Apologia Educational Ministries, Inc. is known for their high-quality, professional produced series of science textbooks by Jeannie Fulbright. The books are written from a Christian perspective, with emphasis placed on the wonders of our Lord's world. I recently received for review Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day from their elementary series, designed for grades K-6. The elementary books claim to use a Charlotte Mason methodology and have narration, notebooking and nature study built into the lessons.
Overall, I was impressed with the quality of this textbook. Flying Creatures is divided into 14 lessons and each lesson is broken down into smaller, more digestible chunks, complete with reminders to narrate what you have learned and experiments for further investigation using mainly household materials. The simple introduction gives suggestions for scheduling the lessons---typically 2 weeks are spent on each lesson (giving you a year-long science curriculum), though this can be varied somewhat from lesson to lesson. Some will decide to take 2 years to complete the book. The introduction also contains notes on narration, notebooking, a complete list of materials needed to complete the activities in each lesson (nice!), and a "Scientific Speculation Sheet" (for experiments). There is also a password and link given for the "Book Extras," an extensive list of web resources with links for every single lesson in the book.
Lesson 1 begins, quite logically, with Classification and explains how living creatures are classified by scientists to make it easier to learn about individual species. The lesson moves on to cover the principles of flight and includes an experiment on glider design. The lesson also briefly covers habitats, instinct and extinction and finishes up with a Nature Scavenger Hunt. You can see lesson 1 in its entirety here.
It should be noted that Flying Creatures covers all of God's flying creatures, so in addition to birds, the book also includes lessons on bats, flying insects and even pterosaurs. The information seems to be quite thorough and there are plenty of opportunities for first-hand investigation.
The text is written in a fairly engaging, conversational style. However, it is still a textbook. While I have nothing against textbooks as a general rule, as they can be a very valuable resource, I think this one is a bit above my kiddos' heads (ages 3, 5 and almost 9) right now. They very quickly became bored with the reading selections (especially the information on classification) and would beg me to stop reading aloud to them after only a paragraph or two. I feel that Flying Creatures may be a little too structured for the K-3 crowd and should be reserved for upper elementary, say 4th or 5th and up. While Charlotte Mason did advocate the use of many of the principles used in this curriculum (narration and keeping a nature journal, for example), she also advocated a largely unstructured approach to science for children in the early elementary grades, more of a mode of discovery followed by further inquiry, or at least that's my understanding of her principles. Our science studies have been mainly informal to this point, not ruled by a particular path, but more about finding out more about the things we discover and wonder about in God's world.
I think this book could be used in the early elementary grades with some modifications. For example, I would downplay highly technical aspects, like classification, and maybe begin each lesson with a nature walk looking for particular things that pertain to that lesson, or with an experiment, as a way to peak interest and get the kiddos into the "tell me more" frame of mind. Then, read some of the text aloud but either cull from it or break it down into smaller chunks. Lapbooking could also be a welcome addition for younger children. If you wanted to keep older children on the same page, they could read the rest of the lesson independently and learn the more technical aspects.
Since my kiddos are all still fairly young (and Physics is really David's passion at the moment), I think we'll put Flying Creatures on hold for now, but I'm sure that in a couple of years we'll revisit it with renewed enthusiasm.
Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day is available directly from Apologia for $35.
Also available in the elementary series:
Exploring Creation with Zoology II
Exploring Creation with Zoology III
Exploring Creation with Astronomy
Exploring Creation with Botany
To read other reviews of this book and others from Apologia, click the link below: