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Living Learning Books: Science Curriculum and Activity Guides

A Classical Approach
Living Learning Books
By Sandi Strenkowski

Sandi Strenkowski has done a great many home schooling families a huge favor. Sandi has taken the heart and philosophy of a classical living book education, and given it the gentle structure that many of us need.

This is a good grammar stage science course. Recommended for grades Kindergarten through four or six, depending on the level, this is not a set of photocopied papers and a cover sheet! Sandi has put a lot of thought and organization into developing a well rounded, very usable, and comprehensive elementary science program. She has followed the "classical timeline" mentioned in Susan Wise Bauer's The Well Trained Mind and developed three volumes to be used within these timeframes. You could easily switch the order around or combine grade levels to work more than one child together.

Sandi's program is truly a living book curriculum. The reading and narrations, dictation, and journaling make up the majority of the lesson time. There are activity projects included with each lesson and if you wanted more, there are many good hands-on kits easily available. The focus of this great plan is the literature and of that, you will find your choices plentiful.

In a recent conference I attended, Susan Wise Bauer gave a talk on science during the grammar years. She suggested that grammar stage science should be about observation and intake of information. Logic and reasoning the "whys" comes later. At this stage, we need to be filling up our children's "information tanks" so that as they grow they will have the resources in their minds to be able to draw conclusions and surmise the reason why something happens for themselves.

In my opinion, Sandi has done an excellent job in achieving this end. She has provided many, many resource choices and has even prepared her website with slide shows to help supplement activities. I reviewed all three of her units.

Level One - Animals, Human Body, and plants (K-2) see web site for adapting for higher grades

Level Two - Earth Science and Astronomy (Grades 2-6)

Level Three - Chemistry (Grades 3-6)

Sandi has thoughtfully left the depth of each lesson up to us by providing more great choices than we could ever hope to accomplish in one session.

Each level starts with a short introduction on how to use the program. This includes a teacher-planning checklist. Here you will find all the supplies that will be needed for all the projects in the level. You will save scads of preparation and planning time because you will only have to use this one sheet to see what you need to have on hand. There are also library lists for each topic, broken down into three categories: NF - recommended reading, just for fun fiction, and videos. These lists are located after the lesson plans for each topic. I myself would put them in front of the lesson plans; an idea that's easily managed because of the neat referencing icons Sandi has included on each page! Down at the bottom of the page, near the right corner, she has placed icons appropriate to each topic. For example, the Animals Unit has ants, butterflies, elephants, etc. So you can pull out and file or rearrange however you like, quickly and easily with just a flip of the corners.

In levels one and two, the lesson plans are arranged on a page with the suggested reading text first, then in checklist format closely underneath are other activities such as reading a library book, completing a coloring page, discussing vocabulary, or completing an enrichment activity. Sandi has a neat suggestion here for creating notebook pages. Have the kids narrate back what they have read from their library choices or group readings and then take a science period to make pages for their notebooks, decorating or embellishing them as they choose. If they do this consistently through the units, they (and you!) will have a beautiful history of their learning journey that can be kept forever. I would add that you could take pictures of their activity projects and insert them in the proper place in the notebook. There are activity pages with each level. In the first two levels they are mostly coloring pages that identify parts of the topic being studied or such like. I can see using them with a fidgety child who needs to keep his hands busy during the reading time or for adding more information to your notebook. They aren't really imperative in these two levels, but they are a fun addition if your child likes to color or is perhaps hesitant to try his own hand at diagrams. Please note that one set of student activity pages comes with the initial purchase and it is not reproducible. Extra packs, however, are very reasonably priced and can be purchased any time.

In level three, however, the pace changes and the format varies a bit as well. At this level it is evident that the student pages are necessary. These student pages contain lab sheets for writing experiments. What we used, what we did, what we saw, what we learned; this is the format for every experiment in level three. Very WTM in its approach, using lots of observational and sensing skills, the student pack also contains mini-bios of famous scientists and worksheets needed in different spots through the unit. There is also a copy of the Periodic Table of the Elements. The topic of the whole unit is chemistry and although the target age is K-4, you could use this as a good intro for students up to grade six who have had little or no science experience. Expectations from the students are notched up a bit and there is more writing involved. The teacher pages contain sidebar notes that cross reference the two main suggested texts as well as listing what student pages you will need and what supplies should be gathered. Much more activity based than the first two levels, this text is just as pleasing and I can't wait to start it with my son! Each unit begins with a reading assignment for new vocabulary and basic understanding. The experiment summary sheets can be narrated or done by the child. Use a two-inch three-ring binder with divisions for experiments and notebook pages made from their readings and you have a unit of which to be proud!

I believe a great many moms with a lot on their plates will embrace these guides. I am the kind of mom that likes to tweak and shape programs to my best use. With this program, I don't really see myself doing that. I do have a highly hands-on child, so with the addition of a kit or two, this plan is perfect for us. The price is reasonable and the fit is fine! If you visit Sandi's website, you will also see that you can purchase literature packs with all the recommended books included. I am happily impressed and I especially love the open ended feel to the lessons that allows us to follow one topic through till we decide its time to move on. I believe this program is worth a very close inspection and I don't think you will be disappointed. A workbook program this is not, but an excellent program, it is!

--Product Review by: Heidi Shaw, Staff Review writer, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine

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