Scientific Inquiry, Unschooling Style.

There are quite a few things people bring up when they find out I homeschool. One mostly constant remark is something to the effect of: “I’m not a scientist/mathmatician/english teacher, I could never teach science/math/english.

For this bloggy blog, I’ll talk about the science aspect of that statement. I am not a scientist, either. I did poorly in science all through high school and into college. I briefly flirted with a geology major for a year, then realized when I got into the 300 level classes that I had no idea what was going on. (Although, my heart still beats for my planetary geology class. <3)

You know what I am, though? And do you know what I'm trying to instill in my kids on a daily basis?

Intellectually honest
A Parallel thinker
An analytical thinker
Self motivated
Methodical (OK, maybe not this one…)

According to wiki.answers, these are all things that make up a good scientist!. My kids aren’t passing biology exams or writing out chemical equations, but we do a whole lot of scientific inquiry every day…and what’s more scientific than that? It’s the backbone to all scientific discovery, and yet is made so boring by the current standardization and overtesting of school curriculum that very few kids get to explore it in depth for any amount of time during their day.

For instance, Sassy and I spent hours using the scientific method on our hikes in Joshua Tree.


Watch the magic happen in real time, and this is so worth watching just to see all these squirmy caterpillars in their webby home, as well as to hear Sassy barely able to talk she’s so excited:

Remember the scientific method? Maybe? Here’s a recap, with some examples:

Scientific Method to us unschoolers:

1. OBSERVING – Using all the senses.
ALL the senses. Immersed in nature, for instance. Kids are great at this step–they are the ultimate scientists (until made to sit at desks and recite memorized facts from one set curriculum. Oops, did I type that out loud?!). It didn’t take Sassy long to find something to observe on the Hall of Horrors hike.


2. CLASSIFYING – Grouping related objects and ideas

She noticed there were lots of spider web things on the bushes. These excited her enough to grab my hand (<3 that!) and pull me over. She noticed there were 5 on one bush, 2 on another, and 8 on another. They were everywhere!


3. QUANTIFYING – Using nubers & measurements related to length, width, volume and ratios.

She spontaneously talked about their shape…little cubes. She talked about how big the biggest one was compared to how small the littlest one was.


4. COMMUNICATING – Describing verbally or non-verbally, tabulating, graphing

lol, this one has never been a problem for Sassy. Getting her to stop communicating is the tricky part! But oh, how much I love hearing her chatter on and on when something piques her curiosity.


5. INTERPRETING DATA – Explanation of an observation

Interpreting data comes so naturally as part of communication, especially if I am involved in the discussion as well. But usually Sassy does most of the talking and interpreting. Especially when something cool is happening like caterpillars emerging from a web of silken threads!


6. HYPOTHESIS – A hypothesis is a possible tentative explanation for a phenomenon

I’m not going to lie, I had images of these caterpillars flying off the branches and burrowing themselves into our flesh and making us into zombie hosts for their bloodthirsty ways. Not surprisingly, my hypothesis were never very popularly accepted in school.

7. PREDICTING – Based on observations, measurements, and relationships between observed variables.

Sassy predicted they wouldn’t eat us. She’s smarter than me so often it’s not even funny. Not that it made me feel more comfortable turning my back on them…so I tried not to.

8. DEFINING TERMS – All our interactions are vitally dependent on the precise use of terms.

YOu know, I have no idea what the precise use of terms is for what we saw. I don’t know what these were, I don’t know what you call that webby thing, and I don’t know how to explain the process of it. But you know what? That’s what the internet and library is for. So the next time we go to pick out books, we’ll get some on desert caterpillars or something, and then have the proper terms for what we saw.

9. DEFINING AND USING VARIABLES – Identify and distinguish when using variables in an investigation which are controlled (held constant) and which are manipulated.

Again, when a discussion is happening, these kinds of inferences are naturally accessible to even the youngest mind, as long as it’s being engaged.


And nothing says “Scientific Method” as much as a dance party on a rock:


The thing is, I know my kids aren’t getting as much hard ‘science’ force fed to them as other kids are in school. But one thing my kids have in abundance is a joy and interest in science, at a level that most other kids don’t have in school. Our science isn’t rote memorization. It’s not virtual science or science from a school book. It’s immersive, hands on, inquiry based, and dynamic. It’s setting them up for a lifetime of science if that’s what they want to focus on at a higher level. I’m happy with this, and my kids are, too.


(little blondie on the left isn’t my kid, but she is the cutest niece in the world!)

Five qualities to be a good scientist. More qualities to make a good scientist..


7 Responses

  1. So much fun! Last year we found an amazing set of trails by our house and along the way found about 20 different kinds of mushrooms. We took photos of as many as we could with the intent to figure out what the heck they all are. So.Much.Fun!

    I am not an intellect either but am having fun learning with my kids each day too. Kids rock!

  2. What a magical place! I love, love, love how Sassy says…”I wish I could open one.” and you say…”so do I.” And that’s it. You don’t. You observe, and leave it alone. Awesome. You look like you guys are having so much fun!

  3. I didn’t like science until we started homeschooling! (History either.) Both were taught in a very logical-sequential, fact-based way that was boring! Hurray for hands-on science and story-based history!

  4. Love everything about this. I love how comfortable you are with the pace and style that your children are learning in. Two years in and I have found myself to be a line walker between unschooling & eclectic. I have to admit, I am still not totally comfortable and I still struggle with, how /where do I draw the line between self directd and unmotivated (my older one). I can’t wait until I am even “a little bit” as comfortable as you are with our schooling method. Right now, I am in a “not so happy about it” funk. 😦 Hoping to get out soon.

    Thanks again for another great post!

  5. Love you guys and I haven’t even met you!

  6. The dance party on the rock CRACKED ME UP!!

    Cam out.

  7. the caterpillars – crazy cool!!!
    Next, so nice to hear your voice!

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