May 5, 2016 | Blair Lee
Be Naturally Curious Review
Be Naturally Curious specializes in science mini-courses. Each of these mini-courses focuses on a different scientific concept written by a different Naturally Curious expert. Each mini-course includes a beautifully illustrated story, a craft or manipulable, a game, and an experiment or outdoor field activity.
Subject Area: Science
Type of Course: Unit Study each expected to take your child 5 to 10 hours.
Age Range: K – 5
Cost: $9.99 each
Jill Harper’s Review –
My son, who is 12, helped me work through a few courses of Be Naturally Curious. He loves the desert and desert animals so we started with the course on Life in the Desert. My son is older than the recommended age, but even he was drawn in by the artwork and the story. Together we read through the whole unit. The beginning introduced deserts and went over important concepts and vocabulary. Then the course switched to animals in the desert and here is where my son had a lot of fun. My son is a very creative kid, and he decided he and I would read the next part like a play with each of us taking different parts. This works because the story is set up almost like a tv show which allows for kids to get creative in their reading while at the same time learning the concepts.
Here is an excerpt of the text to illustrate my point:
“Sure, Sandy. Well, as you can see behind me, there’s a lot of sand in the Sahara Desert. In fact, there isn’t much of anything other than sand in many places. Sometimes it gets really windy here, and the sand blows all around. We camels have some great structural adaptations that protect us from the sand. First, check out my amazing nostrils! I can close them to keep out sand. Can you do that, Sandy?”
“Er, uh—Calvin, I’m a plant. I don’t have nostrils.”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry about that. Anyway, now check out my long, gorgeous eyelashes. I have two rows of eyelashes that help keep sand out of my eyes. How many rows do you have, Sandy?”
“Calvin—I’m a plant! I don’t have eyelashes.”
After reading through the text we came to the activities. There are 4 activities per course, and the activities are there to reinforce the concepts while being fun for the kids. For the desert unit there is a game, a craft and journal activity, a hands-on activity that allows the kids to act out what they have learned, and an experiment that can easily be done with materials you have at home. The activities are well thought out and there to reinforce what is learned in the course. The parent will need to print out the materials for the activities and have time to go over them prior to the lesson. This is especially true for the games in the courses. These games are not simple games you can throw together in a minutes notice. You will have to print out the pieces and the board, do some cutting, and read all the instructions.
The mini-courses all end with a Curiosity Corner which is a page of links to other sites that reinforce the concepts of the unit. My son and I clicked through all of them in the desert unit and the links all worked and went to sites that were worth our time. I was very happy with this feature. Next is the Tools for your Toolkit section which reviews vocabulary and concept for the student. In addition there are tool icons that the student can glue or tape to their toolkit. The mini-courses end with a glossary of terms.
I thoroughly enjoyed working through these units and would have loved to have these when my kids were younger. Be Naturally Curious is very engaging for a variety of ages with wonderful illustrations and clever stories. The activities support the concepts in a fun way. Even though my son and I are over the recommended ages, we had a blast working through them. The only negative is that it is for a variety of ages, so some of the activities might be too hard or too easy for certain students depending on their age and/or skill level.
I would also like to add that I think these mini-courses would be wonderful to use with twice-exceptional students. The material is engaging, which this group of students would love. The illustrations and story will draw these students in, and the activities are fun and at a high level especially for younger elementary students or for older students working at a lower level. The courses are also short, which is a help for twice-exceptional students and their parents.
The only drawback of Be Naturally Curious is that it is for a variety of ages, so some of the activities might be too hard or too easy for certain students depending on their skill level. Also for some older kids the stories may seem young to them although with my own son this was not an issue.
Blair Lee’s Review –
I saw this engaging and highly educational collection of unit studies covering a range of science topics at a conference a couple of years ago. There are twelve books in the series. Each book could be used as a stand-alone mini-course or could be incorporated in with another course. These books would work very well in a science co-op or in a home setting, although you will want to make some minor adjustments for the group activities.
Each book starts with an explanation of the theory. This is the science knowledge kids need to know about the science topic that is the focus of the book. This section, including the illustrations, is well written and the science in it is good.
There are a nice range of activities, including labs with data sheets, that follow. Each activity illustrates a different concept or builds on the previous activities. The activities do a nice job of highlighting specific concepts presented in the theory portion. This pairing of theory with labs and activities is something I look for in science material. It is essential to pair these two for a good understanding of how the scientific method works. The materials needed to complete the activities are inexpensive and easy to find things you probably already have laying around your home. Many of these activities will require parent help. Many are group activities so it will take some thought to turn these into activities to be done with just your child and you.
The activities are followed by a section called Curiosity Connector. This section has links to other resources to learn more about each topic. This is followed by a section called Tools for Your Tool Kit. In this section there are a small number of questions and badges that kids can add to a toolkit which comes with each book. This is a nice way for parents to keep track of what kids have learned. It also gives kids a sense of mastery by highlighting the concepts they have learned. The last section of each unit study is a glossary. I think glossaries are very important in a course used by homeschoolers. It tells users of the material the specific definitions used by the author for each science term. This is important when kids aren’t sure of a word and definition.
I highly recommend these unit studies. I did have a few minor quibbles, but they were very minor. These unit studies are good for a range of ages. That is sometimes a problem, because the text and activities do not always match exactly with the intended age. If you are using these with multiple children of varying ages however, that could be a plus. In most cases, with parental involvement, this slight issue could easily be dealt with.
I also thought the drawings of the atoms and molecules in the two chemistry unit studies were a bit confusing. I emailed the author about these and I have included Valerie Grosso’s replies to my questions.
In one of the illustrations in The Adventures of Carbon, one of the oxygen atoms in carbon dioxide is drawn missing 2 of its valence electrons, but in another they are there. (If you are wondering about the reason there are only 6 valance electrons in the correct drawing, Google carbon dioxide resonance.) Valerie’s reply,
“You have a good eye! The lack of two valence electrons in the bottom image on pg. 4 of the Carbon mini-course is, in fact, a typo. Or, to be more accurate, a slip with the illustration. It is on the list to be fixed but part of the issue is that the illustrations for this particular mini-course were originally done in watercolor, so correcting isn’t as easy as it seems! 🙂 But it most certainly will be corrected in the near future.”
The author of these unit studies also gives atoms of the same element that are in molecules and the same parts of the atoms different names. Since every electron is an electron and every oxygen atom is an oxygen atom, I would prefer that they have the same name. (For chemistry buffs, yes I know this ignores isotopes and ions). From a scientist’s point of view I worry this will make the subject a bit confusing, and it something a parent will want to be aware of in case your kids have questions. Valerie’s reply,
“Our feeling was that having the atoms have different names (Ollie Oxygen, etc.) made it easier for kids to track these discrete “units” through the Carbon Cycle…same applies to the Molecules mini-course. In the latter case, we wanted kids to be able to focus on individual electrons (to allow them to envision the pairing up process) and thought that having distinct names would make that a lot easier. Hopefully that is the case!”
I thought this might be the case. Like I said, these are minor points. It is with pleasure that I highly recommend these wonderful science materials.
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