Homeschooling Corner: Science (geology and geography)


I have yet to find any “science kits” that actually teach science–most are just science-themed toys. There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t expect your kid to re-derive the principles of chemistry via a baking soda volcano.

Smaller kids aren’t ready for the kind of thinking required for actual scientific research, but they can still learn plenty of science the mundane way: by reading. So here are some of our favorite science books/activities:

We did geology over the winter, centered around Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth. It’s a lovely book (reading level about second grade?) with instructions for many simple experiments (eg, put rocks, sand, water in a glass jar and carefully shake/swirl to observe the effects of different water speeds on riverbanks) and handily complements any nature walks, rock collecting trip, or expeditions to the seashore.

WARNING: This book was published before plate tectonics became widely accepted and so has a confused chapter or two on how mountains form. SKIP THIS CHAPTER.

We also tried making polished stones in a rock tumbler (verdict: not worth the cost.)

After geology, we transitioned to geography with A Child’s Introduction to the World: Geography, Cultures and People–from the Grand Canyon to the Great Wall of China. I admit that geography sounds more like social studies than science, but it flows so perfectly from our understanding of geology that I have to mention it here.

I like to read this with a globe and children’s atlas at hand, so I can easily demonstrate things like latitude and longitude, distances, and different map projections.

With spring’s arrival we also began a study of plants and insects.

If you’ve never started your own plants from seed, any common crop seeds sold at the store–beans, peas, corn, squash, and most flowers–will sprout quickly and easily. If you want to keep your plants indoors, I recommend you get a bag of dirt at the garden center. This dirt is supposed to be “clean”; the dirt found outside in your yard is full of bugs that you probably weren’t intending on studying in your living room.

Speaking of bugs, we bought the “raise your own ladybugs” and butterflies kits, but I don’t recommend these as real caterpillars are nowhere near as cute and interesting as the very hungry one in the story. I think you’re better off just collecting ladybugs in the wild and reading about them at home.

The Way Things Work (also by this author: How Machines Work: Zoo Break) This is a big, beautiful book aimed at older kids, maybe about 10+. Younger kids can enjoy it if you read it with them.

Super Science: Matter Matters is a fabulous pop-up/lift-the-flap book about chemistry. We were very lucky to receive this as a birthday gift. (Birthday hint: the homeschooling families in your life would always like more books.) The book is a little fragile, so not appropriate for younger children who might pull too hard on the tabs, but great for everyone else.

Magic Schoolbus anything. There are probably several hundred books in this series by now. Who Was Albert Einstein? We finished our math biographies, so on to science bios. Basher Science: Astronomy  This is cute, and there are a bunch in the series. I’m looking forward to the rest. Professor Astro Cat‘s Atomic Adventure (also, Space!)


12 thoughts on “Homeschooling Corner: Science (geology and geography)

  1. Hi, I’m new here. It seems that you go out with the kids a lot. I would recommend someday doing pottery from clay, or anything else from clay, like, to teach your kids some crafting skills, maybe even stimulate their creative side, idk.


    • I love clay. It’s a fun material. We found a kids’ version of a pottery wheel at a garage sale. Cheap, will break soon, but just about right for kids. Lots of fun. I’m not sure what to do with all of these pots, though. :)


  2. I had a longer comment that somehow got eaten… Anyhow, skipping the personal narrative part (tl;dr plate techtonics is new-ish) I was wondering what your thoughts are on “stealth” creationism in science curriculum (like avoiding topics where it’s directly applicable, which is hard to notice at the elementary level, anyway, versus more blatant “Genesis says sea creatures were created on this day, and that’s when [pseudoscientific jargon]”…).

    While I’d definitely avoid the latter personally, with the former, I don’t know how much it’s useful to hammer in evolution before the background knowledge is there, especially when I see “prehistory” curricula that are already out of date on human evolution… I know their hearts are in the right place, but, well, that doesn’t really matter to me. Then again, I suppose, having human evolution information out of date is a bit like having a geology book written before plate techtonics existed…

    Of course, there are also the environmentalism-as-religion science textbooks… I don’t mind “here’s the science behind these issues you’ll hear about in the news” or “let’s try not to kill everything if we can help it” (particularly as long as it’s not at the expense of, say, learning meteorology or evolutionary biology, etc) but when littering is a “climate change” issue or the Science! presented has a feel of “we’ve always been at war with East Asia”… (Also, as much as I’m an atheist/agnostic and used to engaged in evolution/creationism debates, I cringe at pro-evolution stuff by people who can’t even be bothered to learn that Catholics != Fundamentalists…)


    • Oh no, I hate it when comments get eaten.

      I have not really noticed or had an issue with stealth creationism, but I use so many different books that if one doesn’t cover something, surely another will. For example, I we use a third grade science workbook I found at a neighbor’s garage sale (Fank Schaffer Publications: Science, 2006) that mentions evolution in its first essay: “Paleontologists believe that the first true dinosaurs evolved on Earth about 225 million years ago…”

      (I take issue with the article claiming that dinosaurs are “not lizards” but not explaining “what a lizard is” and what makes dinosaurs not lizards, as even I think of “lizard” as just a synonym for “reptile”.)

      The “What your Second Grader Needs to Know” book covers life cycles of various animals, the weather and seasonal cycles, and insect eusociality (also a few other topics like nutrition and basic tools like wedges.) There’s a biography of Anton van Leeuwenhoek, who built microscopes and discovered lots of microorganisms. I don’t remember if the book specifically used the word “evolution,” but it is very easy to bridge from the material in the book to a discussion of how organisms become adapted to their environments and evolve.

      Human evolution is trickier to find, but “Mammals who Morph (book 3),” while distinctly poetic in its approach, covers the topic decently well for an early elementary learner. In general, I think evolution might be a complex topic to fully understand for younger kids.

      My biggest complaint about non-textbooks about nature is the constant “humans are ruining everything” harping. Like yes, I know, we’re destroying the earth, but please lets have at least the occasional book that doesn’t try to make the children cry at the end?

      Hah, I know it sounds silly for a geology book to not cover plate tectonics, but the basic stuff it covers, like how rivers carry sediment and how the rock cycle works and so on, it covers pretty well. (The publishers really ought to release an updated version.)


      • I think the “stealth” example I’ve seen are the science units by Ellen McHenry. They look pretty cool, and I was planning on using them but started hesitating with some of the wording on one of the biology units, and then, apparently, her geology unit(s) outright go anti-plate tectonics, and they were written this century, so she doesn’t have the excuse your book has… (I still might try some of them out. With the one or two exceptions, I like what I’ve seen. I’ve already inadvertently turned my eldest into a Jesus freak, and, hey, maybe it’s just in my Darwinian self-interest to turn her into a creationist…)


      • I hadn’t heard of those, but they look interesting. I don’t think any small omissions are a big problem if you’re using enough different sources and the included facts are actually correct. If you do use them, I look forward to hearing how they turn out.


      • It’ll be a few years… they’re meant for older elementary, and my oldest is kindergarten age. Maybe I’ll have a real blog by then…

        For history, what I find most amusing are when negative Amazon reviews are split about 50/50 between “This is not Biblical! Avoid this work of the devil!” and “This mentions something from the Bible! Avoid this religious indoctrination!” (In case it’s not obvious, I’m paraphrasing for my own amusement, not for absolute accuracy.)


      • “…“humans are ruining everything”…”

        I think that’s actually debatable. The claim that farm run off ruins water, well it’s run off” nutrients” so plants love this stuff. Same with more CO2 plants, very happy. Plastic in ocean, before there was NO structure. I haven’t seen any data on this but I bet a lot of microscopic stuff lives on these nice new plastic habitats that are floating around nicely near the Oceans surface they can live on. I know mold can live on plastic. Before there was nothing.

        All the digging and oil use stirs up a lot of nutrients that pollute but also fertilize.

        As for over fishing…afraid I have no good rejoinder for that. I worry about over fishing leading some sort of collapse. I personally believe we should do two things to the Ocean. Fertilize it. There was a test done by a private individual with iron with whopping major good results. It would have to be repeated to verify. Number two is build massive amounts of boxes of some sort with little holes in them for little fish. Artificial reefs. The Ocean bottom really sucks as there’s no where to hide. Any and I mean any little structure of any sort has lots of fish because it’s the only place the little fish can out turn and hide from the big fish. I think we should find a way to make these by the hundreds of millions, maybe hundreds of billions. We could do a test run in one place and just see, I wouldn’t have to be convinced I’ve been scuba diving and seen it for myself, but others might need convincing. I think it would pay us back in vast amounts of fish to catch.

        I think it’s one of those situations where some animals lose. Especially bigger ones and some gain. Probably smaller ones. I imagine that we’re seeing the last gasp of wild Elephants and they will be gone soon unless they are owned by someone.


      • I’ve always figured overfishing is in large part a classic tragedy of the commons issue. Since you can’t really own a patch of ocean, it doesn’t make sense to try to make that patch more productive. (I’ll happily see people prove me wrong on that…) (I know there are already fish farms, but I assume some fish currently need to be in the middle of the ocean or such…)

        Once (in middle school! I’m a freak…) I had a debate with a classmate* about cutting down trees. I had recently learned about tree farming, which to me made a lot of sense, and he had some inarticulate response about why that was just as bad as clear-cutting virgin rainforest… (of course, from the latest archaeology, it’s an open question how virgin some of the Amazon is…)

        *interestingly, from his facebook, it seems he’s now quite the SJW caricature…


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