I usually try to keep science contained, but right now we have so many collections and experiments going for life science that the entire mantle has been completely taken over.
I am finally admitting to myself and to you, dear readers, that I simply have not kept up the Science Without a Net section. Alas. However, my enthusiasm for doing science is unflagging. Sometimes we hit a lull where not much is done, but we have recently revved up again, as you can see. I was especially excited that we began doing zoology.
When we studied physics, chemistry and earth science we struggled to find good books. There were some stellar options. However, there aren’t multitudes of choices. On the other hand, there are a number of experiment books. Now that we’re on to life sciences, there are so many good books about the topics that I’m overwhelmed. But there are almost no good experiment books. I had to search high and low and find some, but I got some good recommendations and found a few gems.
Grocery Store Botony by Elma Joan Rahn
This older, out of print book has wonderful, simple ideas for how to raid the grocery store for useful plants and then dissect and investigate the way plants work as a starting point. It’s a very simple book and best for elementary school, but it has the type of open-ended discovery that I look for in a science experiment book.
Biology Experiments for Children by Ethel Hanauer
This is another older book, but one which has been reissued and is widely available. It contains sections for plant, animal and human body experiments. Many of the experiments are simplified versions of the experiments you might do at a higher level in biology and would be appropriate for elementary or middle school, depending on how much depth you went into with them. Our hay infusion experiment, in which we spotted real protozoa swimming around under the microscope, came from this book, as did a recent dissection of mushrooms. It has many ideas of ways to take easy to find things and use them as jumping off points for exploration. It’s yet another book that asks open-ended questions about the experiments and asks kids to observe and think.
The Amateur Zoologist by Mary Dykstra
This book is a real treasure. It is full of great experiments that I’m very excited to tackle and would be appropriate for upper elementary to middle school. It uses insects and occasionally other small animals in simple explorations, such as observing how they respond, such as which color bugs will gravitate toward and which food mealworms like best. Yet again, these experiments don’t have a set result. Instead, they’re mostly jumping off points for thinking and observing.
Biology for Every Kid by Janice VanCleave
Finally, it’s no surprise that there’s an Every Kid entry for life science. It’s exactly what you would expect from the Janice VanCleave books. Each experiment is relatively easy, most are short and she has provided the “right” answer for every single one of them and a clear explanation of why it happened that way. Many of the ideas in here are good, especially for elementary school. However, don’t let the kids see the book as it really robs the observation element from them. Instead of looking to see what happens – which food will the bugs prefer or what is inside that mushroom – they’re waiting for the right answer. Can you tell that I’ve grown a bit disenchanted by these books? I’m trying not to let it deter me from using them though. She has a nice idea about capturing a spider web with hairspray and examining the geometric patterns that I’d like to try, for example. However, many of the ideas are just flat, such as watching your breath fog up a mirror as a way to think about camels or checking the temperature underground to understand why desert animals burrow. These are so simple, quick, and predictable, even to eight year-olds, that they seem pointless, especially when the connection to the topic is tenuous at best.