Classical Science For The Grammar Stage

Science author and classical educator, Paige Hudson, is back for the second installment of our Science and Classical Education series. You can read the first post HERE.


In yesterday’s post, I shared a little about how science fits into the classical education model.  Today, I want to share with you the nuts and bolts of grammar stage classical science.

What is a grammar stage student?

A grammar stage student can mean different things to different people.  So let me clear up the confusion by saying that I mean the years when your student is learning the foundational basics, such as phonics, spelling and how to add, subtract, multiply and divide.  These are the years when your student is full of wonder and when they wants to know everything about everything.  During the grammar stage years your student is peppering you with questions that begin with, “Mom, what’s…”.  This is what I mean when I say a grammar stage student.

The grammar stage typically begins with when traditional school begins or in first grade.  It ends when the student starts needing to know the why’s and how’s behind what they are learning.  For some, this means they leave the grammar stage by the end of 4th grade, for some they leave by the end of 5th grade and for some students this phase ends earlier or later than that.

I compare the grammar stage students to an empty bucket that is begging to be filled.  They have a natural curiosity and a high capacity for retaining information.  So, when teaching science, you will be playing to these strengths while building their knowledge base of scientific facts.  You can also use science to work on their basic skills of writing and reading at this stage.

What are your goals for grammar stage classical science?

Simply put, your main goal is to spark their interest for learning science.  You want to capitalize on their natural curiosity by showing them that science can be fun.  You want them to become aware of the world around them and to learn how to observe the things they see.  These are also the years to build a basic knowledge bank for your student to be able draw on later.

How do you teach classical science to grammar stage students?

A good grammar stage classical science program should include the following*…

  1. Lab Demonstrations:  I used the word “demonstrations” because at the grammar stage level, you are essentially demonstrating experiments for your student to observe.  They are watching, helping where they can, taking in what is happening and filing the information away for later use.  The purpose of this doing demonstrations, or experiments, at this level is twofold.  The first reason is to work on their observation skills and the second aim is to increase their scientific knowledge.  Although you are modeling the scientific method for them, you are not expecting them to predict the results because they do not have a knowledge base of the principles of science that are at work in the experiment to draw from.  So, their “hypothesis” would no longer be an educated guess, it would simply be a guess, which has little value and can lead to frustration when they get it wrong.  Instead you are asking them the following questions, “What did we use?” (Materials), “What did we do?” (Procedure), “What happened?” (Results) and “What did I learn?” (Conclusion).  If you are need help finding experiments to demonstrate, check out any of the books by Janice VanCleave.  You can also use projects and/or nature study to fulfill the purpose of the lab demonstrations.
  2. Reading: At this stage your student is an empty bucket waiting to be filled with information and books are a wonderful way to do that.  There are many children’s encyclopedia publishers, such as Usborne, Kingfisher and DK, that present scientific information in an interesting way on the level of a grammar stage student.  I also personally love the “Let’s Read and Find Out” series of books as supplemental science reading.  As your student begins to be able to read more complicated stories on their own, add in one or two books on scientists per year.  These will help your student to engage with the face of science which will spark their desire to learn more.
  3. Narration:  Narration is one of the hallmarks of a classical education.  It’s an extremely effective tool that will teach your student how to assimilate and release information.  The purpose of narration in science is for you to know that your student has placed at least one new piece of information into their bucket.  So, you simply ask them, “What is one thing that you found interesting about what we just read?” or “Can you tell me something that you have learned from what we just read?”  In the beginning you will write down what they say, but as your student gets older, you will expect more out of them.  As they progress through the grammar stage, you can expect them to give several pieces of information as well as have them begin to write their own answers.
  4. Memory Work:  For some memory work is optional, for some it is not.  Remember that your grammar stage student is an empty bucket that is begging to be filled and memory work is another tool that you can use to fill their knowledge banks with information that they will be able to draw on later.  Memory work can include poems, lists of facts and/or vocabulary.

When you plan out your year, make sure that your lab demonstrations, readings, narrations and memory work all tie together.  In other words, if you create a model of the spine, you should read about the skeletal system, have your student write about what they have learned about the skeletal system and work on memorizing what they skeletal system is.  When you tie the 4 areas together, they reinforce one another and create a stronger peg of knowledge in the mind of the grammar stage student.

A quick word about kindergarten:

If you decide to do science before the grammar stage years, it should be very hands on and parent directed.  You can use demonstrations, nature study, books and crafts to introduce them to the world of science.  However, kindergarten science should only be done if your student enjoys it.

Before planning out your year of grammar stage science, I highly recommend reading The Well-trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer.  This book will give you a fuller picture of classical education as well as the learning stages that your student will go through.  If you would like to see what the grammar stage classical science education looks like, check out Elemental Science, which offers science curriculum with a classical bent.  If you want to see what a week looks like with Elemental Science, you can read a blog series that I did on Physics for the Grammar Stage.  Be sure to come back tomorrow to learn more about logic stage classical science.

*Note: The information in this blog post was loosely based on ideas presented in a lecture entitled “Science in the Classical Curriculum” by Susan Wise Bauer as well as pp. 157-187 of The Well-trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home.

Paige Hudson is an author and homeschooling mom.  She writes science curriculum for homeschoolers which you can view at the Elemental Science website.  She also has a passion for sharing the wonders of science, which is why she writes the bi-weekly Science Corner at Elemental Blogging. She holds a BS in Biochemistry from Virginia Tech and currently resides in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia with her husband and 2 children. 





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