Get the exclusive (almost) Weekly Digest.

    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    AmblesideOnline Year 7 Living Science: Why We Loved It {A Curriculum Review}

    June 24, 2015 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]I[/dropcap] feel weird doing this review because you all know we use AmblesideOnline and love it. But I’ve gotten a number of emails asking about the new science component in the upper years. Is it really okay to do science without a modern science textbook? That’s really the gist of it. So let’s talk.

    AmblesideOnline Year 7 Living Science why we loved it

    This was AO’s first year offering a living science curriculum for any of the upper grades, so I guess you could say we were guinea pigs, though I didn’t think about it that way at the time. I always knew that I didn’t want textbooks, if possible — I didn’t want to kill science. So I was thrilled that the science curriculum was ready for my oldest to use when the time came.


    What Books We Used

    You can see the complete list of AO’s Year 7 science curriculum here. We skipped Signs and Seasons because we had already done it {and loved it — you can read my thoughts on Signs and Seasons here}. I actually plan to revisit S&S this coming year, but I digress. Also, we didn’t get our hands on Adventures with a Microscope until late in the year, so that is something we’re implementing for Year 8. {Remember that Jeanne has written a guide to help us safely do what we need to do with Adventures with a Microscope, so make sure you download it from her sidebar.}

    In addition to this, we had done Secrets of the Universe in Year 6 {which is where it was before}, while missing Mystery of the Periodic Table {which was added to Year 6 when Secrets was moved to Year 7}. So we substituted Mystery of the Periodic Table {which we had not done} for Secrets of the Universe {which we had already done}. I hope that makes sense.

    Other than that, we did the whole thing as written.


    How it Fits with Our Philosophy

    This is really important to me. Until now, there hasn’t been a Charlotte Mason style science curriculum for the upper years. In fact, that is the only reason why I’m doing this review — because this is New.

    So, first, an important thing to remember is one of the main goals of a child’s education {for a 12-year-old is still very much a child}: to make affinities valid. Charlotte Mason wrote:

    We take the child as we find him, a person with many healthy affinities and embryonic attachments, and we try to give him a chance to make the largest possible number of these attachments valid. {Vol. 3, p. 218}

    My goal is not for my children to know a bunch of stuff. Knowing about a subject and being able to recall it naturally is a direct result of having an affinity for the subject. A child who knows a bunch of information about a subject but loves himself and showing off his knowledge rather than the subject has already developed that dreaded disease, hubris.

    So. The number one question I’d ask about a science curriculum is, Did it develop the child’s love for something outside of himself? Since the idea that the goal of a Christian education is to order the child’s affections dates back at least to Augustine, this is not an unimportant question.

    It’s also important to remember that any science learned by books is supposed to be in addition to the continuance of nature study, even in the upper grades. This is very hard for someone like me, who would much rather stay home and stick to the books. But Miss Mason was clear:

    In this way they lay up that store of ‘common information’ which Huxley considered should precede science teaching; and, what is much more important, they learn to know and delight in natural objects as in the familiar faces of friends. {Vol. 3, p. 237}

    This is why she later added that

    all school children of whatever grade should have one half-day in the week, throughout the year, in the fields.

    She is clear, though, that as the children get older, science is definitely learned through books, and she does not mean dull, dry textbooks. She means real books of a high literary quality.

    Books dealing with science as with history, say, should be of a literary character, and we should probably be more scientific as a people if we scrapped all the text-books which swell publishers’ lists and nearly all the chalk expended so freely on our blackboards. The French mind has appreciated the fact that the approach to science as to other subjects should be more or less literary, that the principles which underlie science are at the same time so simple, so profound and so far-reaching that the due setting forth of these provokes what is almost an emotional response… {Vol. 6, p. 218}

    If you have ever read anything by Jean Henri Fabre, you understand why she gives such credit to the French treatment of science.

    Miss Mason’s goal was to give children

    a wide syllabus introducing them … to those branches of science of which every normal person should have some knowledge… {Vol. 6, p. 222}

    One thing to note here, then, is that, like Miss Mason, AO’s goal will never be to prepare a child to be a science major. There are special things that might need to be done for that purpose, and that is outside of the goals of a CM education, which is to afford the sort of working scientific knowledge “every normal person” should have.

    Now, Miss Mason had a high view of what normal people should know and understand, but still I think it’s important to note this fact.

    But to return to the heart of a Charlotte Mason education:

    Where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value. {Vol. 6, p. 224}

    Wonder indicates the sort of humility necessary for a Christian education, and it’s the number one reason why I doubt the average textbook. The attitude that here I am, a created being, sitting at the feet of the Creator and learning from His handiwork — this is imperative, the most important thing.


    How it Went

    We needed to add in experiments — that is where we lacked. In fact, I’m arranging with a friend to do some of the experiments from Adventures with a Microscope this coming year because it’ll be more likely to happen if we’re committed to doing it with someone else.

    But overall, it went great. I saw the growth in wonder in every area we studied, be it entomology, botany, meteorology, astronomy, or chemistry. My student’s obsession with his weather study caused him to ask for a barometer for Christmas {he got this one}, and now he tells me he needs his own copy of Eric Sloane’s Weather Book — he now predicts the local weather better than the app on my iPod.

    We did some special studies based upon our reading in First Studies in Plant Life and recorded our observation in our nature journals.


    Final Thoughts

    One last thing that I really appreciate about AO’s approach to science in general is the inclusion of the history of science. Whenever I hear someone mention that the science about something is “settled,” I chuckle to myself and think about Galileo, someone I didn’t learn much about until I started reading the AO books. In reading the history of science, it is hard to escape the fact that while, yes, progress really is made, usually the idea that a science is settled is the number one deterrent to … more progress in science. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the idea that the science is settled closes the mind of every person who accepts that assumption.

    Learning the history is also helpful because it helps us see the necessity of each discovery and development. Historical context is just as much a part of the process of science as is the mind of the scientist.


    Do I Recommend It?

    Absolutely. Without reservations. This is the sort of science I was waiting for.


    Get the (almost) weekly digest!

    Weekly encouragement, direct to your inbox, (almost) every Saturday.

    Powered by ConvertKit


  • Reply Angela June 24, 2020 at 4:44 am

    Hi! You say in this post that for the most part your oldest did year 7 science as written, except for the mentioned changes. Since you added The Mystery of the Periodic Table, did you take out The Wonder Book of Chemistry, which is listed for year 7? And if so, did you use it in year 8? Thanks!

  • Reply Carol June 25, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    “Miss Mason, AO’s goal will never be to prepare a child to be a science major. There are special things that might need to be done for that purpose, and that is outside of the goals of a CM education, which is to afford the sort of working scientific knowledge “every normal person” should have.”

    With this in mind I wonder what this would look like – when would the ‘special things’ be introduced for a student doing AO??

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 25, 2015 at 8:17 pm

      Well, I know that somewhere on the Forum it was suggested that really the ideal would be to find out the requirements from individual schools that the student would be considering and add what is necessary. Another consideration are things like AP classes — those can help with a large major, but are outside the scope of AO. I do think classes like that can be purchased.

      Our son wants to do electrical engineering {we’ll see if that changes}, but since he is probably going to do junior college for a year, we aren’t very worried about it. Of course, we will check out to make sure there is nothing that will stand in his way, but I don’t see a reason to do a whole lot that is different, if that makes sense.

  • Reply Sally { with eager hands } June 24, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Brandy, we are working through Year 7 now. More specifically, my child is working through it. My question to you is, areyou reading along with your child, as well as doing the experiemednt s and write-ups?

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 24, 2015 at 8:27 pm

      I’ve been reading along, yes! What a great curriculum. We didn’t do many experiments, no. That is my one regret with the year. Next year, we’re doing them with another family. That sort of scheduled accountability will make it happen. 🙂

      We did special studies for the first time, but that is closer to nature study than anything else, really, just in a more deliberate, extended way. I did not do science journal entries like he did {well, I did a couple, but not many} — I required 1 per week, and then I just went over them.

      • Reply Sally { with eager hands } June 26, 2015 at 3:36 am

        Brandy, another logistics question: when do you read these books, and how does this all play into your day with the rest of your children?

        • Reply Brandy Vencel June 26, 2015 at 7:08 am

          Sally, I posted my original plan here and I gave a blank chart that showed where I was fitting science {and other stuff}. I then used the AO Weekly Schedule and plugged it into my chart. I wrote that talks about flexing categories. When I add more experiments this year, they won’t be going into the time slots that I plan for this year, but rather into our Enrichment Friday.

          As far as how it fits with the other children, I posted an Average Day Chart here. My Y7 student is very independent, so this worked for us, but admittedly it will only work for children with certain personality types, especially at this age. Basically, we had planned check-in types. He used to have more freedom in planning his own schedule, but this year he said he was okay with me designing a strict schedule in order to make sure his aligned with what I was doing with the younger three.

          I’m going to continue my planning series soon, and I will try and go into how I make those calls, not because it’s the “right” way, but because I love reading how people do that to get ideas. 🙂

          • sally June 26, 2015 at 4:31 pm

            And here I thought I had read every post you have written!! I perhaps should have asked you on the forum, but thank you for answering me! I have been so sad not to have read any of these books for that great conversation, so I trying to figure out how to do it for the last two terms with a Y4/5 girl, dependent Y2 boy, new Y1 girl, a preschooler and newborn……..

          • Brandy Vencel June 27, 2015 at 3:26 pm

            Ha! I don’t think you *want* to read every post I’ve written. There are over 2000 of them! 🙂 There are a lot that are hard to find. I’m working on fixing that, but it takes a lot of time I don’t have, if you know what I mean.

            I really, truly think that homeschooling with preschoolers and newborns is totally different than homeschooling without {I’ve done both, as you know}, so make sure you give yourself a lot of grace. 🙂

  • Reply Melissa June 24, 2015 at 10:23 am

    Thanks for the review Brandy! I didn’t realize AO updated their upper level sciences since our kiddos are in between those ages. Did they or are they planning to update the younger years as well?


    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 24, 2015 at 8:33 pm

      They’ve made a few additions to the younger years in order to make it flow, and they have moved a few books around, but I don’t think they plan to completely overhaul it. They did add a book on water to Y3 that I plan to do in the coming year, and I read one review that said it lends itself to doing experiments, so I’m thinking about the possibility of incorporating that with my younger three. It just arrived, though, so I haven’t had a chance to go through it and see what I think for sure.

      • Reply Amber Vanderpol June 25, 2015 at 4:45 pm

        A Drop of Water is a great one to do very easy and impressive experiments with – I did that with my then K & 2nd grader the year before last. There’s some good info in the back about how to do experiments for the different sections. We spent about half the year working through it, if memory serves. I know we skipped a few of them, but on the whole they were simple and did a good job of demonstrating what we had just read about.

        • Reply Brandy Vencel June 25, 2015 at 4:47 pm

          That is really encouraging, Amber! I have been pondering what to do with the younger kids when we do the experiments for the jr. high and high schoolers, and I think this might be the perfect solution: they get their own experiments at the same time, and each group will have a mom to supervise them. I think that might work really nicely!

  • Reply Amber Vanderpol June 24, 2015 at 9:25 am

    I remember being so annoyed last summer when the new AO Y7 science came out a week or two after I had finalized my own living science plans and ordered the books. When I looked, some were books I had already used, and one was one I had selected for Y7 already. I just finished my Y7 wrap-up post last night and listed the science books I selected – – I was somewhat uneven in my selections though. One was scheduled too fast and I didn’t leave enough room in the schedule for experiments and observation. What we did was good, and my daughter did do some great sketches and narrations in her science notebook, but we should have done more.

    I love studying science in this way. It has borne much good fruit in terms of the wonder and interest my daughter has about the world around her. And we’ve had some absolutely wonderful discussions and connections with all sorts of things. I can’t imagine studying science any other way.

    I’m looking forward to the Y8 science recommendations, and I’m very glad they are out already.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 24, 2015 at 8:31 pm

      Oh, that would have been frustrating! Your selection The Wonder of Light looks amazing — would you suggest it? My guy like science free reads, so I wondered about getting a copy.

      I haven’t commented on your wrap up posts, Amber, but I just LOVE THEM! 🙂

    Leave a Reply