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Accelerating history and science

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Hi! My husband and I are just starting to homeschool our kids, and we are trying to get ourselves organized. Our oldest just finished kindergarten at the local public elementary school, and although she liked it, we were not satisfied with the academic experience (she's an advanced reader, and we've been working on math at home with her; she's working on fractions, exponents, negative numbers -- even the advanced/gifted program teachers don't seem to understand why we would introduce her to these concepts at her age). We can do better.

One of our goals in teaching our kids is to make sure that they are prepared for admission to a selective college, when the time comes. (We understand that they might choose another path, but we want to make sure it's a choice, not a lack of options.) Presumably this will mean lots of AP classes in high school (or potentially earlier). I am not too worried about planning for math, because it builds on itself in a pretty logical way. Similarly for English -- it's not quite as clear-cut in my mind, but it's still a natural progression of skills in comprehension, vocabulary, composition, etc. When we get to science and social science, though, I am a lot less certain about how to set benchmarks to make sure we stay "on track", given the wide range of topics that fall into each category. I could look up the Common Core standards for each grade level and say, OK, we want to do 1.5 years of material each year, or something like that, but I'm not sure if that is the most sensible approach.

I was homeschooled myself growing up, and I don't think we did too much formal stuff for science/social science in the elementary grades, but looking back, I do recognize that there were a few gaps, things we just neglected to cover. I'm hoping to avoid that for my own kids by planning ahead. Does anyone have thoughts on these issues?

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I think for these subjects, you have to separate the topics from the skills.  It does not matter nearly as much which topics you cover if your students can't
-write a lab report
-research material
-understand perspective and author objectives
-think through issues from multiple points of view
-apply logic

You are always going to miss topics.  It is inevitable.  Part of that will be the relationship you have with the subjects yourself and part of that will be the vast amount there is to cover.  For example, my husband grew up on the East coast.  He is much more well-versed in pre-revolutionary history and marine biology than I am.  However, I grew up in California.  My sciences were centered around the farm (soil ph, livestock care and butchering, etc) and my history explored much more in depth the role of immigration to our current U.S.

I'm sure many here could suggest great books for each age/grade span in addition to the Well Trained Mind's offerings.  Personally, I like Teaching What Really Happened (by the gentleman who wrote Lies My Teacher Told Me) as a way to approach history and Building Foundations Of Scientific Understanding as a resource guide for deeper science lessons.  Others have their favorites.

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I can’t tell you what is typical, but I can tell you what DD’s science path (which is more a meandering ramble) has looked like:

Age 5-9-very interest led, hands on, learned a lot on her own about snakes, dinosaurs, snaky dinosaurs, frogs, and anything else under the sun. We did some Evan Moor daily science (through 6th grade) and Singapore Science (through 8th, I think). Started going to herpetology conferences at age 9 as an SSAR Pre-baccalaureate grant recipient and working with a mentor. Did World Science day, NSL, and other competitions. 

Age 10-12-did middle school and high school science using Uzinggo (all of middle school life, physical and earth in under a year, high school  earth/space, biology, Chemistry and physics over the next year and a half). This provided a foundation. Continued to work in herpetology with a mentor, attending multiple conferences, doing research with other people, doing and leading her own project, and presenting at conferences. Co-Wrote/illustrated children’s book on snakes with the help of a retired English teacher. Home grown classes on Entomology and Aquatic biology following college syllabi. Learned to do ethograms and other behavioral projects and to write papers and read research. Wrote blog discussing research papers and talks. Did World Science Day, National Science League, and other competitions. 

Age 12-14- local lab classes in advanced bio, biochemistry, and epidemiology, using college textbooks, but doing labs with high school students, with a mentor. Developed and taught online classes at Athena’s advanced academy in herpetology. Continued to present and to improve science writing skills. Took lots of college social science classes and statistics, and started focusing more on ethology and behavior. She also started college classes in other areas, including college writing. 

This coming year, she has an application in to present at the World Congress of Herpetology, will be teaching both semesters at Athena’s, and will be taking classes in Cognitive Science and Neuroscience, as well as reading on animal behavior and NZ biodiversity/biogeography in preparation for the trip.

What you will notice she has not done is AP or DE classes in science. There’s a reason. When she was doing the core skills, she really wasn’t ready for the writing demands of such classes. Now she is, but is honestly getting higher level, more specialized, and more fun classes by working with mentors and on her own projects. She is doing AP and DE and similar stuff in other areas, but I am reasonably confident that anyone looking at her college transcript and resume who looks at a list of professional credentials, talks, and projects and thinks that she would have been better off taking AP biology, they aren’t the right school for her. 






Edited by dmmetler
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I disagree that it means a lot of APs in high school. Homeschoolers have a unique opportunity to follow their own path vs replicating school at home.

That aside, it also does not require acceleration of formal style history or science at young ages for gifted kids to graduate with high levels of accomplishment.. As an example, one of our ds's is currently attending Berkeley for grad school for theoretical cosmology.His first formal science course was a regular high school physics class in 8th grade. Prior to that he studied whatever he wanted to for science and never saw a single science textbook. Our kids read whole books on topics that interest them. He graduated from high school with credits for chem, AP chem, bio, 3 homemade astronomy courses (which his U let him use to meet prereqs for their intro level astronomy courses), cal physics 1&2, modern, classical mechanics 1&2. 

Allowing our kids to do their own thing until high school credits has not left them unprepared but has given them a love for what they do. (Another ds is a chemE and a Dd graduated from high school with 15 foreign language credits. We spend most of high school still pursuing courses without textbooks and following their passions. Core traditional-sequence science course do use textbooks, though. So does math. Foreign language, otoh, is a varied mix of materials with a grammar text interspersed.)

You child is still a babe. This is the time to allow flames of passion for learning in general to flourish. Focused, intense, accelerated...whatever you want to call it, can wait until the teenage yrs when they are pulling you along behind them bc you can't keep up with their desire to learn more and more. (And parent-directed acceleration is an oxymoron from my perspective. So much better to let kids be self-motivated.)

Edited by 8FillTheHeart
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I loved when my dc were your oldest's age! So much fun to play with science and history!

Science was exploration, hands on experimentation/exploration (nature, gardening, astronomy, anatomy, etc...) of anything that interested them, reading books, and following rabbit trails. We took nature walks (identifying plants and animals) and drew in nature notebooks. We experimented with growing conditions in the garden. We experimented with cooking and recipes. We learned about rocks and minerals. They made models of things like the solar system (the best to the boys was a to scale of the solar system in the yard), the human body and its various parts, and plants. We had chemistry kits and other science kits. I found books with experiments on every science topic I could find. They played with simple machines (ramps, pulleys, etc...) to learn physics. They learned to develop their own experiments then carry them out.

History involved reading, watching documentaries, and visiting historic locations with lots of rabbit trails if they showed a particular interest. We tied history to music, art, and literature so they could do craft projects and connect everything.

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Thank you very much for all the responses so far! I think it's a good point that APs aren't the only path to college admission. I mentioned them because that was something that my husband and I both did as teenagers, him in public school and me at home as a convenient way of obtaining outside validation, and they make a relatively clear target. But dmmetler, I found your description of your daughter's science path very interesting -- we would definitely be open to something more specialized and research-based. DD6 is currently pretty obsessed with dinosaurs (and generally loves "fact books", especially about animals), and we are happy to encourage that interest. We just want to make sure she also gets a good general knowledge base.

I definitely like the idea of incorporating a lot of hands-on elements, whether that's experiments, models or other craft projects. I am pretty excited about this aspect of homeschooling. 

I look forward to seeing any other suggestions as we get ourselves organized. 🙂

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I think that following a prescribed common core path on at an accelerated rate is not a particularly good plan.  Most primary school/middle school standards are about facts, details, memorizing, and basic comprehension.  This is not how to give a gifted homeschooled student an advantage or an edge or to somehow get them ready to take high school classes early. My ds has just finished his freshman year at MIT, and has earned the highest grade in the class for two semesters in a row in honors physics (his major). This is what we did:

Grades 1-4: we got piles of books out of the children's section in the library. We did a rotation through Biology, Earth science, Chemistry, and Physics over 4 years.  We did 4 terms per year and covered 4 topics. So for earth science it was geology, astronomy, oceanography, and climatology. We also did 4 science fair projects on each topic that took us about 10 weeks each. During this time, we covered scientific method, experimental design, and how to write up scientific reports. He also watched a documentary every day on the topics we were covering. We had a ton of fun with interest led science that was structured with a bit of a backbone.

Grades 5-8: we got out more books from the library, but now they were from the coffee table book section in the adult part of the library.  DK Oceanography, The Way Things Work, etc.  He read them cover to cover to get a complete picture of the field.  We did more science fair projects, this time entering the regional fair, and winning awards. He also started reading Scientific American, and continued to watch documentaries every day through 7th grade.  We figured by the end of 7th grade, he had watched more than 2000 documentaries in science and history (8years x 300days). By the end of 8th grade, he had a huge storehouse of knowledge about science.

Grades 9-12: we did the NZ national exams, which are like APs but the entire thing is essay based writing so lots of science writing, which he spent a lot of time mastering. At this point he self studied with university level textbooks. We continued with large scale projects for our lab component rather than weekly labs.  My sons' biology lab on the population dynamics of the rocky intertidal was a massive statistical analysis and 20 page write up with references. His physics lab built up to analyzing a nonlinear relationship with a broken pendulum using a bendable rod which acted as a spring.  He also read Scientific American cover to cover every month.  And kept up with other science news through the science section in the Economist. By the end of high school, his scientific reading comprehension was high, his scientific writing skills were well developed, and his core content knowledge was excellent. On top of this, his math was world class.

This approach prepared him well for the rigors of MIT's science, and allowed him both to have passion for science and scientific inquiry and to have breadth of knowledge.  

If you are interested, I have written extensively about our science fair projects that you can find in this summary thread: 



Good luck to you, and welcome to the board.

Ruth in NZ

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For DD, doing Daily Science gave a range of topics, and by the time she needed high school content, she was ready for it, but didn’t have the fine motor for lab work, so online worked there. Those mostly served as a way to find rabbit trails. Doing competitions helped, too, because if we totally missed a strand, it was obvious (I recall DD being very frustrated about “stupid rock questions”. We did Earth Science next :). I will also say that we have done lots of hands on group science activities-via co-ops, for awhile we had a good class that was every other week (DD usually was at the extreme young end of the group), and DD started her own science club at age 9-which still is going on,and is currently environmental science/environmental engineering focused. Even the hands-on largely came organically. 

I will also say that it is kind of amazing how many science topics connect back to Herpetology, especially once you start reading journal articles. The same is going to be true with almost anything else. 

When your child is ready for online classes, I’m going to put in a plug for the Athena’s Academy ones. My daughter started there at 7, and it provided a great way for her to get a introduction to history to follow rabbit trails (the science classes came later-when she started, Kirsten was the only instructor). The core SOTW series is about perfect to start at age 6-7, and includes a lot of hands on options. Online G3 has a similar Us history series using Hakim that is good afterwards, and more advanced classes as well. My daughter loved the National Mythology Exam, and did a lot of world studies by way of mythology. 

And yes, I’m biased, but the Junior Instructor classes are both a really low cost way to try out online learning, and are a great way for kids to see where passion can take them. All of the JI’s are teens who just plain love the topic they are focusing on, know a lot, and enjoy sharing it with others who love it, or want to know more. My DD is still rather amazed that other people actually want to hear her talk about snakes, frogs, or salamanders-and in many ways sees this as being a way to create the class that she would have loved to have had when she was a little kid reading every animal book in the local library and getting frustrated by the mistakes in them. I know there is a new history one this year that Alex is leading, and along with DD’s herpetology, there are also Emma’s Marine bio ones that are science based and excellent. 


One thing we did for history was to spend several years getting and working through history books written for early high school students (basically whatever was the equivalent of the standard grade 10 US history class) in different countries. It provided an interesting lens to follow rabbit trails (DD was amused to find out that the whole US colonization and revolution was a paragraph in the British history textbook, and was a very minor event in their long history 🙂 ). It wasn’t acceleration, exactly, but it was a good place to be after she had finished the SOTW/Joy Hakim level books and a good World Geography class, but wasn’t just a repeat of what she had already done. And lots of visits to museums and historical  sites. 

She moved heavily into college courses after that point-so far, she has taken World civilizations, Introduction to Sociology, Race, Culture and Gender studies (which she coupled with expanding into US history at a greater degree) , and will take European history and Cultural anthropology this summer, and US Gobernment and Politics this coming year (With 2020 being an election year, it seemed a good time). 

Again, it’s not exactly accelerated, more added. And while she will have a lot of college credits in history and social sciences, I don’t think that she is likely to decide she is done and doesn’t want to take more, because human behavior is pretty fascinating stuff. 

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  • 1 month later...
On 6/8/2019 at 3:48 PM, Daybright said:


One of our goals in teaching our kids is to make sure that they are prepared for admission to a selective college, when the time comes. (We understand that they might choose another path, but we want to make sure it's a choice, not a lack of options.)

(snip) When we get to science and social science, though, I am a lot less certain about how to set benchmarks to make sure we stay "on track", given the wide range of topics that fall into each category. I could look up the Common Core standards for each grade level and say, OK, we want to do 1.5 years of material each year, or something like that, but I'm not sure if that is the most sensible approach.

 Does anyone have thoughts on these issues?

Welcome to homeschooling!  The most sensible approach will be the one that works best for your family.  Fwiw, in the elementary years, I did not use a curriculum for anything but math and grammar.  Everything else was interest-led.  My kids' science involved mainly "hands- on" kits and experiments.  They didn't begin using science textbooks until they hit high school level.  This approach worked very well for my kids - they were successful in their AP science and college science classes.  Good luck!

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  • 3 weeks later...

I think Story of the World makes a good general elementary school stage base for world history and that Story of US makes a good elementary school stage general base for USA history if you are in USA— and that  Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding makes a good general elementary base for science.  

You could go however fast she wants to go (or could linger and pursue interesting rabbit trails) other than a caveat that Susan Wise Bauer doesn’t intend the 4th volume of SOTW to be used earlier than around age 9 because it gets into WWII era and emotionally heavy subjects regardless of how intellectually advanced dc may be. 

I strongly urge lots of real life outdoor time, nature, garden, wildlife observation (as much as possible even if in a city) .  

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