By Leigh Bortins
“We perish from want of wonder, not from want of wonders.”—G. K. Chesterton
Have you ever watched your children squeal in delight when they turn over a large rock and discover that a whole colony of insects has been living right beneath it? This is what scientific study is all about—wondering about God’s creation and recording what you learn. As we grow older, many of us forget to wonder. We forget to stare at the stars above us at night, to wonder what they are made of and what governs their motions. We forget to see the wildlife all around us, to ask for the names of all of the birds in the backyard. I am grateful that we live on a lake that is home to many different species of frogs. Every night, their musical croaking in varied voices is a symphony in tribute to the astonishing diversity of Creation.
How can we train our children to continue to explore the world with wide-eyed wonder at the works of His hands? First, we know that a little bit of knowledge is usually fodder for more curiosity. If small children memorize the types of volcanoes—active, intermittent, dormant, extinct—then they will be more likely to want to read books about volcanoes. In addition, their ears will perk up when they hear of stories of ancient volcanoes, such as Pompeii, or of volcanoes in current news stories.
So far, I have already mentioned two important activities for small children in the study of science. ( ) The first is that they should spend time outdoors observing creation. After seeing a particular type of bird in the yard, children can look it up in a field guide and then read a good book about birds. Secondly, they should memorize some basic facts about science so that they will be attentive to science topics. I have my children memorize facts in these broad categories: biology, astronomy, physics, geology, anatomy, and chemistry. When they are older, students can build on their basic knowledge through deeper reading and through experimentation.
I also like to expose my children to the scientific method when they are small, as practice for more sophisticated labs in the upper grades. I particularly like the simple experiments in Janice Van Cleave’s 201 Awesome, Magical, Bizarre, and Incredible Experiments. The necessary ingredients are easy to find, and the steps are simple for small children to follow.
When you complete an experiment with your children, use a simplified version of the scientific method and have them answer questions about what you just did: “What did we do?” (procedure) “What did we use?” (materials) “What did we see?” (results) “What did we learn?” (conclusion) Older children can summarize an experiment in writing using the following categories:
- Hypothesis (What do we think will happen?)
Remember that the primary focus of elementary school science is to practice keen observation of the world.
Before students get into a formal science scope and sequence using textbooks, I like to have them do a lot of research on their own. You can assign your students broad topics such as fish, amphibians, volcanoes, rock, etc. Have them use a couple of sources to write a few paragraphs summarizing what they learned. I like to have mine transcribe their paper into a sketch notebook and include a drawing at the top. Drawings are particularly useful tools for recording science facts about human or animal anatomy. Have students draw a cross-section of skin or the human eye and record the facts below the drawing.
You can also have them practice creating a bibliography. Since they will have used a couple of outside sources, they can create a simple bibliography with two entries. It is good to have a couple of good science resources on hand, such as a science encyclopedia and science picture books written for children.
Middle school is a good time to study biographies of famous scientists. Too often, modern science texts leave out mention of the people who made significant discoveries in that discipline, which leaves a large hole in our children’s knowledge. They should become acquainted with the men and women who asked important questions and struggled to find the answers. The Christian Encounters series includes very readable and inspiring biographies of Isaac Newton, Galileo, and George Washington Carver.
As students enter high school, many homeschool families worry about approaching science with the proper worldview. Most of us were educated to believe in a split between science and faith. Our society today views scientific truth as separate from religious knowledge and as more authoritative than religious knowledge. Public schools have taught generations of students that science and religion are now at war with one another and always have been. However, in truth, the modern scientific method was possible only because of Christianity. Because they believed in a God of order, scientists sought evidence of that order in the universe, and they made many important discoveries because they first believed in the Creator. For more information about this issue, see Nancy Pearcey’s book: The Soul of Science. She tells how Kepler continued his search to explain the planetary orbits and record their movements down to the minute because he believed that knowledge and order emanated from God and could be discovered by mankind.
If you train young students in three skills—careful observation of nature, memorization of key scientific facts, and careful records of discoveries through science and sketches—they will be well prepared to tackle advanced sciences. As they approach the high school years, continue to focus your science studies on the idea of making important discoveries about God’s world rather than on checking off credits in the order laid out by the state. We need to remember that science studies are placing our students in the midst of a great conversation about the workings of the universe. This conversation has been going on since the days of Creation when God instructed Adam to name the animals. It is good to add scientific discoverers to their history, as well as art timelines, so that students see the train of this great conversation. They must also approach science knowing that many contemporary theories will fall away and be replaced by new ones. Above all, we must model how to search for truth and to respond to discoveries of truth with praise. Let us continue to be amazed by the works of His hands.
Leigh A. Bortins is author of the recently published book The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education. In addition, Ms. Bortins is the founder and CEO of Classical Conversations, Inc. and host of the weekly radio show, Leigh! At Lunch. She lectures about the importance of home education nationwide. She lives with her family in West End, North Carolina. To learn more, visit her website, www.classicalconversations.com, or her blog, www.1SmartMama.com
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.