Wednesday, April 8, 2009

TOS Review: Apologia Elementary Science

For many, science is the bane of their homeschooling existence. They manage creative ways to blend math into their lives (games, anyone?). They select Language Arts materials that support their overall plan for not just literacy, but actual expressive communication. They work in character-building exercises and yes, they read a great number of really good books. But at the end of the day, they just didn't find a single spare moment to incorporate anything resembling science.

An overwhelming number of homeschooling moms have told me that they feel ill-prepared to teach anything beyond the most basic science in the early elementary grades. An even more startling number of homeschoolers have shared that is is because of science that they will eventually be enrolling their children in public school once they reach the age of labs and period tables.

In today's homeschooling climate, there's just no reason to forgo teaching science, or to fear it so strongly that it leads you to abandon educating your own children. The curriculum options are far too numerous and varied--not to mention accessible--to ignore this subject area.

For years, I wrote my own science curricula. This involved lots of time at my computer and many, many library holds. While I hold no doctorate in the experimental sciences, I have a deep fascination with them and a huge admiration for God's artistic model of creation in general. Wanting to pass that love on, I pieced together long, involved studies on topics such as the human body, the atomic model and space.

Unfortunately, my children were 8, 5 and 3.

Yes, it was a clear example of absolute overkill. And no, my kids don't remember any of it. The beautiful atom analogy that involved rolling a chocolate chip in marshmallow goo? Forgotten. The entertaining Seemore Skinless game? Forgotten as well.

Anyhow ...

At some point, my husband requested that I focus my energies in different directions. "Buy a science curriculum," he advised. "This is eating up too much of your time." Being a wife who knows when she hears the voice of wisdom knocking, I complied.

For a while, we used AO LifePacs as spines for individual kids, with a heavy rotation of library books and other resources thrown in to balance the blah presentation. After a while, though, even I was bored stiff of the things and they had to go. I didn't want my children to lose their love of science simply because the tools we were using to teach were lackluster.

Enter Apologia Elementary, a Charlotte-Mason based science curriculum that centers on creation and notebooking.

In truth, I had coveted the Apologia books for some time. While I'm not generally a CM homeschooler, I like the idea of applying that method specifically to science, which seems a very natural and easy fit. I liked the general flow of the texts I had seen, and was impressed by the detail: binomial nomenclature, classification and a explanations so thorough that they leave no stone unturned all hallmarks of the Apologia books. And these are for grades K-6, folks. Talk about impressive! No watered down, "this is a plant" here. This is science for thinkers, a full meal for the mind instead of snack food intended to be remembered only as long as the next text.

What held me back from buying an Apologia curricula wasn't the price (books sell new for less than $30), but the fear that my younger learner wouldn't be able to keep up. I had decided on Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day, but was concerned that my kindergartener would struggle along while my 5th grader flew through the lessons. Gearing something like science to multiple ages can be a bit of a trick, so I wanted to make sure that I got it right.

The answer to that concern has been the notebooking component. Free notebooking pages available online allow Logan to write in simple facts and draw pictures that accompany what he's hearing, while Jo uses plain lined paper to outline and take notes. The notebooks--which are described in detail in the science texts--have become keepsakes of time well-spent learning about the world.

The writing is wonderful--conversational, straight-forward and yet, as I have mentioned, quite detailed. I enjoy reading it aloud while the kids work on their notebooks. Looking at what they've written after the lesson, I can tell that the age-range fears were unfounded; Jo's page is chock full of blow-by-blow information on bats (complete with Latin names for certain functions), while Atticus has a bare-bones set of facts listed, and Logan has sketched a bat and noted details in the margin.

The one drawback to this program that I can't leave unmentioned really has nothing to do with the author, the method or the product itself. It's more of a "Man, I wish I didn't know that," underlying detail that soils the overall pudding for me. Dr. Jay Wile, author of Apologia's upper level science courses and former owner of the company, has been quite active in the pro-vaccination movement. While I am all for defending your beliefs and stating what you perceive as a lack of logic on the behalf of those who debate your stand, I can personally say as the mother of a child who had a violent, adverse reaction to a vaccine (that would be Logan) that a blanket faith in the vaccine industry in misguided. It's good to ask questions. It's good to inform yourself. And it's good to go where God leads you on issues of strong contention.

As I've said, Dr. Wile is no longer the owner of Apologia. Had I known his rather vocal stand prior to purchasing the two Apologia books I own, I very well may have reconsidered. But I may not have. I really can't say from this vantage point.

Apologia's elementary science programs are an exceptional value and of excellent academic calibre. It's hard to beat this program.


EllaJac said...

I lean towards not-at-all or at least very-delayed in my vaccination 'philosophy' and I think I've read Dr. Wile's article(s) on it... I didn't know he was "pro" vaccine; his articles point more to (what he sees as) faulty interpretation of studies by the "anti" groups. Can you tell me more about what you know?

Also, I find it startlingly ironic that parents decide to send their children into the very classes (science) that SO OBVIOUSLY failed THEM a generation ago! I myself didn't take to science until my El. Ed. Science Prof at college had our class working WAY outside the box of 'traditional' science curricula. Most couldn't handle it -- too open ended and no one holding their hands through whatever assignment, but I suddenly "got" it. Can't wait to get going on some of it (my girls are 7, 4, 1).

Jimmie said...

Your review is amazingly timely! I was looking at Swimming Creatures of 5th day in another tab when I read your blog entry on Google Blog Reader! AMAZING! Thanks for this.

I read one review that it's a textbook. But others say, no, it's a living book. I'm not keen on textbooks. But lots of CM HSers (I'm one) like these books. I may look for a used copy. At half price it's worth having on the shelf.

Oh, it was so good to see a photo of you. It was my first time.

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