Nancy Larson, author of the K-3 Saxon Math series, has developed Nancy Larson® Science for kindergarten through fourth grade that incorporates some of the same ideas she applied to math—highly structured lesson plans, hands-on activity, and a variety of types of interaction. Larson has written this comprehensive science program especially for home educators, taking advantage of the tutorial situation and the flexibility to move outside the “classroom.” Yet, the lessons are completely scripted with explicit instructions, worksheets, assessments and other accoutrements of traditional programs. Real books (three to six books per level) and hands-on activities mix with structured discussions, worksheets, drawing activities, and assessments to provide challenging science content in a format that is easy for the inexperienced parent to use.
For each grade level there are a Teacher’s Manual, a pouch of Photo Cards, a Teacher Resource CD, science kit, and student materials. The science kits are full of interesting resources. For example, the first grade kit includes pine cones, tree cookies, a magnifying lens, a set of x-rays, Live Butterfly Garden ®, Ladybug Land™, insect learning cards, and a set of 32 plastic insects and spiders plus six books: What Do Scientists Do?, Peterson First Guides: Trees, Trees to paper, Familiar Insects and Spiders, Your Insides and The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree.
The Teacher’s Manual begins with a brief explanation of how the program works. Then each lesson is presented, starting with a list of materials needed (both program and collected items). The lesson itself is scripted showing what to say and do. The lesson presentations usually involve some sort of hands-on demonstration or activity. The parent/teacher asks the child questions or invites the child to read or write depending upon the lesson. Each lesson concludes with completion of Lesson Review pages. The parent/teacher works through the Lesson Review pages with the child, although older students should be able to do most of them independently. While the text suggests that you might want to do these on a separate day, the entire lesson usually doesn't take that long, and you can easily complete both presentation and review pages the same day. This program requires intensive one-on-one instruction. Lessons could be used with a few children but not a large group because of the amount of interaction that takes place.
The Teacher Resource CD has files for pre-formatted vocabulary word cards, word lists and labels, a list of all materials needed lesson-by-lesson, teaching masters, illustrations/photos, and information related to lessons. On the publisher’s website you will find these same illustrations/photos and more that are connected via weblinks. There are plenty of illustrations on the CD if you prefer not to have your child on the internet, but if you want more, use the publisher’s website.
Student materials include a Student Materials Book and a separate set of Student Booklets (6 or 7 per level). The Student Materials Book includes Lesson Reviews, Study Guides, and Assessments. Lesson Reviews are worksheets for each lesson that reinforce lesson content. The Study Guides, a unique feature for texts written for these grade levels, help students review material presented in a Student Booklet. Assessments are at the end of each unit, with 7 to 8 assessments per grade level. The Student Booklets are topical booklets in which students read, draw with colored pencils, and write. Note that the Study Guide reviews and the Assessments are both completed interactively rather than independently. All student materials are printed in black-and-white. (Books and some other items in the science kits are printed in full color.)
You can purchase extra sets of student materials for additional students you might teach at the same time. The entire program can be reused a second time by purchasing only the consumable components for the science kit and new student materials; sources for the replacement science kit components are on the publisher’s website.
Topics covered in each level are relatively far ranging as we find in most traditional classroom courses. Personally, I would rather see a focus on fewer topics at these young age levels, but in a nod to state and national standards, topics from many disciplines are covered each year. Kindergarten covers the human body and five senses, health, pets, plant growth, identifying living and non-living things, characteristics of objects, force and movement, seasons and weather. First grade addresses the life stages of human beings beginning with infancy, trees, sunlight, water, soil, animals, animal habitats, human anatomy, and insects. (Note: In my opinion, the first section on life stages of human beings seems superfluous; this is the sort of thing that comes up in ordinary discussions and interaction without having to be taught.)
Topics covered in second grade are properties of matter, rocks, minerals, forces and work, simple machines, sound, light, and birds. Third graders study the solar system, elements, compounds, physical changes (physics), the atmosphere, weather, earth’s structure, plant structures and their functions, amphibians, and reptiles. Fourth graders learn about cells, classifying plants, characteristics of animals, ecosystems, energy, and electricity.
Vocabulary receives more attention than is given in most other programs for these grade levels. Children practice reading and writing science vocabulary words then review those words in future sessions. A number of options for working with vocabulary words are suggested. Lessons are designed to reinforce other reading skills.
There are 80 lessons per course for grades 1 through 3 and 61 for kindergarten, so unless you separate lesson presentations from completion of the Lesson Review pages, you will have science lesson only a few days per week.
While I have discussed this program using the term “grade level,” the courses are not restricted to grade level usage. If you have more than one child and they work at different grade levels, you should choose only one level to have everyone work together. If you prefer the content of one level to another, use that level.
Nancy Larson’s science program should appeal to the parent who wants a thoroughly developed program with everything provided, including the script. It does require direct teaching for the lessons in contrast to textbook-based programs that stduents can read independently. However, the direct teaching helps students master the science-related vocabulary, observation and drawing skills, and critical thinking skills while they acquire foundational science knowledge.