Category Archives: Living Science Curriculum

My First Elementary Study Guide!

EL Astronomy-400From the beginning of this venture I knew that I wanted to create study guides for all three levels of science, but I wasn’t sure how that would look for elementary science. There are several parts and pieces involved in a CM elementary science curriculum, that it doesn’t feel like a cohesive plan of study. Not to mention the terminology, which seems to change when you are not looking.

I’m happy to tell you that in the end, it all came together. The various parts and pieces have found their home in this guide: nature lore, science, activities/experiments, objects lessons, special studies, exams and some good old encouragement for the teacher as well. It’s all in here. When you have finished this term, you will have finished what Mason counted as a solid term of elementary science.

I hope you and your children enjoy it!

Astronomy: Elementary Living Science Study Guide

By-and-by he passes from acquaintance, the pleasant recognition of friendly faces, to knowledge, the sort of knowledge we call science. He begins to notice that there are resemblances between wild-rose and apple blossom, between buttercup and wood-anemone, between the large rhododendron blossom and the tiny heath floret. A suggestion will make him find out accurately what these resemblances are, and he gets the new and delightful idea of families of plants. His little bit of knowledge is real science, because he gets it at first-hand; in his small way he is another Linnæus.” (Mason, School Education, 1904, p. 77)

Form 3 Astronomy Study Guide Now Available

My Form 3 (gr. 7-8) study guide for Astronomy is finally available! It uses the book The Planets by Dava Sobel (2006), which is a beautifully written book. I’ve had so much fun writing this guide and hope it is just as much fun for your students to use.


I think this will work well for your form 4 (gr. 9) students as well, in case you are looking for something for them, and my form 2 (gr. 4-6) astronomy study guide will be available by the beginning of August, so maybe your whole family can dive into the same science topic this fall. I’ll be using the book Finding the Constellations by H. A. Rey for the form 2 guide in case you want to get a copy of that now.


Science, a Vast and Joyous Region.––Science is one of these provinces. Here, the stars are measured, the ocean sounded, and the wind made the servant of man; here, every flower that blooms reveals the secret of its growth, and every grain of sand recounts its history. This is a vast and joyous realm; for the people who walk therein are always discovering new things, and each new thing is a delight, because the things are not a medley, but each is a part of the great whole. So immense is the realm of Science that one of the wisest and greatest travelers therein, who had discovered many things, said, when he was an old man, that he was only like a little child playing with pebbles on the beach. -Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, p. 35

Living Science Study Guide Now Available

Last week I left you guessing as to my favorite science biography. It is Men, Microscopes, and Living Things by Katherine B. Shippen later reprinted as So Many Marvels. I have never found another book that covers the subject of basic biology so engagingly and so thoroughly.

In honor of it being my favorite, I have written my first science study guide to accompany it. Learn more about this study guide, including a list of the biology principles that are introduced through the combined use of this living book and several other resources by visiting my Middle School Biology Study Guide page.

MS Biology Study Guide

This is the first but I hope to offer several more in the future. In fact, I am working on three others already, including one for elementary students, and another for high school students.


Science – The Last Hold Out

In recent years there has been increasing conversation throughout the CM community regarding doing science Charlotte Mason’s way.  Science seems to be a last hold out – that one subject we don’t want to hand over to Miss. Mason. We reason that she lived in a different time and place than we do now, and that she couldn’t have understood then how important a science education is now for our students in this technology driven world.

We could really make that argument for most subjects. We don’t however, because we see how it has worked for our kids, or for our friend’s kids who are just ahead of ours, and we feel thrilled that it does indeed work! We took that leap of faith with our young students, and tried out this strange recipe that included copywork, dictation and narration. All the while, we reassured ourselves that, if necessary in the end, we could always sign them up for an intensive writing class in high school. We were pleasantly surprised in the end however, because the recipe worked, and they didn’t need the writing class after all. Furthermore, we feel grateful to Mason, because, not only did her recommendations work, but the whole thing was rather painless!

Science is different though, because if you follow Mason’s schedule and principles for science, there isn’t enough time in the end to remediate the damage if it doesn’t work.  Furthermore, there haven’t been that many who have gone before us to prove its viability. We know of students whose parents have used this method to homeschool them, who are now getting into the best of colleges. But what have they chosen for a major? Literature, economics? What if your student wants to become a chemist? Who has gone before you? Who can show that this works?

I would venture to say, that we must look behind us, and then, with faith, go forward.

I have been very blessed that God has allowed me to homeschool several special needs learners, because it has forced me to embrace CM’s style of education completely. I’ve often commented that if my older kids could have successfully completed a textbook science curriculum, I would never have been forced to look at the alternative. Let’s face it, for the teacher, handing over the text book and proctoring a test once in a while is a far easer alternative. However, because I was literally forced to embrace a living books science curriculum, I have had the blessing of seeing that it works.

I’m not going to tell you that each of my kids have been admitted to the best of colleges as science majors. You read that part about them being special needs kids right? In fact, two of the three have no interest in college whatsoever. They have chosen a different path.  In their case, I’m particularly glad I was able to make science something they could enjoy. For them, the end goal was that they learned about the universe which God made. They learned about the important principles, people, and discoveries and the uses of science in the world they currently live in. They can follow a discussion about current scientific discoveries and debates, and they…wait for it…they care. Not enough to pursue it as a field of employment, but enough to appreciate the universe God made for them to live in. They haven’t been so turned off by a science curriculum that they say things like, “I hate science.” Rather, it’s just another aspect of their education, their life.

The third of my older kids does want to go to college and for that she prepared to take the SAT. I’m happy to say that she passed all subjects, including the science portion, with at least a “college ready” score. She has really enjoyed her science education so far, and is even showing some interest in pursuing nursing.

This might not be as encouraging to you as it is to me. Maybe you have brilliant students, and they could indeed handle a textbook. They could get A’s on all the tests, and follow that up with various AP classes. Maybe they want to be a physicist or maybe they don’t, but you want to keep their options open. How then do you decide what philosophy you use for their science education?

I would propose that you remember that Charlotte Mason felt that educating a child this way was an all or nothing proposition.

“The reader will say with truth,––”I knew all this before and have always acted more or less on these principles”; and I can only point to the unusual results we obtain through adhering not ‘more or less,’ but strictly to the principles and practices I have indicated.”  Vol 6 pg 19

The fact is, that the end goal which I mentioned for my two non-college striving children, is the same end goal for all students. Knowledge of God, knowledge of man and knowledge of the universe. Furthermore, that knowledge in each and every area, is obtained in the same way, whether your child is bound to be a physician or a welder.

You must separate in your mind the liberal education we desire for every single one of our children, and the future pursuit of a career. I have a friend whose daughter is a professional ballerina. I can only imagine how many hours she has trained and prepared over the years to get where she is now. Would it have been right for her mother to say, “I don’t think we have time for every aspect of this liberal education, because clearly your end goal is to be a ballerina.”? That’s laughable. One of my kids, whom I mentioned above, is currently training to become a certified welder. Should he have missed any aspect of his liberal education because he was destined to become a blue collar worker? Charlotte Mason gave a clear answer to that question – no.  I could go on and on with examples of students who want to become, or have become, anything from a pilot to an economist, and you would agree that they still need that liberal education, but if we venture into the realm of science, all of a sudden people want to scrap the material that Mason says clearly enables the student to learn, and jump right into the technical training. That’s not fair.

Be assured that there is time for the technical training. If you look at the PNEU schedule for levels 5 and 6, which covers the 10-12th grade in the US, you will still see a 4 hour day, 6 days per week schedule. That allows plenty of time for additional pursuits. The hopeful ballerina can train for hours daily, if that is her goal. Your budding chemist can scour that cool chemistry textbook or take an AP class.

The point is that you cannot start shaving off parts of the educational philosophy we have chosen to adhere to, because you have a particular hope regarding what your child will become, or even because they are showing a particular bent in one direction or another. You cannot mess with the few hours per week that is growing this person into the well rounded, whole person they are meant by God to be. Surely 4 hours per day will not tax them so much that they cannot pursue these interests outside of that general education.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Sir Richard Gregory, which Mason hoped would encourage us to surrender the subject of science to this philosophy of education.

The essential mission of school science was to prepare pupils for civilized citizenship by revealing to them something of the beauty and the power of the world in which they lived, as well as introducing them to the methods by which the boundaries of natural knowledge had been extended. School science, therefore, was not intended to prepare for vocations, but to equip pupils for life. It should be part of a general education, unspecialised, but in no direct connexion with possible university courses to follow. Vol 6 pg 222

What Makes Up Our Chemistry Curriculum

The following is an overview of what makes up my Chemistry Curriculum. The first time I went through this with my big kids, and we took an entire year. It was a breath of fresh air after struggling with an Apologia text book. Now three years later I am doing it again with my son. The only difference is that I don’t do a full year of any one science anymore. Charlotte Mason says, “The study of natural history and botany with bird lists and plant lists continues throughout school life, while other branches of science are taken term by term.” (vol 6 pg 220) In our house this looks like Natural History/Botany/Nature Study always, and a term at a time of Modern Biology, Chemistry, Physics and any other field we wish to study.

I may not know exactly what I am doing, but I am determined that we at least try to do this in a CM fashion. I hope that by sharing what we are doing, others might feel confident enough to jump in there and try it too.

Living Books

Charlotte Mason said, “Books dealing with science as with history, say, should be of a literary character, and we should probably be more scientific as a people if we scrapped all the text-books which swell publishers’ lists and nearly all the chalk expended so freely on our blackboards.” (vol. 6, pg 218) Therefore, the first step was to choose what living books we would use.

1. Spine Text

Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry From Ancient Alchemy to Nuclear Fission by Bernard Jaffe
This is what we are using as our “spine” text. (I considered several living books before feeling certain that this was the right one.) Each week we read one chapter, or half a chapter if it is long, and use it to direct our focus for that week.
We are using the Dover Edition, first published in 1976, which is a revised and enlarged republication of the work originally published in 1930.
I bought the Dover Edition online from for a very reasonable price. Google Books also has a preview of the Dover Edition that you can check out.
The original work is available free online at, but it is missing the following chapters, and is not as complete as the Dover Edition:
  • Ch 3 Becher
  • Ch 9 Avogadro
  • Ch 14 includes Thomson, but not Rutherford
  • Ch 16 includes Langmuir, but not Bohr
  • Ch 19 Nuclear Energy Today and Tomorrow

2. Free Reading

In addition to reading the spine text, I have my students choose living science books from my collection of chemistry free reads. This page will give you some ideas of what to stock in your library. Some are longer than others and some harder than others. By allowing each student to choose their own they can pick something suitable for their level and interest. They will read these books for a certain period of time each week, and when they have completed one, they can pick another.

Mendeleyev and His Periodic Table by Robin McKown

There are several GREAT chemistry biographies, but I must recommend this excellent one about Mendeleyev.
3. Other Books about Specific Topics
Other short living books will be required from time to time to expound on the week’s principle topic.  Examples are:
Biography of an Atom by Pursell
Matter, Molecules, and Atoms by Bertha Morris Parker
Millions and Millions of Crystals by Roma Gans

Charlotte Mason also clarified for us that, “The only sound method of teaching science is to afford a due combination of field or laboratory work, with such literary comments and amplifications as the subject affords.” Vol. 6, pg 223 The next several items are used as an effort to fulfill these requirements.


Each experiment is pulled directly from the topic being considered that week.

One of my very favorite resources for chemistry experiments is Off The Shelf Chemistry. Each experiment is fun, simple to understand concepts, and easy enough to do. You will need real chemistry equipment, but I was able to get completely stocked for a year worth of experiments for $90 through Home Science Tools. I supposed this is the trade off for getting our “text” for $1.99!


I have chosen short videos at times to clarify a principle topic. Some are explanatory, and some are just fun.

I originally found a great BBC video series called A Volatile History on YouTube which covers the history of chemistry and paralleled the spine text very well. Unfortunately, those videos are now unavailable. I have read that it is is periodically re-run on BBC4, so if you can set your DVR you might get it recorded one of these days.


The kids will keep a science notebook. From what I understand, Charlotte Mason advocated one notebook that included all subjects. In other words, if we dissect a flower for a botany lesson today, we can diagram that in our science notebook. Then if tomorrow we study Binary Compounds of Metals with Fixed Charges, (see below,) we can enter than on the very next page.


I use worksheets sometimes to help the kids narrate ideas or to clarify a tricky idea. Here is an example:

Work through the top of this page on Binary Compounds of Metals with Fixed Charges, and try the first set of practice problems. Recorded them in your science notebook.

Current Events

This can be tricky because a lot of science news is read by honest-to-goodness scientists, and can be too difficult to understand for high school students. Therefore, we have to find resources that will work for the level of our students, and be of interest. I have found that Scientific America is a good source. It’s useful to subscribe by email, so that when a good current event shows up, you can share it.
Other notes
It can also be valuable to “set-up” the readings and thereby facilitate narration by including definitions of words that might be unknown, pronunciation guides for names, and quotes that might be interesting or fun to include in a notebook.