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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers, a review



Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers

by Susan Kilbride

more information available at

recommended ages: ages 4-13

suggested retail: $16.95


One of the ways that I’ve been trying to combat our early spring funk is by adding a little more fun to our science studies, so I was very pleased to have the opportunity to review Susan Kilbride’s book Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers.

This 200 page oversized paperback contains science units for multiple ages and covers a wide variety of topics, from dinosaurs to chemistry. Here’s a list of the units:

For ages 4-7

  • Our Senses
  • The Human Body
  • Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life
  • Animals
  • Insect and Their Kin
  • Fun with Magnets
  • Stars and Planets
  • Health
  • Beginning Plants
  • Animal Ecology

For ages 8-13

  • Insects
  • Microscopes and Invisible Creatures
  • Atoms and Molecules
  • Matter
  • Chemistry Fun
  • Weather
  • Force and Motion
  • Simple Machines
  • Light and Color
  • Plants II

Each unit begins with a comprehensive list of materials required to complete all of the activities for that unit. The unit itself is divided into parts (number of parts varies by unit, about 4-7 parts per unit) and each part contains one or more hands-on activities illustrating the concepts covered in that part.

Many activities can be completed in under a half-hour (some in only a few minutes if you’ve got your stuff together), but some are substantially more involved. For example, in “Stars and Planets” the part on the Moon (for ages 4-7) suggest 5 different different activities, including watching a movie about Apollo 11 landing on the moon, looking at the moon through binoculars, making “craters” by dropping pebbles into a box of baking soda, taking a pretend trip to the moon by making a “rocket” out of a garbage can or box, and making a drinking straw rocket. You could easily spend a week on the moon.

By contrast, in the Simple Machines unit (for ages 8-13), there’s only 1 or 2 activities for demonstrating each of the different types of simple machines and most of them can be completed in about 10 minutes, making it possible to complete the entire unit in an afternoon.

As you can see, it’s difficult to pin down the amount of time needed for each unit and it will vary quite a bit from unit to unit.

The units for ages 8-13 each have a brief test you can give your student to see if they have mastered the concepts.

How did we use it?

I tried out Science Unit Studies with 3 children: David (age 11), Mary (age 8), and Peter age 6). Since most of the kiddos fell into the higher age group, we concentrated on those studies.

I let my oldest choose the unit we would try first. This was a mistake. He chose “Chemistry Fun” because, well, it sounded like fun. How could making goo not be fun?

Ms. Kilbride states in the introduction that the units are built upon one another, so she does recommend that you do them order (although, being a homeschooler herself, she also acknowledges that homeschoolers are wont to go their own way, so mixing them up is ok, too ;0). This is ok for some units. For instance, there’s no reason you can’t study weather before insects, or plants before weather, but some of the units definitely do function as building blocks to other units.

I do recommend doing “Atoms and Molecules” plus “Matter” before doing “Chemistry Fun.” While I have taught them about matter and atoms in the past, I ended up doing some backwards flipping through the text to explain a few things, and in the end we were not able to finish the chemistry unit due to the lack of background.

We did learn about density, surface tension, mixtures, solutions, and conservation of mass. We didn’t get to polymers (no goo!), electron shells, ions, acids, and bases. We will at some point, but we really need to go back and do atoms and molecules first, for it to all make sense.


surface tension


mixtures, yum!

The activities were simple and I had most of the necessary ingredients at home, with the exception of school glue, borax, and iodine which were all needed for the part on polymers (which we didn’t do anyway).

The kiddos enjoyed showing off to the grandparents later by floating paperclips---the simplest things can make them happy. ;0)

We also tried out part of the unit on “Simple Machines,” a topic we’ve explored pretty in-depth in the past. This unit covers each of the different simple machines (inclined plane, screw, wedge, lever, pulley, and wheel & axle) and the concept of work. We completed the first half with materials we had on hand in less than an hour.

Looking at most of the units, the vast majority of the necessary items are household materials, but many of them are not things I have in my particular household, so that is something to consider. Examples: gravel or sand, pulleys, 33oz coffee can still full of coffee, foam board, peppermint extract, spray perfume, 2 identical outdoor thermometers, milk cartons (LOTS of milk cartons), fabric paint, plain t-shirt, aquarium with lid, different types of birdseed, empty prescription bottles, large brown grocery bag (not sure I can get that), 1 cinnamon stick, tape recorder (fortunately a digital one would work), colored marshmallows, silver spray paint, pizza delivery box, eyedropper, mealworms, crickets, and many food items that would not normally be on my shopping list. You can make some substitutions, absolutely, but a little pre-planning is definitely in order. ;0)

What did we think?

For the most part, the activities are fun, engaging, and easy to do. I might even get over my squeemishness and buy some mealworms and crickets from a pet store, because the “Insects” units sounds pretty cool!

But there’s some unevenness. The simple machines unit was lacking activity-wise, and I felt that it didn’t really measure up to some of the creative ideas in the other units. I also felt that some of the explanations of the concepts in both units we tried were inadequate and really only touched the surface of the topic being studied. This is a concern in our homeschool, as I often feel that our oldest (who’s not quite at the upper age limit that this curriculum is designed for) is not challenged enough in science. This was easily remedied by adding in some reading from other science books we have in our home library.

After reading through Science Unit Studies, many of the units for younger grades seem more impressive and have more creative activities for engaging all the senses, and I really love the looks of the studies on insects and plants.

Due to different topics being taught in the 2 different age levels, it’s not really possible to combine much if you have both older and younger kiddos, though you could choose from one level or the other and supplement, if combining is a priority in your homeschool.

What’s my recommendation?

I’d recommend Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers in the following scenarios:

  • You are looking for a spine for creating your own literature-based science curriculum. This would be an excellent resource to use as an outline of concepts to study, which you could easily round out with books from your library.
  • You are looking for something to help jazz up your current science curriculum (especially for younger grades). The nature study components (plants and insects) are particularly well done.
  • You are looking for a fun, engaging science curriculum for kids 8 and under. The price is right, even if you only use the first half of the book.

Would you like to try a couple of free units? You can download “Beginning Plants” and “Atoms and Molecules” for free.

Science Unit Studies for Homeschoolers and Teachers is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Rainbow Resource.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in order to facilitate my review. I received no compensation and the opinions expressed here are my own.

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