Thursday, August 02, 2007

Apologia Science Texts: What would Miss Mason Think?

A reader asks:

At what point does the use of a standard textbook become okay according to Charlotte Mason? I have not read all of her books, but thus far, I have not found the answer to my question.

At first glance, due to the lack of pictures (and ugly covers) Apologia looks like just another text, but it reads like a living book. Unlike modern day textbooks, several authors didn't contribute their little blip to the volume but rather, one author, who is passionate about science wrote the text in an engaging, conversational manner. I would call Apologia books 'LIVING.'

I also feel that by the time students reach this age they need to be stretched a little more so that they will be able to do well in college courses and/or the working environment. They need to get used to taking tests, learning to study vocabulary, etc... I feel this should be a very minor part of my children's education, but nevertheless, it is the reality of our world today. Apologia provides a gentle introduction to these skills. We add narration, as well.

It is interesting to note that Miss Mason used much more difficult "texts" in the upper years for various subjects as well as living books. (Look at her Math, Grammar and Foreign Language choices) And if you look at her programs (available at the AO website) for 8 and 9th graders, they used science books such as:

First Year Scientific Knowledge and A Health Reader

These sound like texts to me. Were they living? I hope so. I know that she lamented the lack of good, living science books. The students' narrations were also more sophisticated. She didn't just have them tell back, but asked them to compare and describe processes, diagram, explain cause and effect...

Look at these sample questions from her old exams:

"Describe an experiment which illustrates the possible arrangement of electrons within the atom. If the electron theory be true, how does it help us to understand, a), an electric charge, b), an electric current?

What are the chief classes of the Vertebrata? Mention some of the earliest known specimens in each class. What plant fossils may be found, and in what kinds of rocks do they occur?"

Today, the sciences have become more important than they were in Miss Mason's day because new discoveries mean there is a lot more new information to process and understand; and it is important to understand these concepts if we truly want a liberal education (think Leonardo da Vinci). But many homeschooling parents don't have the science background to create a comprehensive curriculum in the sciences. I certainly don't, so I appreciate the Apologia books. I DO want my children to continue to wonder at the world around them and think that Apologia does a pretty good job in this.

If some parents feel confident in coming up with their own science plan, then I think that is great and encourage them to do so. I happen to have a child who enjoys chemistry and physics. I know little about these subjects, but I want to nurture this interest, so I look for living books to share with her in these particular areas and will continue to do alongside her Apologia courses.

Mr. Wile's books are so wildly popular because most kids really do enjoy them. He realizes the importance of making the sciences interesting. However, I feel he can improve on his texts and also make them more visually engaging. No doubt, some creative homeschooler, with a love of the sciences will build upon Mr. Wile's idea and come up with something even better. In the meantime, I'm glad this excellent resource is available.

one step at a time...


  1. Thank you for a wonderful post, Linda. Your blog inspires me as we begin our homeschooling years! I went to the Apologia web site and read that they also have four elementary science books. I feel we have the astronomy covered but wondered what you might think of the biology and zoology books.


    Thanks again for posting and helping those that come after you!

  2. lindafay,

    We have used Apologia texts middle and high school science and my boys have really enjoyed them.

    I just wanted to say that I heard Dr. Wile at our homeschooling convention last weekend. What an excellent, motivational teacher! I think one point that he brought out in his sessions was that his books were written with critical thinking skills in mind. He wants the student to really think about the subject and not be spoon-fed the information. He realizes that as the students get into the more abstract sciences they need to be able to read the text and learn it by thinking about it. They are not in the "exploring" science stage anymore. I appreciated that so much since I guess I got stuck in that model that in order for it to be "Charlotte Mason" that it needed to be presented in a more explore and experiment method. That is not possible in say teaching about the parts of a molecule. We can model it but we really at some point have to take it on faith.

    I found that with the accompanying CDs, the text became more "alive" and colorful. We still talk about the lightning video on the Physical Science CD.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the Apologia texts.


  3. Your blog always inspires me. I love this post about the Apologia texts. I found that the elementary books are much more Charlotte Mason than the high school. They are filled with colorful pictures, narrations for the parents to ask and tons of hands on experiments. My 8th grader has asked to do the Zoology 2 this year in addition to Physical science just because she loves the lower level series so much.

  4. Maureen,
    We don't use the lower years apologia ourselves, but I've heard good reviews about them.

    You expressed what I was thinking but did it much better than I. We also use the multimedia CDs and enjoy them.