Reading a draft that I will soon be posting on a new homeschooling page here, caused me to ponder.  In that draft I mentioned that I hated science in school.  And I began to wonder “why is that?”  Did I have mean teachers?  No, I’d say the English teachers were on the whole a lot more crotchety, and yet I loved English.  Was it that it didn’t come as effortlessly to me?  Perhaps, but then neither have other subjects which I’ve dug into, like putting out a decent blog page.

And then the aha moment came.  It’s because of all those stupid experiments that we had to do about stuff that I could have cared less about.  If I don’t care about, say, whether a solid is going to displace water from the get-go, then doing an experiment on it is just wasted time, wasted effort, and a real turn-off. And really, I already know without learning in school that if I fill up the pot first and then put in the potatoes, some water will overflow.  So I know this already.  And what is the obsession with disecting worms and frogs?  Did anyone really get anything out of that?  Maybe someone did, but I think forcing disection on the unwilling is silly.

The now-teacher in me tells the then-student in me that if I don’t care, that is my problem and to suck it up, and just do the experiment.  Which is exactly what I did, through gritted teeth, with minimum effort, and no learning resulting from the process.  And so, I hated science.

Whose problem is this?  Is it the student’s or the teacher’s?  I guess that depends.  In regular school, it is the student’s, and by extension, his or her parents’.  At homeschool, the problem of detesting science could belong to either, but if a teacher wants love of science to blossom, she’d better assume the burden.  Is the student not interested because his/her curiosity has not adequately been piqued?  Or is this subject just not something to tackle at this time?  I think it could be a little of each.

So, how to handle this at home?  I’m sure that in a regular school situation, the student just has to find a way to get interested or else be prepared to trudge through the required work with much resentment.  However, as long as I’m taking the time and trouble to homeschool, I’d like science to be more rewarding that what I had. 

The polar opposite of regular school is unschooling, and though the idea appeals to me, it proved to be hard to do in our family.  Cool Guy flits from one idea to the next lightning quick and will not work independently. He would express an interest in something, and then I would scurry around trying to catch the moment, get what we need, and allow him to dig in.  The moment would pass at just about that time.   For my sanity, I had to get some more order.  This year, we are studying specific things: insects, birds, and plants.  If something else creeps in, great, but we are scheduling time to look at these three things.   And though I like our science program, my life experience has taught me that they’d better like it, or it’s a waste of time and money.  And worse, they could end up hating science.

You see, I really did like science.  I was a huge rock collector.  My grandfathers were miners, and one of them used to take me out to the chat piles to find rock samples. Chat pile (technical note: “chat” is the tailings from lead and zinc mining.  Our piles were MOUNTAINS!)  I had a huge and wonderful collection that I then set about identifying and classifying, and this was all on my own, no help, no  guidance, no experiments to perform or lab sheets to fill out, or papers to do, or hoops to jump through.  I just learned about rocks because it was neat.  I had a grandparent who introduced me to the possibility out there, and I took off with it.

I think in Paradise, all learning would be like that, but unfortunately, my home is not Paradise.  So I’m going to try for something a little less than perfect.  I’m going to expose, just like my grandfather did to me, and I’m going to make sure that the opportunities exist, but if resentment and loathing begin to creep in, I’m not going to keep pushing, pushing, pushing.  Something will have to change: either my approach to the material or else a change entirely.   And if my kids grow up and don’t understand the principals behind DNA but they do love science, then I think we’ll have done OK. 

We are studying birds right now, and if they hated it, I’d like to think that I would adjust some.  Actually, they were resistent at first to the schooly parts.  I had set up bird feeders before we started the bird study, and set out the binoculars already, and we made some feeders together and then we watched and identified, and that was fun.  Then I started reading the book, and they were a little resistent, but the chapters are short, and Burgess’s charm won out in the end.  The science kit that I have is really fun and interesting and doesn’t have long involved experiments.  One activity that the boys didn’t really take to was using the bird identification sheets to identify the birds.  I think that’s because they already knew the birds at our feeders and saw filling out a sheet as needless work.  I agree.  Let’s just see them, hear them, enjoy then, know them, study them as our interest holds.

My working plan-in-progress for science, then, is not completely child-led and not completely top-down.  The child can run with things or not, but I am not going to force feed hours upon hours of content.  We will dabble.  The dabbling is mom-led and the kiddos can take it from there.

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