A lot of us might not hate science as much if we'd had a curriculum like this when we were kids. The hands-on, observational approach takes the inherent dread out of science and gets kids involved in trying to understand the world around them without losing their sense of wonder.
There are currently seven books in the Young Explorer Series. Most books are based on one of the days of Creation, with separate volumes covering astronomy, botany, flying animals, swimming animals, land animals, and the human body. The seventh, Chemistry & Physics, was released in 2013. Each text is hardcover and durable, designed for use by several students; in the back is an answer key for in-text questions. There are no lesson plans or teacher's guides, though all have free downloadable online "notebooks" or more comprehensive printed notebooks to help students record what they learn. Like the Apologia books for older students, these elementary books are designed for student-directed work, with minimum input or help from a teacher or parent.
While these books could be suitable for any elementary age child, they are written at a 5th grade reading level and we suggest them for third to sixth grade. The text is written in an engaging manner, but in trying to reach a broader audience loses some appeal—it is somewhat advanced for young children to read on their own, but a bit condescending for older elementary kids. The content is good, though, and probably best suited for nine to twelve year olds, as are the experiments.
How Do These Work?
Each book has 13-14 lessons. Many parents use two books a year, though at a more moderate pace of two weeks per lesson a single text could last an entire year. (Botany is a more seasonal book than the others, best used during the spring months when many of the flowers and plants discussed can be observed in bloom.) Students read a portion of each lesson, answer questions, and do experiments. There are no tests for this series, but a notebook is kept by students recording their observations during experimentation.
We're often asked to recommend a sequence for these books, which we prefer not to do, as they can be used in nearly any sequence. But we will say this: Astronomy, Botany, and Zoology 1 are the simplest to start with; Zoology 2 and 3 build on definitions from Book 1; and Anatomy and Chemistry/Physics include more technical vocabulary. We hope that helps you establish a preferred sequence for yourself.
You can certainly create your own notebooks, but Apologia has also created Notebooking Journals, providing a place for kids to record what they're learning, and a variety of fun and informative activity suggestions. These are optional (everything you need is in the text), but they've proven quite popular; some parents have told us that they "make" the program. The "Junior" Notebooking journal would be best for the 1st-3rd grade kids, or those who have difficulty writing; we'd suggest the regular Notebooking Journal for most kids in grades 4-6.
Our Honest Opinion:
A lot of other science curricula pack as many pictures as possible into the text, hoping to spark interest in the less-than-thorough content. The Young Explorer Series strikes an excellent balance—there are plenty of beautiful nature pictures, as well as lots of good content written in a conversational tone. There aren't dialogue boxes and interesting facts cluttering every page, making it easier to focus on the actual text.
More than the books for older students, these tend to go out of their way to link science facts and ideas to creationism. The author is outspokenly young-earth, though she does fairly present alternatives. Some people consider this a stretch, but it isn't a big deal for us. The series is thoroughly Christian (which is one of the reasons we like it!).
While other curricula might appear friendlier due to a plethora of pictures and attention-diverters, the deft blend of content and visuals in these books should actually prove more engaging for elementary students. They will be better able to focus, and the easy style (unencumbered with needlessly technical jargon) should help them actually learn and not just read the material. Younger children can also benefit from having the text read aloud to them, though some of the experiments might be more difficult for them to manage.
The Young Explorer Series is a good introduction to the realm of science, helping kids overcome any innate fear they may have of the subject while encouraging them to think scientifically rather than just memorizing facts. Whether your kids enjoy science or not, this is a good place for them to start.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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