I think many Charlotte Mason homeschoolers have been under the false assumption that Elementary Science means reading naturalists’ books in the morning and taking a nature walk in the afternoon. I won’t disagree that this is preferable to breaking out a textbook for your 5th grader, as that is bound to kill any interest they have in science before they ever have a real chance. However, if we want to do the thing right, we have to dive in just a little deeper.
Let’s start by looking at what Charlotte Mason had planned. We see that the PUS schedule specified that Form II students (4th-6th graders,) were scheduled for Natural History two times a week and Nature Lore once a week.
That does not clear things up for us, however. We must look at the programmes to see what was specifically required when we see the blanket term “natural history” on the schedule.
By looking at a Form II programme we can see that these students were assigned three types of sciences:
- general science (The Sciences* by E.S. Holden, including the note “Students should make experiments where possible,”)
- nature lore (Life and Her Children by Arabella Buckley)
- special studies (various books.)
From this, I think we can confidently schedule our Form II students with the following books and activities:
- one day a week (30 min) for reading related to an introductory science topic such as physics, chemistry or earth science, including an activity or experiment.
- one day a week (20 min) of nature lore (see my Nature Lore page for ideas.)
- one day a week (20 min) for reading toward a special study topic (see my Natural History/Special Studies Rotation page for ideas.)
*If you take a look at what was included in The Sciences by E.S. Holden, you might be surprised. It introduces students to chemistry, physics, and several fields of earth science, including astronomy, meteorology (weather,) and physiography (geology.) I don’t actually recommend you use it, however, for a couple of reasons, but I’ll save that explanation for another day since I’m trying hard not to go down a rabbit trail right now.
Then, what do I think you should use? Mason says we should use “the best thing going”, and as we are living in a scientific culture, we have a lot to choose from! The main thing is that we must find things that are indeed “living”, despite being scientific, and things that are truly introductory in nature. Here are some examples:
What Is the World Made Of? All About Solids, Liquids, and Gases by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld
What Makes a Magnet? by Franklyn M. Branley
Light Is All Around Us by Wendy Pfeffer
Investigating Heat by Sally M. Walker
The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin D. Wiker
What’s Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew? by Robert E. Wells
Look at the Sky and Tell the Weather by Eric Sloane
Climate Maps by Ian F. Mahaney
How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World by Faith McNulty
Rocks, Rivers and the Changing Earth by Herman and Nina Schneider
Brooklyn Bridge by Lynn Curlee
Mary Anning and The Sea Dragon by Jeannine Atkins
Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring The Earth To Life by Molly Bang
There are many Let’s Read and Find Out Science books that are suitable for early readers. Many include a short experiment that students can do.
Although I mentioned that The Sciences covers several different topics, when pages were assigned for a term, they covered one particular subject. With that in mind, I think we are safe to follow Mason’s advice by:
- always doing botany and biology by way of special studies, nature lore books, taking nature walks and spending ample time outside; and
- by taking other subjects “term by term”.
You will still want to spend as much time as you can outside, taking nature walks and generally exploring the world God has made, but I hope this clears away the misconception that nature walks are all there is to science when your kids are in elementary school.