“What are labs needed for science? I can’t dissect something!” quotes many homeschooling parents.
Often those who begin the home school journey do so with confidence. It is not difficult to teach letters, numbers, colors, shapes. It does not even become too challenging to teach the basics of grammar, multiplication, division and writing. However, many a homeschooling parent can become a bit nervous when it comes to higher level high school courses.
Let us put intimidation aside and stand firm on the fact that even high school is very doable at home and often homeschooling becomes even more important during these vital teenaged years. By choosing to stick with it, or even begin your homeschooling journey during the high school years, you are allowing your children to progress at warp speed, or even work at the pace that may be comfortable for them, but too slow for others. You are doing all of this while also accommodating their personal needs and often shielding them from outside influences that you have kept them from thus far.
One of the areas that can be most intimidating to parents is the area of science for high school. What if you can’t remember how to dissect something, or which chemicals cause an explosion? What if your child asks you something you don’t know? Rather than run from the areas that make us anxious, let’s meet them head on, conquer them, and come out on the other side with a scalpel in one hand and a beaker in the other.
From a college preparatory standpoint most colleges want to see that students have been exposed to high school level science courses that involve laboratory work. What that means is that your child is taking the concepts taught in the curriculum beyond the book work and into the realm of utilizing the scientific method. Rather than observing the stars and locating constellations, they may be measuring the trajectory of orbits and charting stars as they appear in the night sky during different seasons. Rather than observing pollen collection by bees, they may look at that pollen under a microscope to observe the component matter that makes up the yellow substance. Lab science in high school is meant to teach the student how to be prepared for lab sciences in college. Students therefore will need to become familiar with how to write a lab report, basic safety precautions, graphing data and logic. So, where does the homeschooling parent begin?
Part of homeschooling the older child is teaching them to learn on their own. That means a lot to a parent. Your child should be, by this point, perfectly able to follow a syllabus or outline and perform most, if not all required labs completely on their own. Think of it as removing yourself as the teacher and repositioning yourself into the role of guidance counselor. You are there to guide your child through a course that you may well be tandem learning, or reviewing yourself. Oftentimes the best way to do this is to just observe them as they conduct experiments, helping to quiz them before tests, and ensuring that they are staying on track.
There are curriculums that provide full kits of all the materials needed to do labs for chemistry, biology and any other science course your homeschooler takes. So where you start is by choosing a well respected, lab based curriculum, and ensuring that your student completes the labs that go along with that curriculum. Most labs are optional, though extremely helpful to fluidly understand a concept, that is, until you get to the subjects of Biology and Chemistry as well as Physics. The first two, Biology and Chemistry are subjects are required by most college preparatory paths and both of those subjects REQUIRE labs. The third, Physics, is often considered for honors diplomas. Though many a homeschooling parent values the creative side of homeschooling where we are able to come up with creative ways of learning, science courses involving labs is not the time for this creativity. Colleges will be looking for thoroughness in lieu of creativity. There are a standard range of experiments that teach concepts, so using a professionally created curriculum, either in book form or online is much preferred at this point. If you are utilizing a Christian curriculum there are a number of publishers (Apologia, A Beka, Bob Jones University, Science Shepherd) that offer materials and courses that are lab based. In addition to offering such lab courses with experiments explained thoroughly many of these companies also sell the supplemental kits that include all of the materials needed for performing the labs. The biology kits will often go so far as to include the specimens needed for dissection all prepared and preserved in packaging waiting for your student to get to that particular module for the appropriate instructions. If this makes you squeamish this is where you should appreciate your role as guidance counselor as opposed to teacher. You can learn along with your student by watching them conduct the experiments and not even have to get your hands dirty. The chemistry kits will usually include beakers, solutions and ph strips that aid in learning more about chemical reactions than you ever wanted to know. Let me tell you with confidence that these supplemental kits are worth their weight in gold as everything you need is at your fingertips, after all who wants to be searching for a fetal pig on eBay?
The wrap up in all of this is that there is available curriculum to help you on the journey to ensure that your homeschooled high schooler is well prepared in the science department. Use the resources available and know that many of the large curriculum companies have esteemed reputations for pulling together well thought out plans of action to help you educate your student. Research the company you want to use, make sure they will be guiding your student through labs and if possible, purchase the supplemental lab kits that they offer. You can do to this; you don’t even need to get your hands dirty in the process!