It seems that more parents than ever before are preparing to homeschool their children this coming school year. Some have been at this for a while, and some are embarking on their first year along this path.
As they gather materials and plan field trips, going down the list of subjects to include in the curriculum, they’ll come upon the subject of science and have one of two reactions: They either rejoice because they’ll get to dive deep into the things they geek out about or they worry because they have no idea how on earth they would ever be able to teach science.
I asked curriculum and educational product developer and author of “Let’s Learn About Chemistry” Dr. Stephanie Ryan for her advice for homeschooling parents preparing to tackle science.
The Epoch Times: Many homeschool parents find themselves intimidated by the idea of teaching science. When it comes to gathering resources and devising a strategy, where do you recommend they start?
Dr. Stephanie Ryan: I recommend they first sit down and make a list of their goals. What content do you want your child to learn?
Then ask your child about their current interests. We can teach a lot of science content using different contexts to still get the same point across. Remember: You don’t need fancy chemicals to learn about chemistry. Baking soda and vinegar are chemicals that undergo a reaction when mixed. You can find those right in your kitchen! They have a chemical formula that you can work on balancing and stoichiometry if the kids are older.
See what is already out there! Loads of homeschool parents and science educators have made their content available online, in many cases for free. Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to? Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, and YouTube are all great resources and are filled with scientists, science communicators, and educators who would love to help answer your questions. It never hurts to ask.
Look at reviews of science programs and kits! There are some really great ones out there like KiwiCo and MEL Science. They send you everything you need to do your experiment and usually come with helpful guiding questions and answers to what is happening in that specific kit. They typically run great sales over holidays or work with influencers that have special promo codes to help you save some money.
The Epoch Times: What are the most important general aspects of science you’d recommend parents focus on for the elementary years, the middle school years, and the high school years?
Dr. Ryan: This is a tricky one because it depends on where you live, if you are homeschooling for the entirety of their schooling, or just for a year or two, and your kids’ interests!
I’m speaking of chemistry here. For the younger kids, I always encourage parents to break concepts all the way down to solids, liquids, and gases. What are you starting with? What did you end with? Are they the same thing? What’s different? What claims can you make? What evidence supports your claim? Do you see any patterns? These are basic skills that set them up for great practices as they get older.
Sometimes, kids have an obsession with a concept. For example, my son can’t seem to get enough of learning about the human body, organs, and how all of the systems work together. He’s 4. I mine through book reviews on Amazon to find good resources for young kids. He has a body systems puzzle from Usborne Books that I let him put together regularly. I know that 4 is much different than 14, but you can cover a lot of ground with a specific interest.
The Epoch Times: Science has the potential to be a lot of fun. What are some strategies you employ to make the exploration of science fun for kids?
Dr. Ryan: Adults aren’t always the best at determining what is relevant to kids’ lives. At times, we are forcing what we think is relevant onto them. Have your kids help guide what you do by tapping into their interests. If your child loves plants, start a garden as a project. They can learn about life cycles, the structure and function of plant parts, ecosystems, how to design a scientific study, probability, genetics, etc. All from one interest.
Another way is to point out the science that is always occurring around you. Science isn’t this thing that only happens in laboratories. You are experiencing science every time you toast a piece of bread or add salt to water when you boil pasta. If we can help kids see the wonder around them in terms of, “Wow, look at that phenomenon that I’d like to understand!” then they will start asking questions more and try to figure out answers using science, instead of learning a bunch of facts.
Also, remember to let them be wrong. I know it is hard to let a wrong idea go forward, but provide them an experience that offers them contrasting evidence. What they do with that is the point. That is the learning and building of a concept in their heads—with real experience and evidence to back it up.
The Epoch Times: If a student expresses an enthusiastic interest in a specific, science-related topic, how do you recommend parents encourage and support that interest?
Dr. Ryan: Don’t label it. I suggest you don’t say, “look at our future doctor here” or “future astronaut” unless they have explicitly said that is what they want to be when they grow up. We know that kids’ interests change over time, and us forcing the label can put undue pressure on them.
I’m a big proponent of diving into an interest. I’ll get puzzles, books, and STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] toys that explore that theme he’s fixated on. We’ll learn math and reading concepts along with it, using it as a background context. And someday, he’ll move onto the next thing, and I’ll do it again.
The Epoch Times: Why do you believe it’s important for students to have a fundamental understanding of science?
Dr. Ryan: Science is for everyone. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all description of a scientist.
I also want people to understand the world around them at the basic level, so that they know when a product is targeting them and lying to them. I want people to know how to advocate for themselves because they understand. Whether you are a scientist or not, it is important to be able to determine if sources are valid, back up claims with evidence, assess bias, find patterns, and look for cause-and-effect relationships. Everyone needs those skills.
The Epoch Times: What initially sparked your interest in science?
Dr. Ryan: My dad was an engineer when I was a kid. My mother [and he] always signed me up for science programs at nearby universities. I loved science because it was challenging and fun. Now, I love it because it helps us solve so many problems and explain so many things!