Primary school science, at its best, encourages children to be aware of the world around them, and to ask questions. It helps them to understand the concepts of fair testing and control experiments, to observe patterns, and to be prepared for more formal scientific enquiry and investigation in later years.
Unfortunately, in a classroom environment it is very difficult to teach science for children in a way which is inspiring to all thirty or more at the same time. What is ‘obvious’ to one child may be new and exciting to another of the same age. If a child has played with simple electronic circuits at home, the building of a buzzer in school is going to seem like rather a waste of an afternoon, whereas to another child it may be the highlight of the term.
Home educated children benefit from individualised science
So science is an area where home educated children benefit,no matter what their interest and ability. You can choose books to suit their interests, and work together on the topics which inspire and excite them. Moreover they can have ‘hands on’ the whole time without having to share the stop-watch or the candle-lighting with the rest of a group!
An excellent general science book for the primary years is Judith Hann’s How Science Works. This contains fascinating background to scientific discovery of interest to adults and older children, combined with simple and vivid explanations of how things work, and dozens of experiments and demonstrations which can be done in the home. Not always in print, but well worth buying second hand, if you can.
An excellent way of learning some scientific principles is to encourage your child to help with cooking from an early age. Seeing how food changes consistency when it is cooked, or when combined with other foods is likely to inspire several more questions, and a book which we enjoyed and which several home educators have recommended is Vicky Cobb’s ‘Science Experiments You Can Eat’.
If you prefer a workbook approach, you can find a wide variety of science text books and related ‘revision guides’ at local bookshops or online stores.
Science CD-Roms for your computer
While the Internet has mostly taken over from the CD-Roms which were so popular with home educators in the late 1990s and early part of the 21st century, some parents may still prefer the use of CDs which can be used by children with little supervision. Many can still be found online; please check operating system requirements before purchasing.
Dorling Kindersley have published some excellent CD Rom science guides: The Way Things Work gives a guided tour to a vast array of machines and inventions, with sections about the people who invented them. It is understandable by fairly young children but contains sufficient information to interest much older children and adults as well.
The DK Encyclopedia of Science software contains an overview of many scientific principles, focussing on the three main branches of science as well as maths, with some good explanations of sometimes complex topics. This is appropriate for older primary school children and also into the secondary years. The Ultimate Human Body is a fascinating guide for people of all ages who want to know more about human biology; the CD allows a view of the skeleton, or the muscles, or the internal organs and shows clearly how the body works, with accurate descriptions and terms. (Do check that your computer has the correct requirements before purchasing any of these).
There is plenty of other science software relevant to children of about six or seven and upwards – it’s worth browsing your local bookshops or computer shops, and perhaps asking for a demonstration, to see what is suitable. Some will be more ‘schooly’ than others, designed primarily to get children through tests. But the better-written software should be interesting and inspiring.
There are also a wide-ranging selection of science books for children from Usborne. With clear text and age-appropriate pictures, they’re a mine of useful information and highly recommended. If you want to use workbooks, you will probably find a wide variety in your local bookshops.
There are a vast number of useful web-sites covering science topics for younger children. Many have interactive activities to help reinforce understanding of complex ideas – there are some suggestions on my science resources page.