It’s the constant challenge of the homeschooling parent: you know your kids love hands-on activities and experiments, but you don’t have the time or energy to put them together. In this post, we’ll look at why kids actually need those activities to love (and learn) science and the homeschool science curriculum that makes you look like a safety goggle-wearing rockstar.
I received a free copy of BookShark Science Level H (previously called Level 7) for review purposes and I was compensated for my time. All opinions are my own and I am not required to post a positive review.
Note: this review was originally published on June 11, 2020. It was updated on March 11, 2021 for accuracy.
Why We Use a Hands-On Homeschool Science Curriculum
When I was in fifth grade, I thought science was one of the coolest subjects around.
By the time I was in eighth grade, I hated it.
I went from the joyful class of my spunky fifth grade teacher (check him out on YouTube) to the lifeless middle school science room where the uninspired instructor was counting down the days to retirement.
Or, to put it another way, science stopped being about curiosity and exploration and instead became a question of how well can you memorize this textbook and identify random sentences from it verbatim on a multiple-choice test?
Gone were the days of wiring a homemade calculator, marveling at the gas released by dry ice, and demonstrating inertia by dropping an egg in a glass.
Middle school science was about as boring as watching a plant grow in real time and I ran from it as quickly as I could.
I carried that disdain with me all the way to the early years of homeschooling my kids.
From day one of our homeschooling adventure, I relied on boring textbooks based on provincial learning outcomes and the life-draining worksheets that came with them. I’d forgotten that science could be fun, so I never bothered trying to enjoy it.
Sadly, we missed out on nature walks, hands-on experiments, and many opportunities to learn about our world.
Rediscovering the Joy of Science
So, you can imagine my delight when I developed a friendship with another homeschooling mom who has a background in science. We came up with the idea of having a weekly two-family co-op, in which she would teach science and I would teach language arts.
I was free of the boring science burden at last! Never again would I have to wrestle my children into their chairs while I read to them from a dry book. No longer would I need to scrounge up science experiment supplies while my kids turned the living room upside down (the few times we bothered trying experiments).
But then something strange happened. My kids started coming home from co-op brimming with excitement about all the cool science stuff they’d learned. They filtered swamp water, constructed and tested Rube Goldberg Machines, and baked cookies to learn about heterogeneous mixtures.
My five-year-old could explain the concept of friction to me as she played on the slide at the playground. In fact, the only school subject she ever wanted to talk about was science.
They had discovered the joy of science through a hands-on homeschool science curriculum, thanks to a teacher who had a passion for the subject and a willingness to gather all the supplies.
Why Kids Need Hands-on Activities to Love (& Learn) Science
We would never ask a child to learn to write by reading about and answering questions about grammar and sentence structure.
They learn to write by writing.
Likewise, we wouldn’t teach them about sports and physical activity with books and diagrams.
We get them outside and we run around with them.
We know that most knowledge is best learned and retained if we can get some hands-on experience putting the concepts into practice, so why would we ever want to rely on a science curriculum that expects kids to learn science only by reading about it and answering questions?
They need as many hands-on activities as possible.
When kids participate in hands-on science experiments, they not only solidify their knowledge of the specific scientific concepts they’re studying, they also develop reasoning skills necessary for scientific thinking, such as:
- Inductive reasoning: drawing a conclusion based on specific observations
- Deduction: predicting a specific result based on a general theory
- Experimental design: creating a set of procedures to test a hypothesis
- Causal reasoning: identifying the relationship between a cause and its effect
- Concept formation: learning to categorize items into classes
- Hypothesis testing: conducting tests to determine whether a hypothesis is true or false
They begin to see the world around them through a different lens and understand better how things work.
When students participate in hands-on activities rather than trying to memorize from a textbook, the concepts they’re studying become real to them. It’s not just something they read about in a book or heard about from their parents; they’ve actually seen it in action.
They become more curious and learn to ask better questions. They take what they know and apply it to new situations to develop theories.
These skills are relevant not only for the study of science but in so many other areas of life as well.
But Science Experiments are So. Much. Work.
I know. Trust me. I know.
When I had a smaller family and more energy, I had this well-stocked cupboard full of supplies for science experiments, arts, and crafts.
But as my family grew and my time and energy dwindled, my cupboard got more chaotic and I stopped replenishing supplies.
It’s not that I didn’t want to do all these fun things in my homeschool anymore. I longed to be that cool mom who always had a new project waiting for the kids on the kitchen table, the one with lego castles on the bookshelves and experiments-in-progress covering every available surface.
I just didn’t have the time or energy for it anymore. I got tired of last-minute trips to the dollar store and placing multiple online orders for oddball supplies.
We have so many science experiment books we’ve never even used because it was just too much work for me to get them organized.
But as we’re moving away from our co-op model next year, I needed a solution that would make science experiments doable—the homeschool equivalent of a meal prep service where everything comes premeasured, chopped, and packaged.
The Hands-On Homeschool Science Curriculum that Ticks all the Boxes
Thankfully, I’ve found a homeschool science curriculum that makes teaching science that easy for me.
BookShark Science is a hands-on, literature-based curriculum covering three to four topics per year. This year, we’re taking on Science H: Conservation, Robotics, and Technology, which is designed for kids aged 12-14.
Instead of a textbook, the BookShark homeschool science curriculum uses a collection of books on specific topics to keep kids engaged.
The following books are included in the Science H program:
- DK Super Cool Tech: Technology, Invention, Innovation
- Robotics: Discover the Science and Technology of the Future (with over 20 projects)
- Energy: Why We Need Power and How We Get It (with 25 projects)
- The Industrial Revolution: Investigate How Science and Technology Changed the World (with 25 projects)
- Planet Earth: Finding Balance on the Blue Marble with Environmental Science Activities for Kids
- Garbage: Follow the Path of Your Trash with Environmental Science Activities for Kids
- Canals and Dams: Investigate Feats of Engineering (with 25 projects)
- Weather and Climate Change
As you can see, the books are loaded with hands-on experiments to reinforce the lessons. Each week’s lesson includes a science lab where students complete one or more experiments.
Each BookShark curriculum package also includes a Science Supply Kit, an Instructor’s Guide, and student activity sheets.
- The BookShark Science curriculum is completely open-and-go: The Instructor’s Guide provides the structure for your entire year with everything clearly laid out in a 4-day schedule for 36 weeks.
- The Science Supply Kits provide nearly all the materials you need to conduct all of the experiments. Each week, the notes in the Instructor’s Guide include a list of items you may need to gather for the following week. The items you’ll provide are usually common household items, such as water, salt, glue, food coloring, scissors, tape, etc. No more hunting for oral syringes, copper wire, bulb holders, and solar panels the night before your science experiment.
- The Activity Sheets include hundreds of questions, charts, and illustrations to help students retain what they’ve learned. (Program includes sheets for one student; extra sets for additional students can be purchased separately.)
Why We’ve Made the Switch to BookShark Science
The last three months of this school year looked quite different from the standard. We used to be very active, spending more of our homeschooling hours outside the home than we did in. We also had to give up our beloved co-op.
While we missed learning with our friends, having to finish this year’s science program at home woke me up to the fun and exciting learning possibilities that science offers. I’ve been so happy to hand it off to someone else for the past couple years, but I’ve totally missed out on all the fun stuff my kids were learning.
Unfortunately, the program we were using—while excellent in its own right—did not come with the supplies needed to do the experiments. It took me two days and a hundred and fifty dollars to order everything we needed to conduct the experiments in the last two chapters of that science book.
So, for me, switching to BookShark Science—which takes away all the stress of preparing for science lessons and leaves me with all the fun—is a no-brainer.
If I can help my kids get through middle school without sacrificing the joy of scientific discovery, I’ll have BookShark to thank.
Sophie Agbonkhese is a writer, veteran homeschooling mother of four, and a recovering overachiever (who occasionally relapses). She is the founder of My Cup Runs Over, a site dedicated to helping busy women simplify and enrich their lives, homes, and homeschools. When she’s not writing or debugging websites, Sophie spends her time reading with her kids, gardening, listening to audiobooks, and striving fruitlessly to have a clean house for at least five minutes. She lives in southwestern British Columbia with her husband, Ben, and their children.