Teaching Physics With an 8th Grader (and a Few More), by Jane-Emily

Middle School Science


This year, we are studying Physics.  I have used the four-year science/history cycle described in The Well-Trained Mind for eight years now; this is the end of our second cycle (which goes Biology, Earth Science/Astronomy, Chemistry, Physics).  Recently, I wrote about our Chemistry studies last year, and now I’d like to tell you what we’re doing in Physics–and what I would change if I were starting over.

My goal was to have a really solid year of Physics at the 8th-grade level.  Clearly, however, an 8th-grader taking her first year of Algebra is not going to be able to do a traditional Physics course with all that complex math!  What I wanted was a good grounding in the ideas of Physics, but without very much math at all.  After quite a bit of poking around for textbooks, I figured out that what I was after is called Conceptual Physics.

There are only a few textbooks in Conceptual Physics.  I ended up choosing the textbook by the guy who thought up the idea of a math-light physics course in the first place: Conceptual Physics by Paul G. Hewitt.  The one I got is the current 11th edition and it is a college textbook.  My daughter has not found it to be too difficult for her–I think a good reader wouldn’t really have a problem–but I found out later on that there is a high school textbook. If I’d realized that I probably would have gone with it.  (Although maybe not; I was able to preview a lot of the college text online which helped me decide, and she really is doing fine and enjoying the textbook.)

Conceptual Physics is my spine, and I designed everything else around that.  I figured that since physics is both complex and very hands-on, it might be good to have a lecture series to watch on TV to reinforce the material and help do examples.  I looked through The Teaching Company’s offerings (otherwise known as The Great Courses), and chose a DVD series called Physics and Our Universe: How It All Works, taught by Professor Richard Wolfson.  The course description says that “it doesn’t rely heavily on equations and mathematics, using nothing more advanced than high school Algebra and Trigonometry.”  More on that below.  During my planning, I arranged the DVD lectures so that they would match the textbook chapters.  This came out to usually doing two 30-minute lectures per week, but not always.

I also wanted lots of lab activities.  Some I came up with on my own; I ordered fancy magnets, ferrofluid (look it up; it’s amazing), the world’s longest Slinky, and other fun things.  I also got eScience Labs Introductory Physics (version 3.2), a boxed set that is supposed to have a full year of lab activities.  It comes with a CD-ROM that gives instructions for each lab and questions for students to answer.  It is mid-high-school level; not serious Physics, but enough questions to make it fairly hard work.  However, you can also just do the activities to illustrate the principles, and that is fun for any age!  I figured out a schedule for labs to match my textbook.

We have been doing all this work with a group.  Last year, we had one extra student for chemistry, and that was quite fun–plus it was good for me, because I had to plan those labs and make them happen!  I could never put it off and think we could do it next week.  That student is not homeschooling this year, but all of a sudden several of my friends are homeschooling their kids, and before I knew it I had a group that included three high school students, three middle schoolers, and five elementary-age children!  Students age 12+ come to the lectures and read the textbook; the rest of them use Real Science 4 Kids Physics and only come to the labs.  (At first I thought the 12-year-old was too young to use the college text, but he turns out to be a natural engineer.  He got the textbook late, caught up, and is loving it.)

As if this is not enough, I chose some supplementary books for the older students to read if they felt so inclined.  These are not required, but they are great resources:

Lastly, in order to keep all these students informed, I started a Facebook page.  They aren’t all on Facebook, but their parents are!  I post information, announcements, and neat videos or images, and our syllabus is available there for reference.

And how has all this turned out?

The textbook is fine.  Although I wonder if I would have been better off with the high-school text, everyone is reading and understanding just fine, and my daughter–who was not really excited about Physics in September–tackles her chapter first thing every Monday morning and says she really enjoys it.  I feel pretty good about it.

The DVD course is pretty interesting and has some good examples, as I hoped.  It also turns out to have a different definition of “doesn’t rely heavily on equations and mathematics, using nothing more advanced than high school Algebra and Trigonometry” than I do.  When the math comes up on the screen, we all stare at it in despair.  After that happened a couple of times, I started fast-forwarding when the math starts.  Later on in the course, some of the lectures get pretty advanced.  If I could choose again, I might go with a more conceptual course by the same instructor, Physics In Your Life, though then I would probably worry that it was not rigorous enough!  On the whole this has worked out fine, though.  My students are still showing up regularly for lectures, so I guess we are doing OK.

Hosting labs is always fun.  The box set tends to draw lessons from very simple activities, and sometimes I wish I had something on a bigger scale, but for the most part it is going fine.  The kids enjoy the activities, and I try to tell them the principles behind what we are doing.  Labs also give me a great opportunity to talk about science in everyday life, and using our knowledge to think about what we see around us.  We have had some good conversations on why we should understand scientific principles and how to avoid expensive (yet completely unsound) products.  The very best days are when my husband, who is a true Physics aficionado, is able to be present and talk with the students.  He is much more eloquent than I am, and would be a better teacher, but sadly he has to earn a living.

The Facebook page was a good idea.  It’s easier than emailing everyone, and the videos get a good response.  There are some amazing Physics videos out there!  We have especially enjoyed some of Veritasium’s videos; our favorite was the giant Slinky. 

It’s a bit early yet to declare this a good year for science, but I think we are well on our way to being able to say that.  So far it’s been fun, and everyone is learning.

Featured photo: Iron filings and a magnet. The filings are in a jar of oil so they can be easily observed. The magnet is in a test tube so it will stay clean.

Jane-Ejane-emilymily–Jane-Emily is a classically homeschooling LDS mom of two girls, and a librarian at the local community college, very part-time. She loves to read and will pick up almost anything. She also loves to sew and mostly does quilting, heirloom sewing, and smocking. And she’s a Bollywood addict.


How I Taught 7th Grade Chemistry, by Jane-Emily

Middle School Day


Last year I had a twelve-year-old in seventh grade and a nine-year-old in fourth.  For science, I wanted to concentrate on chemistry — one of my very favorite sciences!  It’s the recipe book for the universe! — I wanted to make sure that my twelve-year-old would be very well-prepared to take AP Chemistry, or some equivalent thereof, later on.  I searched high and low for materials that would make it possible for me to teach a solid chemistry course without too much math.  I also invited another kid along for lab days; I find that it is more fun if we have an extra kid or two along for the ride.

For a text, I found Friendly Chemistry, a course designed for homeschoolers with plans for larger groups.  Friendly Chemistry is quite clear, and it teaches a lot of chemistry, from atomic structure to stoichiometry to ideal gas laws.  There is some math and it sometimes got difficult, but together we figured it out.  There is not much of a lab component; it’s limited to easily-obtainable home items.  It has quite a few games to aid in memorization of elements, ions, and so on, and several of them are well-designed.  There are a few typos, but otherwise my only problem was that the solutions in the back of the book did not provide help with working out the problems. Only answers were given, and sometimes we got stuck.

I wanted lots of lab work, so I ordered the biggest chemistry set Thames & Kosmos stocks: the C3000, containing instructions for over 300 experiments designed to take the student from basics to more complex organic chemistry.  T&K being a German company, I did find that a few extras it required were hard for me to find, such as hartshorn/baker’s ammonia and so on.  Of course the experiments followed a completely different logic than the Friendly Chemistry did–it is all practical chemistry–but we didn’t have too much trouble with that.   The variety was nice, and all of us appreciated the fun of setting things on fire.  I needed more glass test tubes than were provided, and I came perilously close to running out of a few chemicals.

Meanwhile, my nine-year-old came along for the ride for much of this.  She had the Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry text, which was OK but not wonderful.  I would have preferred something else, but I didn’t find anything I loved.  She and I worked through those chapters together, and otherwise she played the games, participated in the experiments, and did just fine.  I am confident that she absorbed plenty of chemistry for her age.

Our schedule was as follows:

  • Tuesday, read the chapter for the week.  Start exercises and finish by Thursday.
  • Thursday: lab from 12:00 until at least 2:00 (with extra child, who was also doing the same text at home).  Go over the week’s lesson and make sure exercises are understood.  Do any activities from the text.  Do a section of experiments from T&K set and talk about them.
  • Friday: give the chapter test.  And make sure to practice memory work through games throughout!

Some of my favorite activities included:

Element/Ion Bingo: this was at the very beginning of the year, when we needed the kids to learn the elements and their symbols.  I filled large bingo cards with all the most difficult symbols.  After a couple of weeks of that we changed to ion bingo so they could practice distinguishing sulfate and sulfide, etc.

The Doo-Wop board: this is a proprietary game from Friendly Chemistry that helps students understand the structure of the atom.  I found it quite helpful myself!  We would pick an element and fill the shells with electrons until we had it right.  (The electrons were white and chocolate chips, which made it a very popular game.)


Lego chemistry: I found this to be a great help with stoichiometry (which is figuring out how much of what goes into a substance).  Get a large tub of plain Lego bricks, and assign each color an element.  We had fun making them appropriate, but you can’t do that with all of them.  Carbon = green, sulfur = yellow, calcium = white, etc.  We made tiny white bricks be hydrogen.  You can then build each molecule.  Build ions first and then attach them.  You can make this work pretty well for molarity, even.  It is a great way to visualize everything and work out the formulae if you’re finding it confusing. The main trouble with this activity, of course, is getting more distractible kids to pay attention to the molecules instead of the really great spaceships they’re building!

We did some really great chemical experiments too, such as producing hydrogen by mixing aluminum with sodium hydroxide (lye), burning various substances to see the colored flames (a good time to talk about fireworks!), and so on.  I wished for a lump of sodium to blow up, but I never got one.  Someday!  I videotaped one of our experiments, and here it is for you.

I also love popular bookPeriodic-Tales-Williams-Hugh-9780061824722s about chemistry. Here are some titles that you might enjoy; you can tell the stories as you teach, or you might have an older student who will like one.

This is a reprint of an article we ran in October 2013.

Janejane-emilyEmily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves to quilt and embroider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.

Real Science 4 Kids, Focus on Middle School: Astronomy Review

Middle School Day

by Jen W.

Real Science 4 Kids (RS4K) is a wonderful science curriculum designed by a scientist and homeschool mom, Dr. Rebecca Keller. As of this writing, there are 5 complete subject areas to study in Elementary and Middle School levels: Biology, Astronomy, Geology, Physics and Chemistry. There is also a course in High School level Chemistry. Each book and corresponding lab book is designed to take a semester to complete. However, each book is presented in a  well organized fashion that makes them easy to beef up and extend for a full year, if desired. Homeschoolers following the four year science cycle of life science/earth science/physics/chemistry will find it easy to plug these books into their homeschool plans.

If you are starting science late or have recently pulled your child out of school and feel their science education has been lacking, then you will be glad to note that Gravitas Press offers several alternate sequences on their website (found under their FAQ). Homeschoolers may also appreciate the fact that the books seek to take a “neutral worldview” and specifically mention that some scientists disagree over scientific facts such as the age of the earth. Due to this fact, many parents will want to fill in the blanks a bit using other resources.

Middle School Astronomy (previously titled Astronomy Level One) is a book that appealed to me because astronomy is a subject that is often given the short shrift, considering its importance to science as a whole. The book first discusses what astronomy is, then expands its topics from earth to the moon and sun, to other planets and so forth until it investigates galaxies other than our own. The language is simple enough for middle school students, but the concepts are solid and complex. There are colorful pictures and diagrams that help keep students engaged. The labs are mostly easy to complete with household items, but truly help students grasp the concepts presented within the text. The lab book makes it easy for students to learn how to record their science experiments.


Gravitas Press offers their own supplemental materials such as the “study folders,” which would particularly appeal to people using these books in co-op settings who are looking for engaging material that is easy to expand for multiple students. Downloadable quizzes and lectures via CD-ROM are also offered for this course, which can help a busy homeschool parent or co-op teacher. The “Kogs” workbooks are designed to help students make inter-disciplinary connections between science, history and other areas, which is something that might particularly appeal to parents with students with strong interests in other areas to help pique their interest in a subject less naturally appealing to them.

If you were to use this book along with Geology in order to study one year of Earth Science, then you would only need a basic science encyclopedia to fill in some blanks and expand the reading. Parents who wanted to use Middle School Astronomy for a full year’s worth of science would need to supplement a bit and can find a list of suggested resources at the end of the article.

Sample of Middle School Astronomy

FAQ on the Gravitas Press website

Dr. Keller discussing the issue of world view and her books.

Purchase the text and lab book here:

Focus on Middle School Astronomy Text

Focus on Astronomy Middle School Workbook

Focus on Astronomy Middle School Teacher Book

Suggested Additional Texts:

The Usborne Internet-Linked Science Enclyclopedia

Suggested resources for expanding the course into a year long course:

The Usborne Internet-Linked Science Enclyclopedia

Janice VanCleave’s Astronomy for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments that Really Work (Science for Every Kid Series)

How the Universe Works

Science in a Nutshell, Destination Moon

Science in a Nutshell, Planets and Stars

Helpful YouTube Channels:

NASA Spitzer (includes the series “Ask an Astronomer”)


National Geographic

PBS Astronomy videos

Ohio State University Department of Astronomy

Khan Academy

Audible books:

Don’t Know Much About the Universe: Everything You Need to Know About the Cosmos

iPad apps:





List of NASA apps

Jen jen_wW.– Jen is born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.

Pigby, Digby, and Chuck Learn About Matter, by Megan

Teaching Elementary Science


My eldest son is a science fiend. He devours all science books he can get his hands on. He loves to do science projects with my husband. He loves watching science videos, Bill Nye the Science Guy being his favorite.

This year for our science curriculum, we’re using REAL Science Odyssey Earth Science & Astronomy Level 1. I feel like it has the right balance of interesting, factual text and fun, hands-on projects. It also has worksheets for recording data, which makes my life easier.

This week, we did the Unit 2 lab #1 demonstration. Unit 2 is about the water cycle and for this lab we observed water molecules in their solid, liquid, and gas states.

We started off by taking a dry jar, making sure that it was dry by feeling it, then adding ice and water, drying off the outside, and letting it sit. We came back to the jar when we were done with the rest of the demo.


Next, we took some ice cubes and put them in the hot pot. Before we turned the hot pot on, we felt the ice cubes and Pigby recorded his observations on the accompanying worksheet. We did the same with a bowl of water and the water vapor in the air.


Next, we turned the hot pot on and watched the ice melt into water and then turn into steam. As the water heated, I pointed out the moving air bubbles and how the hotter the water got, the more they moved.  I said the same thing was happening with the water molecules; we just couldn’t see them individually.



Then we discussed how to get water vapor in the air to turn back into a solid. We did this by pouring the boiling water into a jar and then putting an upside-down lid filled with ice on top. They could see the steam fogging up the sides of the jar and then see the droplets fall back to the bottom.  I also lifted the lid and and showed them the condensation that had gathered on it.


Next, we compared the two jars. I wiped my fingers on the outside of the hot jar and showed them that my fingers were dry. Then I let them wipe the outside of the cold jar and they could see the water that had gathered. I asked if the water in the cold jar had leaked through the glass. Pigby said yes, but I again explained how condensation works.

And while Pigby finished writing his observations, I let the littler two put their mittens on and play in the ice in the cooler. This might have been their favorite part.


Some points I’d like to make: While the pictures show the little two patiently observing, I would like to make it known that keeping three and four-year-olds occupied is fairly difficult, even with an intriguing subject. The pictures don’t show them crawling over, under, and around the table! The pictures don’t show me telling them to back up before they burned their faces in the steam. They spent most of the time playing in the ice cooler and asking me questions both related and not related to the subject at hand. This is all normal and a little frustrating, but the thing to do is just go with it and redirect as you can. Playing in ice is more important for a three-year-old than trying to stay quiet and listen to explanations on molecules and condensation. Get them to participate as much as you can (mostly to keep them occupied and out of trouble) but don’t be surprised when they wander as much as they can.

Megan–Megan is mom to three children: Pigby (boy, age 7), Digby (boy, age 4), and Chuck megan(girl, age 2).  She loves history, ballroom dance, and crocheting.  She made the decision to homeschool when her oldest was three and they’ve been on this journey ever since.

DIY Science in Grammar Stage–and Earlier! by Faith

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 aFaithnd 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.

Elementary Science Curriculum, by Faith

Teaching Elementary Science


In grammar stage science, you can use a preset curriculum, explore science on your own, or use any combination of the two. I have a post on DIY science here.  This post is about pre-written curriculum option for the grammar stage. First I will review several elementary school options I have used, and then I will provide a list of other options to peruse on your own time. Some of these are being reviewed by other Sandbox to Socrates members! Use what feels right for your family. Also note that most curriculum options have free samples to download on their respective sites.

I am a secular homeschooler. I prefer to add my religion into curriculum myself, not have it written into the teacher’s manual. As such, I am most familiar with the secular options. For the grammar stage, none of the following options reviewed (BFSU, RSO, Ellen McHenry, TOPS) mention commonly controversial topics for religious teachers, like the origin of life or dinosaurs. Some of the items linked afterwards might.


Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding

BFSU: Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (K-2nd) and Elementary Science Education (3rd-5th), by Bernard Nebel. Each volume is meant to span the full three years. This science program is extremely rigorous and thorough while teaching in a way that children intuitively grasp. It uses observation and guided Socratic questioning to lead children to discover scientific principles for themselves. Each entire curriculum is a single thick book, beginning with several chapters to the teacher on effective teaching, a flow chart, and lesson plans. All four science topics (Nature of Matter, Life Science, Physical Science, Earth and Space Science) are taught in whatever order you fancy. The flowchart shows which lessons, if any, are prerequisites for other lessons. For example, the lessons on Inertia and Friction must be completed before teaching Rate of Fall, Weightlessness in Space, and Distinction between Mass and Weight.

Each lesson contains an Overview; Time Required per lesson part; Objectives; Required Background; Materials; Teachable Moments; Methods and Procedures; Questions/Discussion/Activities to Review, Reinforce, Expand, and Assess Learning; To Parents and Others Providing Support; National Science Education Standards; and Books for Correlated Reading.

This program, while fantastic for science-minded kids, is often overwhelming for parents. I would recommend the following sequence:

Make sure you have taught any prerequisite lessons before beginning your lesson.

Check out the Books for Correlated Reading from your library, along with any other books on the topic.

Make sure you have all the Materials (most are truly household objects, like wooden pencils, balloons, marbles, vacuum cleaner, sugar, etc).

It will take a few days to read through the library books with your child. In that time, skim over the methods and procedures. Key words are written in capital letters in the text. Familiarize yourself with what you will be doing and discussing.

Then gather your materials and dive in! Many lessons have multiple “parts,” and each part can easily be its own day, or even multiple days.

If your students needs more reinforcement or wants to do more with the topic, browse the Questions/Discussion/Activities section. Volume 2, Elementary Science Education, recommends the student keeps a notebook to record what they learn.

R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey

RSO: R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey, by Pandia Press, offers biology, chemistry, and earth/space science at Level One. This level is appropriate for 1st to 5th grade. Each subject is a one-year program. RSO teaches to the student in a conversational manner, followed by activities and experiments that reinforce learning. Cute illustrations accompany the stories and activities. The scientific method is emphasized, and many of the activities expressly follow those steps. Students will learn to gather and record data, fill out diagrams, and conduct experiments.

RSO is a single manual per subject, either hard copy or printable e-book. Everything is black and white, so printing is easier. The activity sheets can be printed for each student as many times as needed. The book’s layout is intuitive and easy to understand. Material lists at the beginning of the book let parents be prepared for any lesson or the entire year. The lessons flow one after another easily, and the activities are fun. Children with many different knowledge levels and learning styles enjoy RSO.

Ellen McHenry’s Basement Workshop

Ellen McHenry’s Basement Workshop: Ellen McHenry has written some of the most child-friendly science programs I have ever seen. Conversational prose is written directly to the student and makes the topics easy to understand without talking down at all. Multiple activities and games accompany most chapters, as well as salient Internet links. She also has free downloads such as a photosynthesis relay game that demonstrate her style. The Brain, the Elements, Carbon Chemistry, Cells, and Botany are all available in digital download, hard copy, and hard copy with CD.


TOPS: Deceptively simple and cheap materials are used to explore many scientific principles in depth. Lessons are available for grammar stage physics and life sciences (others at higher grades). The program expects rigor and understanding for the age range. For instance, the 3rd-8th “Radishes” program teaches the students to grow radish seeds. Sounds boring. However, the plants are carefully checked and recorded daily for four weeks. Twenty activity sheets plus many additional ideas, questions, and labs are used with them to teach about plotting graphs, predictions, photosynthesis, growth rates, greenhouses, tropisms, toxic stress, and more.

List of Other Popular Options:

Singapore My Pals are Here (MPH): Textbook, Teacher’s Guide, and Activity Book.

Nancy Larson: Provides all materials, very interactive/hands-on. Expensive.

Apologia Elementary Science: Religious. Textbook and notebooking journal.

Otter’s Homeschool Science: Free lesson plans online! Anatomy/human body study, rigorous and fun. If I had more days in the week I would use this, too.

Exploration Education: CD and project supplies plus logbook. Experiment-focused. K-3rd. 4th – 6th. 

Real Science 4 Kids: Student text, teacher’s manual, laboratory workbook.

Alpha Omega Lifepacs: Workbooks and lab supplies. Religious.

Bob Jones: Religious. Student text, activities manual, teacher’s manual, tests.

Mr. Q’s: Online downloadable and printable e-books. Life Science is free!

More science is out there! If I missed any that you love, tell me about them in the comments!

Faith–Faith is a highly distractable mother of four. She believes in doing what is best for each child aFaithnd 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.

Preschool and Kindergarten Science, by Faith

Teaching Elementary Science


Young children love to see science in action. They need to see it, feel it, smell it, taste it, and live it. Simple experiments bring science to life. It can be as easy as teaching the words, “sink and “float,” filling up the bathroom sink, and seeing what household objects sink or float. As a bonus, you can make a chart on a big piece of paper and list or draw pictures of everything that floated under “Float” and everything that sank under “Sink.” You can observe nature, catch bugs, watch rainbows, make a baking soda and vinegar volcano, drop Mentos in a bottle of Diet Coke, mix colored water, and use mirrors with a flashlight. Sort items into solids and liquids. Grab a magnet and see what sticks! You can read library books. (Let’s Read and Find Out series is fabulous for this age.) Experiment kits are also quite fun for this age, such as Magic School Bus kits.

This is also an excellent time to let your child guide his or her own education. Ask your child what he wants to learn about! For instance, if they are always catching bugs, provide them with the tools to do so, join them, and point out the six legs, the hard exoskeleton, and the three body parts as you go. Read a few books about insects together. Watch MicroCosmos. Give them colored pencils and ask them to draw the bugs they saw. Let them try walking like a bug or picking up food with two fingers representing insect jaws. Keep an insect for a day with leaves and earth in an appropriate container and watch what it does. You can even order butterfly or ladybug larva or keep an ant farm!

There are so many choices for science on your own at any age. I’ve blogged more about DIY elementary science here.

However, many parents don’t want to invent their own science experiments every week. There are plenty of options that lay out simple science ideas for Pre-K and K age students for the parents to follow. The cheapest approach is to Google “Pre-K science” and pick an activity of the multitude that appear!

Many Pre-K and K curriculum include a science section. However, some parents want a separate science guide to use whenever they choose. Here are some options to keep in your bookshelf:

Mudpies to Magnets/More Mudpies to Magnets: These books provide simple experiments for young children. Step-by-step instructions and illustrations make these experiments easy to perform. Each experiment is labeled with an age range beginning as young as two, and contains very age-appropriate science. Some experiments are couched in terms meant for a group, but they can still be done at home.

Science is Simple: Over 250 Experiments for Preschoolers: The official age range on this is 4-6. It is written for a classroom and has a lot of involved experiments. They can easily take you through first grade, but some are more involved than the previous options. Many parents aren’t going to, as the book suggests, buy live crickets at the store and keep them in a terrarium for observation. Many of the activities are simpler, however, and a lot of thinking is encouraged. This book begins with a section for the teachers to read. There is a focus throughout the book on the scientific method and recording observations.

The Everything Kids Easy Science Experiment Book: This book has a variety of simple science activities easily done with young children. The activities are followed by a related scientific explanation for older children. For instance, one page suggests a nature walk with leaf gathering, followed by leaf examination (using a magnifying glass if you have one), leaf sorting, and leaf rubbing art. This would work well for Pre-K and K students. This is followed by two paragraphs on trees, leaves, stems, and deciduous vs coniferous that can easily be included or excluded as you wish.

Singapore Early Bird Science: This is a series of workbooks for young children. Simple lessons and activities are taught briefly. A light overview of science.

WinterPromise Animals Around the World: This Pre-K/K program explores seven different habitats and the animals within them. It also introduces the idea of a nature journal. Crafts are generally a feature of WinterPromise products. This is an expensive option. They also sell a 1st-4th grade version, so make sure you’re looking in the right place.

Nancy Larson: This science program provides all materials needed to use it, and it is very interactive/hands-on. There are many bright photographs included for the lessons. This is more expensive. The K and 1st grade levels appear very fun, but a bit light on content.

If you feel your child is ready for more advanced science, check out the Grammar Stage Science post!  Many of those options start in K or 1st for the strong science student.

Faith–Faith is a highly distractable mother of four. She believes in doing what is best for each child aFaithnd 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.