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    Wonder-Based Science

    April 15, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    Very early in my mothering journey, I was given a gift from my mother-in-law. It’s an unlikely treasure, to be sure. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a copy in anyone else’s library, though board books are notorious for their tendency to wander to and fro. I read this book almost daily to E. when he was a little one-year-old guy. He loved to listen to it; it was one of his top two favorites.

    Grandma's Special Stories for Little Boys: What a God We Have (Board Book)What I didn’t realize at the time was that Mommy was learning something from the book, also. I’ve blogged about this little tome before {can a board book be called a “tome”?} in a different context, but I find myself compelled to share its goodness once again. The title is Grandma’s Special Stories for Little Boys: What a God We Have, and I’ve never read another quite like it.

    The story is pretty predictable. Little boy Matthew goes to visit his grandma. They do enough together that he must have stayed for a week or so. Every time Matthew and Grandma witness something seemingly simple {ants scrambling around, seeds growing in the garden, etcetera}, Grandma tells Matthew, “What a God we have!”


    One of my hesitations with science books has been that, while detailing such amazing facts about creation, any amount of awe or wonder is completely absent.

    Wonder is, in my mind, a reliable antidote to that peculiar arrogance fed by study which we sometimes call hubris. Wonder contains within it a sense of powerlessness, because it acknowledges how small one is in relation to the world and its Maker. Wonder gives us the posture of Mary, sitting at the Lord’s feet, thirsting to learn. Wonder also reminds us of how much more we have to learn–how much we don’t know.

    Recently, I was grumbling a bit {again} about trying to find things for my son E. to read. I often feel behind. His appetite is voracious, and sometimes I wonder if I am starving him. My father {the funny one} mentioned to us that we should be giving him nonfiction to read also. I didn’t object, but I had yet to see a science book of any significant length that I can just hand over to him. Besides being filled with all variety of political metamessages {also known as propaganda}, science texts consist of just plain facts. Facts isolated from wonder and historical context cater to a sense of power and pride.

    Exploring Creation With Zoology 2: Swimming Creatures of the 5th DayBut in the back of my mind I was determined to find something to give the poor boy. Besides, his birthday is coming up next month, and we aim to feel like we are giving him a feast when we hand him his birthday book each year. So I went on a search, and I kept coming back to the same recommendation from various respectable folks: Apologia’s Exploring Creation series for elementary students. I ended up choosing Exploring Creation With Zoology 2: Swimming Creatures of the 5th Day because Ambleside has us reading about a whaling boat and a hermit crab’s life in two separate books this term, and I know that his appetite has been whetted for marine life. {Also: I found an inexpensive used copy in great condition, a definite bonus.}
    You know what sold me on this? Well, first of all they are written in a conversational style and contain sustained reasoning. I recently paged through a handful of public school textbooks, and even though there are a number of facts we can master through reading those books {and we will look at some of them together}, I was struck by the ADHD nature of the text. It was flashy, attention-grabbing, and had a tendency to have that magazine style of bullet points and disconnected reasoning.
    We certainly don’t want to hand our children texts which unteach the habits of thought we have been striving for.
    But what really sealed the deal was this phrase from the online sample lesson: “Isn’t that amazing?”
    The author wasn’t afraid to stand in awe before her subject, right alongside her readers. I was immediately reminded of Grandma and Matthew from so many years ago: “What a God we have!”

    The author also points out what scientists do not know. Often, we do not know why things happen, only that they happen. For instance, in the sample lesson, we learn that no one knows why a whale breaches, the specifics surrounding a narwhal’s tusk, where are the breeding grounds of the blue whale, and so on. She does this in a way which encourages the child to want to find out himself. It awakens the naturalist inside each of her readers.

    I am excited to be able to hand my son a book that will take him days to read and will teach him facts, yes, but in light of how the world works and Who designed it to be so.
    We have been rereading the creation story every morning this week. Even God stood stood back, looked at His work, and declared it Good. Should we not do likewise?

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  • Reply Hillary January 25, 2019 at 10:51 am

    I realize this is an almost-10-year-old post (!) but am asking anyway… what value would you, or other readers, find in these Apologia Elementary texts today, and for what age of kids?

    Could they function as a fast science vocabulary brush-up/catchup for an older kid who just doesn’t seem to have a handle on science terminology? Are they a little more spelled-out than AO’s living science books – i.e., the facts are plainer to grasp?

    I need something to help a very literal, yet very verbal, child feel he understands science books when he reads them. Narrations and science journals are showing me there are some gaps to fill, ASAP.
    Would Apologia’s materials for older kids be worthwhile in that case?

    I’ll go post on the AO Forum too but wanted to see if CM-but-not-necessarily-AO families had input, as well.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 26, 2019 at 3:18 pm

      We have a few Apologia texts laying around the house. My elementary student — and even one of my junior high students — have read them off and on over the years. I’ve never used them for school lessons, but they were around for free reading, and everyone has taken advantage of them at one time or another.

      Some people don’t consider them “CM enough” but I found them to be good for free reading; the children have enjoyed them. 🙂

      I hope that helps!

      ps. I think that the facts really are “plainer,” as you said, in these books than some of the others.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts April 15, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Thanks, Kerry. I don’t know why I didn’t realize that Apologia published elementary material. I knew that Ambleside suggested them for high school, and I just never bothered to check them out and see what they were all about. I hope my son loves it the way I think he will.

    Mystie, I am thinking about investing in botany eventually, as well. To be honest, now that I found them, I’d love to have them all. It was primarily his current interests that drove me to select Swimming Creatures for him. I was planning to purchase an astronomy text for third grade and now I am torn. Until now, I had planned on buying Signs and Seasons, but I noticed Apologia has an astronomy text as well.

    Anyone have any opinions on which is best?

  • Reply Mystie April 15, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    My husband told me, while I was researching books for second grade, that I should not neglect science since it is my weak spot. I settled on Apologia’s elementary Botany, for all the reasons you pointed out — plus, the experiments & projects seemed possible for even me AND it has the student keep a nature journal, which I was going to try to do more systematically next year anyway.

    I was more pleased with and excited about it after browsing it than I had anticipated. 🙂

  • Reply Kerry April 15, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    I really enjoy Apologia’s elementary curricula series…and I love the blog redesign!

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