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Science in the Grammar Stage

by Christine Miller

“Let no man think or maintain that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God’s Word, or in the book of God’s works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficiency in both.”

-Francis Bacon, formulator of the scientific method

Natural History

The philosophy spoken of here by Francis Bacon is not the philosophy that we think of when we ponder that word. Philosophy in his day was short for natural philosophy, variously called natural history; and meant the study of nature, of the world around us. The book of God’s works - nature - is available and open to us; and through its study the great discoveries of Newton, Priestly, Boyle, Pascal, Hershel, and so many others were made. As its study was foundational to the great discoveries of the scientists of Western Civilization, I believe its study to the be the foundation of science, the grammar of science, for our children as well.

Keeping in mind that the grammar stage concentrates on the accumulation of facts and concrete thinking, let us lay out what a complete study in nature would involve. First, I believe identification to be an important part, with classification following on its heels. Accompanying this would be familiarization with the facts and the vocabulary that defines the world around us. And finally, although not a part of nature study, I believe it is important to learn the history of science and the scientists that have contributed to Western Civilization.

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Identification simply means learning the names of the flora and fauna of the world, the plant and animal life, and being able to call something its name when you see it. On a world-wide scale, be general: lion, baboon, coconut palm. But with your local flora and fauna, be specific: learn to identify between various species of meadow grasses, wildflowers, native shrubs and trees. Learn your local birds, wildlife, fish and insects. Know both their common and scientific (Latin) name. Learn to identify birdsong and tracks, become familiar with their habits. Is a raccoon diurnal or nocturnal? What does it eat, who are its predators, and so on.

For this take lots and lots of field trips. Bring along a good identification guide, such as Audubon’s, as well as a good local guide (check for suggestions at a local bookstore, or with your county extension office.) Then, once out, practice identifying. When home, reinforce what has been learned by playing matching games. The children can draw pictures or collect photographs of the flora or fauna found that week, and match them to their common and scientific names. Play “Who am I?” State the habits of the creature being learned: “I make my home underground, I eat seeds, and have to watch out for hawks and owls. Who am I?” Answer: “Field mouse!”

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Older grammar stage children can learn the system of plant and animal classification developed by Carolus Linnaeus. They can practice placing their familiar local flora and fauna within the classification system: field mice and mountain lions in the class Mammalia, with field mice in the order Rodentia and mountain lions in the order Carnivora. Children can learn what else in their local fauna occupies the same order or class, and what characteristics all the creatures of an order or class share in common.

Making collections is a great way for children to begin to learn the fundamentals of both identification and classification. Children can study and discover the proper way that naturalists mount and label their collections, and then do a neat and careful job of their own collection. Many classes of things in nature can be made into collections: rocks, shells, insects, butterflies, feathers, pressed wildflowers, and seeds are just a few examples.

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Keeping a Nature Journal

Naturalists often keep a journal of their observations when on field trips. These journals often contain, in a diary form, the specific plants and animals observed, how they have changed or matured, how they are interacting with other plants and animals, and drawings of their observations. Grammar stage children can also keep a nature journal of their observations when on field trips. Use a quality bound blank book, so that the children know that they are creating something special and unique, and will be encouraged to do their best.

Keep the nature journal simple for younger children, and more detailed for older children. For those in third grade and younger, giving Mom an oral narration of what they observed can be helpful, while Mom takes dictation. The children can then copy from Mom’s dictation into their nature journal. In this way younger children can record their observations without becoming frustrated with immature writing skills. They can draw a picture of what they observed from a photograph until their drawing skills improve. (Still subjects are easier to draw than moving ones.) Older children can do their drawings out on the trail, and then compose a written narration to accompany their drawing once home. Label the drawings with the common and scientific names of the things included in the picture. In learning what to include in your nature journals, look at the journals of different accomplished naturalists such as John James Audubon.

However, field trips may only be practical once a week or so. There is still plenty of nature study that can take place at home. Utilize the library for further research on a topic that has fired a child’s interest while on a walk. Children can also research and set up aquariums and terrariums or other habitats under study. Children also enjoy making posters showing everything from the life cycle of the frog to the migratory patterns of birds. All these things taken together: field trips, nature journals, matching games, collections, and posters help them learn to identify and classify the natural world around them.

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Keeping a Science Notebook

Topics that can be studied in the grammar stage that fall under the auspices of nature study include: trees, plants, seeds, and soil; insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and sea creatures; weather; astronomy; rocks & minerals; volcanoes & earthquakes; rivers; erosion & weathering; and ecosystems such as deserts, wetlands, grasslands, oceans, tundra and so on. If a child lives in Florida he will be unlikely to learn about the tundra ecosystem through his field trips and nature journal. Therefore learning to keep a science notebook is an effective way to learn the facts of natural philosophy to which he would not otherwise be exposed.

A science notebook serves as a place to record and then refer to what they are learning at home, during their topical nature study. When reading books about the topic under question, the children can record any vocabulary and its definition that they encounter; such as the term diurnal (meaning active during the day) for animals, or cirrus (a cloud type) for weather. It is also helpful to distill a day’s reading into its main ideas, using no more than three or four sentences, and record those sentences in the science notebook. Any explanatory diagrams from the books, such as the inside of a honeybee colony, or the parts of a flower, can also be copied by the children into their notebooks, as neatly as they can, using pencil and colored pencils; and all labeled. Doing these things helps the children retain what they have learned while giving them a record of facts to refer back to, and helps to train them in neatness and in organizing their thoughts.

Occasionally books will contain demonstrations to do, sometimes called “experiments”. These demonstrations go well with the grammar stage. They are not true experiments that would be in the province of the later stages. The children can then record these demonstrations in their science notebooks, using a form of the scientific method:

  1. ASK a question - what is the demonstration trying to show?
  2. GUESS at what you think will happen. (Do these two steps in the notebook before the demonstration.)
  3. DO the demonstration.
  4. RECORD what happened - what steps did you take, and what were the results?
  5. TELL whether the results matched the guess, or showed what the demonstration wanted to show.

The benefit in doing these is that not only do children learn the principles that the demonstration is showing, but they also begin to learn some important steps of the scientific method, and how to keep a lab book; something that college students can sometimes struggle with.

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History of Science

Another important aspect of science instruction in the grammar stage is learning the history of science. While studying an era or civilization in history class, the contributions or even setbacks, in some cases, that that era or civilization made to science can also be explored. In keeping with this, read the biographies of that era’s or civilization’s important scientists; learn their names, their country and century they lived in, and what their important contributions to science were.

Go to Preparing Younger Children: Science

Go to Science Curriculum for the Grammar Stage

Return to The Grammar Stage Subject Index

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