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Are living books the only way to teach homeschool science? {Season 10, Episode 123}

Are living books superior? Well, it depends...

Season 10 of the Tips for Homeschool Science podcast is here! This season will be all about living books and science.

In this episode, we'll be discussing whether or not living books are superior and if they are the only tools you should use in your homeschool.

Key Takeaways

  • Living books are really wonderful resources to have in our homeschooling toolbox. 
  • Living books help create interest pegs and these interest pegs can help boost retention of the material.
  • Living books aren't necessarily superior or the only way to teach science, but rather a tool that we have in our homeschooling toolbox.

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Episode 123 - Are Living Books the Only Way to Teach Homeschool Science Transcript

So far in season ten, we've talked about what living books are, how you can use them for science, how you can fit them in using morning time, how they partner with nature study, and what it looks like to use them in the elementary and middle school years. And all this discussion so far, it may have made living books seem like they're superior and the only way to go. But is that really true?

The answer may surprise you.

Hi, I'm Paige Hudson, and you're listening to the Tips for Homeschool Science Show, where we're breaking down the lofty ideals of teaching science into building blocks you can use in your homeschool.

Are living books superior?


So living books are wonderful resources we can use to enhance any subject in our homeschool especially science. We love living books because they really bring a subject to life in a way that no textbook can. They hold the students interest far better than dry words on a page or a dry lecture, and they're far more engaging than a point by point outline.

So living books are really wonderful resources to have in our homeschooling toolbox. But does this mean that living books are the only way we should teach science? Is this the only tool we should have?

So I'm definitely a firm believer in the benefits of a living book. In fact, we've written an entire series on it, and before we continue before I answer the are living books superior question. I just want to share with you this week. In fact, today the day this podcast drops, this little book has come out. So this book has literally been years in the making. This is Sassafras Science Adventures, Volume seven, chemistry. And in this volume, the twins take a journey through around the world, through the periodic table. So they're learning all about chemistry in the elements as they travel around the world in their sassafras style. If you've read the first six volumes you understand what I mean. But this one focuses mainly on chemistry, which is really exciting for me because we get to bring chemistry to life. We get to make chemistry exciting, and chemistry is one of my favorite subjects. So if you didn't know already, this is available today starting April 17th and the support materials are coming soon after. You can preorder those already. I'm really excited to be sharing this with you guys and hope that you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed writing it.

So is this the only way to study chemistry? Is it a superior resource and the only way that you should go about teaching chemistry to your elementary students? Well, honestly, the answer depends.

Yes, living books are superior.


In some ways, living books are superior learning tools when you compare them with the typical textbook  or encyclopedia that's just full of dry facts. These reference works, the textbook or the encyclopedias, they will cover a broad range of topics in a systematic manner.

Often, students have a hard time engaging with the material because there's nothing really interesting to them. Not necessarily, some kids are really into nonfiction, but in the case of a systematic, formulamatic approach like an encyclopedia. Not all kids are interested in that, and so it can be difficult for them to engage with the material they're learning and they may not be as likely to remember it because in their brain they need these story pegs or adventure pegs or interest pegs – I guess we should call them – in order to hang the information on. So it's not just rote memorization for them. They need these interest pegs.

Living books draw the reader in and they present the facts as part of a storyline as we've already talked about. And this technique can lead to greater retention of the material. Many children's encyclopedias do use visually stunning pictures to compensate for this downfall and those pictures can serve as interest pegs for our students to remember the material.

But this is still kind of a shortcoming of encyclopedias and textbooks, is they're just, in a way, almost force-feeding facts whereas living books, you know, weaves it into the storyline, it's a little bit more gentle approach.

No, living books are not superior.


On the other hand, living books are limited because they focus on one specific topic or one area of time if you're using history, which can take a little bit of time for you to explore, so in the living book. You really have to read the whole thing from cover to cover in order to learn the material.

While with a reference book or an encyclopedia, you can open it up, find the page you want to learn about that day, and be done so you can quickly access the information in the encyclopedia.

Whereas with a living book it's not as clear cut. It may take a week or two to learn about the American Revolution through a living book, whereas in an encyclopedia you could read a several page summaries about the war in less than an hour.

So because of this, some students can get bogged down in the story. They can lose sight of what they're learning. So if you're using living books exclusively for your children's education, it could take years to cover everything you need to cover.

How to choose if you should use a living book


So as you can see, both encyclopedias and living books have benefits for using them, and they also have some downfalls for using them as well. So when you're choosing whether to use an encyclopedia or a living book for science, there are a couple of things you can look at.

One, how much time do you have to devote to the study? Are you looking at a whole year or a semester? Then something like a living book might be a good option for you. If you only have a week or two, then something like a reference book or an encyclopedia might be a better option. So it really comes down to how much time you have for your study or how much time you want to set aside for the study.

And then you also want to ask yourself, what kind of learning style do my students have? Do they prefer just the facts? This might be the better option for you. Are my students ones that prefer a little bit of adventure and they want to have some more interest in those visually stimulating encyclopedias aren't enough? Then a living book might be the better option for you.

If you read nothing else, read this...


So really, it depends on how much time you have, how your students like to learn. Both are great ways to learn about science. So you can't go wrong—encyclopedias, living books and even textbooks—are great ways to learn about science.

You just need to be doing science, reading about science, and writing down what you're learning each week and any of those three resources. And even videos can fit the bill for your read component.

So I hope you can see that living books aren't necessarily superior and the only way to teach science, but rather a tool that we have in our homeschooling toolbox we can take them out and use them to teach science for a semester, a year, maybe even a couple of years. Or we can take them out and use them as part of morning time to enhance what we're learning. Or we can sit under a tree and enjoy them as we're learning about nature and doing a bit of nature study.

Living books are fantastic ways to enhance what we're learning about science whether they're our main spine or whether they're an additional resource to help add some interest.

I hope that Season 10 has inspired you to take a look at living books and see how they could help you teach science to your kiddos. Thanks for listening and I hope you have a great week playing with science.

Next week I'll be sharing a bonus episode about Sassafras Science and how you can use it. We've gotten some questions and feedback over Season ten, and I just wanted to share with you all what it looks like to use for science in your home school and whether Sassafras Science is a good fit for your family.

Thanks for listening to this season of the Tips for Homeschool Science Show. I hope you have a great week playing with science!

How Elemental Science can help with living books and science


Thanks for listening to Season 10 of the Tips for Homeschool Science Show, which is sponsored by her company, Elemental Science. At Elemental Science, we have several series of award-winning programs, including a series with living books to help you teach science. Sassafras Science Adventures will help you enjoy a journey as you learn about science. The newest installment of the Sassafras Science series is coming out in April of 2023.

This volume will be a journey through the periodic table. It's all about chemistry, which is my personal favorite subject. Head over to Elemental Science dot com. To learn more about the Sassafras Science Adventures and see how we can help you teach science.

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