FREE Shipping on all our products! (Please expect 1 to 1.5 weeks for delivery due to  transit delays. We ship every day including Saturday


Your Cart is Empty

Writing in Science with a Well-Trained Mind (Interview) {Season 11, Episode 127}

March 11, 2024 16 min read

Listen in as Susan Wise Bauer and Susanna Jarret join Paige to share tips and tools about the third key to teaching science.

We are so excited to share this interview about writing in science with two experts from the Well-Trained Mind. In this episode, Susan Wise Bauer and Susanna Jarret are joining Paige to share tips and tools about the third key to teaching science!

Key Takeaway

  • Use your narrations in science for writing.
  • One thing - just worry about your students remembering one thing to write down.

Listen to this episode

You can also listen to this podcast on iTunes, Podcast Addict, Castbox, Stitcher, or Spotify.

Share the Tips

If you found these homeschool science tips to be helpful, would you please take a moment to rate it in the podcasting app you use to listen to the show? This would help me tremendously in getting the word out so that more earbuds are filled with science-teaching encouragement.

Episode 127 - Writing in Science with a Well-Trained Mind (Interview with Susan Wise Bauer and Susanna Jarrett)

Paige Hudson

I'm so excited to be able to share with you guys an interview about writing in Science with Susan Wise Bauer and Susanna Jarrett from the Well-Trained Mind. This interview is packed with tips about writing in science that you do not want to miss.

Hi, I'm Paige Hudson from 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.

(Video Only: Just a quick note if you're watching this on YouTube, unfortunately, the video for this episode didn't come through. So what you'll see for this interview is the text from the audio. I hope you keep watching as this interview really is worth your time. Thanks for understanding.)

All right. Today, I'm so excited to have with me Susan Wise Bauer and Susanna Jarrett on the Tips for Homeschool Science Show.

Together, they host the Well-Trained Mind podcast, which looks at homeschooling and classical education. Both of them were home schooled, and Susan is one of the leading experts in home education. She's authored some of my favorite homeschooling books like The Well-Trained Mind A Guide to Classical Education at Home, Writing with Ease, and the Story of the World Series. Please help me welcome Susanna and Susan to the podcast.

Susan Wise Bauer

We're so happy to be here.

Susanna Jarrett

Thanks for having us.

Should we write everything down for science?

Paige Hudson

We are happy to have you here. So let's dig right in to writing in science. Do you think we should write everything down that we do for science?

Susan Wise Bauer

Whew! Everything is a very big word page. Yeah. So obviously to that to that big question, the answer is, first of all, no.

And then second, the amount of writing that you do is really going to depend on the age student that you're working with. I say this a lot, but I think it's so important that I will say it again, particularly in grades one through three. Students have a limited amount of fine muscle power, you know, in their in their little hands.

And they have so much to do in the actual language arts areas that, you know, the spelling and the grammar and the writing that we have to be super, super careful how much physical writing we ask them to do in other subjects. I am always pointing out to people how much, for example, handwriting is involved in doing like a first-grade math worksheet.

You use up all that hand power on the math worksheet. There's none left when it gets to actual writing practice. So, no, you should not write everything down for science. That doesn't mean you shouldn't talk about everything, because there's a difference between processing information in language and then actually writing it down. So you talk about what you're learning.

You ask them to tell you about what they're learning in complete sentences. But you're very careful about how much actual physical writing you then assigned to them in their science, in their science work. Does that help answer the question?

Paige Hudson

Yeah. And you know, you said that I think years ago in one of the lectures you did, I think it was at Virginia Homeschoolers.

And that's what saved my daughter from writing in science, because I had pushed her to write way too much in the beginning, and she started to hate science because of it. And then when I heard your talk, I was like, okay, maybe we need to like ease up here because it is difficult for the little guys to write.

Susan Wise Bauer

And what starts to happen? I'm so glad you brought that up, Paige, because they start to associate the pain in their hand with the subject. So they'll say, Well, I hate math and I hate science. But what they really saying is, I'm working too hard here and I'm not ready for it.

Paige Hudson

Right. And that was such a like a light bulb moment for me in our homeschool and just kind of, you know, learning that push and pull with the kids and where to push them and where to kind of ease back and let them just enjoy what we're learning and talk about it, but not necessarily write everything down.

Susan Wise Bauer

Absolutely. In complete sentences. Always talk in complete sentences.

Paige Hudson

I wasn't so good at making them do that, but I'm getting better.

Susan Wise Bauer

Getting better. Well, you know, it's funny. We go through, especially if you've got more than one small child, you can go through a whole day and never say a full sentence. You know, you're just like--Yeah. No. Stop. Sit. Go. Eat. You know? And certainly sooner or later, you have to stop and think, okay, I need to be producing a complete subject and a complete predicate so this kid understands how language works.

What are your top three tips for notebooking?

Paige Hudson

Yeah, that is true. So what are your top three tips for notebooks or narration in science?

Susan Wise Bauer

Susanna, do you want to start with your top tip? And then I'll add what I think is important.

Susanna Jarrett

Sure. So let's see here. When you're when you're notebooking and doing narration in science, I think one thing that connects already to what we were just talking about is that you can take those narrations and use them as their writing practice for that day.

It doesn't have to be a whole separate subject. And what that does it all. It helps children create those connections between subjects. I think it's really easy for kids to kind of silo subjects. Okay. At 9:00, we do math. At 10:00, we do science. And when you use writing across the curriculum and you use the narration, maybe they're reading a book and then you ask them, you know, what's the most interesting thing that they learned from that book?

And then you have them explain that to you in a full sentence and then write it down, and then depending on their age, either speak it back to them and they write it down, or if they're younger, write it out for them and they copy it over. They're getting that writing practice in and they're learning. And you can even make this very explicit for them.

We're going to use what we're learning in writing to write down our observation in science. And that's what scientists do. And so being very explicit in making those connections between subjects is really helpful for kids so that they don't get stuck in that trap of siloing. Oh, well, I did this in science class, but doesn't really connect to what I do in writing class.

And one quick anecdote I'll give to that is that I just had I'm thinking about this top of mind right now because I just had coffee with a friend of mine who's a fifth grade teacher, and she is in L.A. writing and reading teacher. And so she did a whole unit, I think it was four weeks, maybe more on the rainforest.

So they read nonfiction about rainforest. They did nonfiction writing projects on rainforest or forests in their E.L.A. class. And near the end of that quarter, the fifth graders went to science class, and the teacher there said, Hey, we're going to start this new unit on ecosystems and climates. What do you all know about rainforests? And the kids were silent.

And so, of course, the E.L.A. teacher who had just been teaching the rainforest for over four weeks was frustrated and asked them, Hey, why didn't you say anything about rainforests in science class? And they said, Well, we thought about rainforests in English class, and it did not connect that something in English class, which is where you study stories and books and things that aren't real, would be the same as the rainforest in science class.

So everywhere we can make explicit connections by incorporating writing into our science time, I think is really helpful for younger children.

Paige Hudson

Yeah, that's a really good point.

Susan Wise Bauer

Oh my goodness. The ability to for children to not see connections is amazing sometimes.

Susanna Jarrett

It was very frustrating for this teacher.

Susan Wise Bauer

I'm sure. I'm sure. And it's partly a maturity issue, too. So I really like what you say there, Susanna, that if you're if you consistently use the narration that you're doing in history or in science for your writing over time, that is going to help them sort of break down those artificial walls.

Susanna Jarrett


Susan Wise Bauer

All right, so we have two more tips. Here would be the two that I would add. First thing is, they don't have to remember everything. One thing, one thing. Do they remember one thing? One thing is good. If you do one thing, every lesson, they're going to actually accumulate a lot of information. But I think it's easy for parents to sort of get hung up on let's make sure that you learn everything that you possibly can out of this lesson.

So one thing is fine. And then I think my third tip would be, don't forget that they can draw a picture and write a caption. It doesn't have to be an actual like sentence narration. Pictures and captions are good too. That also fixes information in their minds, and it also gives them that fine motor practice with their hands.

Paige Hudson

Yeah, that's one of the wonderful things I think about homeschooling is that we can use, you know, information and skills across the curriculum and we can kind of tie things in and that we can go back, especially in classical education, that we can go back and hit the things again so we can kind of relax during the first few elementary years and then knowing we'll hit all those skills again or all that information.

How should we handle the blank stares?

So what should we do when our kids give us blank stares? The dreaded homeschool moms blank stare when they ask, What did you learn?

Susanna Jarrett


Susan Wise Bauer

Susanna, you want to go first.

Susanna Jarrett

Yeah, I'll, I'll give it a go and then you can add anything you have. I think there's one thing you can try first and then kind of a second step after that.

The first step would be just rephrasing the question. So if you said, can you tell me two things that you learned about X, you could just rephrase it to, you know, what's the most interesting thing you learned about X today? Rephrasing that question. If they're still struggling with those open ended questions, sometimes you need to step back and actually create more close ended questions for them.

So if you were doing if you were observing a specimen or reading about a particular animal, you can ask very specific, close ended questions, reminding them that they can go back to the text and we can look at something again, like, does this have wings? What do those wings look like? What do those wings feel like if you're observing the specimen?

So moving from open ended questions to close ended questions to kind of open up, you know, just open up their brains and kind of get them juicing and comfortable before you move back to. Well, what's the most interesting thing that you learned?

Susan Wise Bauer

Yeah, I agree, Susanne. And I think that particular way of phrasing the question where you say, what do you remember is almost designed to produce a blank stare.

I mean, I don't know if you guys, as an adult, I've had this experience. I actually I did an interview once and I was I was kind of thrown off my game because they called at a different time when I was supposed to do an interview. And I was actually out at the barn with the vet and a sick sheep, and I was like, okay, I'll talk to you.

But my attention is going to be really, you know, because I got the sheep and the vet and the first thing they said was, So, so who is your favorite poet? And do you know what? I could not, for the life of me, think of a single name of a single poet. I just it just I just totally blank.

So, you know, those super open ended questions sometimes just have that effect on our brains. It's not the kid's fault, you know, if they really can't remember anything, then you have to sort of go sentence by sentence, read them a sentence. You know, the sun is a massive incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace. What is the sun? And they look at you blankly and you say, is it a mass of incandescent gas?

And they say, Aha. And you say, So why don't you say that after me? The sun is a massive incandescent gas files, one of my kid's favorite songs. So, you know, they pop to mind. But sometimes you have to do that for a long time so that they figure out how to answer a question. It's not a natural skill for a lot of kids that needs to be modeled for them.

And it's fine for you to say the answer and have them repeat it after you. The information is still going through their brain and out their mouth, which is what you're aiming for.

Paige Hudson

Yeah. We used to have to break it up into short paragraphs to get my kids to narrate and stop the blank stares.

Susan Wise Bauer

Yes, yes, indeed.

How does writing in science change over the years?

Paige Hudson

But it is a skill that they learn and they do get better at it the more you practice. With that in mind, how do our expectations for writing in science change over the years?

Susanna Jarrett

Well, we talked about this a little already. If we're looking at the different stages of a classical education like grammar, logic and rhetoric, or roughly elementary, middle and high school, in the grammar stage you're looking at not too much writing less can be more, you know, short narrations and dictations.

And then moving on into the logic stage, that's when students are learning, and it's more natural for them to make connections between subjects, to make connections even between branches of the sciences. And so their writing is going to reflect that and they may be doing more outlining and ways for them to kind of think logically through these connections that they're building.

And then in the rhetoric stage or the high school years, that's when they can really they have the basis in the analytical thinking skills to really engage with the conversation of science and read the writings of great scientists and be able to think about them and write about them and respond to them with short response papers. So the amount of writing that they're doing over time is growing, but also the type of writing from just this is what I learned today to well, this is how that connects to this to Oh, wow, this is, you know, what this, you know, historic scientists thought about science and this was their theory.

And what's my response to that?

Susan Wise Bauer

I think it's really easy. These are these are great points that Susanna's making. I just would like well, I’d add two things. First, don't forget about lab reports, my high school. They should have some practice writing lab reports, which is something that. Yes, but that's something that doesn't make it into a lot of science study.

But it's an important way to document what they're learning. And also, it's really great skill for them to have before they go off to college because they are going to have to take an intro science class. And that's a really necessary skill. But I think also just be aware that, you know, classical education, we always talk about it being rigorous and rigor is great, but it's so easy to ask for too much, too soon.

And just remember that you got 12 years to get this kid up to doing real science writing and particularly for oldest children with literate moms. The demand for them to do too much writing too soon is it's just ever present. It's always there because you're trying so hard to do a good job. But it's easy to, you know, shoot yourself in the foot by producing loathing rather than love of the subject.

What do you wish all homeschoolers knew about writing and science?

Paige Hudson

Susan, what do you wish all home homeschoolers knew about writing in science?

Susan Wise Bauer

Well, I think mostly that writing is a part of science because writing is a way of processing information. Writing is not writing. Writing is a way that we take in and shape and claim information in every single subject area. I mean, if I could and we talk about this some in The Well-Trained Mind, I would get rid of writing as a subject, particularly in the elementary years, because as long as you're doing your copy work and your narration and your dictation, you're writing and I know back to this back to the story that Susanna was telling about sort of siloing information, kids silo information, and you get to science, they're like, well, why do we have to write? We already did writing.

So, you know, the more that you can, the more that you can make writing a way of learning across the curriculum, the better the learning in every subject is going to be.

Paige Hudson

Yeah, and that's what we say with the three keys to science. You need to do science, you need to read and you need to write it down because they make that connection with science. So Susanna, from the students perspective, what do you wish homeschooling parents knew about writing in science?

Susanna Jarrett

Okay, so the first thing that comes to mind might be a little controversial, but I'm going to go there anyway.

And this is that I've noticed that a new curricula this might be more in public schools right now. But I think these trends tend to eventually permeate across school types. There's a there's a trend to try to make everything relevant to kids by connecting it to current events and then asking kids to find solutions to the world's problems.

So some real examples of projects from when I taught public school at these were elementary and middle school projects. Host a community forum to convince local community members to make healthier food choices like eating organic write an essay about the most effective policy solutions for reducing single use plastics or learn about how being an ethical consumer could help save the rainforest and then write an email to convince your parents or administrators things that they could apply to help impact the rainforests.

Susan Wise Bauer

I don't mean to be politically incorrect, but just sounds so boring.

Paige Hudson

Yeah, right, me too.

Susanna Jarrett

So this is all designed to sort of engage kids with we're doing activism and we're going to change the world. But I think this does a disservice to two kids for two reasons. First, at this age, kids don't typically have enough background, knowledge or even analytical skills to do justice to these types of opinion pieces.

So it almost cheapens the act of having an opinion because we're teaching them that they can have opinions and try to make change without a thorough study and analysis of the topic. And then second, even if you do spend a whole quarter teaching kids about rainforests before doing an advocacy project, it's still somewhat developmentally inappropriate because your child, unless your child is naturally, you know, in third grade and saying, I want to go save the rainforests, if in second grade they do a project to try to end the use of plastic and third grade they try to save the rainforest.

And fourth grade they try to, you know, save the whales. And then they check back in with you. And they're like, mom, you know, how are the whales doing? How's the rainforest doing? It could actually become discouraging and disheartening for them when at this stage they should be building their sense of agency, building the sense that their attitude and their actions can impact their little world around them, their siblings and their friends.

And so I think it can be unintentionally harmful. You know, we're really trying to build people who are who care about the world and make the world a better place, but it can unintentionally impact their sense of agency over time. And so I think we just have to lean in and believe and trust that kids are naturally curious to learn about the world, especially in the grammar stage or elementary years.

We don't need this bent of advocacy to make it engaging. We can just learn about it. And that's okay at this age. And even as they get a little bit older, requiring advocacy means that you're artificially manufacturing a passion for them versus allowing them and equipping them to pursue what is interesting to them. So I'm not going to say, you know, if you're a fourth grader wants to go save the rainforest, great, support them.

But I would definitely steer clear of assignments that kind of give kids the pretense that these assignments themselves are going to create change because these assignments are for them to learn. And, you know, anyway, that's just a trend that I've noticed that I wanted to comment on that because I think it can harm kids in the long run.

Susan Wise Bauer

Susanna, that such as have such a great point. And, you know, part of classical education, part of the whole mindset of classical education is that knowledge is good. It's just good, you know, it's good to know more. We don't always have to find a practical reason for knowing more. It's okay to just know.

What about the Well-Trained Mind?

Paige Hudson

Yeah, that's a really good point. So tell us more about The Well-Trained Mind Press and how you guys can help us with teaching writing.

Susanna Jarrett

Awesome. So definitely check out We have a writing curriculum called The Complete Writer, which is a guide that allows parents to build a writing curriculum using the curricula that they're already using. So incorporating writing into science into history, which is a lot of what we talked about today, that book has a lot of great ideas for that, including using writing and science and also The Well-Trained Mind.

The book that that you mentioned earlier has ideas for incorporating writing into science as well. So those to The Complete Writer and The Well-Trained Mind would be my top recommendations from our website to look into.

Paige Hudson

So where can people find you guys online other than the Well-Trained Mind website?

Susan Wise Bauer

Well, that's definitely, you know, sort of our portal to our message boards and articles and all sorts of things. But if you want to my author website is not very tricky to remember and of course you can always follow us on Facebook or Instagram.

Paige Hudson

Okay. It sounds fantastic. Well, I really appreciate you guys sharing your wisdom about writing in science and, you know, taking that time to build that strong foundation for our kids and help them to just really appreciate the world around them and learn about the wonders of science without the pressure of writing.

So thanks for coming on today. And I'm 100% sure that the Tips for Homeschool Science listeners are going to love this episode.

Susan Wise Bauer

Thank you, Paige.

Susanna Jarrett

Thanks for having us.

Also in {Podcast} The Tips for Homeschool Science Show

All About Spelling Those Science Words {Season 11, Episode 129}

March 25, 2024 7 min read

 In this episode, we'll be interviewing Robin Williams from All About Spelling. In our conversation, we discussed tips and tricks for spelling all those science words.

In this episode, we'll be interviewing Robin Williams from All About Spelling. Click "Read More" to listen is as we discuss tips and tricks for spelling all those science words! 

How should you handle notebooking through the different ages? {Season 11, Episode 128}

March 18, 2024 3 min read

How should you handle science notebooking with different age groups? This Tips for Homeschool Science podcast has the answers!
How should you handle science notebooking with different age groups? Come listen to this episode for the answers.
Which one is better in your homeschool - a lapbook or a notebook? {Season 11, Episode 126}

March 04, 2024 4 min read


Should you use a lapbook or a notebook in your homeschool? Get answers in this episode from The Tips for Homeschool Science Show.

Should you use a lapbook or a notebook in your homeschool? Click to get answers in this episode from The Tips for Homeschool Science Show.

Join Us