I didn’t believe it was possible to teach molecular bonds to first and second graders until I reviewed Molecules are Everywhere!, one of the science mini-courses from Be Naturally Curious. And these courses don’t just teach molecular bonds; they tackle other topics we usually consider advanced such as Fibonacci numbers, aerodynamics, ecosystems, phases of the moon, sound waves, and DNA.
The Be Naturally Curious website explains that these courses were developed by “scientists who believe kids’ natural creativity and curiosity make it possible for them to grasp and internalize topics adults usually think are too complicated for them.” These mini-courses are able to convey challenging concepts to young children because they use relatable stories, creative images, and hands-on activities. They do all this while continually stimulating the child’s curiosity with questions or things to think about. All courses include a “Curiosity Connector” page at the end the book with lists and links to recommended books and websites for additional, related learning through videos, reading, and activities. Courses are all aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards and have a secular viewpoint.
The science mini-courses available at the time of this review are:
- Our Neighbor, the Moon
- Freddie and His Ocean Friends
- Life in the Desert
- A Butterfly’s Evening Adventure
- A Wide World of Vertebrates
- Amazing Animal Migrations
- Plate Tectonics: The Changing Continents
- Discovering DNA
- The Adventures of Carbon
- The Scoop on Sharks
- See With Your Ears!
- Take Off with Airplane Science
- How Your Genes Work
- Numbers in Nature
- Molecules are Everywhere!
- Mighty Magnets
These courses are all supposed to be used with children in kindergarten through fifth grade. However, the courses were written by different authors, so they vary significantly in style and required academic skills. For example, children should have mastered the concept of addition before using Numbers in Nature since the course teaches about number patterns, Fibonacci numbers, and that each number in the Fibonacci sequence is the sum of the two numbers before it. Most courses seem to expect that students can read since they include games that require that skill. Children are also expected to write as they complete charts, make notes, or answer questions. Most of the studies can be used across kindergarten through fifth grade as long as parents or teachers assist younger children or skip activities that are beyond them.
Since some studies are going to work better with different age levels, Be Naturally Curious has partnered with Torchlight Curriculum to put together bundles for kindergarten and first grade to be used with Torchlight's program. The first seven courses in the list above are in the bundle for kindergarten, and the next five are in the bundle for first grade. Please keep in mind that inclusion in one of the bundles does not restrict a course's use to only that grade level, and the Torchlight bundles are available to all, whether or not they are using Torchlight.
Each course should take between five and ten hours to complete, so you might use a number of these courses during a school year. These mini-studies are ideal for use with groups because of the games and activities, but they can also be used by a parent with one child.
All of these courses are available as PDFs directly from the publisher or as printed books through Amazon. You will need to reproduce or print quite a few pages for activities and games. While black-and-white printing will do for some pages, many of the pages for activities and games should be printed in color, and some pages should be printed on cardstock. You will need to gather a few resources for activities and games, but these are generally things you will have on hand, such as glue, paper clips, chalk, vinegar, and plastic bottles. I reviewed four of the mini-courses as a sampling.
A Wide World of Vertebrates
In A Wide World of Vertebrates, children are introduced to the concept of classification by Devi the Dolphin and her gymnastics teacher. Information is presented within the dialogue of a story as Devi learns about her oceanic friends and other creatures. Children learn about different forms of classification for vertebrates and invertebrates while the story uses charts and images to help children identify features of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles. Children will complete their own chart as they read the story.
Four activities are presented, and each has an activity journal or a page where children either answer questions that reinforce the main concepts or write their own thoughts about an experience or something they have learned. The activities are making a mobile about vertebrates, playing “Bones Bingo” to test students’ knowledge about the body parts of different vertebrates, playing vertebrate Twister® using chalk diagrams on the ground as the play area, and playing critter charades.
This mix of whole-body and small-motor activities is typical of these studies. Parts for the games and activities are all included within the book as printable (or reproducible) pages. This course should work well for even kindergarteners as long as parents or teachers assist young students with written work, have children do it orally, or skip it.
Take Off with Airplane Science
Take Off with Airplane Science teaches briefly about gravity, thrust, lift, and drag. Children can quickly experience these if you are able to take a drive in a car and allow your child to put his or her arm out the window as the book suggests. They also learn about Bernoulli’s principle by blowing air across a piece of paper then learning how that principle is applied to the design of airplanes.
There are four activities for this study, and the first three activities have multiple parts. The first activity, Playing with Air Pressure, has student use cups, straws, a penny, and a ping-pong ball in four different experiments. The second activity has students construct a paper glider from a page included in the book, then experiment with it by making minor changes to figure out which configuration helps it to fly farthest and which configuration helps it to make a controlled turn. Students track their experimental flights on the data charts provided. Activity 3, Pressure Pop, might not be practical in every locale. Students use plastic bottles to observe changes in pressure at low and high altitude. (The book suggests achieving a high altitude via an airplane, mountain road, or tall elevator.) The fourth activity, Animal Flight Matching Game, has children match images of birds and insects with descriptions of their wings, style of flight, habitat, and food.
Molecules are Everywhere!
Molecules are Everywhere! teaches about molecular bonds by naming electrons as if they were people and framing the discussion in terms of relationships. Electrons don’t like to be lonely, so the electrons are looking for friends. Colorful drawings illustrate the atomic valences and how the number of electrons in a valence affects the atom’s affinity for other atoms. Students learn about water, methane, and carbon dioxide molecules.
Four activities have children practice making models of molecules. Using cut-outs that mirror illustrations in the instructional story, children make models of molecules for oxygen, ammonia, carbon dioxide, methane, and others. They work with friends or stuffed animals labeled as atoms and practice forming molecules by tieing or taping themselves to real or fuzzy friends. They can play the Electron Match Card Game, and they can do a chemical experiment with calcium carbonate (white chalk) and vinegar, then repeat it with eggshells and vinegar.
Numbers in Nature
Numbers in Nature uses an imaginary story of Fibonacci meeting up with Jack and his beanstalk, which leads to Fibonacci’s observations about the arrangement of the beanstalk’s leaves in a spiral staircase fashion. Within the story are discussions of patterns and sequences, the Fibonacci sequence, ratios, and the patterns of leaves and flower petals on plants. This mini-course uses math but requires a minimal amount of writing compared to some of the other courses.
The first of four activities has students study the patterns of petals on both pictures of flowers and actual flowers. They also learn about the golden angle of 137.5 degrees, the angle of the arrangement of most flower petals. They’ll use an angle tool from a page in the book to draw a flower with petals arranged at this angle. The second activity has students recreate the golden spiral on a grid using colored pencils, then recreate objects from nature on golden spiral templates. Activity 3 is a Bingo™-style game using Fibonacci numbers. The fourth activity is an outdoor game played like Simon Says. The given instructions should be obeyed only if they include a Fibonacci number.