Our Homeschool Science this Year

This is an ongoing series where I share how we’re doing different subjects in our homeschool this year. You can see my previous post “Our Homeschool Language Arts this Year” here.

And here’s how we’re doing science this year!

11th grade: My 11th grader started out the year with Oak Meadow Environmental Science but to be honest, she hasn’t gotten far with it. I am hoping one of my other kids will pick it up at a future date because it was a bit spendy! She is currently “outsourcing” her science by taking an Intro to Psychology course at the local community college and will probably continue on that path next year.

9th grade: My 9th grader is using Apologia Biology this year and we have been pretty happy with it. It is definitely a Christian-based program and we are a secular homeschool, but it has not felt like an issue at all. There is an occasional religious sentence or two here and there, but the science is solid and I am really pleased with the friendly tone it’s presented in. Much more interesting than I remember science textbooks being!  We got the CD-ROM version with the schedule from Sonlight and this has made completing the work much more do-able for both of us. The schedule breaks everything down into manageable pieces to complete each day and lets him know what he needs to have on hand for upcoming experiments. The CD-ROM has been great and I am glad we chose it over the traditional text. I think reading the material on the computer feels less intimidating than having a giant science book to get through. Throughout the text there are links to short videos. You can also click on many unfamiliar words to hear them pronounced, which I think is an awesome feature since I am terrible at pronouncing unfamiliar terms.

Apologia Biology Student Text ~ I chose to order the CD-ROM version from Sonlight

I also purchased the student notebook from Apologia for him and it has really made organizing all the notes and studying for the quizzes much easier. This is the first time  he has experienced a course where he was expected to take notes and study for tests, and I am glad he’s getting this experience. The only downside I have found is that if you don’t get to it every day (we have trouble with this) it’s easy to get behind. I would prefer to move on to chemistry (or something else) next year, so we may end up finishing this one up over the summer. The experiments so far have been successful and easy to do, but we’re not up to the dissections yet, so ask me again in a few weeks! He does this program independently, but I do check in to see what he has done each day and remind him when he needs to get ready for a quiz or a lab. He probably spends 45 minutes a day, on average, on this course.

7th grade: My 7th grader is using BookShark Science 7 this year, which comes with a daily schedule ~ my favorite way to do science, otherwise I find it tends to get put off! We have been mostly happy with this program. He has enjoyed the book selection so far, especially Cool Stuff 2.0 which he was very happy to see in his book pile. We started out having him do the questions provided with my Instructor Guide but he tends to get bogged down answering those, so we have switched to mostly discussing them. This has really saved him a lot of time and I find I get better, more detailed answers than when I have him write the answers out. I love the diversity of topics and titles in this level – there are books about robotics, canals and dams, garbage, weather, the Industrial Revolution, and more. The only downside we have found is that some of the experiments have been disappointing. Some of them were a bit “fussy”, some of them just plain didn’t work, and at least one didn’t seem doable. A few weeks ago, for example, we were instructed to create a robot, bring it to a crowded setting, and operate it secretly to observe people’s reactions. We quickly realized that with today’s security concerns it was probably not a smart idea to set something like that loose in a crowd of people! I have been letting him pick and choose from among the experiments and he probably does about every other one or so.

A few of the books scheduled in this level:

4th grade: Last, but not least, my 4th grader is using Sonlight Science D this year. She is really enjoying it so far. Like BookShark and Apologia, we have a daily schedule for this one and she has no problem keeping up with it. So far, she has read a book about Rachel Carson, learned about seas and oceans, read a Magic School Bus book about the human body, and spent a lot of time reading her favorite book, Mysteries and Marvels of Nature. She loves checking out the internet-links for that title after she reads. We are currently working through TOPS Radishes, as mentioned in my last post. We have a “divide and conquer’ approach to this curriculum that is working well. She reads some of it to herself, answers most of the questions on the activity sheets provided, and checks out the internet links on her own if she’s reading an internet-linked book. I read some of the more complex books with her, watch the science DVD with her when we’re scheduled to, and assist with experiments.

A few of the books scheduled in this level:


And that’s how we’re doing science in our homeschool this year…thanks for reading!

Our Nighttime Sky Observing Kick-Off

I had been feeling guilty, because here we are five weeks into our new school year and we had not managed even one observing session for Grace’s astronomy study. Either it is raining, or cloudy, or most recently, someone is sick! But we could not pass up the opportunity to see a total lunar eclipse…even those of us who were still sniffling. We even identified a few constellations while waiting for the moon to turn dark. I could not have asked for a better kick-off to our observing sessions.

TOPS Corn & Beans Review

Last month, James and Christopher completed the TOPS unit Corn & Beans, as scheduled in Sonlight Science D. They had a blast doing this unit and learned a ton, though at times it did feel like a lot of work and commitment. This unit takes five weeks to complete, with a daily time commitment ranging from 30 minutes to 1 hour (in our experience). Once you start this unit, it is difficult to skip a day without throwing things off, so I timed our starting week carefully to make sure we would be able to stay on track and not miss days due to holidays, vacations, and such.  Even so, we did have to double up here and there and make some adjustments for sick days.

 I love that Sonlight schedules the TOPS activities right in the instructor’s guide. Each day’s assignments are clearly listed, so you know exactly what you should do each day to stay on track.   I also really love that the Sonlight science DVD has tracks for most of the TOPS experiments. The directions in Corn & Beans are very clear, but it was still nice to have that visual before starting the day’s work. Also, in some cases the directions from SL were slightly different (in a good, simplified way!) from the TOPS directions.

Some of the materials needed to do the experiments are in the Sonlight Science Kit. We received potting soil and all of the seeds we needed. There is nothing strange to track down though, so you would certainly not need to order the SL kit just to do this unit.

A few highlights from this unit….

Growing corn and bean sprouts in a makeshift greenhouse…an orange juice carton. The boys really enjoyed checking their seeds each day and seeing the changes.

Corn & Beans is just a simple black and white softcover book, but it is heavily illustrated and very easy to follow. I love that each day’s work is broken down into numbered steps. My boys can be a bit flighty about following directions, but I tried to encourage them to take charge of their experiments as much as possible. An older/more mature student could probably do much of this on their own, but my boys tend to need more supervision in order to get things done!

They were instructed to make their own journals for this unit using photocopies of some of the TOPS pages, plus their own notes and sketches. This unit involved a lot of drawing, which luckily, they both enjoy. Most days they were asked to sketch the growth of various seedlings or to draw and label parts of their plants.

Some seeds were sprouted on a damp paper towel to be used in various experiments. The kids were often asked to weigh, sketch, or do other activities with these sprouts.

Beans seeds are great for experiments like this; their growth is often quick and dramatic.

One of the very first projects in this unit was to make a pole planter to house one bean and one corn sprout. The boys measured and sketched these two sprouts each day to track their growth.

Growing bigger…

One day they were asked to predict how the sprouts would change if put in a sunny window. They grew quite dramatically towards the light.

And they just kept growing.

They did some other experiments once the greenhouse sprouts grew up, like removing the cotelydons on one bean plant to see what would happen, and coating a leaf with Vaseline to see what would happen. Each day, their journal had space to record their observations. Christopher wrote all of his own observations, but I helped James here and there if the writing got to be too much.

They made graphs, predictions, and charts along with their sketches.

By the end of the unit, the plants were huge!

I need to try to get these planted outside! All in all, we had a very positive experience using TOPS Corn & Beans. It is a lot of work though, and I will admit that I was relieved on the last day to get a bit of a breather! Earlier this year,  James completed TOPS Radishes, and that was also a good experience for us, though I didn’t remember to take any pictures!

Ninth Grade Astronomy Plan

Grace is going to be studying astronomy for her ninth grade year. I feel kind of relieved about that, because she has been studying biology this year and it is a tough subject! Not that astronomy is easy, but I was very into astronomy as a teen, so I feel much more comfortable with it.

This is the plan I put together for her, with her help. We decided on a spine, a hands-on manual, several reading selections, and a couple of documentary series.

* Main Astronomy Spine *

* Hands-On Observing *
  • Binocular Highlights: 99 Celestial Sights for Binocular Users – We already had this on hand, which is always a plus.  I plan to schedule one night a week for stargazing, using this book to help. We’ll see how that goes! Staying up late isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I think it could be a really fun year if we were able to dedicate that much time to stargazing.

* Readings *

I plan to have her read through these books, one at a time, in any order she likes. I came up with a list of possibilities and she chose these six.



* Documentaries *

She would like to watch an astronomy-related documentary once a week or so. We’ll start with these, then add others in as time allows.

    And that’s our plan for ninth grade astronomy!

    more than halfway

    Most of my kiddos hit week 21 of our 36-week year this week. They are behind in some things, ahead in others, but on average week 21 is the week we are working on. This is the first year that I planned most subjects out week-by-week and it has been really great. It took some time over the summer to set up, but it will take even less time this summer since I am used to doing it. Having that plan in place has saved me so much time this year, plus it helps keep me on track when I am tempted to slack off. Basically, I just set up a spreadsheet with a row for each week and plugged in lesson numbers for math, writing, grammar, logic….whatever I hoped we would accomplish each week. I also plugged in Book Shark weeks, which don’t match up with the week we are currently working on because, except for Rose, we didn’t start with week 1 of Book Shark at the start of the year. Months ago I said that I would do a post on how I set up our 36-week plan, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Soon!

    I updated our curriculum page to better reflect what we are actually doing. I was surprised to find that very few updates were needed because we have not had to drop or change a lot of things.

    A few mid-year updates….

    Rose (6): We dropped Song School Latin shortly before the holidays, because she wasn’t very interested. She has been asking about it lately so we may start again, but it isn’t a priority right now. The only other changes we have made are in the math department. Rightstart B was just not working for her (too  many bits and pieces), so I switched her to Math Mammoth. We finished MM 1A, then I decided to try MiquonMM just wasn’t too interesting for either of us and she wasn’t getting any of that strong “math sense” that I think my other three picked up from Rightstart. I have high hopes for Miquon and will definitely do a blog post on it once we’ve had a chance to get acquainted with the program. She is flying through Bookshark K, because the readings are light and she always wants to do more. I think we will finish with that by the end of March. 

    James (9): He finished up Math Mammoth 4a, then switched to Teaching Textbooks 5. Math has been a bit of a struggle for him this year. He did okay with Math Mammoth, as far as comprehension goes, but he definitely wasn’t enjoying math. I probably would have stuck with MM, but we already had TT5 and I suspected he would do just fine with it.  He has done 10 lessons so far and he wants to do math first every day, which is a bit of a shocker.  We stopped Life of Fred for awhile because the division chapter was confusing to him. We will pick the series back up once he covers long division in TT. He finished up the level of Dr. Funster’s that he was working on, but I don’t plan on having him do any more logic this year.

    Christopher (12): He started out the year doing  “science kit science” a la The Well-Trained Mind, but he missed reading science books and I had trouble finding good kits for his age. We tried the Young Scientist kits but were not impressed at all. Plus science kits are just plain expensive for what you get! I ordered Book Shark Science 5 for him (the equivalent of Sonlight Science F) and he has been enjoying that. He likes having the books to pore over and the illustrations to study and it is a fairly easy science to implement. I am hoping that Book Shark will release the next science level in time for him to use it next year.  Life of Fred: Fractions was getting too confusing for him, so we dropped it for awhile. He is still doing Teaching Textbooks 6

    Grace (14): We haven’t changed anything so far. She finished Greek Code Cracker and started Galore Park’s Greek and she is doing fine with that. She also finished Latin for Children B and has moved onto  Latin Alive. She is doing well with both; thankfully she has taken on the job of learning these languages entirely by herself, because I am totally clueless!

    And I think that is it as far as changes and updates so far!

    The Complete Book of Animals: a little review

    Rose and I are doing  Well-Trained Mind-style science this year, her first grade year. Have I mentioned this is my last time teaching first grade? I might cry if I think about that too much. Anyway, we started the year with a fun human body study, and now we have moved onto animals. For our spine, I chose The Complete Book of Animals. On my curriculum page, I said we were also going to use the Kingfisher First Animal Encyclopedia, but The Complete Book is just so complete (ha ha) that we are using it all by itself.

    How the book is set upThe Complete Book of Animals is an encyclopedia, workbook, and activity book all in one. It is by no means an exhaustive survey of the animal world, but it includes most of the animals kids would be interested in learning about, plus a few that were new to us.  There are sections for Arctic animals, Central & South American animals, African animals, and so on. Other sections include insects, reptiles, farm animals, pets, and animals that live in the water. There is also a section on science and animals which includes information on classification, the life cycle of a frog, animal adaptations, and other basic stuff. The book wraps up with a “facts and fun” section, including a board game you can cut out and play.

    What’s included: Each section has a good variety of activities in it. There is a separate page for each animal, with a colored drawing and a paragraph or two of interesting information. The writing style is more encyclopedic than literary, but Rose enjoys reading facts, so it works well for us. After the text comes the “Think and Learn” section, consisting of three or four questions about the reading. A line is provided for the child’s answer and at least a couple of the questions are fill-in-the blank or one word answers. We do the questions orally and I think  they help her to pull out important information from our reading.  Every few pages there is a little activity to do….things like word searches, coloring pages, pull out storybooks, dot-to-dots, and hidden pictures. Rose enjoys doing most of them; we skip any she doesn’t feel like doing.

    How we do it…We generally cover 7-8 pages of the book, two times a week.  We read about the animal, discuss what she remembers, then read about the next animal. We usually spend about 20 minutes reading, discussing, and doing activity pages. This book lends itself well to practicing narration skills because the readings are so short. After we read I have her choose one of the animals and tell me what she remembers. I write her narration down and we file it in her science binder. We do a narration about once a week.

    To me, this feels like plenty of science reading and we don’t usually add anything to it. The Complete Book is certainly a no-frills program, but it is cheap, nicely laid out, and Rose enjoys it, so it is a win around here. Plus, this year, I really wanted no-frills! The only thing missing are experiments, but she generally participates in her siblings’ science experiments and sometimes we work on a Magic School Bus science kit.  I think we will cover most of this book in the next few weeks, then end our year with a short plant study. Assuming spring ever arrives that is!

    homeschooling progress

    I am really, really happy with the progress we have made so far this homeschool year. I think this is the first year since we started homeschooling that I can say that, and totally mean it. When we started back in August, I made up our school year calendar, with the dates we would be working and taking off. And we have stuck to the plan pretty well. I had hoped to be up to week 12 of our 36 week plan by Thanksgiving and we should definitely make that goal. 
    The week of Thanksgiving is supposed to be a week off, but we will use the beginning of it to play catchup on just a few things, because this week and next week we have a lot of “life” stuff going on and I know we won’t get to some things. Really planning things out week by week this year has been a huge motivator for me. I have a tendency to think: oh, let’s just skip the math today, if I am feeling frazzled or too busy. But with the pages we need to do each week listed right in front of me, I can see that if we skip, we will not finish the book in a year unless we make up for it some other time. Not that we don’t still skip things or not get to them! We do, of course. But my plan gives me that little push that I often need to keep going during a tough week. 

    Other stuff…

    These are two of the books James and I are reading lately for Bookshark’s American  History and Sonlight Science D.


    Beginner’s American History is one of the spines for this level, along with the redesigned Landmark History.  I prefer the Landmark book; the writing flows better and it includes lots of colored pictures and maps. It just feels more engaging to me.  Beginner’s is a little choppy and is set up kind of like a school text, with a summary paragraph at the end of each chapter, discussion questions, and black and white drawings and maps. But it is an easy and quick read, and  I think the two spines complement each other quite well, there is just enough overlap, but not too much. 

     Mysteries and Marvels of Nature is your typical Usborne book, with lots of illustrations and interesting snippets of texts. I know not everyone likes these sorts of books, but my kids love them.  James spends quite a bit of time studying all the information and the pictures. Afterwards, we use the discussion questions in the instructor guide to discuss what he read. He retains information from this book surprisingly well  and I myself have learned quite a bit through our discussions lately! He also likes to look up the internet links for this book on the Usborne quick links site.

    Also, Rose and I finished our human body study! Here is her completed “paper person” which we  made with the templates in the book My Body. Please excuse that I clearly did not cut the feet well enough,  leaving the bones to stick out, and that I made the head way too big and funny-shaped. Paper cutting is really not a talent I possess.

    We had so much fun with this book, we were sorry to see it end! Now we are moving onto our animal study, primarily using this book…

    We are only one week in, but so far this has been a hit. The text is pretty lively and interesting, there are discussion questions for each animal, and the animals are grouped by region, which I especially like. Rose likes the pullout booklets included throughout, mostly because she likes any excuse to staple. We did our first one of those today, on penguins. It included a coloring page, too, which she will be doing at some point. I think this book is going to be a lot of fun.

    Till next time!