5 Tips that Keep Learners Engaged and Brains Focused

a mother and son working together

5 Tips that Keep Learners Engaged and Brains Focused

By Blair Lee, M.S.

Homeschoolers are dreamers. We spend months dreaming about what the school year is going to look like for our learners. It is easy to romanticize how it is all going to go academically. There is only one problem standing between our hard work and making our secular homeschool dreams a reality — our children.

Don’t they realize how long and hard you worked to make this year perfect? Are you beginning to wonder just what you got yourself into? Or, you might be reading this and patting yourself on the back because your kids agree with you and think you put the perfect academic year together. Regardless, we are homeschoolers, which means we care a lot about how engaged our kids are. Even in the best of times, it is a good idea to have a few easy-to-implement teaching strategies to help keep learners engaged and focused. Read on for five tips that keep learners engaged and brains focused. Looking for more support? Check out The SEA Homeschoolers Masterclasses!

1. Get Up and Move Around, but Keep It on Topic

In the hour-long, Elementary-level online science classes I teach, I weave periods of movement throughout each lesson. For example, I might ask kids to jump up to investigate the pulling force of gravity, twirl around to model planetary rotation, vote using thumbs up and thumbs down, vibrate like a greenhouse gas, fly like a bee, and call out answers. Why would I introduce what could easily devolve into a chaotic Zoom debacle into my science lessons? I do it to keep kids focused on the science, that’s why. When I write my teaching notes for each class, I am intentional about adding in movement that relates to the topic. This way, I am able to keep students “on topic” while grabbing their attention and energizing their brains.

This is not hard to do, either. For example, if your child is learning a basic multiplication fact like 3 times 2, ask them to do 3 movements 2 times, for example, 3 claps with their hands 2 times. For spelling, you can use a version of the YMCA song. For grammar and vocabulary, act words out. For history, act out historical scenes. Don’t be shy about doing these movements with your kids. In my science classes, I do the movements along with my students and explain what we are doing while we do it together. Usually, these movements take 30 seconds to 2 minutes. They do not disrupt or take over the class because I design them to dove-tail into our next lesson.

This technique is not something I thought up all on my own. The fact that movement engages the brain and helps kids learn has been well-documented by pediatricians, pediatric occupational therapists, and elementary school teachers. As pediatrician Dr. Niran Al-Agba says, “Exercise stimulates the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for focus, concentration, planning, and organization. Movement is a natural way to help kids focus and pay attention better.”

a girl working on a laptop outside
a family baking together

2. The Power of Touch

What would happen if someone touched you right now? Would it draw your attention away from this article? My hypothesis is that it would. Many years ago, I read an article that stated that an effective technique to bring a child’s attention back to you is a gentle touch. I began using touch while doing academics with my son when his attention would drift off or when I noticed he should be working on something, but instead he was staring at the wall. This doesn’t work with every child, but if yours is like mine, this gentle and warm act can grab the learner’s attention and help them refocus on the task at hand. This is especially effective when you use a warm tone of voice to gently remind them what they should be working on. When done correctly, this practice can help make your secular homeschool curriculum more effective.

There is science explaining why this technique works. In her 2015 article, “The Social Power of Touch”, Lydia Denworth explains that touch is the first sense to mature. A gentle, affectionate touch reaches the brain through a class of nerve fibers in the skin called c-tactile (CT) afferents. The CT afferents are nerves, which respond to slow, gentle strokes and touches to the skin. These nerves are fully functional soon after birth. Stimulating these nerves activates a network of brain regions that process information. The hormone oxytocin, for example, is released by gentle touch and increases our social interest. In the context of learning, I have observed that a gentle touch is a very effective method for bringing a learner’s focus to you and then back to what they were working on.

3. Teach in Small, Manageable Pieces

There is no timeline for learning. This should be part of every homeschooler’s mantra. Do not get caught up in the rat race of thinking that there is one schedule that should be used for every child of a certain age and grade level. It sounds a little ridiculous when spelled out, doesn’t it? And yet, that is what happens all the time both at home and in traditional settings. I write and use curriculum, and I really dislike programs and materials that do not have a schedule. However, it is important to remember to use these schedules as guides, not as a hard timeline. If a learner takes two months to complete a lesson that was scheduled to be completed over two weeks, who cares, as long as they learn the material. If a learner takes two days to complete a lesson that was scheduled to be completed over two weeks, awesome. Once you’re confident that they’ve learned the material, I recommend adding related material that brings breadth around the topic.

The crucial point here is that you show that what is being learned is important for the student to learn, and that meeting an arbitrary timeline is not the goal. This means you have to pay attention. If your child needs more time, you need to make sure that the material is presented in small manageable pieces. A course I wrote, R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2 is a great example of this. The course comes with a 36-week schedule. I know of homeschoolers who used the course over two years, while other learners finished the course in less than 36 weeks. In both situations, by the end of the course learners had a solid foundation in biology.

a mother and daughter working on the ABC's
a father and soon making a model solar system

4. Use a Non-Traditional Approach

What do Bear the tardigrade, space dust bunnies, and qwitekutesnutes have in common? They are all fictional characters that I made into core parts of academic, non-fiction science courses. This approach is unconventional and at times silly. It is also a very intentional strategy and a great way to introduce and discuss higher level content. Both Bear and the space dust bunnies are in elementary level courses in the R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey series. They are humorous and have distinct personalities that make them good vehicles for introducing topics that are often omitted from elementary level courses. Once you engage a student’s interest, however, you can get them making intellectual leaps and bounds.

This is a technique you can adapt for any subject in your secular homeschool curriculum. For example, if your child loves art, but not more technical subjects, weave math and science into art. Or perhaps you have a child who loves science and math but not language arts. You can use science and math as vehicles for writing instruction. Music is a wonderful way to teach almost anything. Think outside the box, like discussing X-Men when learning about genetic mutation, or using comic books to teach vocabulary or the structure of writing.

This technique, like movement, is also a great strategy for refocusing a learner’s attention. Can you remember a time when your attention was drifting and someone said something unexpected that reengaged your attention? It is sort of a “Wait a minute. What did you just say?” moment. If this is done with a meaningful tie-in, this can renew focus and enhance learning.

5. Show Your Own Interest

Showing your own interest in a subject area makes a big difference in how engaged your learner is. If you cannot figure out why something is interesting and important to learn, it can be hard to convince others that it is. In extreme cases, if you know a subject is important but you just cannot find a way to be interested in it, you might want to outsource the teaching of the subject. Before you go looking for an alternative teacher, however, there are some techniques you can use to show your interest.

Sometimes, (this happens to every homeschooler sooner or later) it is that you don’t really understand the topic. The best way to show interest in this case is to learn along with your child. Discuss what you are both learning. This happened with history for my child and me. My history education was pretty spotty. My son and I learned history together. He and I became most fascinated with the stories that were too often left out of traditional history books. We became immersed in learning about the history of the indigenous peoples of North and South America. My son, now a sophomore in college, is taking American Indian Heritage this semester. He still finds this area of study fascinating. He recently told me it is the most interesting college class he has taken.

a father and daughter building robots together

One way to show your interest is to discuss what you are learning outside of the classroom. For example, one of my stepsons really struggled with math. I would make up fun (yes, he really thought they were fun!) math games and brain teasers using his favorite super heroes to bring math into casual situations, or when we were stuck in traffic. I thoughtfully paid attention to the subjects my son was studying and made real-world connections when they came up. I shared 60-Minutes’ segments, emailed articles, and texted memes that related to what we were studying.

Did you catch that I said “we” not “he” in the previous sentence? Another way to show your interest is to work alongside learners. In her 2012 article, Cindy O’Donnell-Allen states that “the best writing teachers are writers themselves. Why? Because we know the writing process inside-and-out, we can support our students’ work in authentic ways.” I was lucky enough to read something along those lines early in my son’s homeschooling journey. I took this information to heart, and I wrote with my son. I shared what I was writing and occasionally received brutal feedback. In every case I can think of, he was right and a rewrite was in order. Writing alongside my child made writing a family affair. It made it easier to give him valuable feedback and it helped him see how writing happened. I didn’t just write science with him, either. He and I wrote pieces from numerous genres. I wanted to make sure he saw me writing in areas where I wasn’t very skilled so he could see me improve with practice. This is not a technique that I used just with writing. I made working alongside him a cornerstone, especially for those subjects he seemed to struggle with.

a grandmother and granddaughter doing a science experiment together

Learning is an interesting phenomenon. It isn’t always easy to measure when it happens, and often learners are absorbing more than is obvious when you are in the thick of it. You might be surprised a few months from now when you realize that your plan really was a great one. And whether you use touch, movement, shared interests, a non-traditional approach, or none of these, one thing is certain, this journey you are on with your children bonds you in unique and special ways that really are idyllic.

Handcrafting a Culture of Thinking: Metacognition

Handcrafting a Culture of Thinking: Metacognition

What are your plans for your secular homeschool curriculum this coming school year? Language arts? Math? Science? History? What learning skills are you planning on having your children work on? Wouldn’t it be great to handcraft a culture of thinking in your home that is personally meaningful for your learners while providing support for a learner-centered education?

If you were thinking these skills are something kids will just pick up, think about how many adults you know who have not mastered all the learning skills. By weaving these learning skills into your secular homeschool lesson plans alongside academic subjects, you can prepare your students to be lifelong learners while helping them excel in their coursework.

a girl looking at a backlit map

Metacognition Defined

Metacognition is the ability to use prior knowledge to plan a strategy for approaching a learning task, solving a problem, evaluating results, and modifying an approach. When we do purposeful thinking about our thinking, we engage in metacognition. It encompasses an important skill set that enhances learning and helps learners understand their own learning processes, and how their unique brain works.

6 Metacognitive Skills You Can Weave into the Coming School Year

Metacognitive Skill #1: Retaining, Retrieving, and Discussing/Using Knowledge

An important metacognitive skill is the ability to retain, retrieve, and discuss knowledge. These might sound like three different skills, however, they are partnered when scaffolding them and when learners demonstrate skill with them.

How to Work on this Skill

Multi-Step Instructions – Give students multi-step oral instructions. They cannot start until you have given all parts of the instructions. Start with one step, then progress to two step instructions, and so on.

Socratic Method – Asking genuine “I wonder” questions followed by “What do we already know?” is a great way to assess what has been retained. When your learner retrieves information showing they are learning, stop and engage them in a discussion, casually and intentionally pulling in more retained knowledge. Let your child know you’re proud of them for pulling that sort of information into the conversation.

Casual Conversation – A great way to measure if learning is being retained is to look for learners to retrieve information and discuss it outside of a school setting. Incorporate work on this skill into the fabric of daily life, and don’t just make this about your kids! Discuss what you’re learning, too. Model how you retrieve and discuss knowledge you have retained.

a boy holding a lightbulb

Metacognitive Skill #2: Directing their Own Learning

In terms of metacognition, self-directed learning incorporates:
1. Critical thinking
2. Locating resources that support the growth and development of ideas
3. Exploring those for validity and impact
4. A combination of these practices leads to the ability to connect learning to new experiences.
Working on these four steps requires oversight from a mentor and benefits from scaffolding.

a girl using a wood planer

How to Work on this Skill

Scaffold good entry points that meet a learner academically – When your learner is interested in a topic, it can be difficult for them to know where to start. Provide the needed scaffolding to get them started at a level that is challenging enough to be engaging. As they progress and their learning evolves, new questions emerge, and new resources are needed. Pay attention when that happens so you can provide those.

Teach students how to find adequate & accurate resources – The more students feel the pride of figuring it out on their own, the more they will feel empowered to keep learning, and they will repeat the pattern of discovery when applied to other interests and subjects. The problem is that there is a wealth of information at our fingertips, including a lot that is not credible. As students direct their learning, they need intentional teaching about how to select materials from good sources.

Promote Design Thinking – One way to foster self-directed learning is to use Design Thinking. You can scaffold this by asking, “How can you design something to solve a problem?” With design thinking, learners define a “problem,” something that needs attention, they brainstorm to come up with a possible solution, they build a prototype, and they test it. These last two steps can go on for a while in an iterative process. Scaffold this as needed and look for evidence of learners retrieving retained knowledge during the design process.

Metacognitive Skill #3: Using Subject Specific Vocabulary

The ability to think about your thinking in the context of learning new information requires a certain literacy with the words being used. For example, in a science course, if a student encounters unfamiliar words they will likely be unable to assess their knowledge. It may keep them from knowing what they know. If that happens, the learner will not recognize what information they have retained in order to retrieve it.

How to Work on this Skill

Learn Vocabulary with Learner – If you see issues with vocabulary, look at where students are using the vocabulary. If it is only in the context of coursework, that is the likely problem. The best way to learn subject specific vocabulary is to begin using it regularly in and outside of learning time. This can mean you have to learn the vocabulary too.

Words in Context – Retrieving the correct meaning of a word based on its context is a metacognitive skill. Understanding the specific definition for certain contexts is important. Think of the word “theory.” Is it used casually or in a science class? Knowing the context provides the information needed to understand ideas.

Latin Root Words or a book like Decoded – Studying Latin roots are a good way to work on this skill. A root has a specific historic meaning that relates, morphs, and evolves in modern day language. For older students, a book like Decoded (which has a lot of cursing and some drug use) where there is a collection of lyrics and their meanings in the context of rap music tells the story of a culture, an art form, a moment in history, and is also part memoir.

a boy reading a book

Metacognitive Skill #4: Making and Using Models

Speaking of words in context, here are some tips for two types of modeling — modeling metacognitive skills, and two- and three-dimensional models that are simplified, stripped down presentations to help focus in on specific concepts and thinking processes.

boys building a robot

How to Work on this Skill

Demonstrate Metacognition – Model Metacognition for learners by interpreting information, data, and vocabulary, analyzing statements, and making conclusions about learning. In this way, you are explicitly articulating the underlying thinking process you use. Just make sure that when using modeling to scaffold, you meet students where they are.

Use two- and three-dimensional visual models: Visual models help learners think through what they are learning. They are great tools to draw out the information students have retained and help to scaffold them with retrieving their knowledge.

Metacognitive Skill #5: Perseverance and Stick-to-itiveness

The ability to purposefully work through the “steps” for better understanding is an important metacognitive skill. Think stick-to-itiveness as a demonstration of this skill. Does your learner bounce from activity to activity without finishing them, or do they work toward completion? Learners who generally see a project through to the end learn more. They have deeper, broader, and more nuanced understandings of knowledge and information. This skill is also important for making connections across disciplines. I have seen cases where people didn’t do this for learners. It creates situations where students know topics at a high level within a very narrow scope that is difficult to connect to other topics and information. It limits a student’s ability to do anything outside of a specific area.

How to Work on this Skill

Model this behavior – The best way to teach this behavior is to demonstrate it in action.

Discuss the importance of perseverance – Make perseverance a focused-skill that everyone takes seriously.

Incentives – Use incentives if you must but do what it takes to have students work on the habit of completing projects.

Children reading a map outside

Metacognitive Skill #6: Evaluating their Own Work

Metacognition is the ability to think about your thinking. It is important that learners can evaluate what they know as they do that. Students who have an awareness of their own knowledge do a better job of recognizing when they are working on new skills and learning new things. This is where real learning occurs as students build on retained knowledge. This ability to evaluate your own work is an important metacognitive skill that will help build confidence. Too often learners doubt they are up for the task, even when it is obvious that they can do it. It can be frustrating, can’t it?!?

a child with a thought bubble over their head on a chalkboard

How to Work on this Skill

Knowing What You Know – A learner with strong metacognitive skills knows what they know. They have access to information they retain, then retrieve to use and build on. One of my favorite sayings of all time is John Wooden’s saying “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” When you know which knowledge and tools in the learner’s toolbox to pull out to use on a job, you can engage in increasingly sophisticated and larger projects with a greater awareness of your learning. To help learners know what they know, use phrases like “you know that” and “you taught me something today,” to help your learner assess their knowledge and be more confident in their self-assessment.

Scaffold Skills #1-5 – There’s a reason this skill is number 6 on this list. It is through the scaffolding of the other metacognitive skills that learners can adequately and accurately evaluate their own work.

Growth Mindset for Evaluating Work – Use a growth mindset where evaluations are treated as an opportunity to grow. This is a learner focused approach where students know what they know and are encouraged to investigate new knowledge and skills.

A Final Thought

Metacognition is about creating a culture of thinking and learning that results in thoughtful and reflective learners who are motivated to engage in independent, lifelong learning. Strong metacognitive skills help learners connect to the unique way that their brain works. These are the skills of lifelong learners. This school year, in addition to planning for language arts, math, science, and history, make an effort to weave metacognitive skills into your lesson plans, too.
This is part two of The Learner’s Toolbox from Blair Lee. The Learner’s Toolbox is a multi-part series in the SEA Homeschoolers Magazine and SEA Homeschoolers Online Conference Series that focuses on learning skills that are essential for lifelong learners.

Handcrafting a Secular Homeschool Curriculum for a Balanced Learner

a child working on color order

Handcrafting a Secular Homeschool Curriculum for a Balanced Learner

Secular homeschoolers are planners. Have you ever thought about the process you use when doing this planning? Do you think about the subjects you will have your child focus on and what secular homeschool curriculum or online programs you will use? What about how you are going to help your child learn how to learn? Do you plan the specific learning strategies you will deploy to help your child become a lifelong learner?

Raising Lifelong Learners

Homeschooling parents often say that they want to raise lifelong learners. That is a worthy goal, but as your child’s primary teacher and mentor, how can you help make that happen? One thing you can do to help your child fall in love with learning is to make plans to help them become a more balanced learner. Balanced learners can learn from a wide range of materials that are presented in a variety of ways.

Most people access information at a higher level when it is presented in a way that supports one to two of the primary learning modalities (modes): visual, aural (auditory), reading and writing, or kinesthetic learning. For each individual, this is a natural outcome of how their brain works. As a long-term strategy for secular homeschoolers, it is best to become a balanced learner who can access information across all of the learning modalities.

a girl fixing a robotic car
children outdoors with gear and a map

What Is a Balanced Learner?

Balanced learners are multimodal learners. As the word suggests, multimodal learners learn using all four modalities. Instead of a heavy reliance on one or two modes, there is a balance with the strategies they use. Balanced learners are strong enough using each of the four modalities to choose the one best suited to the learning task at hand.

Being a lifelong learner is difficult if you rely heavily on only one or two of the learning modes because you can’t always control how information is presented and taught. As a balanced learner with command over all of the learning modes, you will be able to use the strategy that works best based on how the information is presented.

A Metacognitive Approach

Metacognition is the ability of a student to understand how they learn best, and it should be applied in your secular homeschool curriculum. With a metacognitive approach, students use prior knowledge to organize, monitor, and adapt the way they approach new learning material and situations. Another benefit of working with students to learn how they learn is that it directly strengthens a student’s metacognitive abilities. When there is a focus on learning how to learn in order to become a balanced learner, students come to see the different learning modalities as useful tools. Balanced learners can pick and choose the best tool based on the information and how it is presented. Interested in learning more about metacognition? Read our blog on the topic.

a girl using a wood planer
a boy taking notes while wearing headphones

Using Strengths to Handcraft a More Balance Learner

All this theory sounds great, but are you wondering how to handcraft a more balanced learner? The good news is, it is easier than you might think (based on the dense theory😊).

1. The first step is to identify the learning modalities primarily used by the learner.

2. Make a list of the academic disciplines the student finds challenging, and those that they don’t find challenging.

3. Pair Strengths with Challenges – Use this information to help you choose secular homeschool materials and programs:

  • If a student finds a subject challenging, find materials that primarily present the information in a mode that is a strength for them. They are already working hard enough to learn the information.
  • Pair the learning modes that are not as strong with subjects that fall within a student’s academic strengths. You can work on creating a more balanced learner by pairing materials that have a multimodal approach (use all four modalities) with a student’s “easy” subjects. You can also use present materials using a mode that is not a student’s strength.

Learning modes are important tools, and the ability to use each is a skill that should be developed in your secular homeschool. Like any tool and skill, the more practice you get with them, the better you will be using them. By thoughtfully pairing academic strengths with modalities that need work, you can handcraft a more balanced learner. This will have lifelong benefits, as your multimodal learner will be able to pick and choose the optimum learning tool to match the presentation of information in any educational scenario.

Secular, Eclectic, Academic (SEA) Homeschoolers is the world’s largest secular homeschooling community. Subscribe to The SEA Magazine and register for The SEA Homeschoolers Online Conference Series (both are FREE!) to learn more about how we can help you deliver a high-quality, secular homeschool education.

What is the best secular homeschool curriculum?

the best secular homeschool curriculum, secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history

What is the best secular homeschool curriculum?

A common question asked by secular homeschoolers is, “What is the best secular homeschool curriculum?” It is easy to understand why a secular homeschooling parent would ask this. Wouldn’t it be great if there was one well-planned curriculum provider who you could go to for the purchase of all your curriculum needs?

Unfortunately, the short answer is that there is no one best secular homeschool curriculum. That doesn’t mean you will not hear from other secular homeschoolers that they have found the latest and greatest secular homeschool curriculum to use with their kids, and you should give it a try too. You will also hear from homeschool curriculum providers that they have developed a secular homeschool curriculum that will be a perfect fit. The issue with the “curriculum de jour” and the companies that pay to advertise around certain terms, is that no one set of materials is ever going to be the “best” for all learners.

the best secular homeschool curriculum, secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history
the best secular homeschool curriculum, secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history

The entire idea that there is a one-size-fits-all curriculum out there that will meet the needs of every learner is ingrained in us from a traditional school mentality. You are a homeschooler for a reason. You can find a better way! Instead of buying into this falsehood, secular homeschoolers should rephrase this question.

The better question to ask is, “What is the best secular homeschool curriculum for my learner?” The answer to that is simpler than you might think, but it does require some learner-focused homework for you to do before even looking at the secular homeschool curriculum.

To find the best secular homeschool curriculum for your learner start by asking, “How does my child learn?”

This is the number one question every secular homeschool provider should ask before looking at homeschool curriculum. A good secular homeschool curriculum takes a multimodal approach that incorporates all four primary learning modalities: auditory, kinesthetic, aural, and reading-writing. There is generally more work using one or two of these modalities than the others. Your child’s success with the curriculum will depend on how well this focus aligns with the primary modalities they use when learning. Your goal should be that children are balanced, multimodal learners, however for challenging subjects you want to choose a curriculum that primarily aligns with how your child best learns. Pair the secular homeschool curriculum in the subjects they find easy with any modalities they struggle with.

secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history
secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history

Find a methodology that works well for your learner.

Often, homeschooling parents will become attached to a teaching methodology, such as the Classical method or Charlotte Mason. The issue is when those do not work for a learner. For example, some learners benefit from learning that is more flexible and free-flowing than the Classical method. For others, this method leads to real intellectual growth. This directly relates to the first tip. Before purchasing a secular homeschool curriculum that aligns with a methodology, make sure it is a good learning methodology for your child.

The best secular homeschool curriculum for your learner should engage their intellect.

It is important to have an idea about what your children will be learning. One of the best parts of a secular homeschool is the freedom and flexibility to choose the subjects you want to focus on. Make some sort of outline before you start shopping. Ask yourself, “Does my child have a passion I want to make a focus for their learning?” “Are there learning challenges that should be addressed?” “Do these materials promote a culture of thinking?” “Will these materials engage my child.” and “Is there something I think everyone should learn?” If your goal is to choose a secular homeschool curriculum that best fits the needs of your learner and you as their primary teacher, do not start looking until you have an idea of the subjects you should be looking for.

secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history
the best secular homeschool curriculum, secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history

What format will work best for your family?

Next, you will want to give some thought to the scope of the curriculum. Are you looking for a secular homeschool curriculum that you piece together subject-by-subject, or do you want an all-in-one curriculum? For the most part, piecing it together is best. Honestly, no one does everything well. However, an all-in-one curriculum can be less time-consuming for you to put together. When considering this, also think about how you want materials delivered: online, live or taped, print, or as an ebook. Take your learner into account when making these decisions.

Make sure the materials are secular and evidence-based.

If your goal is to find the best secular homeschool curriculum you will want to make sure the materials are secular. After you find materials that are a good fit, you should go to the number one place to get accurate information about this, the SEA Homeschoolers Facebook Group. Many homeschool curriculum publishers claim to have secular materials that are not secular. Other secular groups and websites often use information from other homeschoolers, some of whom are not secular, or the publisher’s own website.

the best secular homeschool curriculum, secular homeschool curriculum, Blair Lee, Secular Science, Secular history

Now that you have the five tips to help, choosing the secular homeschool curriculum should be much easier!

10 Tips for Secular Homeschooling

10 Tips for Secular Homeschooling

Deciding to homeschool is a big step. It is a big responsibility to oversee your child’s education. Deciding to secular homeschool can make the job seem even more challenging. However, there are some tried and true tips that can make the job of secular homeschooling much easier. Continue reading to learn more, and if you’re interested in joining the SEA Homeschooling community, join our Facebook group or become a member today!

1. Know why you are choosing a secular homeschool path

For most homeschoolers, the How (to do it) takes up most of their time. Before working on the “How”, it is a good idea to document the “Why.” Every secular homeschooler I have ever met had one thing in common. We care deeply about our children’s education. This is part of our why, but there is usually more to it. Writing a mission statement, a brief statement of your Why, will keep you grounded and on track.  

A well-crafted Mission Statement acts as a compass. It sets boundaries and provides clarity and direction. It provides a guidepost when you feel scattered or overwhelmed. It can also be used in moments of indecision when choosing between options and paths. And the more innovative and eclectic you are, the more options and possibilities you will look at. Your Mission Statement can help you narrow these.

2. Get to know how your learner learns. 

Children learn in different ways. A major benefit of homeschooling is the ability to develop a learner-centered education for your child. When you focus on how your child learns, you can connect them with the unique way their brain works. Getting to know how your child learns allows you to implement strategies for promoting learning paths where they are naturally skilled as well as provide scaffolding for those your child finds more challenging.

3. Find your state groups, local co-ops, and local playgroups.

In the US, homeschooling is regulated on the state level. The first thing to do when you decide to homeschool is to check the regulations for homeschooling set out by your state’s board of education. Each state has some differences in the procedure you need to go through for homeschooling. While you are at it, check to see if there is a statewide secular homeschool organization. That is a great place to get the information you need. Many of these organizations also have information about local secular homeschool co-ops and playgroups that can help you connect with homeschoolers in your area.

4. Find an online community.

Finding an online community is especially important for secular homeschoolers. When you decide to secular homeschool, it puts you in a smaller cohort of the homeschool community. The good news is that the secular homeschool community has a large online presence. There are free online secular homeschool conferences, secular homeschool magazines, and on Facebook, there is the SEA Homeschoolers Group with 77,000+ members. Our group functions like a huge teacher’s lounge where you can ask questions and get input and trusted advice from experienced homeschoolers.

5. Find secular homeschool curriculum (which can be harder than you might think!)

The most frustrating part of creating a secular homeschool is the amount of misinformation about whether resources are secular or not. Many publishers have misleading statements about what should be in secular materials. It is not just publishers, either. There are blogs, YouTube videos, Facebook groups, and websites that list materials as secular that are not. This is another reason you will want to find a trusted online secular homeschool community. The best place to get information is in a public forum with a reputation for being honest about what is and is not secular.

6. Customize to honor you and your learners.

A major benefit of homeschooling is that you can choose and customize resources. This can be done to reflect your student’s metacognitive needs. It is also increasingly being done to teach topics within subjects that parents and students feel are undertaught. For example, in the secular homeschool community, first-person African American, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ voices are often added to history lessons. Customizing resources is also done to address the underteaching in traditional schools of core topics like science. Secular homeschool students generally get much more science learning than their traditional school peers.

For some secular homeschoolers, it can be scary to customize curriculum. As long as they are academically rich, alternatives aren’t just okay, they can often be better. As secular homeschooling has gained in popularity, potential bosses and colleges are coming to realize the benefits of including this cohort at work and on campuses.

7. Go into it with your eyes open about the workload.

Homeschooling is work. As obvious as that statement is,  the amount of work that goes into planning and implementing it can catch new homeschoolers off guard. Toss in the work needed to ensure resources are secular, and it can feel overwhelming. If you begin to feel that way, take a step back and focus on why you are homeschooling. The rewards and benefits for your children and family are significant when there is a focus on meaningful, learner-centered education. 

You will want to relax too. Enjoy this time with your child. Do the best you can do, and that is the best you can do. In addition, choose good secular homeschool resources that work for your learner and then relax. You are doing a great job!

8. Collect, compare, and share work samples. 

Collecting work samples can relieve so much stress. These samples are the best way to track a student’s progress. The best time to collect work samples in every subject is at the beginning and end of each semester. It is also a good idea to collect monthly samples. Put these in a folder with a date on them. Compare work to monitor progress, and then share that work with your child so they can see their progress. You, as the person facilitating their learning, and your children, the learners, should feel proud of their progress.

Work samples can also help when troubleshooting. If progress is stagnant, it could be the materials being used. It could also be a cognitive or developmental issue. If this turns out to be the case, it can feel scary. However, for these issues, early intervention is important. The good news is that once you know what issues need accommodations, there are a plethora of resources available to help you help your learners. 

If your child is flying through the material, it generally means their needs are not being met. Make sure that the choices meet your learner where they are at academically. Learners with high academic needs benefit from regular check-ins to ensure the materials are a good fit.

9. Evaluate with a growth mindset and a mastery approach.

In an age where multiple-choice tests and red pens to essays are the norm, is it any wonder that evaluating work has negative connotations? The issue is not the evaluation, however. It is how and why it is done in traditional school. Just remember, you have a secular homeschool. You can evaluate in the way it should be used.

The evidence that evaluations done right benefit learning is substantial. The phrase “benefit learning” is where energy should be focused. Evaluations give information about whether a student has mastered course material. If not, take the time to slow down and focus on those areas the learner needs more time with. Be thoughtful when giving feedback. Learning is a process and scaffolding through the thoughtful and kind feedback of a limited number of skills is the best way to mentor student progress.

10. Decide whether you want to leave it open for kids to go to traditional school.

Many homeschoolers want to leave it open for their children to go to traditional school. Homeschoolers that want this should definitely choose to secular homeschool. History and science materials used by secular homeschoolers align closer in topic with traditional school than non-secular homeschools do.

Whatever your reason for wanting to secular homeschool, you have got this. You really do. It starts with one step, and then gets easier as you go along. There is so much joy and pleasure to share learning with your child. Relax, get advice when you need it, and know that you are a part of a big, warm, and welcoming community!

Secular Homeschooling – Vetting Secular Science Curriculum

A grandmother plays with her granddaughter.

Vetting Secular Science Curriculum

10 Ways to Make Sure Your Science Curriculum IS Secular

Phew! You have finally done it. You spent hours, days, and weeks planning the courses and materials you will use for your secular homeschooling during the coming year. Your excitement over planning the best year of homeschooling EVER results in you sharing your plan at a park day or on Facebook. Instead of the expected accolades, you hear from people that your choice for science isn’t secular. Wait… what? The website you purchased the science from didn’t say the science wasn’t secular. Or worse yet, the website said the materials were secular and you are now learning that is not the case. Or perhaps you are using another homeschooler’s recommendation. Whatever the reason, you now have to go back to the drawing board and figure science out, AGAIN. What is a secular homeschooler to do! Vetting secular science curriculum can be tricky, but we’ll discuss some ways you can make sure your curriculum is truly a secular science curriculum. At SEA Homeschoolers, we offer secular materials and more for your homeschool science curriculum! Be sure to check out our site and read on to learn more.

Why Vetting a Secular Science Curriculum is Important

Secular science curriculum and materials use empirical, evidence-based information that include and present scientific facts, principles, models, and theories as recommended by a majority of practicing experts in each scientific field. Even with the extra work that vetting secular science curriculum entails, there is a good reason to ensure you are using exclusively secular science materials when homeschooling.

That reason is academic integrity. Academic integrity is the ethical policy that forms the guiding principles for what and how academic materials are presented. Companies and individuals who present themselves as entities that have the credentials to determine what people learn should be held to the highest standards of academic integrity.

From the standpoint of materials and programs that are created to teach children, academic integrity has to do with the honesty and rigor science authors use when determining what and how facts, principles, models, and theories are presented. Only science materials that are secular are developed by people who have academic integrity. Now that you know why you should put in the extra time vetting secular science curriculum, how can you make sure your homeschool science curriculum really is secular?

A young student stands in front of a chalkboard.

Vetting Secular Science Curriculum: 10 Tips to Make it Easier

We hear all the time in the Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers Facebook group what a problem it can be to make sure the materials you choose are secular. There is obfuscation on the part of some textbook publishers and authors. There are also new materials being published regularly. Let me share some of the tips we use when we are vetting secular homeschool science curriculums.

The Science of Climate Change textbook.
A teacher and a student.

1. Search the publisher’s website.

My favorite word to search for is evolution (but climate change and the Big Bang are good choices too). Evolution is the central thematic element that should be woven throughout biology. No secular biology course above the early elementary school level will be missing a discussion about evolution. In short: your secular science curriculum should not avoid or shy away from teaching evolution. This example from Friendly Biology shows you how this is explained by nonsecular publishers.

“What is the difference between the Christian Worldview version of Friendly Biology and the secular version of Friendly Biology?

The Christian Worldview version of Friendly Biology gives credit to God as the creator of all living things. This credit is omitted from the secular version. The theory of evolution is not included in either version as it was our goal in writing the course to present currently accepted observations of living creatures in today’s world.”

Even if you are not looking for a biology course, the omission of this word from a biology course indicates that all science materials put out by the publisher are not secular. Note the phrase “currently accepted observations.” Advocates of “observational science” will tell you that they only teach students science where the material presented in the theory can be observed. Nonsecular publishers attempting to publish a “secular” version will tell you that evolution cannot be directly observed. (Neither can climate change, the Big Bang, geologic time, or a cosmological explanation for how heavy elements are created in stars.) Anyone who writes a biology course without evolution as a thematic element of the course will not have secular chemistry, astronomy, earth science, or physics.

2. Look for science materials that advertise you can skip the chapters containing core science theories like evolution or the Big Bang without it impairing the course.

In fact, you cannot omit central concepts that are essential for making connections across disciplines without it impairing the course.

Evolution is a thematic element that gives context and meaning to the whole of biology. The Big Bang is a scientific theory for how the universe and everything in it came to be. A homeschool science curriculum course written so that the section on evolution can “just be skipped” is not presenting entire areas of biology, such as genetics, anatomy and physiology, systems of classification, and medicine, as would be recommended by a majority of practicing experts in the field of biology. Here is an example of the publisher of Elemental Science and Sassafras Science omitting these.

“In the intermediate years, the pages that deal with the theories of evolution and the Big Bang are included as optional studies.” Secular science courses do not consider the two central scientific theories, one explaining how all organisms and the other explaining how all matter got here, to be optional.

This same publisher goes on to say this.

“In the high school years, we do schedule the chapters from the standard CK-12 textbooks that deal with the theories of evolution and the Big Bang as we believe it is important for students to be familiar with these.”

This is an interesting word choice to use “to be familiar” instead of “to learn.” Publishers of secular science curriculum courses recognize the importance of learning these theories and all the science topics they are woven through in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of science.

3. Search through the FAQs on the publisher’s website and Facebook groups for information about the worldview of the materials.

Another good search term is “opposing viewpoints.” Many products written from the perspective of intelligent design claim their science products are more credible because they encourage students to explore opposing viewpoints. In the series Real-Science-4-Kids, a science curriculum written from the intelligent design perspective, Rebecca Keller makes the following claim:

“All of the books introduce real science to students and this means scientific facts and theories that are currently accepted by the scientific community. However, the books also introduce students to the philosophy of science and encourage students to explore opposing viewpoints when it comes to interpreting what these facts and theories may mean to individuals, groups, and the larger community.”

The above statement is misleading for two reasons. The first is that the materials DO omit key topics such as evolution which most certainly IS currently accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community. The second and possibly more serious issue is that Keller puts a family’s worldview on par with centuries of scientific research, conclusions, and evidence, something not done in secular homeschool science curriculum materials. It isn’t the job of science to support philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works.

Here is an example of how the worldview of the publisher Friendly Biology makes it important for them to redefine secular science curriculum as only presenting “accepted observations” that omit evolution.

“What is the difference between the Christian Worldview version of Friendly Biology and the secular version of Friendly Biology?

The Christian Worldview version of Friendly Biology gives credit to God as the creator of all living things. This credit is omitted from the secular version. The theory of evolution is not included in either version as it was our goal in writing the course to present currently accepted observations of living creatures in today’s world.”

If you are looking for secular science courses, you do want those that present accepted observations. However, that should include ALL accepted observations, such as the theory of evolution.

4. Search the website to look for terms the publisher redefines from their science usage to everyday usage.

“At Elemental Science, we treat scientific fact as fact and scientific theory as theory. So we are not Christian or Secular – we are just science.” This is an important distinction and good to understand if looking for secular science. Science curriculum should treat scientific facts as scientific facts and scientific theories as scientific theories. Many nonsecular science materials use the definitions for fact and theory based on their everyday usage, not on their science definitions. In everyday usage facts take precedence over theories. In science the opposite is true.

“Fact: In science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true”. … Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” National Center for Science Education

In science, facts are an observation of a phenomenon. Theories are big and profound, weaving numerous facts, experimental results, and scientific laws into them. The concept of scientific theory is a central dogma of science. No mainstream scientist or science educator would intentionally misuse the term or attempt to redefine it. The end goal when a publisher works to redefine a term like scientific theory is to undermine those scientific theories the nonsecular community takes issue with, such as the theory of evolution, germ theory, and the theory explaining the climate crisis.

Here is an explicit example from Paige Hudson, the publisher of Elemental and
Sassafras science doing this. “In other words, using the word theory tells other scientists that this idea is still be (sic) worked on, but the word fact says that this idea is proven to be true.”

There are several parts of this statement to unpack. Scientific theories do not become facts. Scientific theories explain facts. To call something a theory does tell scientists that an explanation for how something is happening (“this idea”) is being worked on. This is not a weakness of a scientific theory. Instead, it is important as a central concept to science that our understanding of the natural and physical world continues to “be worked on.” Hudson also states that “the word fact says that this idea is proven to be true.” This is an incorrect definition of a scientific fact. It is also incorrect to indicate that facts prove theories to be true. Scientific theories do not give absolute proof of a science phenomenon.

Hudson is not the only curriculum developer to do this. In fact, this is one of the most common tactics used by nonsecular publishers. Here is another example from Layers of Learning.

“Layers of Learning is a springboard for pursuits of knowledge. We provide facts, topics, resources, questions, and experiment ideas, and then allow you to explore and establish theories, beliefs, and ideas.”

In this case, scientific theories are being equated with beliefs, which is an incorrect analogy. Another issue is that young learners do not have enough science knowledge, nor do they have access to the type of science equipment and research needed to “establish their own scientific theories” and neither do most of their parents. Keep this in mind when choosing secular science curriculum materials for your homeschool science curriculum.

5. Use the contact form on the website; this should be the first step if the website does not have a search function.

Ask the publisher directly if the materials are proper for a secular homeschool, and how the publisher defines secular materials. Make sure the publisher knows what criteria you expect when choosing a secular science curriculum. While you are on the phone ask if evolution, the Big Bang, climate change, and the age of the Earth and the universe (in billions) are discussed in their science courses. If you are still in doubt, ask for the specific language used to explain evolution, environmental topics (especially climate change and global warming), and the age of the Earth. Make sure the publisher knows you will return the materials if they are not secular using your definition for secular not theirs.

The evolution of the human skull.

6. Visit a secular homeschool conference or curriculum fair.

These are a fantastic place to get your hands on the materials which can make vetting secular science curriculum much easier. They are limited to the vendors who are there, but nothing compares to perusing materials yourself. Look for the same key concepts and terms that you look for on a publisher’s website.

7. Check out the speakers and vendors at the Great Homeschool Convention.

The Great Homeschool Convention (GHC) is known for excluding secular science materials at its conferences. In the area of science, if a speaker or vendor is at GHC they are not secular. This group is not open to or welcoming of secular scientists as speakers. GHC regularly has Jay Wile, author of the Apologia series, Jonathan Sarfati, author of Refuting Evolution, and Paige Hudson, the author of the neutral science series, Elemental. By looking at the list of speakers and vendors at GHC you can learn which materials are NOT secular.

8. Facebook groups and pages can be great sources.

Unfortunately, these sites are also one of the reasons there is so much confusion over which science materials are secular. Determine what the operating definition for the word secular is for groups and sites you get curriculum recommendations from. If inclusivity is a part of the organization’s definition of secular, it generally means intelligent design and neutral materials are reviewed and recommended as secular.

Another issue arises when nonsecular publishers use their social media platforms to confuse and miseducate about whether their product is secular or not. This is an example from the Supercharged Science Facebook page.

“You will not find any mention to timelines. We present facts and then encourage you to experiment, research, and pursue further knowledge. That’s what scientists do! They are always trying to experiment and explain. Layers of Learning is a springboard for pursuits of knowledge. We provide facts, topics, resources, questions, and experiment ideas, and then allow you to explore and establish theories, beliefs, and ideas,” (like “millions of years”) or origins or evolutionary changes. Since we have so many students from all over the world, we’ve found this approach to be best in order to serve such a wide audience.”

At least the last part of this statement is honest that the intent is to sell to as many people as possible. The issue with this is that the geological timescale and evolution are core thematic elements that cannot be omitted from science courses without compromising the science taught in the course. However, as with Layers of Learning, this claim states that users will be able to “establish their own theories.” In this case specifically about the Big Bang theory and the Theory of Evolution. Under no circumstances would a secular science curriculum or publisher make the claim that by using their materials that your child would be qualified to establish their own theories explaining how the universe and all the organisms in it came to be.

9. Google science authors to see what they’ve published and/or where they teach.

This isn’t foolproof however, as evidenced by Supercharged Science, developed by scientist Aurora Lipper. Lipper taught at Cal Poly and worked on a project for NASA, credentials she uses to sell her products. However, Lipper has developed a science program she defines as “creation neutral.”

“This program is designed to serve all families, regardless of individual beliefs. Each lesson has been carefully structured so that it is “creation neutral.” This means that if you choose to incorporate a religious perspective into your child’s education, this program will easily allow you to do so, and will not conflict with traditional religious perspectives. However, if you prefer to keep science separate from religion, this program will be perfect for your family as well. There are no references to any religious concepts or belief systems in any of the lessons. Religion is a very personal choice, and I totally respect that. As such, this program leaves it to you as a parent to decide if you want to incorporate religion or not.”

When you read a statement like this one, directly comparing science and religion, it does not matter what the author’s credentials are. Secular science curriculum does not take religion into account because science and religion are not the same academic disciplines. The purpose of science is to accurately and adequately explain how the natural and physical world works. When a science author leaves topics out because of issues of faith, the science is not being accurately or adequately taught.

While Googling, investigate if they are a part of the Intelligent Design community as Rebecca Keller the publisher of Gravitas Press is. Keller is a signer of “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism,” published by the Discovery Institute, a conservative think-tank that promotes Intelligent Design. Unfortunately, this information is becoming harder to find as those in the Intelligent Design community work to mislead that Intelligent Design uses empirical evidence-based information as they sow doubt about science information that is at odds with Creationism and conservative politics. The Intelligent Design community also misrepresents theories like evolution as controversial in the scientific community. Something they are not. This quote from an op-ed article by Keller shows how this is done.

“Not only should students learn that reasonable people disagree about the meaning and interpretation of data, they should learn that scientists disagree, too. In fact, disagreeing about how data should be interpreted is what scientists do. That is science. The history of science illustrates that disagreements in science are the very thing that fuels scientific discovery.

Evolution as a secular creation story is already being preached from the classroom pulpit. Teaching the controversy helps keep religion, of any flavor, out of the classroom.”

The majority of scientists would tell you that innovation and scientific research are the very things that fuel science, not disagreements about data. Scientific data is the information collected while conducting experiments. If a scientist does question the data, they conduct their own experiment and collect their own data. Scientists might disagree about the interpretation of the data or in rare cases how the experiment was set up, but they do not spend a lot of time arguing about it. Keller’s reason for attacking data instead of the interpretation of the data supporting evolution, is that outside of the Creationist community, there is no arguing about the scientific consensus that evolution occurs. The data supporting the theory of evolution is conclusive. That evolution occurs is a primary fact the theory incorporates and builds on to explain why and how evolution occurs.

The Intelligent Design community and Keller’s sowing of doubt regarding data is irresponsible and far reaching. If scientists spend a great deal of time arguing about data, then the data must be open for interpretation and not be well understood. It is untrue that scientists commonly put out information that is not well founded. The public health crisis surrounding the misinformation and disinformation about vaccines and masks as well as climate change denialism use this tactic to weaken the public’s confidence in scientific data.

Keller goes from a paragraph written to indicate that scientists often disagree about data to a discussion about evolution. This is artful in its pairing even if the former does not logically lead to the latter. After stating that arguments over data fuel scientific discovery, Keller uses religious metaphors to support her real purpose for the article, to convince people to teach the controversy in science classes. In other words, teach Creationism along with evolution in a side-by-side manner. She goes so far as to claim that teaching Creationism helps keep science out of the classroom. In effect, she is redefining Creationism as science instead of religious dogma.

10. Compare the table of contents of traditional textbooks,

like Holt, for instance, with the table of contents for the homeschool science curriculum. The materials will not align directly, but the same core subjects should be in both.

Remember, it isn’t the job of science to support philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works. To have an adequate and accurate understanding of science, it is essential that the science materials used are secular. Contact SEA Homeschoolers with any questions or to get started.

* Neutral science materials are not secular. They omit core science topics pandering to a non-secular worldview. You can follow this link to read my article, Why Neutral Science isn’t Neutral.

Also please see this article: The Definitions for What Constitutes Secular Academic Materials

Remember, it isn’t the job of science to support philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works. To have an adequate and accurate understanding of science, it is essential that the science materials used are secular. Contact SEA Homeschoolers with any questions or to get started/ 

* Neutral science materials are not secular. They omit core science topics pandering to a non-secular worldview. You can follow this link to read my article, Why Neutral Science isn’t Neutral.

Earth Day Online Scavenger Hunt

Earth Day Online Scavenger Hunt

It’s Earth Day! Normally this is a day when communities have lots of organized activities to help people learn about and improve the environment, but with the current global pandemic that is not an option this year. So, we created this fun and educational online scavenger hunt that families can complete together while sheltering at home. We hope that as you check off all of the challenges on this list, you will learn about important environmental issues and find ways you can reduce your family’s environmental impact & help solve the climate crisis.

1. Find pictures & population data of 5 endangered species.

2. Find an image, video, or article about rain bombs.

3. Find a picture of an invasive species (plant or animal) that has been found in your area and look up information on why it is problematic.

4. Find information about local recycling programs. Make a list of items that can be recycled in your area and hang it near your trash bin as a reminder.

5. Find pictures of healthy coral reefs and pictures of coral reefs affected by ocean acidification. Discuss the differences and the environmental effects of ocean acidification.

6. Use a website like carbonfootprint.com to calculate your household’s carbon footprint. Examine the results and discuss ways you can reduce your carbon footprint.

7. Look up water usage for baths vs showers of various lengths. Calculate how much water your family uses for baths and showers over a week, month, and year.

8. Locate an area impacted by severe drought. List at least 3 ways the region has been impacted by drought beyond water needs.

9. Look up data on sea ice loss since you were born. Find a video or graphic to help you visualize what that loss looks like.

10. Look up information or watch videos about the pressing environmental issues related to disposable and one-time-use plastic products. Take a tour of your home and make a list of plastic products you can commit to replacing with items made of other materials and disposable products you can replace with reusable versions within the next year.

The Other Science Crisis: Climate Change

The Other Science Crisis: Climate Change

Everyone, everywhere is talking about the coronavirus right now and for good reason. But this Earth Day, let us remember that there are at least two major science crises going on right now:

  1. The global warming that is causing the climate crisis
  2. Of course, the coronavirus

The science explaining the coronavirus is not yet well understood. The science explaining climate change is. And there is no time like the present to learn the science of climate change. In part because,

“Scientists have long warned that climate change will impact not just our environment, but also our health by increasing rates of infectious disease.” (Ibrahim AlHusseini)

Long after a vaccine has been developed for the coronavirus, the climate crisis will be an ongoing problem. We need to be working to find solutions for it. The first step to doing that is to understand the science explaining it. Whether your kids are home for a short time (school under teach this issue) or for longer, make this the year your family learns what climate change is, how it happens, and what you can do to help.

To celebrate Earth Day, SEA Publishing has put The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course on sale for almost 80% off (April 22-24, 2020). Check out the book the National Science Teaching Association calls, “a much-needed resource for understanding climate change and gets into the details of climate change in a way that increases understanding for both kids and adults alike. This is a great, user-friendly book for all of us who need to understand the complex issue of climate change.”    

Why “Neutral” Science Isn’t Neutral

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral - Secular Homeschooling

Why Neutral Science Isn’t Neutral

by Blair Lee

Are there any science types reading this title wondering who I am? Or do you know who I am and think I’ve finally lost it? I am not talking about science as it is practiced and taught at most universities throughout the United States. I’m talking about the special brand of “neutral science” found in the homeschool community and increasingly in public schools in the United States.

The neutral science I’m referring to is science that suffers from omission. These are middle and high school level science courses that leave out the bits they think will offend people because of their faith and philosophy of life, or omit things to obfuscate the importance and acceptance of science principles and theories. Any middle and high school level science course that does not include the main principles and theories that are the foundation of that science is not neutral at all. In fact, they would be the opposite of neutral. “Neutral” science allows for a pernicious form of proselytizing that for the most part goes unnoticed. It allows for groups such as the intelligent design camp to sneak their views and beliefs into texts that look like they only teach science. Texts that are infused with someone’s religious beliefs are actually well-disguised religious treatise and dogma. They are not neutral, and do not represent mainstream science.

If you had told me a decade ago I would be arguing against religious extremism in science I would have thought you were nuts. I am a scientist, not a religious scholar, or a religious philosopher. As such, I write about science not religion and not philosophy. Unfortunately, there are authors of science texts who allow their faith to affect their writings about science. For someone who is a passionate advocate for the teaching of science this is actually offensive to me. It is also disappointing when I see people unwittingly recommend courses that have this sort of religious dogma hidden within them.

Personal beliefs don’t have a place in science courses. It isn’t the job of science to support an individual’s philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works, even when scientific explanations are at odds with the person’s philosophical beliefs. Science by its very nature is neutral. What is neutral for science is to report the facts, accepted principles, and current theories. As a textbook author, I do decide what to include and what not to include in my books. My decisions for this are based on what is taught at well-regarded universities. I choose the best of those courses, look at what they include and how they are structured, and then write courses structured similarly, for the appropriate grade level. This is what you should expect from a course you are using to educate your child.

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral candy chromosome

Candy chromosome: Basic genetics is often left out of or under taught in neutral science courses, because a good understanding of genetics leads to an understanding of how evolution occurs.

How can you as a non-scientist figure out what to use? There are some key things to look for in a middle school or high school level science course that is truly neutral:
• The inclusion of evolution: Here is a neutral statement from the science of biology, “Evolution happens.” When we talk about the theory of evolution, the theory part refers to the processes of how evolution works. For example, there are theories about how multi-cellularity and eukaryotic cells evolved; no one knows exactly how either of these evolutionary steps occurred. That evolution occurs is a fact. No neutral middle school or high school biology course would omit it. No neutral biology course would omit how all the organisms on earth came to be here.
• Is the word design used in place of the word evolution? Fashion designers design clothes. Scientific researchers design experiments. Organisms evolve; they are not designed.
• Is the word created or creation used when discussing how organisms, the universe, or matter came into existence? Organisms evolved; they were not created. The universe and matter formed from events starting with the Big Bang; they were not created. There is simply no evidence any of these were created. The only topics and statements that belong in science courses are topics and statements that have evidence supporting them. Topics and statements based on a person’s beliefs with no supporting evidence belong in a philosophy course, not a neutral science course. When scientists do not know the answers to questions, for instance: “how the first organism evolved, and what its exact chemical makeup was” or “what was it like right before the Big Bang,” it is inappropriate to answer with personal beliefs.
• The inclusion of the Big Bang Theory: Here’s a neutral statement from the science of astronomy, “The universe is over 13 and a half billion years old. The best explanation for how it came into existence is the Big Bang Theory. The evidence for the Big Bang Theory grows all the time. The Big Bang Theory explains how all matter and antimatter in the universe came to be, even the matter that makes humans.” This is a scientifically neutral statement. An astronomy course that does not include an explanation similar to that about the Big Bang Theory is not neutral.
• Another neutral statement, “Humans have been burning fossil fuels in increased amounts since the Industrial Revolution. This has led to an increase in carbon dioxide and other molecules in the atmosphere that absorb sunlight in the form of heat. The more heat trapping molecules that are in the atmosphere, the more heat that is trapped, and the warmer the planet becomes. It is simple thermodynamics. The increase in absorbed sunlight is causing climate change on a global scale.” Any geology or environmental science course that does not include this topic is not neutral.
• Does the middle or high school level biology course only teach the old Linnaean system for classifying organisms? This is the system that uses kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. This might seem like a minor point, but scientists and universities only use the Linnaean system for naming organisms. The Linnaean system is popular with courses that are not neutral because it supports the philosophy of the “Great Chain of Being.” The modern method for classifying organisms used by scientists and taught at universities is phylogeny and cladistics.

You might think chemistry and physics are immune and you don’t have to worry about these two subjects. The problem is what is being left out. What key parts of these courses are omitted? As Bob Seger says, “Deadlines and commitments; What to leave in, what to leave out.” If scientists are writing these courses, and I’m not always sure they are, what are they committed to? No scientist committed to adequately educating people in these areas of science would omit these facts and theories. They must be omitting key parts of these science disciplines to further an agenda other than quality science education.

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral

Here’s the problem with a chemistry or physics textbook that omits key parts:
• Chemistry is the science that definitively proves evolution occurs.
• Physics is the science that gives the clearest evidence the Big Bang is how the universe came into existence.
• Physical chemistry is the area of science used to study and explain climate change.

Many of the so-called “neutral” science courses omit the parts that provide the evidence supporting these facts and theories. If you use these “neutral” science courses for your middle or high school chemistry and physics courses, your child will be left without the necessary science background to understand evolution, the Big Bang Theory, climate change, and other key science principles. If you use these “neutral“ science courses for middle school and high school biology, astronomy, geology, or environmental science, your child will not even be getting the necessary background in these areas of science to understand that science discipline. I think you’ll agree with me, that isn’t neutral at all.

1406266378Blair Lee M.S. is the the founder of Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. When she’s not busy doing these things, she’s busy writing or working on service projects. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Real Science Odyssey Biology 2 and Chemistry 1, http://www.pandiapress.com/publications/real-science-odyssey/. She is currently working on Astronomy and Earth Science 2 for the series.

Passionately Engaged: A Scientist’s Journey

Woman in Science Blair Lee - Scientist

Passionately Engaged: A Scientist’s Journey

Women in Science: Why I Became A Scientist

by Blair Lee, M.S.

My journey to becoming a scientist is one a homeschooler can appreciate. I became a scientist by falling down a rabbit hole while pursuing an interest that grew into a passion. I come from an entrepreneurial family. One that, for the most part, thinks the only reason to get a science degree is to become a medical doctor. I have always loved to read and write and if you’d asked my family what I was going to be when I grew up most of them, including me, would have said that I would become a book editor, attorney, or author. Science was not on my radar before college.

When I went to college I had no idea what I wanted to major in. So I took five classes in five disciplines my first semester: math, speech, science, English, and history. I very quickly fell in love with science. There is something about how the real world works that captivated my imagination. Take chemistry for instance, when you look at the relationship between energy, matter, and atomic particles it borders on magical. Except that it’s real.

The area I found the most captivating was how small changes on the molecular, atomic, and subatomic level can have large ranging consequences. Topics like evolution, the Big Bang, the destruction of the ozone hole, and radioactive decay are fascinating. I challenge anyone to look at how atomic particles behave, interact, change, and make matter to not be intellectually engaged. It is just so cool! When it comes to sheer coolness factor, Harry Potter and his cohorts have nothing on science.

Another thing I love about science is its changing nature. For example the theory of evolution, Darwinian evolution focuses on observations but doesn’t include genetics, because Darwin didn’t know about genetics.  Now that scientists understand the mechanism driving evolution, genetic variability and mutation, genetics has become the centerpiece of evolutionary biology. I love how in science that the more we understand, the more we know what we don’t know. There is no end to what is left to be discovered. Studying science is endlessly engaging as your brain keeps having new information to work through and to include for a deeper understanding, but you never get to the end of what there is to learn.

One of the side notes to having very little science knowledge when I started college was that I had to spend a lot of extra study time learning the basics. During the first year, I was cramming all the time and making myself a pest during my professor’s office hours. My need to go back to the basics and learn not just science concepts and facts but also how science worked is how I came to write the style of science books that I write, where there is a focus on foundational fundamentals and basics and on how science is best learned not just as a discipline but as an active endeavor.

I graduated with two bachelors, an Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution degree from the biology department and a general chemistry degree. I was officially a scientist. After that I went to graduate school. This was a turning point in my life, and one of the most angst filled. I had planned and dreamed of graduate school. It turned out that I did not like the day-to-day grind working in a lab. What I did love was the teaching I was doing as required by the chemistry department for their first year graduate students. But… I had never wanted to be a teacher! Maybe after I got my PhD… but before… NO!

It took a serious bout of reflection about what was important. Was my doctorate more important or was it more important to be passionately engaged? So, I got out with a master’s degree in chemistry. While I was in the process of doing this, I received a phone call from a professor I had. He had taken over the chemistry department at a local community college. He offered me a job. I knew I made the right choice almost right away when I started teaching.

You might be wondering why I didn’t switch from a PhD in environmental chemistry to getting a PhD in science education. It didn’t occur to me to do that for years. I actually wrote a query letter to two PhD programs after I finished R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2, and was offered a spot at one of them. In the intervening years since retiring from teaching I have focused on affecting the conversation and methodology surrounding how science is best learned. I started writing science courses, because I think if you are going to discuss how things should be different you should give solid, practical examples. After being accepted into a PhD program I had a decision to make. I decided to turn the spot down and keep writing science courses and pushing for change within the secular homeschool community. I think there is a revolution in education happening right now, and much of the energy for it is coming from this community!

I think it’s really important that science literacy becomes a focus of education. You don’t have to look further than climate change denial to understand how important science literacy is. At this point in my working career I am devoting my time to developing materials that give a solid foundation in basic science concepts, where the focus is on how science is best learned as an active endeavor where a concept is presented and immediately followed by a direct application of that concept. Through this work I’m hoping that more people will have ownership over how the natural and physical world works.

Science is a discipline where the answers are open ended. It is the discipline that explains the fabric of how the natural and physical world work. Scientifically it makes no sense that you would be more fascinated by science if you have an X and Y chromosome as opposed to two X chromosomes.

As an undergraduate and graduate student in college, I was the only female in some of my science classes. I was in those classes because the discipline fascinated me. It didn’t matter to me what the gender of the other students was. Probably because of how interested I was in the material, by an overwhelming majority, my male colleagues, professors and students, were welcoming and encouraging. But if they hadn’t been it would not have bothered me.

My advice to any female who wants to become a scientist is to go for it. If you choose a physical science such as chemistry, you will find that most of your fellow classmates are males. As happened to me on a handful of occasions, you might even run into men who wonder why you, a female, are pursuing science. The best advice I can give you is to ignore them. If they don’t know why you are there, then they probably don’t find the topic as fascinating as you do. A better question would be what they are doing pursuing science.

Other posts by Blair Lee

A Science Lab in Your Home
Why Neutral Science Isn’t Neutral

International Day of Women and Girls in Science: There’s Still Work To Be Done

International Women and Girls in Science Day

International Women and Girls in Science Day

International Women and Girls in Science Day is upon us, and it’s interesting to think that we need a day to recognize the female interest in and contributions to science, but here we are. We absolutely need to celebrate it. And while I hope this is an inspirational piece of writing, I also believe that the time for well crafted words has passed and now, more than ever, is a time for action.

Women have always been involved in science, from the ancient wisdom of healers who used the natural world for observation, practice and teaching to the women who defied societal expectations to live a life of scientific inquiry, to the women now who are combining science and technology with entrepreneurship. We have also always been the subject of science, both with and without our consent. Women are still marginalized in scientific and technology focused communities, and not because of a lack of interest, but because of a longstanding history. Women in science still report their abilities being questioned, their advancement slower, and their exclusion from contributing important work, particularly if they choose to start a family. Most of the technology product design and start up industry is still dominated by men. Science and technology created for women is still predominantly created by men because of the slow changing nature of culture. These are serious issues that merit not only a day of observance and conversation, but a substantial effort towards change.

International Women and Girls in Science Day
Photo by S.Cook of her daughter, a budding veterinarian. For the record, they both believe girls can be any combination of princess and scientist they choose.

Click here to learn more about International Women and Girls in Science Day

When we celebrate science and technology, we are also celebrating the history of innovation and invention, the art of design, the mathematics of precision, the collective community of the users. The lines between subjects are a myth, a construction by the conventional education system to compartmentalize learning. This separation of subjects was particularly harmful to girls, as it allowed for the bias that still assigns an aptitude for certain subjects according to gender. As an educator, I have taught in almost every kind of environment and my experience has taught me that education has a primary role in changing society. The more I came to understand how much harm it has done to see different subjects as isolated and autonomous, the more dedicated I became to changing the paradigm and advocating for interpreting science and technology in a personal way.

As I experimented more with centering the acquisition of skill around the specific needs of the learner, I was able to utilize our family’s considerable participation in the maker movement and open a workshop designed specifically for children and their families. We formed a non-profit and began a 5 year experiment in hacking the way STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and maths) education could be presented and individualized. The most essential value we embodied at Curiosity Hacked was that each of us could choose the role science and technology plays within our lives, and I actively recruited women as mentors with a variety of interests and skills so that girls had solid role models of women makers and boys did too. The foundation of our programs was that using science, technology, art, and design thinking not only created skilled makers, but children who embraced and mastered creativity, innovative thinking, resilience, resourcefulness, and networking. These are the kind of strengths that are invaluable in a quickly changing world. For girls, the experience often dramatically and positively changed their self image and what they thought themselves capable of. Science is interesting and valuable in its own right, independent of future occupations, and that the earlier girls are empowered to pursue their own interest in it, the more prepared they will be for a future that depends on their science and tech confidence.

I also saw mothers learn new concepts and skills that they had never been exposed to or did not think to/were intimidated to try and it transformed them, not just personally, but also in the way they parented and their increased support of science and technology initiatives. We can’t change the future for girls if we don’t hold the space in the present for adults to gain the knowledge and skills that the younger generation is fluent in. Adults need to understand the essential value of science and technology as more than electronics, academics, entertainment, and healthcare. Our society often focuses on the future of girls in STEM fields, but their enjoyment of it, and the education of the adults influencing their lives, right now in the present is just as crucial.

Whether or not science and technology is part of an educational trend through STEM/STEAM initiatives, women and girls have always engaged with their innate sense of curiosity. The idea that we need to encourage them to love science and technology is placing the burden on those who already bear the cultural conditioning of many generations. Girls and women already love science and technology. What needs to be encouraged is policy and cultural changes that support their interest and leave girls with no doubt that they belong and are respected in their chosen field. This is a privilege most men have experienced for thousands of years.

Framework that protects and supports women, like family leave, flexible work schedules, and affordable quality child care, creates a pathway for women to be able to return to their work instead of being forced to choose between their career and their family. Work culture that has no tolerance for discrimination or inequity holds the community responsible for creating a safe and supportive work environment. Well funded educational opportunities for girls to innovate and be mentored by women who believe in them build engaged learners who grow up to pay it forward. These are the things that create change quickly.

Just as important than all of the above, though, is the relationship we foster between girls and science from the very beginning. Read books on science and scientists, particularly female scientists. Cultivate an environment of slow science, where observation and appreciation become a sensory experience. Provide an abundance of ingredients and materials to experiment with. Build a relationship with technology that serves as a tool – not just for education but for enjoyment and for community building. Stop shaming children for asking questions, making messes, or for the interests they are passionate about. Examine your language for gender assumptions around science and technology. Stop telling your kids they are smart and start telling them they are capable, good problem solvers, or innovative. Stop telling kids they should go into science or technology just because they’ll get a great paying job, and encourage them to choose their work based on passions and strengths. Look for ways science and technology has changed lives and helped people, particularly for women and girls.  Elevate the acquisition of science literacy in your home and in your community. Demand family friendly legislation from your elected officials. Elect more women. Donate to scientific studies led by women. Donate to Kickstarters in which women are designing new technology projects. Finally, when your girls are older, share this history and its bias with them so that they know what we celebrate every year.

More Posts by Samantha Cook

Learning Through Making
Project-Based Learning and Making

Valerie Grosso Teaching Scientific Concepts to Younger Kids

Teaching Scientific Concepts to Younger Kids, Valerie Grosso

Valerie Grosso: Teaching Scientific Concepts to Younger Kids

Valerie will highlight some tips and strategies for teaching real (and super cool) scientific concepts to young kids. We are often told that certain concepts are “too tough for kids to understand,” but that is often because they are not being taught the right way. If a variety of visual, tactile, kinetic, and exploratory strategies are used to introduce concepts, there is no limit to the number of “higher level” concepts our kids can understand. Learn how to show kids that real science is about the joy of understanding how something beautiful works, and not just the process of taking three measurements and averaging.

Leave your comments below for Valerie’s talk

Valerie Grosso is a microbiologist who is curious about all the microscopic things that make up our world. She holds BS and PhD degrees from Yale and Harvard, respectively, and is a former college professor who is passionate about teaching science by making higher-level scientific concepts part of every kid’s life tool kit. She lives in New York City with her husband and two young daughters (who try out all the mini-courses) and spends her free time knitting and roaming around the American Museum of Natural History (not necessarily at the same time).

Blair Lee A Science Lab in Your Home? It Really Isn’t that Hard. Trust Me, I’m a Chemist.

A Science Lab in Your Home, Blair Lee, Saber Tooth, Orce Spain

A Science Lab in Your Home? I am always caught off guard when homeschoolers worriedly ask me about setting up for and performing labs at home. It makes me think of how I came to write my first book, R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Chemistry 1I asked a good friend of mine, who was also homeschooling, what 3rd grade chemistry looked like. She told me it was terrible. She couldn’t find any good resources and was struggling with labs and how to structure the topics. I started rattling off how I would do it. Her response, “That’s easy for you to say. You are a chemist who taught chemistry!” The purpose of this talk is to help you get over your concerns about having your child perform lab science at home. I promise you, it is easier than you think.

A Science Lab in Your Home? It Really Isn’t that Hard. Trust Me, I’m a Chemist


Blair Lee M.S. is the founder of SEA Homeschoolers and author for the critically acclaimed R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Series. Blair has been handcrafting the education of her non-linear thinker for over 11 years. During that time, she has learned as much about how learning happens from him as he has learned from her. Blair is a passionate advocate of innovative academics using secular materials. Through her speaking and writing, her goal is to empower homeschoolers to dare to be innovative and create something unique and academically-rich when handcrafting their child’s journey through learning. You can follow her at SEAHomeschoolers.com. You can learn more about Blair Lee’s “Evolution in Homeschooling” here.

When Experiments Don’t Work, That’s When the Science Really Gets Fun!

Homeschool Science by Blair Lee

We have all been there, even me. It is the situation where your child and you set up and perform a science experiment only to have it fail. For most people this is frustrating. When this happens parents often wonder if their children are learning from it. As a scientist, I find it interesting that our response is frustration and doubt instead of delight. R. Buckminster Fuller said it best when he said, There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes. Unexpected outcomes should be treated with a sense of wonder. You have just been handed a logic puzzle that requires the scientific method to try to solve it.

Unexpected outcomes from an experiment are when you get to practice real science like scientists do. Most if not all the experiments in the courses you are using have been performed successfully or they would not be assigned. That means that the experiments in science book have expected outcome predicated on the consistent results from the huge number of times the experiment has been performed. If you get an unexpected outcome, you and your child get to brainstorm to figure out what set of conditions changed.

For most of us the first thing we do is question whether it was us. We pore over the experiment’s set up, procedure, and materials to ensure that we didn’t miss anything or make a mistake. If we didn’t make any mistakes, we conclude that the problem must be with the experiment itself.  This series of steps is exactly what you should do if the experiment yields unexpected results. While looking over the written instructions and troubleshooting your procedure discuss the learning goals for the experiment. Ask your child if the learning goals were met since the experiment didn’t give the expected results. If the answer is that they were not met, why not? What do you need to do to meet those learning goals?

One of the main learning goals for all scientific experiment is that kids begin, through use, to come to an intuitive understanding of the scientific method. It helps to focus on the scientific method when troubleshooting an experiment. A hypothesis is an educated guess. When a scientist makes a hypothesis, they are basing it on the observations and results their fellow scientists and they themselves have conducted. When scientists get results that are not consistent with previous experiments before rethinking a hypothesis they look over the procedure used to see if anything was changed. That should be you next step as well.

While poring over how the experiment was conducted there are several questions to ask with regard to the procedure. Is it possible that there is a typo in the procedure? Maybe you missed a step? Perhaps there are multiple ways to interpret one of the steps? Sometimes there is a step that is very finicky and needs to be followed exactly. When that happens it can make the experiment more complicated to duplicate than the author realized. Do not be shy about contacting the publisher or author of the lab. They should welcome the feedback and will often try to help you duplicate his or her results. I have been contacted several times about experiments that weren’t working in my science courses.

I start troubleshooting with the materials. Problems with materials are the most common cause of unexpected results in an experiment. This is the observation phase of the scientific method as applied to the situation. It’s important to focus on each ingredient. In my science courses there have been three instances where experiments failed because of materials. I have learned that cornstarch can absorb a lot of moisture in very humid environments, and that this can cause problems for some experiments. It turns out that in the last five years manufacturers have begun putting an ingredient called hi-float into balloons before they fill them with helium so that the balloons will lose helium more slowly. Did you know that in some states it takes a much higher concentration of bleach to turn food color in water colorless than in other states. We went ingredient by ingredient observing how each was behaving in the experiment to determine what was causing the unexpected results. It was a lot of fun and great science practice both at the same time. 🙂

At the end of this you might or you might not know what gave the unexpected results. Either way it is good to discuss the results and observations and come up with some conclusions from the experiment. Good statements to include in the conclusion of all lab reports is how this experiment could be improved on to meet the learning goals of the experiment. This is especially important in an experiment where you got unexpected results.

I’m hoping that most of your experiments go the way they are intended. The next time an experiment gives unexpected results, instead of getting frustrated, I hope you realize how much fun and learning can happen by applying the scientific method to logically deduce what led to the results. I promise you, you do not have to be a scientist to enjoy the process.

More Secular Homeschool Science Posts by Blair Lee & SEA

Teaching the Science of Climate Change to Middle Schoolers
Vetting Science Curriculum
A Science Lab in Your Home

How to Put Together the Best Science Field Trip

Science Field Trip

How to Put Together the Best Science Field Trip

Field trips aren’t just fun; they are also educational! Field trips give kids opportunities for hands-on learning, allow for new experiences, and lead to a better understanding of topics. By taking science field trips, kids can experience things that expense and expertise put out of most people’s reach. By following a few simple tips, you can ensure the science field trips this year are the best ever.

When planning what your children will study in science during the coming year, start thinking of when and where field trips would make sense. Include these in your overall homeschool plan for the year. Field trips are meaningful academic endeavors and deserve to be treated as such.  Spend some time on homeschool group pages, YELP, and TripAdvisor asking about and investigating potential places to visit. It helps to be fairly specific about what you are studying and what you hope to see. That way it is easier to decide if the visit will add much to your academics.

Think outside the box. If you are studying geology, for example, a field trip to a Natural History Museum is a great idea. When studying the rock cycle, a hike where you identify types of rock and gain knowledge about the geological processes that occurred where you live can be even more educational. If studying chemistry, visit a fireworks display after researching what compounds are used to make each color. Studying biology this year? Call your local hospital and see if they give guided tours. With some ingenuity and research you will be able to use field trips as a way of focusing on those areas of science you want to highlight.

Once you find a place to visit, it is a good idea to call to get information about some of the logistics. Find out if there is a best time and date. You are a homeschooler, so you can tailor your trip so that it doesn’t coincide with those times that are busiest. Make sure and ask about special exhibits, tours, and any field workers or researchers available for questions. If there is anything in particular you want to see, make sure and ask if it is going to be available. Once, on a trip to Vienna, I was very excited about seeing the Darwin exhibit at their museum. I did not see it however, because the only full day we had in Vienna was the one day the museum was closed. Too bad I didn’t check their hours of operation ahead of time. We could have scheduled things differently. Many institutions have reduced or no cost for educational field trips for public schools. It is a good idea to ask if they will pass those savings on to you. I once received a discount for our homeschooling group at a planetarium by scheduling to come at the same time a public school class was attending.

Take the time to front-load, pre-teach, some of the science information. All learners, including parents, get much more out of field trips if they know something about what they are seeing. Think of the times you have gone to an event with someone who is passionate about the subject. She might be an expert, but she enjoys herself immensely, often more than any of the non-experts. Have you ever noticed how those experts almost always make connections from things they see?  What is known about a subject gives a person “hooks” to hang information from and improves the overall learning experience. At a minimum, kids should be familiar with the general vocabulary and core concepts you want to focus on when you plan the field trip.

On the day of the field trip go, enjoy, and immerse. Take the time to walk through, investigate, and explore. Save the quiz and the questions for the next day or on the way home. If you think there is something worth highlighting, though, make sure and do that. Just remember, different people absorb this sort of experiential learning differently and at different rates. A tactile learner may not seem to get as much out of a field trip as a person who learns through talking about what they see, when in fact it is just two different ways of accessing and processing information as a person gains ownership of it. When you do discuss it, be thoughtful about what you saw and continue to bring elements that make connections into your science classes throughout the year. This helps what is learned during the field trip stay pertinent and memorable.

If you are lucky, the field trip might even spark a new interest. I know for homeschoolers this is a double-edged sword as you try to cover all the course material. But in science, these sorts of interests are where most scientists come from.  One of the nice things about a field trip that has been paired with the course you are studying is that even the rabbit holes relate to what you are studying. Field trips are something most homeschoolers go on without much prompting. By using the few simple tips above, those field trips can be even better than ever.

Check out our review of Math and Magic in Wonderland here.

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