This was the topic which was, to our family, the most daunting when we first considered home education. With memories of well-equipped laboratories, bunsen burners, fume cupboards, high quality microscopes and an array of expensive chemicals, I could not imagine how parents at home could begin to emulate any of this.
Science at secondary level
I was somewhat reassured to see, when visiting some secondary comprehensive schools in the UK, that their science labs were smaller and much less well-equipped than the ones I could remember. Modern safety precautions also mean that there is less for the student to do and more for the teacher, meaning that much of science is observed demonstrations rather than hands-on experimenting.
Still, for a child who wishes to follow a career in one of the sciences, a good secondary school or college will provide equipment and facilities which are unlikely to be available in the home. Many home educating families do register their children (sometimes as young as twelve years old) at local colleges for science GCSE courses, so this may be an option to consider if your child seems to have outgrown science at home.
General scientific principles for teenagers
Nevertheless there is a great deal which can be done in the home to teach scientific principles to older children and teenagers. We were given a chemistry set and an old, but good quality electronics kit with which our children have experimented, with a little supervision.
Some chemistry kits are too simple to be of much value but if you research what is available locally, you may find one with a good guide that leads your children through discovery about acids and alkalis, chemical structure and other principles. A good microscope is likely to cost several hundred pounds, but there are cheaper versions available which provide quite reasonable magnification at the lower levels.
There are many text books available for key stage 3 science, but we have found most of them to be full of theory with little room for hands-on science or questions, although they are interesting and provide good background to science, although there are some which suggest experiments, many of which can be done at home. It’s worth browsing a large bookshop to see what’s currently available, if you can, so that you and your teenagers can decide what will suit them best. For more thoughts on science at secondary level, read my article Science and the home educated teen.
There are also some excellent sites on the Internet which give scientific advice and principles; some have forms for students to ask questions, with expert answers given. See my science resources page for some suggestions of sites to explore.
Christians and science
In science, above all subjects, there is often a big divide between the way Christians teach the subject and the way others do. There are various Christian curricula available from the USA, and you may wish to find one of these if you want to ensure a specifically Christian background to your teaching. However with home education there will inevitably be plenty of input directly from the parents, and discussion about reasons why things happen which – in the end – are either down to chance, or to a Creator. We have found that using ordinary science books encourages our children to ask questions, and does not expect them to do anything which might violate our beliefs anyway.
However we have discovered an excellent series of thorough science courses written from a Christian perspective by an American high school teacher, designed to be used by home educating families. The courses are not cheap, but they are well researched and the author is available by email to answer questions. They are intended for children of about 14 upwards, but can often be used before that; yet they are thorough enough to cover most of what is required for GCSE sciences and beyond. The web site which advertises these is full of interesting information and an ongoing competition so even if you are not interested in these courses, the site is well worth a visit. You will find it at Dr Wile’s Creation Science.
If your child is eager to take science to this level, it is worth enquiring locally to see if you can register at a college or even a school with a good lab, for the practical part of the course. It is possible to do at home but may not be so interesting for your child! If you want to try a correspondence course, look at my GCSE page.