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How Do You Plan and Implement Labs?


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So, I know I should have figured this out years ago, but I haven't.  My oldest two graduated with virtually no science lab work (partially due to my health challenges) and I would like to remedy this for my remaining children.  I'm not having any trouble finding labs -- we use Apologia which seems to have plenty of do-able labs -- but I'm trying to figure out how to actually make them part of our homeschool.  So, I am looking for some help in figuring out how to actually get the labs done.

How do you plan and implement labs?

Do you include all of your children in the labs, especially the labs that are more like a demonstration?

Do you do labs at the same time every week?  Or every day?  Do you do them during your homeschool time?  In the evenings?  On weekends?

Do you usually do your labs at the same time they are covering that material in the text?  Before they read the chapter?  After?

How far in advance do you plan?

Thanks for helping me to figure this out.  Science is not my favorite subject, so my motivation is minimal.  But, I do want to get better at this for my kids which is why I'm coming here for ideas to give me the assist that I need.  

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DSs loved hands-on and labs, so we did a ton of that all through the years.

For K-8, DSs loved science, so we did a lot of hands-on activities, usually 2x/week (sometimes 3x/week if they were all small, short 5-10 minute activities). Hands-on activities took anywhere from 10-60 minutes, but on average, we spent about 20-30 minutes on hands-on about 2x/week. We would also set aside Science entirely for short periods of time (like the 3-4 weeks around the Nov-Dec holidays), but because we were doing so much science (reading books, watching science shows, doing hands-on, etc.) that we more than made up for those breaks during the rest of the school year.

In elementary grades, we used some kits, but mostly it was lots of ideas that I would have lined up from my research over the previous summer, and I would plug them into our schedule as they fit into the week and with the topic we were covering. Each weekend I would look through my "master schedule" to skim over what we would be doing for the activities, and to  make sure we had all the supplies. We usually did hands-on activities all together, with DSs doing as much of it as possible, and me assisting.

In middle school, we used a lot of TOPS units that DSs could do largely without much help from me, but I'd still be there in the background (if nothing else, out of my own high interest 😉 ). I also would have lined up science hands-on the previous summer, and would plug those in as we reached those topics (as above with the elementary grades).Key to having this all run smoothly was having spent a few weeks the previous summer planning out a big list of subtopics under a major science subject (Life Science; Earth Science; Chemistry; Physics) that was the focus for that year, and make a master list of all the potential books, videos, kits, activities, field trips, etc. that could be plugged in as we reached each topic.

For high school labs, we were using kits, or were following the labs as laid out in the textbook. We usually would "gather up" whatever labs or demos or activities and do several in one longer session, about every other week. That was usually a 1-2 hour block, and we didn't do other aspects of the Science program -- just focused on the lab/hands-on. The videos DSs watched were science shows out of their own interest, rather than "virtual labs".

Again, hands-on was of high interest to everyone here (me included), so it wasn't burdensome to schedule a way to make Science labs/demos/activities happen here. I know that's on one far end of the spectrum though, and not feasible for many other families. 😉 


ETA: in answer to your specific questions: 

How do you plan and implement labs?
- First I plan a big list of subtopics under our main science subject, then see if the materials I'm planning on using have activity ideas; I also add in kits, and also do online searches for activity ideas.
- I implement by 

Do you include all of your children in the labs, especially the labs that are more like a demonstration?
- Kids all together (they were only 20 months apart/1 grade apart).
- Kids do as much of the hands-on themselves, with me as assistant as needed.

Do you do labs at the same time every week?  Or every day?  Do you do them during your homeschool time?  In the evenings?  On weekends?
- During school time -- never on evenings/weekends.
- Science (whether hands-on, books, video, or other) always happened after lunch, and usually the last subject of the day.
- Hands-on happened when they matched up with the topic (so not on a regular day).

Do you usually do your labs at the same time they are covering that material in the text?  Before they read the chapter?  After?
- Tried to match up roughly at the same time as covering that material, and after reading about the topic.

How far in advance do you plan?
- For gr. 1-8 = the summer before.
- For high school = because we were using kits or labs out of the textbook, usually I made an overall list the summer before, and then tweaked each weekend when I was making up the week's schedule for all of our school subjects, depending on what else we might have happening outside the home.

Edited by Lori D.
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2 hours ago, Junie said:

...I'm not having any trouble finding labs -- we use Apologia which seems to have plenty of do-able labs -- but I'm trying to figure out how to actually make them part of our homeschool.  So, I am looking for some help in figuring out how to actually get the labs done...

... Science is not my favorite subject, so my motivation is minimal.  But, I do want to get better at this for my kids which is why I'm coming here for ideas to give me the assist that I need.  

I vote that you schedule 60-90 minutes once a week at the end of the school day for Science activities for everyone. I also suggest dropping 1-2 other subjects for that 1 day a week so your Science hands-on day is not crowded and stressed, so everyone will enjoy doing the Science hands-on. [Maybe rotate subjects through the weeks for which 1-2 subjects get dropped that week.] So, maybe on Fridays (or Mondays, or Wednesdays, or...) end your regular school work early, and after lunch, plan to start your Science hands-on block at 1-2pm, so then you are finished and put it all away again by 2:30-3pm. Science hands-on happened for the week, and school is done for the day -- hurray!

In advance of the school year, buy age appropriate kits that are largely independent for the student + all the non-perishable supplies for all of the labs in the textbook, so you have as much of everything needed as possible.

Set up a plastic tub for each student and put all their kits and supplies for one child in one tub, so now you have a coordinated place to store each child's Science supplies. (Not having all of the supplies needed is the biggest Achilles' heel of trying to actually *do* hands-on.)

Once a month, on a weekend, look through all the kits, or the textbooks, and check the tubs -- is everything there that is needed? List all the "ingredients" missing (sometimes that is a food item or perishable item), and go out to get those items and add to the appropriate tub. That once a month check of all the tubs can also help you "declutter" the tub of items that will not be needed anymore that semester by that student. Place those items in a "master supply tub" to draw from for following years. Or, if broken or used up, or will never be needed again -- discard.

Edited by Lori D.
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Thank you so much @Dobby's Sock and @Lori D..  This is very helpful!

I'm not sure that I'm up to doing labs every week, but this helps me to figure out how to do a better job of planning.

There are quite a few labs that I've come across that are to be done over multiple days.  I think because of that, Mondays might work best.  I don't think I'm up to doing it every week, but maybe once a month...

Still thinking...

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My 8yo does reading and discussion first then he does labs whenever they come up. If we need any items he can't find on his own he will add it to our grocery list and I'll buy it, or we'll figure out a workaround. I do not plan or prepare much ahead except for special equipment to stock our science supplies or kits that go along. This happens during the school day most of the time. The exception is if there are chemicals, heat, or other dangerous things involved; that waits until the weekend when another adult is available to keep the preschooler from underfoot.

I will also read aloud and do labs together at times. This usually includes the younger kids too and is during the school day when the fancy strikes. I keep the science stuff accessible so it's usually when the kids ask.

We will do messy science play type demonstrations on weekends usually so I can have another set of adult hands to help control the chaos.

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I don't know the age of your kids or what sort of science you are studying, but I think that most science activities are not worth the time and energy it takes to do them.  If you feel you must do something, schedule a science day once a month where you don't do anything but "labs."  Be absolutely sure that you have all of the materials you need before science day.  You will not only need to check the listed materials, but all the way through the instructions because "commonly available household items" can lurk anywhere.  

But there are other things that you can do every day that foster scientific thinking and an appreciation of the natural world.

  • Give your children ample unstructured time outside.
  • Model curiosity.
  • Draw their attention to natural phenomena.
  • Help them develop patience.
  • Give them practice thinking about hard (for them) problems.
  • Ensure that they develop scientific literacy through reading.
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36 minutes ago, theelfqueen said:

While we do labs every week or 2, I know people who spend one day a month as a lab day, they set the whole day aside and do several at once - finding it easier to organize and clean up. 

This sounds like me. :)

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10 hours ago, Dobby's Sock said:

I mean, it really depends on what the labs are...they can be super simple that really don't take much, or they can be multi-day adventures.  I wouldn't want to do multi-day labs very often, but I don't mind small ones more frequently.  Is there a way to scale the labs so that you have them more frequently, but that aren't such a drain on you??

For the past few weeks I've been working on labs -- choosing which ones we can do and organizing them into three categories -- easy, messy, and involved.  I'm also pulling out the ones that the kids can do without me so that when they say "I'm bored" I can just hand them a quick project.

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2 hours ago, EKS said:

I don't know the age of your kids or what sort of science you are studying, but I think that most science activities are not worth the time and energy it takes to do them.  If you feel you must do something, schedule a science day once a month where you don't do anything but "labs."  Be absolutely sure that you have all of the materials you need before science day.  You will not only need to check the listed materials, but all the way through the instructions because "commonly available household items" can lurk anywhere.  

But there are other things that you can do every day that foster scientific thinking and an appreciation of the natural world.

  • Give your children ample unstructured time outside.
  • Model curiosity.
  • Draw their attention to natural phenomena.
  • Help them develop patience.
  • Give them practice thinking about hard (for them) problems.
  • Ensure that they develop scientific literacy through reading.

The kids still at home are 10, 12, 14, and 16.

We are using Apologia.  Dd16 is just finishing up biology and dd14 is finishing General Science.  Dd12 is getting ready to start Botany and dd10 is doing Swimming Creatures.

I think the once a month labs is where we're going to end up.  Motivation (mine, mostly) is a lot of the issue here, so I think that once we get started we should just use the momentum and get several (related, if possible) labs done at once.

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10 minutes ago, Junie said:

I think the once a month labs is where we're going to end up.

IMO, that will be perfectly adequate.

(BTW, I have a degree in biochemistry, I worked as a scientist for 10 years, and both of my parents are scientists, so my thoughts on this are not because I hate science or something.)

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My odd did almost all science labs through co-op. She attended with the same teacher from 3rd-10th grade. In 11th grade we did our first complete year of high school science at home, and she joined two astronomy clubs, so most labs were done there. One was a high school girl scouts club with a high school Astronomy teacher, and they did SO much there, plus they joined the city Astronomy club. For that one we mostly attended events, but gained a lot of knowledge there. So we still didn't do a lot here for that. 

My next didn't have the science teacher at co-op past 9th grade. We did a science theme at co-op that year, and did Biology labs all year there on top of the weekly physical science class and labs she was doing there, so it was a double whammy of a year. Then her official biology year, since we had done a ton the year before, we didn't do as much most of the year at home her 10th grade year. Then we did a bunch at the beginning of summer to wrap up the year all at once. We also did some citizen science projects throughout the year, did two big girl scout science themed badges/projects throughout the 10th grade year. So plenty of labwork and field work was completed. 

Yes, I include all of the kids, no matter what grade level or branch of science is their official branch that year, whenever we do hands on projects of any sort. 

For my little one- I do things as they come up. Yesterday we took a nature walk after schoolwork was completed to fulfill a scavenger hunt page of her nature journal for science time. As we read science books, if they have little activities, we just do them as they come up. We may be reading a book and it has a hands on suggestion. Sometime in the week, I will gather the materials, and we will do it. I don't really schedule a specific time, just wherever in the week it works best for us. I am trying to balance some hands on art time, some hands on science time, some Sotw history projects, etc. throughout the week. Can't do them all everyweek. But we had a big history project day Monday. Wed. we took the nature walk. Today we will do an art time after read alouds.  There won't be a specific science project this week  besides the nature walk. Other weeks, if there are one or two science things to do with her, we would do those and not the history projects that week. 

My high schooler is taking a year off of science, and doing chemistry next year. My odd did chemistry in co-op, so it will be my first year for that. But we will figure it out. 

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My middle school age DS's are doing each a different curriculum with labs this year (one was originally supposed to be doing the labs for his book through a local in-person co-op class, but long story short it didn't end up working out - but I had already bought the books for the course used last spring so wanted to stick with it). 

I knew it would be a lot to have two kids each doing different labs so at the end of the summer we went through the supply list for both books, and i had them help me figure out what we needed to buy (things we didn't have in the house at all), what would just be "always easy to find" items (like salt, baking soda...stuff we always have in the kitchen), and what we could gather ahead of time (things like 5 paper clips, 10 pennies, 2 antacid tablets, etc).  Then I ordered or bought at the grocery store everything for all year we didn't have.  There are like 2 'fresh' items I'll have to remember to buy as the year goes on.  Each DS has a box for his supplies, plus a box of shared supplies like rubbing alcohol.  I even put in their boxes stuff like tape, permanent marker, etc so they wouldn't waste time running around the house for those items that are known to get easily misplaced in our house.

Each DS just does the experiment/demonstration on a day when called for in the science book. I've encouraged them to save it for last so it doesn't delay other things and doesn't distract DS8, who is done with school sooner in the day then they are but gets super distracted if they try and do an experiment when he is trying to do his school work! At 11 and 13 they can basically do it on their own, with me answering a few questions here and there or sometimes being an extra "hand" to hold something.  The only thing I've done is light candles for the 11 year old because I don't trust him with a lighter yet!

Edited by kirstenhill
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  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

Update:

Thank you to everyone for your advice.  I decided that we will have a monthly lab day, probably on a Monday in case there are projects that need to happen over a period of days.  There will probably be no other schooling planned on those days, with the exception of high school math.

To start things off, we had a Science Lab Intensive Week last week, in which we did labs every morning.  I think we completed 23 labs over five days.  Most of them were simple; about half were aimed at my high schoolers and about half were aimed at the youngers.  Most of them were successful, and some of them were even called fun. :)

 

Edited by Junie
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Like others have mentioned, I plan all my labs in advance and gather the supplies. The best is to have all the supplies in one location rather than everywhere and trying to remember where you put something. However, this might not be feasible for everyone. You could make a cheat sheet in your supply box with the locations like "baking soda and ammonia are in the laundry room, pickling salt is in the kitchen cabinet, etc."  I also make a list of things I need to buy closer to the day and break it up by week (for example, produce).

After doing it once per week the same day and one year doing it randomly on whatever day it fell, I can tell you that *I* prefer to do it on the same day every week. That way I know what day I need to gather everything up and move it downstairs and also if there is any pre-lab prep, I know what night I need to do it on. I did really poorly with this aspect when the lab day kept moving.  😃 I am sure this is a personality thing! 

Edited by cintinative
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If 80 to 100 hours is a general high-school credit, college prep high school is more, and elementary school is less.

What percentage of those hours is "labs"? And what percentage of "labs" is just hands-on demonstrations and what percentage is a measurable multi-step lab with a control?

Two real labs a year are sufficient for elementary, and the labs don't need to line up with the course content. The two labs can be all about learning the steps of a lab.

Hands-on science is great in theory but sometimes impractical in reality. Hands-on science can alternate with art, and take place in the same time slot. The goal of an easy week without outside interruptions can be ONE art or hands-on science project. ONE.

When a couple of mom-led projects are hosted a month, children will often organize play time that mimics or extends that organized project, especially if mom chooses labs with that in mind. If they have no interest in playing science, then I believe that elementary science is finished in 40 to 50 hours a year. Period. Done.

I know some people homeschool with the sole intent to match, but surpass the public school. But others homeschool with primary goals that are DIFFERENT than the PS. Those families need to complete the legal minimums and then work on their own goals. The legal minimums are fairly low.

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