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Janice VanCleave's Science

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If you think science should be boring and rigorous, you won't appreciate these books. However, if you want your kids to actually enjoy science, you'll like their emphasis on hands-on learning and exciting experiments. Unlike the experiments found in many science texts, these are surprisingly versatile, appealing to a wide age range.

This isn't a science curriculum; while it's largely sufficient for elementary and middle school students, it isn't intended to be used by itself. Terminology is covered, and the experiments are instructional, but the content isn't comprehensive enough to be a curriculum. The author is a former science teacher, however, so she knows what to present and how to present it.

How Do These Work?

Activities in each book are grouped by concept, and organized by purpose, list of materials, step-by-step instructions, expected results, and a clear explanation. Each activity has been pretested and can be performed safely and inexpensively in the classroom or at home. Some of the books include background text for clarification as well as questions (with answers) to encourage creative thinking. The hands-on, practical approach makes this a good way to reinforce information, especially if your child is primarily a tactile learner.

The series covers a variety of broad as well as more specific topics, from biology to physics to oceans. While activities in the books are grouped according to subject headings, handling of the material is not presented systematically (another reason this probably shouldn't be used as a stand-alone curriculum). Basic line drawings illustrate what the project should look like at its vital stages. Necessary materials for completing each activity are standard household items and most families won't have to go too far out of their way accumulating supplies.

Our Honest Opinion:

This is a good supplementary series. While it shouldn't be used by itself, the activities could be used instead of those found in a lot of textbooks. They tend to be more illustrative of concepts than other experiments, and none of them are silly or non-educational (no decorating cupcakes in the likeness of animals). On average, each book has 101 experiments, so you aren't likely to run out quickly.

This is the kind of book that would probably make a kid like science. For those whose kids are struggling with grasping science theory and fact, these books are a good way to engage them more than just on an intellectual level. Kids like to get their hands dirty (OK, not all of them), and these books definitely allow them to do that. Don't be scared to let your kids have fun with science—there's not much point studying something if it isn't enjoyable.

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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