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Homeschool Science: 3 Ways to Engage Your Student: An Interview with Paige Hudson

September 18–22, 2017   |   Vol. 132, Week 2

Science is a subject that many homeschoolers are afraid to touch. But it shouldn’t be! This week on Homeschool Heartbeat, author and scientist Paige Hudson debunks some common myths about homeschool science and shows how you can effectively and engagingly teach it to your child.

This week’s podcast will cover:

  • How Paige found herself writing science curriculum
  • Common homeschool science myths
  • The 3 elements of an engaging science program
  • Why nature walks are so effective
  • What a science program should generally look like at different age levels

“With the right materials in your hand, anybody can teach science at home.” — Paige Hudson

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Science is a subject that many homeschoolers are afraid to touch. But it shouldn’t be! This week on Homeschool Heartbeat, author and scientist Paige Hudson debunks some common myths about homeschool science and shows how you can effectively and engagingly teach it to your child.

Diane Kummer: I’m excited to introduce today’s guest, Paige Hudson. Paige is an author, speaker, scientist, and homeschooling mom of two. She’s written over 20 science books and curricula, including a homeschool science program called Elemental Science. Paige, welcome to the program!

Paige Hudson: Hi Diane, and thanks for having me on.

Flaming gummy bears and homeschool science [0:40]

Diane: Sure! When did you first discover you had a love for science, Paige?

Paige: Well, I remember getting hooked into science by my high school chemistry teacher. She started our first day of class with a flaming gummy bear flying from the back of the class room to the front, and that was enough for me.

Diane: Well, then what made you decide to start writing homeschool science books and curricula?

Paige: Well, we started homeschooling our daughter and I couldn’t find a science curriculum that I really liked. So I started writing my own just for her and my husband saw me one night working on this program and he said, “Why are you doing this much work? Isn’t there something out there that will work for you?” And I said, “I just can’t find it.” And he said, “Well, if you’re having this problem, don’t you think other people are too?”

So I kind of fell into writing science. It wasn’t really something that I planned on doing, but [it] ended up being what we’re doing now. 

Common homeschool science myths [1:35]

Diane: Paige, science is a subject that many homeschooling parents feel unqualified to teach their kids. In your experience, what are the biggest reasons that parents are afraid to teach science and how can they overcome those fears?

Paige: In my experience, there are three main reasons that homeschoolers struggle with teaching science and the first one is experiments. We’re always afraid that they won’t work. But I’m going to let you in on a little industry secret: Thomas Edison said, “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found ten thousand ways that don’t work.” So even the best scientists out there have experiments that fail, and just because you have an experiment that fails doesn’t mean you have a failed learning experience.

The second reason that homeschoolers particularly shy away from teaching science is because of equipment—the idea that we’ve got to have these big, full labs with chemicals and equipment and all this dangerous stuff. But really, there’s kitchen substitutes: things like lemon juice for acids and ammonia for a base. And we can use simple macro-lenses or look stuff up online when we’re talking about microscopic stuff. So there’s lots of options that we have as homeschoolers that we don’t necessarily need a full industry lab to be able to teach science at home.

And then the final reason is education. A lot of times we’ve struggled with science ourselves or our science education has been lacking. But you know what? With the right materials in your hand, anybody can teach science at home.

3 elements of an engaging science program [3:02]

Diane: Paige, when people think of science, the first thing that comes to mind is usually a big, fat, boring textbook—but that’s not exciting for anyone. What are the best ways for homeschooling parents to develop in their children an interest in and a love for science?

Paige: Diane, the very best way to teach science is to actually do science. So, I really like to say that when you teach science there’s three basic things you need to have to really inspire your kids to learn about this subject.

The first one is to have some kind of hands-on [element]. So you’re doing a scientific demonstration for them, a nature study, experiments—anything that could present them with science face-to-face.

And then you’re feeding them with information. We don’t have to use a big old boring textbook for this. We can use things like children’s encyclopedias from Usborne or Kingfisher, or we can use living books to help present the information they need to know about science, the basics of it. We can go to the library and hit that section of the nonfiction corner and look for books about the subject we’re studying.

And then the final thing we need to do when we teach science is to have some sort of record. The students need to write down what they’ve learned because, after all, we’re all more likely to remember something if we write it down. So we like to use notebooking, which is a great way of having a picture, a visual representation of what they’re learning, with a little sentence or two that’s personalized to what they remember from what we’ve studied. And in this way they’re more likely to remember what they’ve learned.

So if you do those three things—you do some kind of hands-on [activity], feed them with some kind of interesting information, and have them keep a record of what they’ve learned—your students will be much more likely to develop an interest and a love for science.

Get out in nature! [4:45]

Diane: Paige, many younger children enjoy going on nature walks or doing nature studies. Can you explain why this is such a fun yet effective way for teaching science?

Paige: Well, a nature study is simply heading out to find science in nature. So you look for and observe the subject and then you journal about it. This is a great way to involve your younger children and makes it a lot of fun for them because they get to be little discoverers, where they go out and explore and find things and then they get to write their personalized record or journal of what they found and it helps them to really get excited and interested in science through nature.

Diane: Paige, what are some creative ways for homeschooling parents to incorporate nature studies into a regular homeschool science program?

Paige: One of the ways we have loved to include nature studies in our science plans is to have what we call Friday fun-day. So on Fridays we’ll do our regular reading and our math because we need to get those subjects in. And then we’ll either head out for a field trip or we’ll go for a walk out in nature and do our nature study time and go to the library and do some art and lots of things that will make that particular day fun. So we’ll typically incorporate our nature study into our Friday fun-days.

Shifting focus [6:01]

Diane: Paige, how should a homeschool science program change as a child gets older? Are there specific concepts that parents should focus on in high school versus, say, kindergarten?

Paige: Most definitely. A high schooler definitely needs to learn more than the kindergartner would. So basically in the beginning, for your younger students, you’re trying to spark an interest. You want them to be interested in learning about science. But if you can start to teach them the basics and build upon those through the years, then by the time you get to high school, those scary math parts of science aren’t so scary, if you focus on learning the math because they already have that basis of knowing the principles of science.

So, for instance, if you have the classic elephant-toothpaste experiment: in the beginning, if you teach a kindergarten or an elementary student, you’re just showing them, “This is what a catalyst does,” and introducing them to the idea of how a catalyst speeds up a reaction. But a high schooler, if you’re doing that same experiment with them you’re teaching them what the actual equation is, you’re talking about different types of catalysts and researching how those contain the different reactions to know about.

So that’s the difference between how you’re teaching younger kids to get interested in science and the older kids the more basic principles and mathematics behind science.

Diane: That’s really helpful, Paige. What are some of your favorite resources and tools for teaching science in the homeschool?

Paige: There’s a lot out there to help us these days to teach science in the home, but the things that I regularly reach [for] off my shelf are the Janice VanCleave experiment book; the encyclopedias by either DK, Usborne, or Kingfisher; we use the Audubon bird identification app, and we use our smartphone a lot when we’re out on our nature studies. And then I like to listen to a science podcast. And then of course there are programs out there to help you teach science regularly—like ours, Elemental Science—and that’s what we usually use.

Diane: Well, Paige, thank you so much for being with us this week and sharing your science tips with the homeschool community. And listeners, thanks for tuning in. I’m Diane Kummer, and I’m cheering you on.

Paige HudsonPhoto of Paige Hudson

Paige Hudson is an author, speaker, scientist, and homeschooling mom. She first acquired an interest in science while watching a flaming gummy bear shoot across the room during a high school chemistry class and fed her growing love with a degree in biochemistry. Her passion for science comes through in her podcast, The Tips for Homeschool Science Show, where she shares quick 5-minute science tips to help homeschoolers. You can find her award-winning programs and loads more at Elemental Science and Sassafras Science.

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