Science in home education

Science is the study of the world around us.   In essence, it’s that simple, no matter how daunting it seems when considering science in home education. As parents, our task is to help our children to understand the world, but we can take it a step at a time, learning alongside them.

Children naturally ask scientific questions

Biology looks at living things; chemistry looks at the elements and how they combine; physics looks at forces and the rules which the universe obeys.  A young child is usually an eager scientist, full of questions about why birds fly, why the microwave makes things hot, why the stars only come out at night… and many more questions which often leave the parent in despair, unable to answer even half of them!

Sometimes such a question doesn’t really need a full explanation, so it’s important for parents to see what the child really means by a question.   ‘Why?’ can simply mean ‘I want to know more about this topic’, and a trip to the library to find a relevant book can satisfy the need to know more.

Usborne publish a wonderful selection of science books for all ages.  If your local bookshop stocks them, it is worthwhile spending some time browsing to find books at the right age and interest level for your child. Alternatively you can search or Amazon UK for titles and reviews.

From their earliest years you can help your children to understand what is happening in your garden or local parks. Talk about the seasons, and point out buds and blossom, new plants poking through the ground in spring, leaves changing colour in Autumn.  If you can, plant some seeds and watch their growth over the months.  Help your children to be in awe of the wonder of nature (and of God’s creation for Christian families), but to understand at the same time that there are patterns to the seasons, and that by observation we can learn what to expect in many situations.

Starting to think like a scientist

Thinking like a scientist at the most basic level involves making suggestions, and then testing out ideas to see if they hold true.  If not, a scientist re-forumulates the initial suggestion (or hypothesis) and re-tests.  This is a valuable principle to teach children from the time they can sit up and try things out for themselves.  You can help them to think along these lines by posing theoretical questions: Will the water in this cup fit into that jar?  Will the seeds grow if we don’t give them any water? What will happen if we leave the chocolate in the sun?

Rather than telling your children what to expect, encourage them to guess, and then to find out what happens when they try it.   You can explain the principle of a ‘control’ by having one piece of chocolate in the sun and one in the shade, to compare what happens.  A more complex experiment can be set up by having some seeds growing with water but no sun, some with sun but no water, some with neither and some with both.

Sometimes it’s fun simply to demonstrate what happens under certain circumstances: making a volcano by putting bicarbonate of soda into a plastic bottle and then quickly pouring in vinegar mixed with red food colouring makes a dramatic and messy demonstration (do this outside or in the bath!) but it is not an experiment as such because no hypothesis has been made. If, having demonstrated this, your child wonders if the same would happen with other substances, then there can be experiments – perhaps substituting lemon juice for vinegar, or flour for bicarbonate of soda, and observing which pairs react and which don’t.

If your children ask ‘What would happen if….?’ then see if there is any way in which they can set up an experiment to discover the answer, rather than simply telling them – assuming it would not be dangerous! If it is dangerous, or totally impractical, see if you can find a book or Internet site which explains or demonstrates what would happen and why. You can find some science-related web-sites listed at my science resources page.

For more specific ideas and resources, see: