My first impression of Elemental Science's Classic series (ESC) for grades one through eight was that it is very similar to Noeo Science which was already one of my Top Picks. I expected to like the ESC series because, like Noeo, ESC's methodology is so close to my ideal.
The ESC series uses colorful fact books such as encyclopedias from Usborne as spines. Many ESC courses use more than one spine book such as The Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia and DK Encyclopedia of Nature, as well as some supplemental books like Marie Curie’s Search for Radium by Beverley Birch. The ESC teacher guides chart out daily lesson plans, drawing upon the spine and supplemental books for informational content.
The courses are designed with the classical trivium stages—grammar, logic, and rhetoric—in mind. The ESC series also leans somewhat toward the classical approach as described in The Well-Trained Mind (by Susan Wise Bauer) with its emphasis on written work, acquisition of facts, and testing. It has students write definitions for vocabulary words on Unit Vocabulary Sheets, write outlines or narrative summaries of their reading, write complete lab records and reports, and make timeline entries. Courses also include quizzes, reviews, and tests, although these are optional. Of course, you can adapt how much writing each student is required to do.
Courses also draw upon Charlotte Mason methodology, using narration and sketching along with the other learning activities. Students using the ESC series create a notebook for each course, but notebook creation is made easy with the separate student workbook for each course that has much of the work already done for you, especially if you purchase the printed edition of the workbook rather than the ebook.
Hands-on learning through science experiments is also built into the ESC series. You will need to gather resources for science experiments. Experiment instructions come from the required resource books rather than the teacher's guides or student workbooks. While experiment resources required for the Classic series are not very difficult to find, you might want to purchase their experiment kits that save you the trouble of hunting down items like the aquarium tubing, large suction cups, and an instant-read thermometer used for Biology for the Grammar Stage.
ESC courses were each written to target a span of two grade levels, but tips are included for stretching each course to suit a wider age range, often using alternative spine books and adapting the amount of writing required.
The seven courses and their targeted grade levels are:
Biology for the Grammar Stage - grades 1-2
Biology for the Logic Stage - grades 5-6
Earth Science and Astronomy for the Grammar Stage - grades 2-3
Earth Science and Astronomy for the Logic Stage - grades 6-7
Chemistry for the Grammar Stage - grades 3-4
Chemistry for the Logic Stage - grades 7-8
Physics for the Grammar Stage - grades 4-5
Each ESC course package has both a teacher guide and a student book. Teacher guides for all levels include answers keys; scheduling options for either two days or five days per week; and sections with additional suggestions for reading, internet research, activities, and experiments. Teacher guides also include ways to expand upon the experiments along with discussion questions for you to use with your students.
In courses for the grammar stage, the student book is a workbook with custom-designed unit project sheets, notebooking pages, lab reports, and a glossary. The lesson pages are used primarily for recording information.
In courses for the logic stage, student guides expect students to be much more self-directed, so they include the lesson plans along with recording pages. At this level, there are also some pre-drawn but unlabeled drawings for students to complete. Courses for the logic stage direct students to work on a science fair project of their choice during one unit.
Optional coloring pages and lapbooking plans that have templates that coordinate with some of the courses are also available.
Elemental Science also has two courses for younger learners that I just want to mention. Exploring Science (for K4 and K5) and Intro to Science (for kindergarten and first grade) are similar in approach to courses for older students although they use much more discussion, drawing, coloring, and “science play”—and much less writing—than do the upper grade levels. Brief teaching information is included in the teacher guides. For Exploring Science, the book Science Play (Williamson Little Hands Book) is the source of experiments, and many library books are used as resources throughout all of the lessons. Intro to Science uses The Handbook of Nature Study (Comstock Publishing) and experiments from More Mudpies and Magnets (Gryphon House)along with additional library books. You could easily use these two courses with students up through second grade for introductory science.
The program is presented from a secular perspective. While there is no direct teaching on evolution or religious questions in the teacher guides or student books aside from an optional lesson on the big bang in Earth Science and Astronomy for the Logic Level, required resources reflect evolutionary assumptions. You can read more about their perspective on Elemental Science’s FAQ page.