At first glance, the Apologia Exploring Creation Young Explorer 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.
The Astronomy, Botany, and Human Anatomy and Physiology volumes, with 176 pages each, address only those topics, digging much deeper into each than is possible in a typical textbook that aims to cover many different topics. Zoology 1 teaches about flying creatures (birds, bats, flying reptiles, and insects) in its 240 pages. Zoology 2 covers only creatures that live in water (235 pages), while Zoology 3 (288 pages) tackles various orders of land animals including reptiles, amphibians, spiders, insects, worms, gastropods, and dinosaurs.
The series is also unusual in that each text is designed to be used with students from first through sixth grade. Since there are seven books and six grade levels, you might not complete all of them.
The Young Explorers 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.
Author Jeannie Fulbright writes as if she is chatting with her children, so the writing style is very conversational and personal.
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. Students gather enough information on each topic to begin to appreciate science, ask deeper questions, and look for applications.
Regarding methodology, Charlotte Mason’s ideas are most evident in the use of narration. Periodically, after a section of text there will be a narration prompt written in italics such as “Explain what you have learned about flight muscles and birds in flight” (Zoology 1, p. 61). You might even want to prompt for narrations more frequently than does the text.
“What Do You Remember?” questions at the end of each chapter help to assess whether or not children are grasping the information. Parents can require students to write out answers or respond orally. Answer keys are at the back of each book.
To keep things interesting, the text is also broken up with “Try This!” activities. These are generally fairly simple activities in contrast to the full-fledged experiments with data recording and the projects that come at the end of each chapter. Two of the projects for each course are actually 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 at the front of each book, shown 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. At the front of each text is a reproducible Scientific Speculation Sheet to be used for applying scientific method and recording experiment information.
Students create a notebook for each course. They can either use an Apologia Notebooking Journal or a binder to collect their notes, drawings, and records of experiments, projects, and field trips. Since the text tries to address the needs of students from first through sixth grade, notebook activities are frequently suggested under separate headings for younger and older students.
Notebooking Journals are hefty (about 200 pages each), plastic-spiral-bound books that actually become the student’s notebook. While it is certainly fine if you want to create your own notebooks with resources from the website and elsewhere, these Notebooking Journals make the process much easier.
The Notebooking Journals include a number of activities and resources for each lesson. Four sections directly support essential textbook material and activities. A Fascinating Facts section provides space for students to write their own summary of information from the lesson. A "What Do You Remember?" section reprints the review questions from the text, allowing space for students to write their answers. Template pages in the journals support notebook assignments, activities, and projects in the text. Finally, there are Project Pages for recording observations and other information, as well as for inserting photos from activities and experiments within the text.
Other useful resources in the Notebooking Journals include scripture copywork pages, vocabulary crossword puzzles, cut-and-fold miniature books in which students can write key information, field trip sheets for recording information about each trip, and a 50-question final review for the entire course. There are also Dig In Deeper assignments that expand lessons with additional experiments, activities, research, and recommended reading and multi-media resources. 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.
Younger students with less developed writing skills should probably use the new Junior Notebooking Journals for each course. These require less writing, have fewer crossword puzzles (but with age appropriate vocabulary), and omit the written review questions and final reviews. They add two more coloring pages per lesson and have handwriting lines appropriate for primary grade levels.
The resulting notebooks, whether the standard or junior versions, will have much more content than could be compiled into a lapbook. If you would rather have children create lapbooks, both Knowledge Box Central and A Journey Through Learning sell lapbooks that correlate with these textbooks.
The intended audience is probably my biggest area of concern with the textbooks. 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. There seems to be even more of this in Botany and Zoology 1 than in the other books. While this should be fine for students in the middle grades, it might be too much information for younger students. Personally, I would probably start with the Astronomy text if my children were on the younger end of the spectrum, then follow with Botany and Human Anatomy and Physiology. After that, I would use any of the lengthier courses: Zoology 1, 2, or 3 or Chemistry and Physics. Parents will likely read the text aloud to younger students, while older students can do much of their reading and work independently.
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.
MP3 Audio CDs with author Jeannie Fulbright reading the text are available for all of the courses ($29 per course). Note that MP3 Audio CDs will play only on MP3 CD players or on a computer.
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.