At first glance, the Apologia Exploring Creation books look like standard hardcover textbooks for the elementary grades. They’re nicely printed with full-color illustrations. But the focus on a narrow area of science for each text and the methods of lesson presentation make these significantly different from standard texts. In addition, the series is unusual since each text is designed to be used with students from first through sixth grade.
Titles in the series are:
- Exploring Creation with Astronomy, second edition
- Exploring Creation with Botany, second edition
- Exploring Creation with Human Anatomy and Physiology
- Exploring Creation with Chemistry and Physics
- Exploring Creation with Zoology 1 - (birds, bats, flying reptiles, and insects)
- Exploring Creation with Zoology 2 - (only creatures that live in water)
- Exploring Creation with Zoology 3 - (various orders of land animals including reptiles, amphibians, spiders, insects, worms, gastropods, and dinosaurs)
Since there are seven books and six grade levels, you might not complete all of them. You can see by the titles, that unlike most science textbooks for the elementary grades, each course covers just one or two areas of science rather than trying to cover some topics from physical science, life science, and earth and space science every year.
This series uses an “immersion approach,” emphasizing depth over breadth with information, activities, writing, field trips, experiments, and other avenues to immerse the student deeply into each topic. This type of learning helps students develop a sense of wonder and appreciation.
The author of these courses, Jeannie Fulbright, writes as if she is chatting with her own children in a style that is very conversational and personal. Audio recordings add yet another dimension to learning as Fulbright reads each of the textbooks aloud. These optional audio recordings are available in MP3 format on CDs.
The writing style is one of the elements of this series that reflects Charlotte Mason's methodology. Other elements of that methodology are narrations, nature observations, and journaling. Narrations might require some explanation. Fulbright inserts a narration prompt once in a while after a section of text. For example, children are asked to: “Explain what you have learned about flight muscles and birds in flight” (Zoology 1, p. 61). Children respond with their own thoughts at this point, and it can develop into a conversation. This is a casual way to assess whether or not they are grasping the main ideas. (You might even want to prompt for narrations more frequently.)
Each textbook is divided into 14 lessons, and each lesson will take at least a few weeks to complete. “What Do You Remember?” questions at the end of each lesson help to assess whether or not children are retaining the information from the entire lesson. Parents can require students to write out answers or respond orally. Answer keys are at the back of each textbook.
To keep things interesting, the text is also broken up with frequent activities. The Astronomy and Botany courses are second editions, and they have even more activities throughout each lesson than do the first editions. The activities are sometimes fairly simple activities in contrast to the full-fledged experiments with data recording or the projects that are found at the end of each lesson. In the first editions, two of the projects for each course are to be used as term projects.
Term projects, as well as some of the other experiments and projects, are quite involved, but they don’t require esoteric resources. Lists of the necessary resources are included in the textbooks. These lists show the resources needed chapter by chapter, making it easy to plan ahead. Required resources include items such as matches, wires, empty soda bottles, red food coloring, plaster of Paris, plants, glycerin soap bars, and a pine cone.
An added bonus with each course is a password to a dedicated website with extra helpful tools for each course. This information is provided in the front of each book with your course instructions.
Notebooking Journals were created after the first editions of the textbooks were written. (Originally, students were supposed to create their own notebook for each course.) Notebooking Journals are hefty (about 200-300 pages each), plastic-spiral-bound books that serve as the student’s notebook for written work, experiments, drawings, etc. Each course has a Junior Notebooking Journal that is supposed to be used by beginning writers, typically first and second graders. The regular Notebooking Journal is for about grades three through six.
Junior Notebooking Journals for first edition courses differ from those for second edition courses. First edition Junior Notebooking Journals require less writing, have fewer crossword puzzles (but with age-appropriate vocabulary), and omit the written review questions and final reviews that are found in the regular journals. They add two more coloring pages per lesson and have handwriting lines appropriate for primary grade levels. (First-edition textbooks frequently suggest notebook activities under separate headings for younger and older students.) Second-edition Junior Notebooking Journals are the same as the second-edition regular journals except that most lines for writing are double lines with a dotted line through the middle rather than single lines. First-edition Notebooking Journals are printed in black and white, while second edition journals are printed in full color.
Formatted pages in the Notebooking Journals support the writing assignments, investigations, activities, and projects that are in the text. A Fascinating Facts section provides space for students to write their own summary of information from the lesson. For some lessons, a "What Do You Remember?" section reprints the review questions from the text, allowing space for students to write their answers. Project pages, experiment pages, and activity and observation pages are used for recording observations, drawings, and other information for the activities in the textbook. The second editions have added a section for each activity that asks students to record what they did and what they learned so that the student builds a strong foundation in the scientific method.
Other useful resources in the Notebooking Journals might include scripture copywork pages, vocabulary crossword puzzles, cut-and-fold miniature books in which students can write key information, and field trip sheets for recording information about each trip. First-edition, regular Notebooking Journals also have a 50-question final review for the entire course and "Dig In Deeper" assignments that expand lessons with additional experiments, activities, research, and supplemental books and media. These extra resources, including the final review, are all optional. Use whatever is useful and then remove the pages not being used from each student’s journal so they are left with their own personalized notebook.
Instead of or in addition to using either Notebooking Journal, you might want to have your children create lapbooks. Both Knowledge Box Central and A Journey Through Learning sell lapbooks that correlate with these textbooks. Both companies have smaller version lapbooks that could be completed in addition to a Notebooking Journal. A Journey Through Learning also offers instructions and templates for large lapbooks that could be used in place of a Notebooking Journal.
The Exploring Creation series is clearly Christian in outlook, continually reaffirming God’s role as creator. Occasionally, evolutionary beliefs are addressed directly, but these texts mostly take a positive approach of teaching truth rather than attacking evolution.
These courses were written primarily for parents who want to be more involved with their elementary student’s education. The books are written at a reading level well beyond that of children in the primary grades. The texts include Latin and scientific names, sometimes including explanations of word derivations. Since these books are designed to be interactive and conversational, parents should plan to read the text aloud to younger elementary students and set aside time to discuss the materials in a conversational style.
The Notebooking Journals require quite a bit of writing. However, parents are encouraged to help struggling writers, emhasizing content rather than the writing itself. Apologia states that Notebooking Journals are always optional and everything that a student needs to complete the course is found in the student textbook.
Overall, there is more activity and variety in these courses than in traditional textbooks. The format makes it easy for parents to provide an excellent balance of information and activity that should be very effective for science instruction in the elementary grades.