Note: Even if you don't homeschool, the books that I am writing about today are fascinating and fun to read and worth adding to your family library.
We use many books from Sonlight for homeschooling but after a few years of working our way through the Usborne science books we deviated a bit. The kids and I learn by spending a while on a topic and Usborne’s approach is more like watching television with Stuart. He never stays on a channel long enough to bond. The kids and I like bonding so we switched.
I love the Charlotte Mason approach to education. For the uninitiated, this means keeping textbooks and worksheets to a minimum in favor of reading real books and conversing about those books. So when I need to use a textbook, I look for books that have a conversational tone to them. The Young Explorer Series written by Jeannie Fulbright fits the bill. The author writes directly to the child. Each book covers many aspects of a single topic and each book has many easy-to-do experiments that bring the lessons to life. This is a calm, manageable approach to science.
The older kids use the Exploring Creation series by Dr. Jay L. Wile. Both this series and the elementary series are published by his company, Apologia. Dr. Wile’s style of writing also speaks directly to the student. These books are filled with practical experiments just like the elementary books. The main difference is that there is a broader scope of material covered in the high school books.
John, Lauren and I take turns reading science to the younger children and I always read the Exploring Creation book with the oldest two. I learn as much as they do. The neighbors know that we really do school when they see us out in the front yard conducting experiments. Either that or they think we’re crazy. Last week we sent John down to the corner to bang two rocks together over his head to demonstrate how the speed of light travels faster than the speed of sound. Then there was the time that I had to drive by the house blowing the horn so the children could hear the sound of the horn change pitch. Now the whole neighborhood understands the Doppler effect because this experiment required several variations. (Blow the horn while parked, back up while blowing the horn…)
In the series of pictures below, the children are doing an experiment on camoflage from Jeannie Fulbright's Land Animals of the Sixth Day. They had to fill a laundry basket with paper that was the same color as three different colors of M&Ms. Then they had to put an equal number of all the colors of M&Ms that come in a package into the basket. They needed to make a hypothesis about what color M&Ms they would find the most of in a two-minute time frame. It was fun. The kids did the experiment five times. One for each kid. Then they ate a handful of candy. Even more fun, seeing as we don't keep candy in the house.
While the majority of each book covers pure scientific content, the authors are quick to give God credit for life. For example:
The kids performed an experiment to see how solid butter sinks to the bottom when placed in a glass of melted butter and then they saw how ice floats when placed in a glass of water. Here are Mr. Wile's words about why this is so.
“Why the difference? Well, in nearly every substance in the world, the molecules get closer when the substance turns solid and get farther apart as the substance turns into a liquid…For water, however precisely the opposite is true. When water is a solid, its molecules must stay in a rigid arrangement that reduces the strength of its hydrogen bonds. When water is a liquid, however, its molecules are free to move close enough together to hydrogen bond strongly. As a result, water molecules are closer together when water is a liquid compared to when water is a solid.
So, unlike almost any other substance in Creation, when water is a solid its molecules are actually farther apart than when it is a liquid. As a result, solid water (ice) floats in liquid water. Once again, we are quite “lucky” that this is the case. After all, what happens to lakes in the winter? They freeze don’t they? Does all of the water in the lake freeze? Of course not. If that were the case, then all living things in that lake would die. As a layer of ice builds up on top of the lake, it insulates the water below, and at some point, no more water will freeze! Because of this, the living organisms in the lake survive the winter. Think about all of the food that we get from lakes or from other creatures that depend on the living organisms in a lake. Without water’s unique property, lakes could not support life, and most likely, we would not be able to survive! This is more striking evidence for the awesomeness of our Creator!” (Exploring Creation with Physical Science, p.96-97)
Both the Young Explorer Series and the Exploring Creation books present God as the creator and sustainer of life. Jay Wile is in fact a creation scientist with a PhD in nuclear science. We went to the Creation Museum in Kentucky a few months ago and I felt that it fell short because while it gives clearly sends the message that God created the earth, it doesn’t do a good job of telling how. I hate books and media that just get stuck on that simple message. You don’t need to check your brains at the door to believe in creation science as both Jeannie Fulbright and Jay Wile adequately illustrate. The Apologia authors go to great pains to present all sides of scientific arguments. They do not keep you in the dark about where they personally stand on any controversial issue either. I think this allows my children the opportunity to wrestle with what they believe for themselves. It's exactly what I want from a science program.