Category Archives: Elementary Homeschool Science

Podcasts on Living Science

Over at A Delectable Education we are in the middle of a series of podcasts on nature study and science. You know it’s my favorite subject, so I’m thrilled that we are exploring it on the podcast. So far we have talked about Nature Study, Nature Lore books and this coming Friday we will air an interview I did with Cheri Struble, an inspiring nature study enthusiast. Next week we will move onto elementary science, and then middle school and high school science rounds out the series. I hope it is really helpful to each of you. You can always ask question on the episode blog post, or on our ADE facebook page, or here.

On another note, what do you think of my new look? I hope it is working well for you. The only problem that I’ve run into so far, is that a few of the pages from my old site will not forward to my new site. If you had any of them bookmarked, you may want to update those. The following are likely the ones you’ll want:


Physical Geography for Elementary School Students

learning by-the-wayWe talked about geography recently over at A Delectable Education podcast, but as we try to limit each episode to a reasonable bite-sized morsel, there are times when we have to leave something out that one of us really wanted to focus on.  For me, and my ever-present science focus, it was the details Mason provided us regarding physical geography for elementary students.

It seems to me a sine quâ non of a living education that all school children of whatever grade should have one half-day in the week, throughout the year, in the fields. There are few towns where country of some sort is not accessible, and every child should have the opportunity of watching from week to week, the procession of the seasons.

Geography, geology, the course of the sun, the behaviour of the clouds, weather signs, all that the ‘open’ has to offer, are made use of in these walks; but all is incidental, easy, and things are noticed as they occur.” (vol 3 p. 237)

Mason points out that geography for the young child should mostly be taught by-the-way. Instead of treating geography solely as a book subject at this age, we should be outside looking at a little creek and then comparing it to the great rivers of the world, or looking at a hill and comparing it to the great mountain ranges. She called this pictorial geography, which was just a way to use something accessible to us to foster the child’s imagination about other things in the world which they couldn’t see. She even said that, “There are certain ideas which children must get from within a walking radius of their own home if ever they are to have a real understanding of maps and of geographical terms.” (vol 1 p. 73)

Mason outlines the order in which each concept should be covered, and interestingly, each idea builds on another until the abstract ideas of direction, weather, and distance come together in a very tangible way for children. The following list is in the order she suggests presenting these ideas to our children:

  • The position of the sun in the sky as the day goes by, and how it helps us know what time of day it is. They can even note, in their nature journals, the time and location of sunrise and sunset over the course of a year, to see how it changes. They can be made to notice that when the sun is high in the sky on a summer day, it’s much warmer than when the sun is low in the sky in the middle of a winter afternoon. They may also notice the difference these things make for their shadow.
  • They can even learn a little about the size of the sun and the earth and the fact that the earth moves around the sun. Mason explains that these concepts, while abstract, can be of interest to a child who has a great deal of imagination and faith in seemly impossible things. (I just love that.)
  • They can learn basic information about the weather as it is experienced, again noting it in their nature journal.
  • They can learn about distance, by measuring the steps it takes to walk a certain path near your home. By measuring how many feet are covered by one of their steps, they can calculate the distance of a certain walk just by counting their steps.
  • Once they understand the concept of distance they can learn the time it takes to cover a certain distance, and they can calculate the distance of a walk based on how long it took.
  • Once they understand the progress of the sun, and a little about distance, the concept of direction-north, south, east and west-can be introduced, by coaching the child to stand with his right arm out toward the east (where the sun rises,) his left to the west (where the sun sets,) and his face pointed toward the north. Of course, then south is behind him. Then he can determine things like which side of his house faces south.
  • After this, they will be ready to notice which direction the wind is blowing, by noticing which way the smoke from a chimney is going, or even which way a bit of dirt or grass falls when tossed in the air. You can tell them that the same way we are labeled by where we come from, (American’s come from America,) the wind is labeled by where it comes from. So for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the “North wind doth blow” from the north, bringing with it cold air, and the south wind brings warmer air.
  • Following this basic understanding about directions, they can be introduced to the compass, and learn to use it to find direction.
  • At this point they can use their understanding of direction to accurately describe boundaries. They can say, our property is bordered by a corn field on the north side and main street is the south boundary of our yard.
  • All the while they should be noticing what kinds of crops grow nearby, what animals are raised locally, and what kinds of rocks and trees can be found in the neighborhood.
  • This culminates in the child drawing maps of various areas studied. They don’t have to draw them on paper, at least not at first, but rather they can be drawn in the dirt with a stick. They can note the boundaries and various structures, or where there is tree cover or a meadow. They can also note where north, south, east and west is on their map. They may find it hard to draw their map to scale at first, but eventually they will learn about to pace off a boundary and allow an inch for 10 feet or some such.

Each of these things, the sun, weather, distance, direction and boundaries, is covered by-the-way. There is no specific curriculum to follow, but you can see that by taking them generally in the order outlined above, one idea will lay the groundwork for the understanding of another idea. The only requirement is that you do need to spend ample time outside with your children, and that you are deliberate about noticing all there is to notice about the geography of where you are at. Each day you and your children will find something new to notice. One day the wind is blowing, but from which direction? And then the next day it’s snowing. The western boundary of trees blocks some of the snow, but the meadow is covered evenly. The sun comes out the next day, making the snow sparkle, but it is low in the sky, and therefore does not produce enough heat to melt the snow. And on and on it goes. All of this lays the foundation for learning the geography of other places later on by the use of maps.

Physical Geography Books:

Form I (grades 1-3,) has 10 minutes, twice a week allocated on the morning schedule to book work for geography, and form II (grades 4-6,) has 20 minutes, twice a week. I would use one of those two time slots for a physical geography book. You could certainly use Mason’s first geography book (online), or you could use several short books on various topics. You might even want to see if your library has them available. Some of my favorites are below:

What Makes a Shadow? by Clyde Bulla (LRFO 1)
What Makes Day and Night by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 1)
Sun Up, Sun Down by Gail Gibbons
Energy from the Sun by Melvin Berger (LRFO)
Follow the Sunset by Herman and Nina Schneider
The Moon Seems to Change by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
North, South, East, and West by Franklyn Mansfield Branley (LRFO)

The Planets in Our Solar System by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
What the Moon is Like by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
The Sky Is Full of Stars by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
The Sun: Our Nearest Star by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)

On the Same Day in March: A Tour of the World’s Weather by Marilyn Singer
Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here by Jean Craighead George
Sunshine Makes the Seasons by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
What Will the Weather Be? by Lynda DeWitt (LRFO 2)

Close to the Wind: The Beaufort Scale by Peter Malone
Feel the Wind by Arthur Dorros (LRFO 2)

Clouds by Anne Rockwell (LRFO 1)
Not only for ducks: The story of rain by Glenn Orlando Blough
Rain and Hail by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO)
Flash, Crash, Rumble, and Roll by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
Down Comes the Rain by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 2)
A Drop Of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder by Walter Wick

Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
AND Snowflakes in Photographs by W. A. Bentley (a book of Bentley’s photographs)
The Big Storm by Bruce Hiscock
Snow by Thelma Harrington Bell
Snow Is Falling by Franklyn M. Branley (LRFO 1)

How Mountains Are Made by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld (LRFO 2)
Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean by Arthur Dorros (LRFO 2)
How a Rock Came to be in a Fence on a Road Near a Town by Hy Ruchlis


For Reference or further reading on this subject, read Mason’s own words in Home Education (vol 1), part 2, ch 9: Out-Of-Door Geography, pp. 71-78

Elementary Science – Form I (grades 1-3)

A few months ago, I shared with you what Mason had planned for upper elementary science, and now I would like to talk to you about what she had planned for first through third graders, (Form I students).

We see on the schedules that during those years they had four time periods devoted to science each week: natural history for 10 minutes three times per week, and one object lesson which also lasted 10 minutes.

When we look at the programmes we can see that their assigned science reading always fell into 3 categories: two separate nature lore books, and some resources that supported their special studies.

Usually we say that nature study, with the corresponding nature notebook, and special studies are afternoon activities, but Form I students’ schedule didn’t always reflect that idea. Things that became afternoon activities for older kids, such as drawing and handicraft, were scheduled during the morning hours in these years. This is the time for learning those skills, so deliberate instruction needs a place in the schedule, but they would be taken up as independent work later on.

That said, a mom with several children of varying ages will need to figure out how to best arrange her schedule. She might want to utilize the help of her older kids in the afternoon to teach a younger sibling something that she would otherwise teach them herself. For example, when my teen sister lived with us, she taught my little girls several handicrafts, such as how to knit and crochet. My morning schedule was full with teaching a houseful of big kids, so typically my little girls had their deliberate teaching of drawing, handicraft and natural history in the afternoon while everyone else was doing the same thing.

My point here is that you recognize that there are four areas to focus on in the area of science for your early elementary students, and while we will consider the time allotted on the schedule to help us create some boundaries, we can do each of these things at other times if we need to.

So I would coordinate the following:

  1. natural history, 10 min – nature lore (book 1)
  2. natural history, 10 min – nature lore (book 2)
  3. natural history, 10 min – nature study book, or maybe reading something related to their special study
  4. object lesson, 10 min – based on either one of the nature lore books or their special study topic *although Mason specifies that one benefit of homeschooling is that this can be done during an afternoon nature walk.

I think the nature study notebook might still need to be done in the afternoon, because I don’t see how their drawing could possibly be limited to one of these 10 minute periods.

Let me be clear that I’m doing a bit of guessing here. I’m taking two things that were linked: their schedule and their list of work to be done, and trying to piece it together.

Let’s talk about the books they used. They always read two different texts for nature history each term. I called the books nature lore (book 1) and nature lore (book 2) above, and I really do see a distinct difference between the type of books used. One of the books were typically about an ecological region, like By Pond and River by Arabella Buckley, and the other was about various animals, like birds or animal friendships or zoo animals.

It’s important to note, however, that they did not always finish these books in one term. Some of the Eyes and No Eyes books assigned were under 50 pages, and in those cases they would finish it in one term, but if a book was longer than that, then they would either omit a couple chapters or split it over two terms. Typically the nature lore (book 1) books averaged 40 pages per term and the nature lore (book 2) books averaged 55 pages.

How should this look in your home? Each week you would read aloud approximately 4 pages of nature lore (book 1), and then later in the week you would read aloud about 5 pages of nature lore (book 2). Four to five pages! Per week! Does anyone else look at that number and just pause? Hang in there, because next week I am going to discuss this idea further. After each reading you will allow your child to narrate, and in many cases you will want to utilize your outside time to look for some of the things you read about. For instance, if you do read By Pond and River, surely you will want to take a walk near a pond or a river to see what you can see.

Special studies for these little ones was predetermined. At times the programmes varied a bit, but typically they stuck to the following rotation:

  • Fall: wild fruits, birds and other animal
  • Winter: twigs of trees, birds and other animal
  • Spring: wildflowers, birds and other animal

Again, you might have to make a different decision for your family. If everyone else is studying reptiles, likely your second grader will not want to be left out. But do note that these topics are what I would think of as “low hanging fruit”. They are basic things that everyone can find, while a lizard can be elusive.

What did I not mention? Chemistry, Physics, Experiments in Botany, etc. Science as we call it today is not introduced into the curriculum until your student reaches 4th grade, Form II. But don’t be discouraged, or feel like you are holding them back. This time of learning the habit of observation and recording, learning to find joy in the laws and order of nature, and learning the art of asking questions is vital preparation to their study of science later on. Mason said it plainly when she stated, “out-of-door nature study lays the foundation for science.” (Mason. A P.N.E.U. Manifesto.) Without this foundation, science becomes just a mater of mastering the subject, through memorization, but not through understanding.

Elementary Science – Form II (grades 4-6)
Nature Study and Science Lingo
Opening Their Eyes

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.

Tree Collection

“To make collections of leaves and flowers, pressed and mounted, and arranged according to their form, affords much pleasure, and, what is better, valuable training in the noticing of differences and resemblances…The power to classify, discriminate, distinguish between things that differ, is amongst the highest faculties of the human intellect, and no opportunity to cultivate it should be let slip; but a classification got out of books, that the child does not make or himself, cultivates no power but that of verbal memory.” Mason Vol. 1:63-64

Sugar Maple, summer leaf, autumn leaf, and seed pods.


Dogwood – summer leaf, bud, and berries.


Eastern White Pine – needles, and cone.


Tulip Poplar – summer leaf, autumn leaf, seeds


Honey Locust – thorns, seed pod