When I put together a curriculum at the beginning of the school year, I prefer to list objectives rather than activities.  So instead of say, listing the math book we plan to use, I list the topics we’re going to cover (single digit addition, skip counting, etc.).  I like to do this for several reasons.  One is that I don’t want to feel stuck with a particular approach — if a given book isn’t working out, I can change books without getting disoriented.   Another reason is that it keeps me focused on our real goals.  In math, for example, the goal is not for Mr. Boy to complete 36 weeks worth of first-grade worksheets.  It is for him to become competent using arithmetic.  The worksheets might in fact be the best means for him to reach that goal, but they aren’t the goal itself.

Science is a subject where I don’t really have a textbook at all, though there are a handful of textbooks sitting on our bookshelves, and sometimes we read from them, or consult them to get the answer to a question, or an idea for an experiment.   In first grade, a lot of science happens in everyday life, like that garden that still isn’t planted.  (But will be!  It will be!)

Lately though, I’ve been mining our public library for science videos.  Our local branch has a massive collection, and Mr. Boy learns very well from videos.  (Not everybody does.)  Two series we’ve gotten multiple titles from are the DK Eyewitness DVD series (www.dk.com), and the Science Library collection put out by Schlessinger Media (www.libraryvideo.com).

The DK videos are a lot like the DK books.  The photography is vivid an informative — in the Butterfly & Moth DVD  you can see up-close shots of caterpillars eating and moving, magnified to a detail you would have difficulty witnessing in person.  The films explore a series of topics, and within each topic there are a variety of loosely tied-together facts.  Very similar to the way the pages of an Eyewitness book are put together.  

The facts are mostly science, but include bits of folklore and religion.   The worldview is generic scientist: evolution* is taken for granted, and religions are just what people happen to believe.  In the butterfly movie we get both reincarnation and resurrection mentioned in passing, in two separate places, just kind of tossed out as butterfly-themed curiosities.  (Butterflies have been used as symbols of both, it appears.)  I would think most Christian parents could use those moments as fodder for comparitive -religion discussions, though some might not be comfortable with the series as a result.  Running time for Butterflies is 62 minutes.

The Schlessinger videos are designed to introduce science topics in the classroom.  Running time for both the grades K-4 Physical Science for Children: All About Simple Machines, and the grades 5-8 Physical Science in Action: Simple Machines videos, are only 23 minutes each.  The tempo is upbeat, with lots of images from real life serving as a backdrop.  The narrator for the simple machines videos, by the way, is a hip, energetic twenty-something female, which may be helpful if you are trying to win over a girl who swears she hates science.  (It happens.)

I found the explanations in the two simple machines videos to be both interesting and very helpful, and my almost-seven-year-old liked them too.   (Some of the material in the upper-grade video was too hard for him, but he doesn’t mind that.  He likes videos.  A lot.).  Enough different examples are given to really help explain a concept.  In addition to being accessible to students in the target grade levels, these would be a handy supplement for a parent who needs to brush up on fundamentals, or a high-school student who is having a hard time with a more abstract presentation of physical science.  

If your library doesn’t have these titles, the DK series is along the lines of what you find on educational television — I wouldn’t go out and buy them unless it’s the kind of DVD you normally like to collect.  In contrast, the Schlessinger videos are helpful enough in explaining science topics that they would be worth investigating for purchase, if you have a video-learner on your hands.  Maybe try one on a topic that is particularly challenging, and if you find them helpful, see about persuading your friends to go in on a video co-op, or stick them on the Christmas wish list for eager grandparents,  or something like that.

*For the record, there is no particular catholic belief on evolution, other than if it did happen, it was a means employed by God, not a God-substitute. Also, that all humans are descended from a single male an female (Adam and Eve).  At this time, both literal and poetic understandings of Genesis are both valid theological opinions.  And the Catechism is loaded with great stuff on these topics.  You know, life, the universe, and everything.  No sense me trying to write down section numbers, just go thumb through your copy.  Or read it online here:  http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm

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