Living Books for Homeschool Science: Dissections

One of the pressures we put on ourselves as homeschool parents is trying to avoid textbooks for learning.  Whether you are of the Charlotte Mason group, the Thomas Jefferson education group, or an unschooler, much negativity resides on the word “textbook.”  Instead, we encourage ourselves to find “living books.”  A living  book is described as one with original, first-hand knowledge of a subject, not “dumbed down” for children but written in a way that broadens and challenges horizons.  Can a textbook be a living book?  Not in the minds of most people.  And yet, one of the main reasons Eden wanted to quit the online charter school she did last year and come back to “mom-school” was the Apologia Science Biology book.  While she was dissatisfied with the science she learned from an on-line textbook through the charter school, this biology book has encouraged her toward further research and led her in directions she would not originally have known about.

One of the reasons Eden wanted to use Apologia Biology was remembering the dissections that Brett did while he was using this book.  She was not convinced that online, virtual dissections matched the real thing.  While there might be discussion about whether dissections are appropriate, the only thing I have to remember to resolve this question for myself is that dissection of human corpses was banned for hundreds of year, and this led to lack of knowledge and more deaths for humans.  Since we already had the dissection kit, we only needed to purchase more specimens, and Eden was ready to go.

This week, she got to try her hand at her first dissection: an earthworm.

girls doing dissectionShandy had helped Brett with his dissections, but Eden needed help at a time when he was really busy.  Also, Brett had done his dissections outside (mostly to keep the smell of formaldehyde out of the house) but the weather has not been nice enough to do that kind of school work outside.  So we layered up the counter with newspaper and went to work.

The instructions in the science book were very detailed.  The most difficult part was slitting the epidermis, the outer layer of skin, without destroying any of the internal organs.  Worms are, after all, quite small.  There were clearly labeled step-by-step photos in the science book, I suppose to allow students who decided not to perform the dissections themselves a learning opportunity.  They were very helpful in identifying the different parts, although what our worm actually looked like varied from the photos.

All in all, Eden was very satisfied with her first dissection experience.  The little ones were eagerly looking over her shoulder the whole time, so I am sure they, too, will be looking forward to their opportunity to use this living? textbook. Although Eden’s future plans at the time do not include major scientific work, the experiences she has now can broaden her interests for her entire life.  I am glad she was able to perform this dissection.

In an upcoming post, I hope to list some of the other living books we have found useful for studying science.   How do you find living books for your children?  Do you believe textbooks can serve as these books?  Please leave me a comment below.


Awesome Ocean Science at Home (for kids)

In anticipation of a hoped-for vacation to the beach, I began a Unit Study about Oceans today with Lulu and Max.  It has been about 7 years since I used this particular curriculum.  Lulu was 2 on our first (my first!) ever visit to San Diego to see the ocean.  In the months of planning toward that trip, Brett and Eden made Ocean Journals, read tons of books and did many experiments.  While our unit study may not be as in-depth, we are using the same book for the backbone of our curriculum that we used before.  The book Awesome Ocean Science, by Cindy A. Littlefield , is wonderful.  It is written in an interesting and entertaining way.  But most importantly — THE EXPERIMENTS WORK!  (And many involve food coloring, which is irresistible, right?)

Awesome Ocean Science

I have shared with you before my frustration with science experiments at home.  Often they require lots of mommy time, effort and mess, with little result or little correlation to the subject being studied.  I usually unschool science.  I bring home lots of books on various subjects, and try to let the kids go ahead with the experiments they can perform on their own.  I have been excited to do the experiments in this book, however, because they really prove their points, quickly and easily.

For example, this drop of salt water is dropping through the fresh water because salt water is denser than fresh water.

sinking salt water

This carrot is floating in salt water, for the same reason.

floating carrotThe kids now understand the phrase “just the tip of the iceberg.”

kitchen icebergAnd we know why melting ice in Antarctica can raise sea level, while melting sea ice does not.

melting polesSome of our next experiments are about ocean currents, and they will be looking at tide pool videos on Youtube and making tide pool creatures from clay.

Do you have any recommendations for our Oceans unit?  Please leave me a comment below!

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.