Elementary Science – Form II (grades 4-6)

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:

  1. always doing botany and biology by way of special studies, nature lore books, taking nature walks and spending ample time outside; and
  2. 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.

14 thoughts on “Elementary Science – Form II (grades 4-6)

  1. Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    Oh my goodness. This is super helpful! I think I am requiring too much of my 12-year-old. We are reading Wiker's book aloud together, but he also has a chemistry text for our co-op AND a biography of Mendeleyev (by McKown)–all of which he's supposed to finish by Thanksgiving. I think I need to rethink things.

    (I came here from Living Books Library. I am glad to discover your site and super excited about the podcast you, Liz, and Emily are starting! I have read [and love] Mason's books, but I clearly need help implementing them!)

  2. Nicole Williams

    I'm glad it will be helpful, Kimberlee! Biographies are excellent and that McKown one is a favorite of mine, but yes, we have to stick to some time limits. I talk a bit about this in one of the upcoming podcasts. We are very excited for the big unveil in just a couple days! I hope you will enjoy it!

  3. Dew Girls

    I am thankful for the living science book list! As I am perusing the list I am interested in Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth. We are creationists with understanding that nature along the way has changed our earth. Does anyone have suggestions for addressing this when reading living books from a non-creationist perspective? It is difficult to find books written from a creation perspective with a strong respect of science. My children are ten and under.

  4. Kelly

    Hi Nicole,
    I have just finished reading Charlotte Mason’s glowing review of The Sciences by Holden in Home Education Vol. 1, but see that you do not recommend it. I know she was writing a long time ago, but I fall so easily for book recommendations! I would appreciate knowing why you don’t recommend it, just so I can cross it off my list. 🙂

    Thank you!

    1. Nicole

      Thanks for writing, Kelly. I can tell you that it is not because of the age of the book, but rather the style. I am not a fan of the conversational style in books written to children. This one is like that. CM also used Ruskin’s Ethics of Dust and a lot of people list The Wonder Book of Chemistry but you won’t see it as one of my favorites. It is nothing against the authors, as who can say a negative word about Fabre or Ruskin? and you pointed out Mason’s glowing comments on Holden. I am just turned off by the style. I recently read the weather portion of The Sciences as I’m working on a weather study guide, and I saw that he told the children that rain drops are hollow. I giggled about that, but again, I’m not worried about old books and the potential for a bit of miss information. We can correct that kind of stuff in a moment, and it’s good for children to see that ideas change. Science seems attainable to them if they know the “big dogs” have made mistakes. So, all that said, if you like it, and your children are responding to it, then by all means, use it. But do remember that Mason did not have Franklyn Branley, Ira Freeman, Kathleen Zoehfeld, Melvin Berger, Katherine Shippen, Glenn Blough, Clyde Bulla, H. A. Rey…ok, I’ll stop. The point is, we have some wonderful children’s science authors to choose from. Many of their books are still 50+ years old, but they are great none-the-less. I think Mason would be over the moon to see the options we have available! Thanks again for writing, Kelly. I hope this helps you decide what is right for your family. No judgement here if you use The Sciences.


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