Unschooling Science Experiments

I have always had a slight problem with doing science experiments.  Here’s why

  • They are messy and time consuming, and yet often the results are not dramatic or the experiment doesn’t work at all.
  • Kids love to do the experiment, but they don’t necessarily want to use the “scientific method.”  It’s a hassle to get them to write down the steps they took or the results.
  • Kids can’t always make the connection for the narrow to the wider subjects.  That is — just because they can see red food coloring swirling around in a bowl, doesn’t mean they get the concept of convection currents.

I always count myself more of a naturalist.  I like to observe and name things in the natural world, drawing conclusions about how things work without doing actual experiments to duplicate the results.  However, kids love doing science experiments, and they don’t really care if they’re learning to see the big picture.  Fortunately, a kind aunt sent us these this summer:

We have checked out many of these Janice VanCleave books from the library before, but have never owned any.  The kids were delighted to receive this box, and immediately went through marking all the experiments they wanted to try out.  Since these experiments were not dangerous and involved mostly household items, I decided we would completely “unschool” with these books.  This meant that Lulu and Max would be completely in charge of the mess, the clean up, and whatever learning they did.  If they wanted help or more resources, they could ask me.

So far, this has been a successful way for us to do science experiments.  It led to green pennies (made by soaking them in vinegar) and the statement from Lulu, “So that’s why the Statue of Liberty is green.”  Again, I didn’t even read this experiment with them, so I don’t know if it was a quote from the book or if she reached the conclusion on her own.  I am guessing the former, but that’s fine.  She learned something that she will be able to use as a building block later on.  It also led to volcanoes in the sandbox.  Now, I don’t know what you are supposed to learn from mixing baking soda and vinegar to make a volcano, because that has nothing to do with real volcanoes, and I heard no talk of acids and bases.  However, it is a classic childhood activity, and they had a blast.



I don’t think this is the way we will do science forever, but the kids have sure enjoyed this way so far this summer.  Either way, the  books will be a great resource for them to extend whatever science studies they pursue.

Do you like to be in control of science experiments for your kids?  Do you feel like they have to “write down” about things in order to learn and remember, or do you have a more relaxed approach?  Please leave me a comment.



Leave a comment


  1. I get frustrated every time I see science experiments in curriculum. They are complicated and overwhelming for a busy mom, mostly because of all the materials involved. I found the Janice VanCleave Earth Science book at a homeschool consignment shop and snapped it up mostly because the experiments looked so simple and clear with easy to find materials already in the home. My son really could do most of it on his own (if he could read) 🙂
    I like science experiments but I don’t like to be the one in control of it all the time. My son is naturally scientifically/mechanically minded and I love seeing him discover things on his own. Thanks for this post. I had no idea there were more of these books! I think I will be getting them all now!

  2. How cool. I love the way you approached this!

  3. Amy

     /  September 3, 2012

    This has been on my mind lately, too. It is tough to justify all the effort, though scientific literacy is a big deal for me. This year I’m trying to encourage my daughter to use a science lab journal when we do experiments. I’m hoping this will help the experiments to stick and to encourage the use of the scientific method.

  1. Plein Air Painting — Unschooling Art « anothergranolamom
  2. Awesome Ocean Science at Home (for kids) « anothergranolamom

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: