Monday, October 29, 2007

Maybe We're Better Off Without a Secular Science Curriculum

When I was at the thrift shop a couple of weeks ago I picked up some science texts from different grades to get an idea of what I could be doing with Catherine and Harry. There were 3, Grade 1, Grade 3 and a Grade 7 or 8. I flipped through them yesterday and I'm already sure I wasted my quarters. Every book contained the same information as the one before. Every book covered habitats, photosynthesis and ecosystems. Every book had the same insipid text and uninspiring pictures. It honestly looked like a calculated attempt over the spans of 8 years to drain any interest in the natural world out of children.

We'll stick with our National Geographic books. I've also got a college biology text which, again, covers all the same material as the other three but with better language so we'll use that when we need to.


kitten said...

At least you know you didn't waste much money.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree! We use Usborne books at our house. When my daughters are in Kindergarten, we use the Complete First Book of Nature and the Finding Out About Everyday Things, along with the Usborne Children's Encyclopedia. By the time my kids finish K, they've got a solid foundation in most areas of science. We go on from there to use different books, mostly Usborne, until last year my then fifth-grader read through three of their Internet-Linked Library of Science books, and loved them.

But we've been involved in a homeschooling enrichment group through our local school district, and they have always used the same textbooks as the local schools. UGH! The year my older daughter was in fourth, her class was using the fifth-grade text. My younger was in K at the time, and big sister was horrified to discover little sis was learning several more parts of the flower in K than she was in "fifth." When she got to the cell and discovered they taught only the nucleus, cytoplasm, cell membrane, and cell wall, she was furious! "Mom, what about the Golgi complex? What about the mitochondria?"

We've come to the conclusion through all this that science, social studies, and literature texts are not written to be interesting at all. They are written by committees in order to offend the smallest number of people and present the bare bones of the information. We avoid texts like the plague, preferring to use real books. Books written by one author who needs to get published in order to put food on the table tend to be written so people will actually like to read them, KWIM? ;)

For science, Usborne is the best we've found yet and covers the entire spectrum from preschool level to junior high/high school content, including books with experiments like the three-volume Science Activities set. We also love the Creative Minds biographies for history of science. Later, there are more advanced books like Janice VanCleave's. We've also used the library a LOT. I have two books called Eyeopeners that are basically booklists of excellent nonfiction, and I've used those for reference along with Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook, to help me figure out what to use to supplement. You can also check for good science books; they don't have a lot but what they do have is good. Or try googling "science living books" and see what help you get.

Yep, definitely skip the textbooks! When we've used texts, my kids have hated science; when we've used real books, they love it. (Oh, yeah, my kids are 11 and 7 now; my 6th-grader is doing junior high science and loving it.)

Freakmom said...

I've got some of those from the early days of homeschooling taking up space on the shelves too. One of these days I'll remember to take them to the library book sale and they can haunt someone else for a while. About the only thing worse than school science books are probably school reading books.

Dawn said...

I'm thinking that in some respects, despite having four or five years uder my belt as a homeschooler, I'm more like a newbie. Afterall, I was a radical unschooler up until last year so all this curriculum stuff is new to me.

But I do find that it's the stuff that anonymous mentioned that's generally the best. I'll add that everyone should be on the lookout for a series published by National Geographic for kids in 1998. I've got 3 titles, Geo-Whiz, Hidden Treasures of the Sea and Exploring Your Solar System that are absolutely fantastic.

And I agree on the readers. Ugh. I even picked up a Spectrum Reader workbook for Catherine and it lasted 2 days. Much along the same lines as the school crap.

Susan said...

Dawn, We used Nat'l Geographic, other natural science mags like Ranger Rick or Zoobooks that we bought on the cheap at garage sales. I think the biggest and most fun are lots of trips out into the wild, blue yonder. We grab a backpack filled with colored pencils and journal books (and food :-)).
We've never opened a science textbook as there's so many awesome hands-on learning resources for science. TOPS is great stuff, for one:
I was a little concerned as science was very unstructured in our fam, but it seems to have worked ok for the older ones.