Monday, August 4, 2014

Teaching Science to Your Homeschooler

The other day I met with a friend who will start her homeschooling journey in a few weeks. Because the curriculum choices are numerous and can be quite overwhelming to a new homeschooler, she wanted some help in figuring out what to do for history, science, and math. Through the course of our conversation, she let me know that she has a membership to the zoo in our city. Since the children she will be homeschooling are elementary age and there is a bit more flexibility in what she can teach, I suggested she take a field trip to the zoo and have each of her children choose their 10 favorite animals that live at the zoo. She can then take one animal per month and study it. Scientific websites can be found by searching by the animal's common name. 

My friend's son's favorite animal is the Komodo Dragon. Here are some suggestions for a study of this animal (which can be applied to any other animal):
  • What is the scientific name of this animal? Consider a further study of the classification of animals. How and when did this classification system begin? How many Kingdoms are there? Genus? Species?

  • Where does this animal live? Consider printing out a map of the continent/country where this animal lives. Free outline maps can be found here. While working with the map, label the capital of that country and other major cities. Label the rivers. How close does this animal live to a major water source?

  • What does this animal eat? Is it an herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore? How does it eat? What does it eat in the winter? How does its diet compare to our own? Is there an ample supply of this food source where it lives (look back at the map)? Is this something you would eat? If yes, consider finding a recipe that uses that food or one like it.

  • How big can this animal grow—length, height, weight? What is the lifespan? How does this compare to human beings? How tall are you now?

  • How fast can the animal move? How does it get around? Compare this to some other animals or to human beings. Incorporate some math into this. For example, if said animal can move 10 miles per hour, how long would it take to get from the zoo to your house? Of course, you'll need to use a map to figure this out. Think of other ways to use math in this way.

  • What are some special characteristics of this animal? Does it have a long tongue? Does it use echolocation?

  • Is this animal threatened or endangered? If yes, why? What are the criteria for being placed on the endangered species list? Who created this list? Who maintains it? How are animals that are threatened or endangered protected? What are preserves? What are wildlife conservation areas? How many animals are on each list? What role do zoos play in animal protection and preservation?

  • What are this animal's major threats? What preys on this animal? What does it use to defend itself?

  • Learn how to draw this animal. Here is a video about drawing a Komodo Dragon. Can you find any famous paintings that include the animal? 

  • Are there any legends about the animal you are researching?

  • When was this animal discovered or has it always been known to exist?

  • Are there children's book (not fact books) that feature this animal? Komodo! by Peter Sis would be an example. Spend some time reading stories about the animal.

  • What other zoos house this animal? Learn about the history of zoos. When did they begin? Where are most zoos located? (Again, use a map and mark where major zoos are located.) What is the mission of most zoos?

  • Have your child write a report about the animal using all the facts they have learned.
That is a pretty good list for now. I am sure there are many other things that can be added. Simply brainstorm how the animal you choose can be found throughout the academic subjects.