Exploring the world around us: Unschooling science

Unschooling science

In our family, we don’t “do” subject areas. We don’t really do tests, quizzes, essays or worksheets.

We’re radical unschoolers, and we believe that learning happens all the time, and for us, it rarely happens in tightly defined areas like “social studies” and “grammar.”

That said, I get a lot of questions from people who are unfamiliar with unschooling and wonder, “But how do you teach math?” (Or any other subject!)

That’s why I agreed to take part in the iHomeschool Network’s “5 days of…” Hopscotch series this week, in which I’m joining a bunch of my fellow bloggers to share how we “teach” language arts, math, science, history and fine arts.

It’s a little bit of a trick… because I’m not going to talk about teaching at all.

Instead, I’m glad to share how we learn, radical unschooling, eighth-grade-ish daughter style!

If you wonder how our learning happens “beyond the curriculum,” read on. Today, we’re tackling the ways all sorts of learning happens in our daily lives through unschooling science.

Unschooling and chemistry

Wait, does this topic sound at all familiar?

Chemistry resource and learning guide from Unschool RulesI shared our favorite resources for studying chemistry and the periodic table in a huge post earlier this month.

In it, I talk about a lot of the books, movies, online courses, apps trips and more that we’ve used to help Ashar pursue her passion for this area.

I also share some thoughts on how we’ve used more “traditionally school-like” resources in an unschooling way.

This is important, because I don’t want anyone to think that being unschoolers means we CAN’T learn using things like official courses or textbooks; our mindset about them is simply much different. I hope you’ll check out our chemistry studies here!

Unschooling and biology

At the beginning of this “school year,” I shared our unschooled version of an eighth-grade-ish curriculum plan.

In it, much like I’m doing in this week’s series, I broke down some of the things we’d hoped to explore in a subject-by-subject manner. But what I said then, and want to reiterate now, is that most of the learning we do would be what, in education-speak, is known as cross-curricular. That means it’s kind of the opposite of subject-by-subject, and everything gets all mixed together! (Just like in real life!)

Well, our “biology” studying is no different. In fact, most of what we’ve learned about biology comes from a sort-of math book, Life of Fred Pre-Algebra 1 with Biology. Ashar has been into Fred’s adventures for a while now, and when she decided she wanted to get back into his story this year, she chose this book not for its pre-algebra, which is probably a little behind where she is mathematically, but for the biology component.

We’re reading Fred sporadically, but it’s been great for things like the night where we were talking about the Latin names of plants and animals and viruses, and Ashar wanted to know HOW those names were chosen and why. Guess what – Fred to the rescue! I should add, while this is described as a Christian series, we are a secular homeschooling family and haven’t had any problems using the fairly few spiritual references we’ve found as talking points about what different people believe, which we like to do anyway.

The question came up after we looked up the garden toad we saw on our front sidewalk and found out that his name was Bufo bufo. From there, we started looking up facts about the alpaca, aka Vicugna pacos.

And why alpacas? Well, because Ashar’s work with the York County 4-H Alpaca Club is probably the top source of science education overall, and biology/zoology info specifically, that we could ask for!

Ashar loves animals, and always has. We might not always call it biology, or zoology, but really a week doesn’t go by in which Ashar isn’t reading or watching or trying out an app or playing a game that teaches her something new about living things and how they work. She’s even “auditing” my own study of microbiology, and while she told me flat-out that the details of it “are ridiculous,” she’s picked up everything from how viruses replicate to the value of good bacteria.

So how do we facilitate biology learning, in general?

The short answer is by spending as much time outdoors and away from home as possible. You’re certainly more likely to encounter living things (plants, animals, even humans) NOT in your dining room! And, of course, because this happens to be a key area of interest for Ashar AND for Chris and me, reading and asking questions and sharing the answers with each other is a big key.

Unschooling and physics

So, unschooling physics.

I could make this section REALLY short and just give you one word: Mythbusters!

Really, seeing physics in motion (see what I did there?) is one of the coolest things for me about homeschooling. Even though I was a math major, I hated physics in high school and college. I just could not wrap my head around how the math part (which I understood) overlaid with the real-world applications.

So, really, Mythbusters has been amazing, because I can finally bridge the gap for myself between theory and application. But it’s also been a springboard into great questions from Ashar, all of which I can finally understand enough to help her find the answers – like when she asked me, “Why doesn’t the car stop right away when you hit the brakes?”

Much like with biology, the key is to be receptive to the questions and to help Ashar pursue the answers. Being involved in the world means there are LOTS of things to do with physics, energy and motion that will happen every day. Don’t overlook them – talk about them, and when you observe something, don’t be afraid to experiment and extrapolate!

Unschooling and astronomy

Solar system and space unit study guide for homeschoolers and unschoolersThis is an area Ashar was interested in last year, and which we pursued in detail, in large part through the study of the history of space travel!

You can check out our full resource guide for space and solar system study here.

In it, I talk about some trips we took, movies we watched, books we read and more. There’s even a list of some of our favorite space-themed songs!

I wish more public and private schools focused on space study. That’s why I’m so glad we were able to spend some time digging into it when Ashar was interested! In this way, she’s far ahead of her public-school peers, and while I normally don’t think too much about that, it’s a good reminder that there are great benefits to being able to pick the areas of focus that work for us!

The rest of the series

Monday: The power of words: Unschooling and “language arts”
Tuesday: It’s not all about numbers: Unschooling and “math”
Today: Exploring the world and how it works: Unschooling and “science”
Thursday: You can’t escape the past: Unschooling and “history”
Friday: There’s beauty in everything: Unschooling and “fine arts”

You can read all the posts here!

More five-day fun

This post is part of the iHomeschool Network’s January 2014 “5 days of…” Hopscotch series.

iHomeschool Network January 2014 hopscotchYou can see how some of my fellow bloggers are spending their five days here.

Many of us are sharing on how we teach or learn in these subject areas, from a variety of styles and perspectives! We sure are an eclectic group – I hope you’ll check out more!

And if you’re into the things we do in our radical unschooling family, check out my two previous “5 days of…” series, 5 days of real-world math and 5 days of video-game learning.

Finally, this post is part of the How to Teach Without a Curriculum linkup through the iHomeschool Network. Click the image below to read more posts on teaching without formal curriculum!


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4 thoughts on “Exploring the world around us: Unschooling science

  1. I absolutely feel like Sarah is further along in the realms of science than I was as an eighth-grader. And I was a Science Fair and Science Quiz Bowl participant! I had a sampling of some chemistry in eighth grade, but didn’t get into the nitty-gritty (or equation balancing) until 10th grade.

    Ninth-grade biology was a real turn-off for me. It was a class of long lectures, copious note-taking, and long essay exams based on regurgitation of facts. It was all memorization. I think the teacher thought he was getting us ready for college or med school or something.

    Of all the subjects, science is one of them that should be so fun and accessible these days. There’s mythbusters, as you mentioned. But also so many other multimedia ways to convey the fascination of science. Heck, even Star Trek can be a launching off point for astronomy, physics, etc. A cottage industry of those kinds of books have cropped up in the past 15-20 years. Books that delve into whether time travel, transporters, warp drive, phasers, etc., are possible.

    Sarah’s natural curiosity for science is more than enough jumping-off point for years worth of unschooling “lessons.”

    • VERY much agree that Sarah is naturally curious about science in a way that amazes me. Even with the hefty grounding I had in it knowing that I was going into math/sci in college, I don’t think I had the natural interest she does.

  2. As new unschoolers, I love reading about how you do things. We also love Life of Fred and have family reading time like you. We also used to live in York County- Red Lion to be precise, and my husband’s family still lives in Brogue and Felton, if you’ve ever heard of them. Anyway, I’m so glad to have found this blog.

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