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Homeschooling on a Shoestring—Spotlight On: Science

More on Homeschooling on the Cheap

From Scripture

“For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made ....” —Romans 1:20 (NIV)

More Science Resources

By Vicki Bentley
HSLDA Toddlers to Tweens Coordinator

In today’s economy, aren’t we all looking for ways to stretch our homeschool dollars? In last month’s newsletter, we introduced this series on homeschooling “on the cheap” with a spotlight on social studies. This month, let’s review a few basics, then highlight some ways to investigate science on a snug budget!

What does it cost to homeschool? While the average cost is roughly $500 a year per child, this figure usually goes down with subsequent children, since resources can be shared, membership costs are not multiplied, etc. During the four years that we were without a full-time income, I was able to homeschool seven children at a time for less than $100 total in a year, once I had accumulated a few non-consumable resources.

It is possible to homeschool with just a Bible and a library card, but most of us will buy at least a few things. You’ll want to invest in your core curriculum materials first, then add other items as your budget allows. (See sidebar for more ideas.)

How to Save on Textbooks and other Curricular Materials

  • Borrow or rent books-check with your local support group.
  • Purchase used books. Some sources include used curriculum shops, exhibit halls, library sales, support group sales, online swap boards (and of course, the HSLDA Curriculum Market!)
  • Provide educational “wish lists” to family members for gift-giving occasions.
  • Use your state’s standards of learning as a guide to check out appropriate library books. (Search for Standards of Learning + [Your State]. You are not required to use these standards, but it can give you a starting point.)
  • Use World Book’s standards of learning with library books.
  • Science Scope, Kathryn Stout’s Design-a-Study guide to science, helps you identify science concepts and vocabulary to be covered at various levels.
  • Use a major textbook publisher’s science scope and sequence with library books.
  • Use What Your Child Needs to Know When or The Checklist (or Teaching Children by Diane Lopez) as a guide to what to teach, then use library books or living books. (Are you sensing a pattern here that includes library and card?)
  • Search online for free homeschool ____ (history, geography, civics ...).
  • Laminate your books and answer keys with clear ContactTM paper for durability.

Use Multi-Level Curriculum

Use grade-specific materials for each child for skills subjects such as math and language arts, then use multi-level materials for content-area subjects such as science, social studies, character/Bible, art, health, etc, working with all of your children together, to economize on time and money! Here are a few suggestions for materials that are designed for or easily adapted for multi-level use:

Everyday Activities for “Science on a Dime”

Science is simply the study of the world that God has made. I agree with Cathy Duffy that the best way to teach science for elementary students is not with textbooks but by teaching them to observe, experiment, read, and think about the world surrounding them, utilizing real books and your child’s interests. The most effective learning often takes place in the context of everyday living or family activities, and many are free or very inexpensive:

  • Backyard botany/biology—Grow a seed in a cup or plant a family garden. Learn about the insects that help and harm specific plants in your yard. Study the birds in your neighborhood. What grasses grow? Why do some of your plants thrive and others wilt? Can you name the trees, plants, birds, “visiting” animals, and insects in your yard?
  • Use field guides—Our family accumulated quite a few field guides, including Audubon guides to weather, butterflies, birds, rocks, mammals, trees, reptiles and amphibians, and others, as well as Golden Guides and Eyewitness Handbooks. (Add these to your gift wish lists for relatives who don't know what to buy your children.)
  • Raise animals for fun and/or profit.
  • Nature journals—Teach observation skills, care of nature, and more. I once sent my girls out on a nature walk and they came back with two baby foxes in their arms, so be prepared. We got an impromptu lesson in how the local animal rehab center works!
  • Animal habitat studies—Why does that groundhog keep coming back? Where does he live?
  • Weather observation—Besides the standard rain, clouds, and more, our area has recently experience a hurricane and tornado—what inspiration for further research!
  • Backyard geology—Examine the dirt composition, do a soil test, study the rock formations. (And lately, you might be interested in the causes and effects of earthquakes.)
  • Broken appliances—Before you throw these out, are they items your children can disassemble to learn more about the inner workings?
  • Batteries, flashlights—Learn how the electrical currents work.
  • Home “lab”—No fancy laboratory? You do have your kitchen and your backyard or the local park and pond. You may not have a Bunsen burner, but you have a stove.
  • Food chemistry—Cooking is science! Experiment with melting/freezing/boiling points; solutions; and more. Learn about crystallization in fudge; yeast multiplication, gluten and carbon dioxide development in bread; caramelization. My daughter Rachel wasn’t particularly interested in cooking, but was fascinated with the science involved; her studies inspired her to write X+Y=Dinner?, a cookbook to help de-mystify cooking techniques and methods. Hey, a science study that inspires my kids to write and cook is fine with me!
  • Cars, bicycles, lawn mowers—machines/maintenance, engine repair.
  • Scout handbooks—The older scouting handbooks reflected more conservative family values and include many hands-on activities for all ages.
  • Camping—Nature studies, survival and safety tips
  • Extension service—Your local county extension service usually offers 4-H, a Master Gardener program, Junior Master Gardener, as well as classes and pamphlets related to your specific area.
  • Local clubs, including robotics and other interests
  • Science and nature museums, observatories, botanical gardens, zoos, farms (Check out the field trips list at Homeschool Buyers Co-op.)
  • Everyday curiosity—Why does stuff fall down instead of up? How many babies does a spider have at a time? Why are the clouds different shapes? Why are the stars in different places than they were last month? How does the timer know when to ding? Why is the sky blue? Where does the sun go at night? How does the roller coaster stay on the track? What happens if (fill in the blank)? Google is your friend, as is a good encyclopedia and—you guessed it—a library card! (While you are at the library, look up The NEW Way Things Work by David Macaulay.)

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