What do you think of when you say the word science?  Some people divide science into two types: natural and theoretical; while others break the discipline down into three types: physical, biological, and psychological.  Some people would prefer to further divide natural sciences down into the three realms of life, physical, and earth.  If there’s one thing that’s common when you discuss the topic of “science” it’s that it consists of sorting things out into categories in order to figure it out in some way.  Sometimes those things are the world around you; other times it may be the people or things around us in this world.  Bing defines science as the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. defines science as the field of study concerned with discovering and describing the world around us by observing and experimenting.  Different dictionaries vary the wording a bit, but all of them take the word to mean the study of something in order to make sense of it and that’s really a great place to begin.

Little children like to explore things.  They want to check out the world and see how it works.  If you haven’t been around any little ones in a while, sit back and watch them.  Babies explore their world by putting everything in their mouths.  Four year olds can ask 300 questions an hour about everything under the sun and beyond!  Kids who are learning to read explore sounds with their mouths and their minds, enjoying tongue twisters and riddles.  As children get older, they still like to explore things, but they generally begin to “specialize” into different areas.  The child who likes to bake or cook will tend to try different recipes, interested in seeing what combinations taste best.  The child who likes to build things will spend countless hours creating better “mousetraps” with everything from Legos to cars.  (These are the tinkerers.  You’ve seen them.)  Likewise, kids who like words will write, and write a lot, in an effort to learn how best to put ideas together.  These kids will often be voracious readers as well.  While the topics of interest differ, they are all exploring things.

Science is a lot like this, except we take it to mean explorations about “scientific” things.  When kids are young, they really don’t need a dedicated science “curriculum.”  Instead, they need the freedom to explore the world around them and think “scientifically” about their discoveries.  This scientific thinking will become more and more refined as they grow up and get better at thinking in general, but they will also get better at designing experiments so that they can think about the results in more meaningful ways.  This way of doing science is much more “real” than following a science curriculum–at least in the early years.

I love what Ellyn Davis had to say about elementary science years ago.  You can read the article here, but don’t neglect her other pages about science.  The concept of nature study is also important for children, more so now than ever before due to the rise of Nature Deficit Disorder.  I’m definitely deficient on nature, but that’s because I’m allergic to so many things.  That doesn’t stop me from wanting to combat it, at least in some small way.  Jen Mauser has a blog post on the concept that includes a link to one of Andrew Pudewa’s talks.  This is a fun blog based on Anna Comstock’s book on nature study.  (I know I’ve seen the book available for free .)  Here are some ideas for how to use the book. If you do a Google search of “nature study Charlotte Mason” you will find more links than you can ever use.  This really is sufficient for the elementary aged student.  Let them explore!  If you want to do more–or your kids do–there are several options available through just about every major provider.  My two older kids did the Principle Approach-friendly spine Considering God’s Creation over the course of several years but my youngest son really liked the Sonlight ones that went with Cores A, B, C, and F–even though he only did Cores A and F.  (BTW, those Discover and Do Science DVDs that Sonlight sells are adorable!)

Very often the first real science course a student takes will be one on general science which will usually explain a bit about what science is, scientific method, lab safety, how to keep a lab notebook, and other similar things.  Often it is the first time a student will really be required to “study” a course, so teaching study skills alongside it is a great idea.  This type of course is best undertaken in middle school, usually once puberty begins.  (Why? Because kids can’t think in a logical and orderly fashion until then.)  The Apologia course is nice, but it will only work for Christians who align themselves to a young-earth viewpoint.  The various science merit badges provide far more options than any high school can usually offer, and the CK-12 books (freely available here) will provide a great starting point for the secular homeschooler or one who adheres to an old-earth viewpoint. Actually, it would a great exercise for all homeschoolers to learn about what these two viewpoints mean and look at the data on both sides so they can make up their minds for themselves.  This is the essence of real science, asking questions and seeking answers through experimentation and observation.

If you want to follow a notebook approach to science that is classical in scope, the ClassiQuest Logic Stage Science Guides are fabulous.  I used the Biology one for my middle son as the spine for his high school biology course.  In fact, we liked it so much that even through the author’s chemistry and physics guides were not available (they still aren’t), we kept to the same format continuing to use the Usborne Dictionary of Science for the main topics.  Throughout these years, we changed out Janice VanCleave’s For Every Kid book for her A+ Projects one and used the 101 Series DVDs for a little more information.  Janice VanCleave has her own website with lots of goodies to peruse and there are enough other great websites dedicated to real science that you should not be stuck with a lousy science choice.  Another thing–if you ever have the opportunity to participate in a science fair, that’s well worth the time too.

After a course where your student learns what it means to think scientifically, the field is as wide or as narrow as you want.  The reality of science means that all kids will need to eventually study some real science in a meaningful way at some point in their school career.  What those science topics end up being should be individualized, but most high school kids, especially those headed to college, will study biology, chemistry, and physics.  Some kids may simply study life sciences and physical sciences and that will be enough for what they are going to do in their lives.  Other kids may want to study biology, organic chemistry, molecular biology, human anatomy, and more.  You see, as with all things, it really does matter what your student plans to do in life.  The flip side of that coin, though, is that most kids have no idea what they want to do with themselves; therefore, schools hedge their bets and offer biology, chemistry, and physics.  This doesn’t mean this is what you have to do in your homeschool, but it does give you a great place to start thinking about the concept of science in the upper grades.

Most of the time, high school sciences require a working knowledge of Algebra at the very least.  Many scientists say that math is the language of science, so if you don’t speak the language, you are going to have a hard time communicating.  For kids who are not really into math, this can be a problem, especially if they have their hearts set on a science career.  If that is the case, do seek out help in the form of a specialized tutor. (Not me!  I’m an English gal and of no use in the math world.)  If your child just needs three science credits to graduate from your homeschool with a high school diploma and math isn’t their thing, look into doing slightly ratcheted down versions, such as life science and physical science.  Add something called Foundational Science and Scientific Literacy with Labs beforehand and you have all three credits.  You can also check out the combined course in Chemistry and Physics from Paradigm that deliberately avoids all the math.  If you go with time rather than completion, that one course might count for 2 credits.  Maybe not, though.  You would have to decide that based on your student’s future plans.  Don’t forget, though, that science courses can take lots of other forms.  You can do a course in robotics, midwifery, botany, animal husbandry, and countless others.  Just because a course doesn’t sound like what you would find in a “regular” high school doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a real science course!

When you do begin to tackle real science, you will want to invest in some good science tools.  It’s usually more economical to purchase kits rather than piecing together specific items, but sometimes, that’s what is going to happen because of what your student wants to study.  Home Science Tools has some amazing options available.  Be sure to request a catalog because their website can be funky to navigate.  Aurora Lipper of Supercharged Science is amazing, so if you have a kid in the house who really is into science, check her things out.  What’s really special about her is that she’s a REAL scientist, not just a science teacher.  That really can make a difference in the life of your student if they want to go into a science field.  You can also look into having a more mature high schooler take a college science course with a lab.  If you go this way, remember that college classes move at twice the speed of a high school class, so a one semester college class will be equal to a full year’s high school class.  Don’t limit your high schooler’s science life to just the basic three options via a textbook with a lab component.  If you have an avid scientist on your hands, you really want to look into a mentorship program where he or she can apprentice under someone in their field.  This real-world experience will help your child know for sure whether this is something they want to pursue in their adulthood.