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Great Science Adventures: Discovering Atoms, Molecules, and Matter Review by Rebecca Ray

Dinah Zike and Susan Simpson
Common Sense Press
(352) 475-5757
8786 Highway 21
Melrose, FL 32666

A few months ago, my nine-year-old son became interested in the periodic table. He learned a song with all of the elements, gazed at the elements in some library books, and constantly went over a poster of the periodic table that I had hung in our dining room. So, when I received Great Science Adventures: Discovering Atoms, Molecules, and Matter from Common Sense press for review, I knew that it would be a hit with him.

Discovering Atoms, Molecules, and Matter is a complete physical science study that begins with matter and atoms, travels on through the elements and the periodic table, parks for a while with states of matter, and finally teaches about chemical reactions and nuclear power. If you use this study, it provides all of the basic information that you need to complete the study, although older students and interested children may find themselves on the computer or in the library looking for more information on specific people and topics.

Geared toward kindergarten through eighth grades, and with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $24.95, this book contains twenty-four lessons on different but related science concepts, along with reproducible graphics. Each lesson has a miniature science book to read, vocabulary words to define, notebooking activities, science experiments and demonstrations, and additional suggestions for middle grades or interested children to explore, investigate, and research.

Throughout the lessons, the student completes various lapbook/mini-notebook activities for placement into graphic organizers that the student constructs. By the end of the course, the student will have graphic organizers for each of the major concepts covered in the book, have a vocabulary book, a lab book, and (if using) a Who's Who book with various scientists. If your family is unit study oriented or Charlotte Mason inspired, you will probably be familiar with the various folds and graphic organizers used throughout the book. However, if you are new to lapbooking and creative notebooks, a tutorial is provided at the beginning of the book to refer back to when making notebooks.

This really worked well in our homeschool. My children love arts and crafts, and using the mini-notebooks to reinforce their science was a popular way to learn science in our house. I did wish several times for a practical way to store the mini-books and larger graphic organizers because I felt like we had loose papers everywhere. The author suggests storing these in large Ziploc bags. However, I found that even with the gallon-sized bags, the graphic organizers stuck out the top of the bag, and keeping them securely sealed was impossible. However, that didn't keep me from loving and admiring the children’s completed graphic organizers. The children loved them as well, which allowed learning to continue as they would review their notebooks from time to time.

I also really liked the simple and effective science experiments and activities. Most only required things we already had around the house, but they were effective. The children love to do hands-on experiments, so this was wonderful in our house. If you have kinesthetic, hands-on learners, between the notebooking and the simple experiments, this course is an easy way for you to encourage these kinds of learners.

As someone who loves living books, I wish that they had recommended book lists to go along with each chapter. The miniature science books we constructed just were not enough reading for us. However, they are well done and contain all your student needs to learn the concepts of each chapter, and when we wanted to know more, we found ourselves going to the library to check out related books.

I like that the book gives specific adaptations for the assignments for those of different ages and provides more ideas for study for children in the middle grades. That makes it easier to know how to bring the whole family together for assignments. I have two children who are learning at the kindergarten level, and even though the suggested age range is kindergarten through eighth grade, the concepts in this book are usually way above the heads of kindergarteners. If I were purchasing this series with my kindergarteners as my primary focus, I would choose a book with more familiar concepts, such as vertebrates or the human body. However, the concepts in this book were perfect for my second- and fourth-grade children’s abilities, and there were times when I could include my younger children, too. They are absorbing a lot of science and enjoying it through using this program, and I am able to give my fourth grader more complex assignments based on his ability.

I would definitely purchase the other products in this series, and think it is a wonderful resource for families of elementary aged students. If you have a hands-on learner, or simply a learner who loves crafts, this is a great science for him. We are happy with this program and think that we will be continuing to use it in our home for some time.

-Product review by Rebecca Ray, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2015