Biology for the Grammar Stage (Gr. 1-2)

Although we have added several new science programs over the past two years, Elemental Science offers some very unique features and will likely appeal to both Classical and Charlotte Mason home educators. The main difference? The program basically provides a framework of study and lesson plans while your science “text” and experiments are found in a selection of excellent, high-interest resources including DK, Usborne, and Kingfisher titles as well as Janice VanCleave experiment books. Although author Paige Hudson has plans to extend the series from K-12 and through the three stages of the trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric), currently only the K-1 (Intro to Science), Grammar Stage programs and the first Logic Stage program are available. Written to be religiously neutral, the origins of life and earth are not studied in depth, although several reading selections from the secular resource books will doubtless contain phrases such as “millions of years ago,” or references to the Big Bang Theory.

Each program is made up of two core books: a Teacher’s Guide & Quiz Book and a Student Workbook. The Teacher’s Guide holds everything you need to know to teach the course including lesson plans, materials lists, necessary resources, forms, quizzes and quiz answers. The Student Workbook provides all of the worksheet pages the student will fill in through the course, including narration/summary/journal pages, experiment pages, ongoing projects, and pictures for narration. Every course is neatly divided up into 36 weeks of study. In many of the courses, you will spend a “chunk” of weeks focusing on one topic, then the next several weeks studying another. In Biology for the Grammar Stage, students will spend 20 weeks on animals, ten on the human body, and six weeks on plants.

If you appreciate organization AND flexibility (or you feel like you could use more of these in your life!), you will love how the Teacher’s Guide is laid out. Each program’s guide opens with an explanation of the components, the activities that the student will be completing, and recommendations for including an older student. In our pre-publication copy of Biology for the Logic Stage, this introductory teaching material is more extensive and includes suggestions for including a younger student. After the teaching information, you’ll find the list of text resources and experiment books you’ll need for the program, and a topical index broken down by week. At this point, the Teacher’s Guide is segmented by topic, each one beginning with an overview of what will be studied, a comprehensive list of supplies needed by week, and memory work. Now we arrive at the “meat” of the Teacher’s Guide – the lesson plans. For each week, you’ll find not one but two complete lesson plans. One plan presents a 5-day science schedule while the other plan is a 2-day schedule. Depending on how the rest of your subjects are scheduled, one or the other of these options will probably work better for you. Each suggested schedule is given its own page in the Teacher’s Guide, which makes it easy to keep track of where you are. In the 5-day schedule, the week is laid out in grid format, with all the assignments for the day (reading, activity, etc.) listed in a column under that day. In the 2-day schedule, the grid features the two science days at the top and reading, activity and additional assignment rows on the left-hand side. The rest of the information provided on these pages is virtually identical between the 5- and 2-day schedules and includes a supply list for the week, vocabulary with definitions, short summaries of the experiments to be completed and additional project/activity information. After the lesson plans, you’ll find a short appendix with additional teacher helps and templates for several of the forms given in the student book, quizzes for each week and a quiz answer key.

The Student Workbook holds the workbook pages for each type of activity. All of the forms for ongoing projects (especially observation) are found at the beginning of the book, followed by narration pages, experiment pages and pictures for the narrations. The pages are clean and form-like, with crisp printing and lines for writing. In Biology and Earth Science/Astronomy for the Grammar Stage, students will do frequent narration. Blackline pictures are provided in the back of the Student Workbook, which students paste into the box on the page, then write several lines about what they learned (or, as an alternative, students can draw their own pictures). The pictures are really my only quibble with the workbooks; they are all illustrated by the author and scanned, so they are very simple, somewhat fuzzy and off-black. In Chemistry for the Grammar Stage, narration pages are replaced by Definition and Summary pages. Definition pages are formatted like Narration pages with an empty box and several lines for writing. Students create their own dictionary of chemical terms by pasting the picture of the item in the box and write a definition. Summary pages are very much like narration pages, where the student writes what they have learned about the topic. At the Physics for the Grammar Stage level, narration pages are called Journal pages, and these feature more space for the student to write more extensively on the topic they learned about, and define new terms at the bottom of the page. At all grammar stage levels, students write about experiments completed, including materials, procedure, results and observations.

I’ve spent the bulk of the description talking about the grammar stage programs, but as mentioned at the beginning, there is a K-1 program called Intro to Science, which is very similar to the grammar stage programs, but simplified for younger learners. At this level, the program consists of hands-on activities, nature studies, read-alouds from resource and library books – and lots of coloring! This is also a 36-week course, although the weekly assignments are provided in more of a “bullet-point” outline format on one side of the Teacher’s Manual page, and the two scheduling options (2- and 5-day) are provided in grids on the reverse side of the page. Six weeks each are spent on chemistry, physics, geology, meteorology, botany and zoology. Although recommended library books are listed for each week, the three primary resources you’ll use all year long include More Mudpies to Magnets, Handbook of Nature Study, and Usborne First Encyclopedia of Science. Student pages at this level provide very simple experiment record forms, coloring pages and blank pages to paste results from activities.

At the logic stage, you still have the two different scheduling options, but the student’s work is somewhat more intense. Each week focuses on one topic and typically includes an experiment, vocabulary and memory work, a sketching assignment, a writing assignment, and important dates to enter on a date sheet. Several different writing options are suggested in the Teacher’s Guide, including having the student write an outline based on the spine text, writing a narrative summary based on the spine text or writing both. At this level, the student is given all of their assignments in their Student Guide, and these are duplicated in the Teacher’s Guide as well. The Teacher’s Guide also holds the suggested schedules, notes on the experiment and expected results, comprehension questions to ask the student (with answers), examples of finished sketches with labels, and additional activity suggestions. Like the lower levels, an appendix is also included for the teacher with examples of student work (including sample outlines and narrative summaries), copies of forms that the student will use, and more. Unit tests and answers are also included in the Teacher’s Guide. The Student Guide will also feel familiar if you have used a grammar stage level. All “Ongoing Project” forms are found in the front, followed by the group of forms and worksheets the student will use that week (including the main assignment list for the week). Ongoing Projects at this level include keeping track of important dates on four date sheets (Ancient, Medieval, Early Modern and Modern Times) and working on a science fair project for the year. The author highly recommends completing a science fair project for the year, and a series of project worksheets help guide the student through the process.

If your young student already loves to pore over science books when you visit the library, I would anticipate that they would really enjoy this program. The resources chosen are quality books, and there is a very nice balance of activities and reading throughout each week. Because the student generates so much of the content in the Student Workbook, these really become a complete, personalized record of student work. Some other “pluses” to this program are the ease of use (the lesson plans are already laid out for you!) and the price, which is reasonable. The cost will definitely vary depending on which resources you already own and which you decide to purchase, but on the whole I would expect it to be comparable or lower than many other programs in this section. I also appreciate that the topics are leveled by stage, which makes it easy to know where to jump in, and also that you’ll be covering life science, astronomy, chemistry and physics at each stage, following the classical cycle. Because the program is religiously neutral, you will not find much “editing” necessary either way and may choose to supplement with your own resources to explain origins if you and your child want to study that further. On a final note, although the content is straightforward, the author seems to be available to provide support via email, and there is a Yahoo group for this curriculum as well. As someone who spends a good amount of time with each new science program as it is added, I think this curriculum has some very unique qualities that may even appeal to some non-classical homeschoolers! Grades and resources for each course are listed below. – Jess

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