The company that brought Singapore Math to the United States has also imported a science program for the early grades. Earlybird Start-Up Science and My Pals are Here! might appeal to families looking for a secular approach to science with an international outlook and an emphasis on environmental concern.
Child Play Science is for kindergarten. I did not review it since I see no need for a science text at kindergarten level. I reviewed the other two science series that provide instruction for grades 1 through 6.
All of these books are very colorful and heavily illustrated. Since they were written primarily for schools in Singapore, some references are to metric measurements, vocabulary more typical of countries with a British background (e.g., rubbish rather than garbage, petrol rather than gas), animals more familiar in that region of the world, and one or two things peculiar to Singapore itself. However, rather than this being a negative point, I see it as exposing our children to the fact that there is more to the world than the United States.
Earlybird Start-Up Science
Earlybird Start-Up Science for grades 1 and 2 has four books, so you might complete two per year. These are self-contained worktexts with single-page answer keys on the last page. All books have 29 lessons, with one page per lesson. Each lesson consists of brief instruction, sometimes an experiment, and always one or more workbook activities for students to complete. The four books vary in topics and lesson design; Books 1 and 4 have only a few experiments while Books 2 and 3 have many. In Books 2 and 3, many of the pages are completed with observations from the experiments, so these are not just optional suggestions. Experiments require household or easy-to-obtain items, although Book 2's magnet and electricity investigations require items like batteries, wire, a bulb holder, and magnets that you will need to procure. These books were first written in 1997, but they have been republished many times since. However, they don't appear to have been updated since Pluto is still listed as a planet and the space shuttle is discussed as if it's still operating. However, these are minor issues.
Book 1 seems very appropriate for first graders but Book 2 advances to a more challenging level and might be too difficult for some first graders. Topics introduced in each book are:
Book 1: living and non-living things, the human body, plants, animals and growing things
Book 2: magnetism, electricity, light, color, and simple machines
Book 3: classifying things, stages of matter, sounds, flotation, and air
Book 4: seasons, the earth, solar system, space, communities, and food chains
My Pals are Here!
My Pals are Here!, the series for grades 3 through 6, has ten books, five to be used for grades 3 and 4 and five for grades 5 and 6. The five books for each level each address one of five core themes (themes determined by the Singapore Ministry of Education): Diversity, Cycles, Systems, Energy, and Interactions. The series uses “inquiry-based” learning. For each course there are both a text and an activity book; both are essential.
The activity books are almost as colorful as the texts. The texts provide the information in a fashion more like an Usborne book with small chunks of text and plenty of illustrations. The chunks of text become lengthier in the second level books. Activities in the activity books include, cut-and-paste, fill-in-the-blanks, completing charts, matching, drawing, experiments, and recording observations and conclusions from experiments. Equipment and supplies for the upper level seem to be more specialized than for the lower level since students begin to record more specific data and measurements. The Cycles book for grades 5 and 6 assumes a typical school lab with Bunsen burners, stands, beakers, glass funnels, etc., so it will take either some gathering of those resources or some ingenuity to come up with alternatives.
For each level there is a My Pals are Here! Homework book that covers all five books. You can use these as assessment tools to ensure comprehension. They have multiple-choice, short-answer, and long-answer questions for each chapter. These might be used instead of tests.
Similarly, there is a Tests booklet for each level, with a test covering every one to three chapters. There is a final test for each book and four tests that ask questions from all books. Answers are at the back of the book.
While there is a single teacher's guide for grades 3 and 4 covering all five books, there are separate teacher's guides for each book for levels 5 and 6. Teacher's guides contain lesson plans, background and extension material, enrichment activities, and answer keys for the activity books. There is enough content in the texts without the teacher's guide so the primary reason to purchase it is generally going to be for the answer key. However, the teacher's guides are quite expensive ($79 for lower level and $26-$38 each for the upper level.
I received one set of books from each level to review so my comments reflect only the content I saw in those books: Systems for grades 3 and 4 and Cycles for grades 5 and 6. Looking at these two activity books, it seems to me that it might be easy to function without the teacher's guide as an answer key for grades 3 and 4, but much less so for the upper level since there are more questions as well as questions that are definitely more difficult to answer.
The books are engaging for children, probably more so than most texts. They are slimmer in size than you might expect (e.g., the Systems text and activity books for 3 and 4 are 36 and 25 pages respectively), but you will likely be completing about 2.5 of the books and their companion activity books each year making the total number of pages completed more comparable to other programs. The size and the colorful presentation make the books visually more manageable and approachable for those students who might be overwhelmed by a traditional textbook.
The graphical format of the texts is certainly untraditional. While there are short paragraphs of text, these are spread around photos and illustrations. Content is sometimes presented in charts, diagrams, and even cartoons. Texts have small arrows indicating when it is time for a student to complete an activity page.
Texts also have “Explore” activities, sidebars with related information, and questions. While questions in the lower level are often “voiced” by cartoon characters, they are presented in separate “Building Blocks” boxes in the upper level. While there are more questions in the upper level books, there are still fewer than you find in traditional texts. Because of the size of the books and their layout, there is less content in these books than in traditional texts. For this reason you might want the teacher's guides as a source for additional content. Alternatively, you might use these texts alongside a selection of real books and other activities if you want more content.
Content in the books, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, is clearly secular. The Systems books for the younger level does a fine job of introducing the concept of systems, then introducing the systems of the human body and plants. I have reservations about the content of the Cycles book for the upper level. Reproduction in plants and in humans are both taught, and human reproduction is taught fairly thoroughly including questions about fertilization in the activity book. While it does not describe intercourse, it covers a great deal of detail that you might prefer to cover at another time or in another fashion. The Cycles text also concludes with two “Science Today” features. One of these is on in-vitro fertilization. It presents the concept from only a scientific view, ignoring the moral questions. This is troubling since it teaches children to think about science in functional terms without connection to morality.
Overall, both the Earlybird and My Pals are Here! series offer a visually appealing option for those looking for a secular approach to science. Student books are very inexpensive for the quality of their presentation.