Google The Unplanned Homeschooler: Yes, you can teach science at home

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Yes, you can teach science at home

Let's talk science! I've noticed that one of the subjects parents are most nervous about teaching at home is science. Whether it is because of the equipment needed to do laboratory science or the fact that many people had limited exposure to math and science in their own education, parents are often nervous about taking on the STEM subjects on their own.

But you don't have to be afraid to tackle science. In fact, homeschooling can be an incredibly effective way to explore the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math. 

Exploring, discovering, solving problems

According to Dr. Patricia Fioriello, “STEM education attempts to transform the typical teacher-centered classroom by encouraging a curriculum that is driven by problem-solving, discovery, exploratory learning, and require students to actively engage a situation in order to find its solution.”  

This type of exploratory learning is what kids do naturally when they are allowed to seek knowledge on their own.  Clearly, the engaged learning that is the goal of STEM education is possible to achieve at home, you just have to give your child access to the tools they need to learn.

What tools are needed?

At the elementary school level, most of the tools you need to teach science at home can be found at the grocery store or home improvement store. You can teach all sorts of experiments using live plants, kitchen acids and bases, etc. The equipment needed for most early physics experiments can found in your child’s toy box.
You'll need to purchase a few more specialized tools elsewhere, but they need not cost a fortune. Very reasonably priced beakers, graduated cylinders, litmus strips, Petri dishes, dissection specimens, microscopes and even chemicals can be purchased online at sites like Home Science Tools or locally at an education supply store, university bookstore or hobby shop.

Choosing a curriculum that works

Homeschoolers who are comfortable teaching science can piece together their own curriculum, but most others will want to choose a complete science curriculum. There are lots of options from which to choose, including both religious and secular based programs. I suggest checking out as many different science programs as you can firsthand at your nearest homeschool convention or at least read about various options online to find one that fits your family's needs. 

Don't forget to also check out all the free experiments and lesson plans to download online. These can be a great way to build your own curriculum or supplement your child's interests. Easy PeasyNational Geographic, DiscoveryKahn Academy and many more sites offer free resources parents can use.

Are there limitations to teaching science at home?

As much as I love homeschooling, I have to admit that there are some limitations to what you can teach at home. For instance, while pursuing my degree in biology I spent many, many hours in the lab. I remember chemistry experiments that required a fume hood because the reactions produced noxious gases. These are not experiments you would want to do inside your home, although there are many others you could.

I also remember biology experiments that required incubators or a variety of growth media. Home incubators are usually too small and imprecise to be effective, and the types of agar you can get for home use may be limited. On the other hand, there are so many prepared specimens you could dissect a different creature practically every week and not run out. 

Cost is probably the biggest obstacles to teaching science at home, but there are some money-saving options. Our homeschool group gets together to do some lessons as a group. By sharing the costs, we can buy more expensive supplies and perform experiments that individual families might not be able to do at home.

Outsourcing is always an option

Most homeschooling families will discover at some point that their kids could benefit from outsourcing part of their education. Whether you trade out time with another parent, enroll your child in an online course or take advantage of dual enrollment classes at a local college or university, utilizing outside resources to enhance your child's education can be a very smart move.

Don't be afraid to explore science education with your kids. Prepare them well in early math and beginning science, so they will be confident and prepared to take on more challenging opportunities, both as homeschoolers and later on, in college or in their careers.    

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