about chlorophyll when the leaves change color. We discuss condensation and evaporation when water builds up on a soda can. We talk about blood pressure when someone gets dizzy when standing suddenly. We talk about the logical flaws in zombies when a child is scared at bedtime. We talk about four-chambered digestion and the number of hours a horse spends eating when we pull up a handful of grass while resting under a tree. We talk about insects burrowing and bark shedding when we notice a wiggly tunnel on a dead branch. We talk about colors blending when we paint. We talk about how only the water molecules evaporate and then other molecules remain and leave a sticky residue when we spill milk. We talk about the foibles of genetics and methods of adaptation when the children notice someone with unusual characteristics, as children do. We talk about the evolution of cultural standards when they want to know why they can’t run around naked at the park.

We talk.

It doesn’t need to be complicated or advanced.

For example, this very morning my preschooler cut a large piece of construction paper to serve as an ocean. The wavy edge was much more zigzag and sharp, so naturally it turned into a dinosaur as he cut, and roared, chomping at me. After laughing and roaring along, I asked if those sharp pointy teeth would eat plants or animals. “You mean meat?” he asked. We’ve talked about this before, evidently. “It eats meat!” Then he finished the cut and glued it to the page.

That’s all it entails. Just take the opportunities that present themselves, and explain the why, the how, the when. You’ll be surprised how much they remember from these seemingly casual conversations. When science is applied in real life, it sticks.

Now, all this science talk may have unintended consequences. Your kids may start to talk about science all the time. Your daughter might create a detailed puberty-changes coloring sheet and be offended when you won’t let her sell it at the yard sale. Your son may insist on food coloring in everything after exposure to the first experiment. Loud conversations about when body odor begins in girls versus boys may punctuate the Doctor Who playtime when friends visit. When your children learn life is science-y, the science may never stop.

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 children struggle with autism, severe ADHD, anxiety, and more, but are blessed with an overabundance of creativity and other talents. Faith is an unabashed feminist and “crunchy” mom, strongly LDS with a passion for knitting, avoiding cooking, and Harry Potter.

Biomes, Science

World Biomes #10: Chaparral and Caves, by Cheryl

Photo: Lilly on a river boat ride through the karst landscape around the Meramec Caverns last summer.

If you have been following our study all year, you may notice that these two biomes are not on my original list. These are our Bonus Biomes! My method for selecting books has been to go to the library section on habitats and pick out a few books on each biome. In doing this, I noticed books on biomes and habitats not listed on my wall map! I have covered most of them in conjunction with our other biomes because they were usually just different names (Taiga and Boreal Forest) or subcategories of a bigger biome type (Wetlands: bogs, swamps, lakes, etc). Chaparral and caves, however, were not covered by any other biome we looked at.

I combined these two, not because they are related, but because I only found a book or two on each. We also looked around on the internet, mainly for pictures of the chaparral regions as we had made a visit to the karst region in Missouri and explored the Meramec Caverns ourselves last summer. The books we found were:

Chaparrals by Michael de Medeiros included a map of the world’s chaparral regions and a general description of the type of habitat.

What’s in a Cave? by Tracy Nelson Maurer has great pictures and information on a few animals living in cave habitats.

Caves by Erinn Banting goes into a little more detail on the habitat and includes maps marking some of the world’s more famous cave systems.

The Science of Life: Ecosystems by Jenny Fretland VanVoorst was a new selection on the shelves when we were at the library picking up our final books for this study. I picked it up as a review of everything we have studied. It is a nice way to close out our year of biomes.

Chaparral: A region found between 30 and 40 degrees latitude in the northern and southern hemispheres. Also called a “scrub land” it is covered in dense shrubs. It is hot and dry in the summer months. It is usually found on the western side of a continent with warm air off of the ocean. 


Cactus wrens, california quail, bezoar goats, gray foxes, coyotes, California newt, stink beetle, rattlesnakes, and butterflies are some of the many creatures that can be found around the world in chaparral regions.


Various shrubs, cactus, and herbs grow in these regions.


There are a few different kinds of chaparral: maquis, garigue, coastal scrub, mixed, and montane.

Fun Fact:

The chaparral regions are prone to large fires nearly every 40 years due to the hot and dry conditions.

Caves: There are several types of caves that are home to many amazing creatures. Most of the world’s caves are found in karst regions – areas where the landforms are mostly limestone. 

Lilly on a river boat ride through the karst landscape around the Meramec Caverns last summer.


Many interesting animals make their homes in caves: raccoons, bats, barn owls, vultures, box turtles, salamanders, blind cave fish, bears, mountain lions, cave crickets, and glow worms.



Caves are home to very few plants and only in the first zones. You can find moss, fungi, and lichens in the entrances to caves.


Karst, limestone, sea caves, lava tubes, sandstone, limestone, glacier, speleology, spelunking, stalactites, and stalagmites are important terms to know when looking at caves.

Fun Facts:

Caves have 3 zones: entrance zone, twilight zone, and dark zone.

Caves are not always cold! They can gain heat when wind blows warm air through the entrance, warm streams run through the cave, magma runs below the cave, and maintenance of the heat is aided by the insulation of the rocks above.

Blind cave fish have no pigment because they have never been in the sun!


We added a few pieces to our lapbook: Map of Chaparrals and Caves, Review Sheet, Types of Caves, Cave Dwellers, and Cave Formations.

We had a lot of fun with our study this year! I hope you have enjoyed following along. I would love to hear about your experiences with this study – books you found, fun projects, and field trips!


Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Biomes, Science

World Biomes #9: Wetlands, by Cheryl

Wet lands are areas of land  covered by water for at least a portion of each year. In our study we looked at marshes, swamps, fens, and bogs as well as lakes and pools. Wetlands can be fresh or salt water. They are home to some fun animals!

The axolotl is one of our favorite animals from this group of biomes. The kids first learned about axolotl at VBS this year. Then we found one at our zoo! Then we found it in our wetland studies! I love when our studies and activities come together by accident.

I managed to find quite a few books on this topic – more than we could read! I brought a pile of books home from the library, some from the friends sale and some from the library shelves. In the end, we read the books I checked out and put the others on our shelves to read later.

About Habitats: Wetlands by Catherine Sill is full of beautiful pictures and snippets of information. I think that her books make great introductions to the habitats. They grab the attention of my kids and give just enough information to get us going.

Wetlands by Galadriel Watson (we had been on a Lord of the Rings kick in our house – how could we NOT read this book!) It also contains great information on wetlands!

Horrible Habitats: Marshes and Pools by Sharon Katz Cooper had information on “gross” animals! We had fun with this one!

Biomes Atlases: Wetlands by Richard Beatty, again I love the maps and pictures in this series!

Habitats: Wetlands by Ewan McLeish had some great animal information!

Rivers, Lakes, Streams, and Ponds by Richard Beatty was very detailed. This book would be ideal for an older student doing this study.

Looking Closely Around the Pond by Frank Serafini is from another series we have used for several biomes. It is a fun change to look at the pictures and try to guess what it is. We actually did very well on this book, at least one of us (not always me) guessed every picture correctly! We have become more familiar with many animals and plants over the past year, it made the puzzles easier to figure out.

Lakes: World’s Top Ten by Neil Morris is a great resource for information on specific lakes. We did not read this one. I put it on the shelf and will mix it into our geography studies over the next couple of years. It would fit with this study, but since we own the book, I decided to save it because we just had too many books to choose from!

Wetland Animals

Wetlands are quite varied. We came across many animals that we had already studied. They may not all be found in the same type of wetland. Here are some of our favorites: beavers, salamanders, frogs, alligators, crocodiles, hippopotamus, capybara, flamingo, fish, box turtle, mallard ducks, fish, mosquitoes, leeches, flatworms, dragon fly, and the axolotl.

Wetland Plants

Our favorite tree was the mangrove. They are beautiful and provide great shelter for many animals! For some fun extra reading, look for The Sea, the Storm, and the Mangrove Tangle by Lynne Cherry. I am always excited when I find a fictional story that gives great information. My kids recall more from these living books than from an encyclopedia-type book. Both have their places in a study like this.

Other plants we looked at include: sphagnum moss, Venus fly trap, pitcher plant, lily pad, algae, cattail, cranberry, and rice.


Bog, fen, marsh, and swamps are four specific types of wetlands that we studied. Delta, glaciers, and peat were some new terms we came across in our study. We were able to tie this into our history and Greek studies as we talked about the Nile Delta – how it related to our ancient history studies and how the name came from the shape and its resemblance of the Greek letter Delta. Have I mentioned before how I love when our studies overlap so nicely!

Fun Facts

Wetlands can be salt or freshwater.

Look at our lapbook pieces for all the differences we found between alligators and crocodiles!


I have been making lapbooks for two years of classes now. I did a Map Skills class and a year’s worth of biome book sections. I started to get bored with the same shapes over and over. I tried some new things for this lapbook. When we printed them and put them together, they did not turn out as I had anticipated. Sometimes that happens. Have fun with them anyway!

Four Types of Wetlands, Alligator or Crocodile, Favorite Animals, Fresh or Saltwater

Bonus! We found two more biomes not listed on our map! Next time: Chaparrals and Caves!



Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Biomes, Science

World Biomes #8: Arctic Tundra and Polar Deserts, by Cheryl

Previously:   Mountains and Alpine Forest

Tundra: “Land of No Trees.” As I mentioned in my post on Mountain Habitats, we studied the Mountain Tundra and the Arctic Tundra separately because most of the books we picked up divided them and paired them with the mountains or polar deserts. Inititally, I felt this was a good way to go. As we continued our studies, I found that we were covering a lot of the same material a second time. We did find a few fun new things – pingos and hexagons for example.

Pingos and hexagons are two types of land formations found in the arctic tundra. The kids loved the word pingo, and my son wants to create a game by that name. His idea sounds very similar to Bingo, but I love that something we studied has sparked his creativity!


Panda and Polar Bear by Matthew J. Baek does not really cover any material vital to our study, but my daughter picked it up, and we read it the first day of our study. It is sweet story about a polar bear who gets lost and makes friends with a panda, and they work together to get the polar bear home. My daughter loved it!

First Reports: Tundra by Susan H. Gray is from one of the series we have used throughout our study. It covers arctic and alpine tundra, one of the few books we found through our library that covered both.

Polar Lands by Margaret Hynes is another book we brought home from Chick Fil A. You can find used copies on Amazon. I love this set of books. Each one has some great information and a fun activity!

Arctic Tundra and Polar Deserts by Chris Woodford is from the Biomes Atlases series. If you can find a set of these books at your library or purchase them from Amazon, do so! They have been invaluable in our study! They have concise information and good maps. I have been able to go over the detailed information with my oldest  but just hit the highlights and look at the pictures with my younger student.

Life Under the Ice by Mary M. Cerullo has beautiful photographs of animals in their icy habitats! This was my animal lover’s favorite book! It also had lots of fun information.

Arctic and Antarctic Habitats by Kate McAllan was a great read for both of my kids. We found some interesting facts about the habitats!

Polar and Arctic Tundra Animals

Some of the many animals we came across include: plover, whimbrel, snowshoe hare, lemmings, arctic fox (Lilly’s favorite!), big horn sheep, musk ox, caribou, grizzly bear, walrus, ptarmigan, antarctic ice fish, polar bear, arctic tern, penguins, and harp seals.

Our favorite animal fact was that the antarctic ice fish has antifreeze in its blood to prevent it from freezing in the icy water!

Arctic Tundra Plants

Antarctica cannot support many kinds plant life. The types of plants that are found in the arctic tundra include sedges, heaths, mosses, and lichens.


Bog, Pingo, Polygons, Permafrost, Sedges, Heaths, Mosses, and Lichens

Fun Facts

The oldest known lichen is found in Greenland. It is approximately 4500 years old!

Fun and Easy Activities

What is blubber and how does it keep an animal warm?

The plan was to put our hands in ice water, then coat them in a blubber-like substance and then put them back in the water to see if it created some insulation for their hand. It sounded fun, but the combination of gloves that were too big and kids who were uninterested and unwilling to cover their hands in the gooey mess made this a failure at our house. Not everything goes according to plan. Give it a try; maybe it will go better for you!


This lapbook section is smaller than the others due to the overlap in information. Here are the pieces we made: Map, Polar Animals, Tundra Landforms, Review.

Next time: Wetlands!


Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

CF: Grammar Stage, Science

Unschooling Grammar-Stage Science, by Sarah

From among the many methods of homeschooling science, I have chosen to follow a directed unschooling approach in the grammar stage.  I feel that learning about the world and what interests them most is the best way to instill a love of science in my children at the lower grades.

I allow them to explore and understand science in various ways.  The first one is field trips – we have a lot of good museums and other opportunities in our area.  The local science museum offers homeschool classes twice a year.  The aquarium offers homeschool classes once a month.  The children will learn information about different types of aquatic life and biomes, including sharks, animal defenses, and the deep sea.  We are doing a field trip to the local children’s museum for a homeschool class about slime.  We will visit the planetarium, as well as the local science museum monthly and various Smithsonian Museums throughout the year.  There are classes offered for homeschool children at the local nature center.  We did a session last year, and my eldest really enjoyed learning about different natural sciences including birds that live in the area.  Exploring and seeing the world through various museums and other activities help bring science to life and show that it is part of the everyday world.

Another way I focus on science is by letting my children choose the topics they are interested in studying.  This year that means my elder son will be doing a study of birds, specifically the blue jay.  He also wants to learn more about space, rocks and minerals, and look at the human body again to learn more about our senses.   My daughter is very interested in chemistry this year. She wants to learn about matter, elements, and the periodic table.  It is not what I expected a kindergartner to choose, but it is one of her big interests.  She also wants to learn about the human body and the muscles, organs and blood vessels that make up the body, space and being an astronaut, as well as learning about plants and animals.  She has declared she needs to know everything she can about dolphins this year as well.  With a basic idea of their interests, we can get books from the library and buy additional resource books for them to read about their interests.  We can also look for apps for the iPad, computer resources, various science kits, and even board games to help them learn more information.  Letting them choose their science topics gives them a good overview of different areas of science they find interesting and allows them a say in what they are studying which helps to keep them interested in the materials.

The third way I help them learn about science is through everyday life.  We learn about chemical reactions  and mixtures through cooking.  They can see ice turn to water or water turn to ice by using fun molds and then watching it melt.  They can learn about steam when the water pot boils for pasta and the steam escapes.  We take nature walks and explore to see various wildlife – mainly birds  and the occasional squirrel as well as caterpillars and other insects.  While we do sometimes write down our observations, we often just talk about them and discuss why we think things happen. If we aren’t sure, we can always look it up in a book or online.  This helps to stimulate their imagination and allows them to explore and learn about various science topics I might not have thought to bring up.

While a more unschooling-based science approach will not work for everyone in the grammar stage, I find that my children are learning a lot. This approach keeps their interest and makes them eager to explore and learn more about various scientific ideas and concepts, since they are the ones leading the way, while getting  a broad overview of various branches of scientific research.


Sarah–Sarah is the wife of Dan and mom to Desmond, Eloise and Sullivan (Sully).  She enjoys reading,  board games, D&D, computer and console games, the Oxford comma, and organizing fun trips. Sarah and Dan decided years before they had children that they would be homeschooling and now they are. Their family has enjoyed beginning their homeschooling journey and the early elementary years. There are a lot of fun opportunities upcoming in the next year as well, including Eloise starting Kindergarten at home, numerous trips to Atlanta, and a month long trip to India. They currently reside in a suburb of Washington DC and enjoy all the local attractions available for day trips.