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Create Your Own Science Unit

By Pam Maxey
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #46, 2002.

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Pam Maxey


Springtime is my favorite season of the year! I'm energized by the longer, warmer days as grays and browns give way to greens and pastels. Use that extra energy, sunshine, and the desire to be outside in your favor by creating a science unit to add new color to your homeschooling day.

Science units can cause fear and trembling in many homeschool parents. My husband refuses to watch while my son "oohs and ahhs" over Jeff Corwin on TV catching rattlesnakes with his bare hand. How about turning your kitchen into a lab? That's always a joy to clean up after. Science phobia? Some of you dread science because you simply don't like it.

Do not fear! Science units can be as complex as you wish to make them. A science unit should focus primarily on scientific principles, but use your child's curiosity about his world to practice reading, written language, and often history or geography skills.

Let's explore some ideas to broaden your science knowledge.

A science theme can be combined with a history theme when you study an inventor or scientist. First you need to decide whom you will study about in your unit. Pick your person and find as much information about the person as possible. Begin with an encyclopedia but also look for a variety of science books or biographies. For instance, if you are studying Ben Franklin, find a variety of textbooks and biographies, but also have your child read Ben and Me, the humorous story of Ben Franklin's mouse Amos. Include information about the person and where they lived. It is also important to have background information about the person's times to place that person in history. Most importantly, discover how this person and his contribution to science have changed the world. You can easily incorporate writing practice if you choose to have your child write a report about your scientist or inventor. You may also include some simple experiments, science texts, videos, and craft projects. By studying scientists, you can clear up some misconceptions, such as this tidbit I found that was an actual answer written on a public high school test. "Gravity was invented by Isaac Walton. It is chiefly noticeable in the Autumn when the apples are falling off the trees."

Another option for a science unit is to pick an animal or group of animals to study. There are many homeschool studies available on dinosaurs, which always seem to be a child's favorite. You could pick any type of animal or animal species. You may want to study animals that would live in your area of the country or exotic animals. Again first use encyclopedias for information and then search your library for books and videos about your animal. Find out where your animal lives, what it eats, what it looks like, and anything unique about the animal. Again, reading and writing skills can easily be incorporated into the unit. Studying animals is also an easy way to practice some drawing skills by drawing the animal and its habitat.

Explore earth science by picking and studying a specific biome: tundra, taiga, forest, grassland, or desert. Many videos are available to supplement the information found in books and encyclopedias. For each biome, find the physical characteristics of the land, the geography of where this biome is located, and what kinds of animals live in this biome. Earth science also includes the study of the planets and the solar system. Again, there are many books and videos available to choose from. The study of the planets can be simple or complex depending on your child or range of children. Other earth science ideas can include earthquakes, volcanoes (I know you are thinking of an exploding volcano mess, but you can save that for outside!), magnets, seasons, weather, and plants. You may feel by this time like another quote from a test that I found. "When planets run around and around in circles, we say they are orbiting. When people do it, we say they are crazy."

Pick your objectives for the unit. Your objectives can vary for each of your children. Begin with a simple list of things you want your child to learn about your theme. Be sure to write down specific objectives and vocabulary terms that you want your child to know at the end of the unit. Next, pick out the books and videos that will help you teach your objectives and learn your vocabulary terms. Including some reading materials with the theme can enrich your science unit into reading skills.

Include some activities with your unit also. There are many books available with simple science experiments. Try to get outdoors as much as possible. Walk in the park or hike in the woods. Plant a garden if possible to enhance a study of plants. Visit a zoo with your study of animals. See if there is a planetarium or some type of observatory near you to improve your unit about planets. Find a book at your child's grade level that explains the principles of lightning.

Always remember, the units described here are to supplement your core curriculum. You still need the sequential, programmed, methodical approach to your child's overall learning.

I know I'm sounding preachy. I just want to spare you the embarrassment one mother must have felt when she read her child's explanation about thunder: "You can listen to thunder and tell how close you came to getting hit. If you don't hear it, you got hit, so never mind."


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