18 Ways to Teach Science through Literature

science nature homeschool

Trying to recreate public school at home, right down to the textbooks, is something new homeschoolers often do (especially those pulling students out of school).  Literature studies, however, are so much more FUN!  As an added bonus, because they incorporate knowledge through relating to a character and / or story, your students are apt to retain more once the year ends. 

What are living books, and how can you use them to make your homeschool shine? Get all the tips & tricks in Using Living Books to Homeschool.

Novel studies can be used to cover concepts from language arts and history to science and math.  It’s been our students’ preferred learning method for years, and we’ve created well over one hundred of them! If you’re looking to teach science through literature, here are 18 units to try….

science literature pin
  • Fever 1793 + Epidemics in World History
  • Willa of the Wood + Basic Foraging
  • Shouting at the Rain + Severe Weather
  • Nick & Tesla + Nikola Tesla / Electricity
  • N&T Robot Army Rampage + Introductory Robotics
  • N&T Secret Agent Gadget Battle + Spy Gadgets
  • N&T Super Cyborg Gadget Glove + Robotics
  • N&T Special Effects Spectacular + Making Special Effects
  • N&T Solar Powered Showdown + Solar Energy
  • Misty of Chincoteague & Horses
  • Hugo Cabret & Clocks / Time
  • Caroline’s Comet & Astronomy
  • Fuzzy Mud & Microbiology
  • Hatchet & Outdoor Skills
  • Legacy of Flight & Airplanes / Flight
  • The Science of Breakable Things & the Scientific Method
  • Frankenstein & Human Anatomy
  • Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation & Albert Einstein

Another fun option for teaching science is the Physical Science class offered through Sparks Academy! This is an online co-op, with weekly student interaction in the private classroom forum. Learn more here.

Using Living Books to Homeschool

When you were a kid, did you learn more from textbooks or from reading books just for fun? I definitely learned a lot more from historical fiction than from any history textbook!

Trying to recreate public school at home, right down to the textbooks, is something new homeschoolers often do (especially those pulling students out of school). But, by using living books in your homeschool, coupled with family-style learning, it can be so much more FUN and rewarding.  Plus, when you use living books in your homeschool, your students are apt to retain more once the year ends. 

What is a Living Book?

Living books are reading material that pull you into a subject and get you emotionally involved with the characters (a la chapter books), so it’s easier to remember the events and facts.  These books literally bring the event(s) they are talking about to life with storylines and imagination! When is the last time a textbook made you feel alive and invested in what was being studied? Probably never.

Living Books….

  • Allow the reader to visit another era and experience the culture or history.  During the ‘Rona, one of the books we read together was Fever 1793. We like to take our read-alouds and turn them into learning units, like this one, to reinforce concepts learned in the story.
    • TIP: If you’re using read-alouds as a base for school, it’s helpful to read multiple books about the same event. Having different perspectives helps students to learn critical thinking skills.
  • Put the reader into the book.  This allows your children to experience different cultures and places that they may not otherwise see. The more detailed the descriptions, the more vividly your child will relate, and it is through learning about and relating to other cultures that we break down barriers. 
    • TIP: Cultural literacy is learning about other perspectives, including across genders, world regions, and historic eras. It is helpful if you have some background knowledge to incorporate the protagonist’s perspective — so if you are going to read a book set during the Civil War, do a bit of research on the Civil War before reading the novel. It will help bring the story to life!

Benefits of Family-Style Reading

Reading together as a family helps to encourage a lifelong love of reading and literature. Whether you begin when your child is a newborn or as a teen, there are so many positive effects!  

Note to parent: If you do not start reading aloud until your child is a teen, there will be a transitional time as they become accustomed. Do not give up!

Tips for Using Living Books as Read-Alouds

1. Do the voices

Sure, you might feel goofy at first, but nothing gets children engaged in a story faster than having a different voice for each character! Through the years, we’ve had many a good laugh as mom tried to pull off several accents, with varying degrees of success. But you know what? They remember the stories!

2. Let them be active

Legos, play-do, and coloring books are great quiet activities to keep hands occupied while ears are listening. It never hurts to pause and ask a few questions, but you’ll probably find that they are more engaged than you think.

3. Read from many genres

Mix it up, with historical fiction from multiple eras, contemporary fiction, and the occasional non-fiction.

4. Keep a home library

Yard sales, Facebook groups, and consignment stores are a great place to scout used books. Even if your child is a toddler, when you find a classic piece for a few years down the road, go ahead and snag it. A good home library will encompass many different topics and genres, including both fiction and non-fiction books.

5. Read every day

Whether you read for five minutes or an hour, set aside some time each and every day to read.  We get it…busy days mean shorter reading times.  But it’s too easy to get out of the habit, so make it a priority!  If necessary, use an audiobook to do the reading in the car.

6. Pass the book

If your children are old enough, take turns reading. Keep it age-level appropriate and for short lengths of time. When my children started reading aloud with the family, they read one paragraph at a time, then a page, and then a full chapter.

7. Read at level AND below level

As an adult, do you only read collegiate-level and above books? Neither do I. Sometimes it’s nice to settle in with a fun book, regardless of the target age range. For struggling readers, this can help them feel more successful, too, as they build those skills.

8. Use picture books.

In the non-fiction realm, picture books are an excellent way to help illustrate and explain difficult concepts… I’m looking at you, science! But also understand that not every book needs pictures. Not having pictures in a book allows children to stretch their imaginations and come up with those mental images.

Choosing Quality Books

As with everything in life, there is yin and yang. When choosing living books for read-alouds, or as a base for studies, keep in mind that not all books are “good” books.  “Good” books…

  • Have realistic characters. They are flawed. They live in the real world. But they often learn to overcome their flaws during the story.
  • Teach a moral lesson. Whether through acceptance or overcoming, the protagonist learns some sort of character lesson in the story.
  • Are engaging. These are not dry reads, but intriguing plots full of details that will keep the reader hooked and involved.

“Bad” books…

  • Are not real world. In these books, everything is awesome. Or horrible. There are no real-life events. Or they are overly moralistic.
  • Are poorly written. With poor grammar and speech (we’re not talking about the use of dialects, which can add to the authenticity), these books do more harm than good for your student’s mastery of language arts.
  • Have poor characters. They are boring, self-absorbed, and do not learn anything through the story.

Using Living Books to Study Core Subjects

Sparks Academy

The language arts classes at Sparks Academy utilize five to six novels each year to teach history, geography, character, and literary concepts. Each of the four levels builds upon the last, until students are ready to write in any form requested of them – whether at a career or college!  There are four levels offered currently, including High School 1High School 2High School 3, and Level 7(The last one is for 7th/8th/9th grade, depending on your student’s skills.) This is an online co-op, with weekly student interaction in the private classroom forum. Learn more here.

Most Commonly Asked Homeschooling Questions…Answered!

new homeschooler

Can I just pull my child out of school?  Is that even legal?

The short answer is, yes, you can pull them out and it’s legal.  But each state has different laws, but HSLDA knows all of them.  If you’re planning to homeschool, joining HSLDA is a must, no matter which state you reside in, because they’ve got your back. 

How do I get started?

Homeschooling can be expensive if you don’t put some thought into it at the beginning.  {See The Costs of Homeschooling.}  The first thing you should do, especially if you are pulling kids out of public school, is to plan for an adjustment period.  You might hear this referred to as ‘deschooling.’  This will give you time to take some notes and make a plan, but it also gives your student(s) time to transition.  (The longer they were in public school, the longer this may take.)  This is when your child comes to realize that the days of being lectured and provided answers have passed, and it is now time to be more proactive and take some responsibility for their learning.  Trust me…they’ll come to appreciate this.

Deschooling also gives your family a chance to find a new rhythm.  Remember when everyone had to pull their kids out of school, without warning, during COVID?  People were overwhelmed.  Their lives were being turned on a dime.  This transitional time allows you to get past the “argh!  We’re together all. the. time.” phase and into a more family-oriented groove.  I’m not gonna lie…it can be hard for some families, particularly those who are accustomed to running all the time.  But you’ll get there.

Deschooling, however, doesn’t mean watching tv and playing video games every day.  This is a chance to re-ignite that natural passion for learning.  Take up a craft or art project.  Read some books.  Get outside.  Take field trips.  This is a chance to get back to the basics of learning.

Tips for Transitioning to Home-School

  • Keep a routine as best you can.  Set up a daily schedule that includes work, rest, and play. 
  • Try to regulate screen time.  This may be difficult if classes are being held online, but try anyway.
  • Be patient with yourself and others.
  • Be willing to learn alongside your kids.  You might find you enjoy the lessons!
  • If you are working from home, be willing to check in on your kids every 20-30 minutes to be sure they are doing their classes.

One fantastic option for families just starting out is called SchoolhouseTeachers. .. 

  • One family membership covers all the kids…whether there are two or twelve…and everything you need to homeschool every subject for every grade!
  • There are varied course options, including streaming, interactive, and downloadable.  We personally (here in rural-ville) tend toward the downloadable ones, but I know many families would rather have streaming.

If you’re not a member of SchoolhouseTeachers yet, this is an AMAZING time to check it out! You’ll get two years for the price of one, plus extra goodies, when you sign up for an Ultimate (PreK–12) Annual Membership

Use promo code: SHARK20 right now and receive the low rate of $179 for TWO years—only $89.50/yr! You’ll also receive a FREE canvas tote and PRINT back issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine (tote color and magazine issue will vary, no refunds)Every subject. Every grade. Every student.

But how am I supposed to get it all done in a day?

First-time homeschoolers generally try to replicate public school at home.  It’s what they know, and it’s familiar.  Trust me…many mommas have gone down this road before!

Learning to re-frame the day, however, is the first step toward homeschool freedom.  When you understand and accept that there is considerable learning value is almost everything you do, it relaxes your attitude toward school…which transfers to your students and makes for a more enjoyable experience.

How to re-frame?

  • First, learn the lingo.  
  • Does your child understand something?  Wonderful!  They have ‘comprehension.’  
  • If you quiz your child on his ABCs, does he know them?  Great!  He just passed an ‘assessment.’
  • Second, master documentation.

Say your elementary student spent two hours outside, skipping rope, playing with sidewalk chalk, catching bugs and examining them, and making leaf prints.  That’s physical education, art (or handwriting, depending on what was drawn), science, and nature study!

Baking cookies together as part of holiday preparations?  This activity has math (measurement and time), chemistry, reading, home economics, and nutrition lessons!

We’re not suggesting that everyday consist of this type of schooling, though there are families who do ascribe to this theory – it’s called Unschooling, and you can learn more about it here.  

The point is that each day doesn’t need to consist of books, papers, and pencils to ensure that learning is happening.  When children are excited about something, they’re sure to learn and retain more!

What do I do about my special needs child? 

This is a subject that’s near and dear to the Homeschool House leadership, as each and every one of us has at least one special needs child.  You’ll find several articles on our blog about this subject.  Here are just a few….

Uh….planning.  Is that really necessary?

In a word, yes.  Benjamin Franklin once said,’ Failing to plan is planning to fail.’  What that means is that you need to have some idea of goals before you start teaching.  Is college a goal?  What about learning to read by the end of the year?  Different ages require different goals.

Some parents plan an entire year in advance.  Others plan for the month, or the week, while some just plan for the day.  How you choose to plan is going to be largely dependent on your preferences.

Me?  I’m a planner.  But I don’t like planning long-term because things are always changing (hello…COVID, anyone?).  After many years of homeschooling, our family has found that planning for the week ahead works perfectly for us.  Even then, there are some weeks when things change and the planning book gets marked up.  Life happens.

Some people do their planning online, while others prefer to use a paper planning book.  As part of the planning, you’ll review what’s coming up in each curricula subject, make sure you have materials and library books on-hand, and take into consideration any upcoming appointments during the school day.

If you’re planning for an entire month, plan to sit down for about a full day to lay out exactly what needs to be done. If you’re planning for a week at a time, prepare to spend about an hour laying out the week’s work.  Some people (no finger pointing at one of our Shack leaders J ) prefer to write down at the end of the day what was accomplished….no planning required and her book is never marked up with changes!  Again….personal preferences.

Planning a Bit Easier

There are some curricula that take all of the planning out the mix.  A World of Adventure, BookShark, Sonlight, My Father’s World…these are all curricula that provide the planning sheets for you.  It’s open and go…just make sure that you have any materials on-hand for art or science lessons (they’ll tell you what you need).  If you’re just starting your homeschool journey, and very anxious about planning and making sure that everything is covered, you might start out with something like this.

How on earth do I homeschool multiple ages at once??

Whether you have two children or eight, homeschooling multiple children is a juggling act.  One of the best things that you can do is have some ‘schooling together time’ so that there is a set time when everyone comes together as a unit.

Teach Together

With children of about the same age – up to four years apart – you can teach some of the subjects simultaneously.  Curricula such as The Good & the Beautiful, Gather ‘Round, BookShark, or A World of Adventure lend themselves toward this type of family-style teaching, with cohesive read-alouds and teaching time while each student gets an age-appropriate workbook.

Read-aloud time doesn’t have to mean that all the children are lined up neatly and politely on the couch!  Legos, coloring books, and other quiet play toys are a great way to keep little (or not-so-little) hands occupied during this time.  Discuss the reading as a family at the end of each session.

Unit Studies

Similar to the curricula cited above, unit studies allow your entire family to work together on one topic, with each student researching or studying at their own level.  After a family trip to the aquarium and some study-together time, a toddler might color a page about seahorses, while a high schooler might do a research paper on the same topic.  Together, all of the students could complete a science experiment, play a game, and do art projects.

Individual Subjects

While it’s easier to combine history and literature, subjects such as math and science need to be a bit more age-specific once students hit middle school.  Again, if they are only a couple of years apart, students could still study together.  Middle school, however, is when students begin to work independently, so this is a good opportunity to give them some of that freedom.  For many families, math is the one that requires each student to have different, grade-appropriate lessons, and tends to take the most of mom’s time.  An outside course, such as the Saxon Dive CDs, can really help here!

What curriculum do I need?

Choosing the right curriculum for your family means first determining your family’s homeschooling style.  Some families are strictly one style, while others prefer a blend of styles.  Within the leadership of the Book Shack, we cover nearly every style imaginable…so if you ever have questions, just ask, and one of us will be glad to assist you. You can also check out reviews!

Your family might try out one style and find that it’s not for you.  It may take a few years to settle down into the right fit for your family, and that’s completely normal.  When contacting the Book Shack for assistance, however, it helps us to help you if you know your family’s preferred style.  

What style is best for your family?

  • When choosing a style (and there’s a good chance you’ll change as your children grow), consider these questions…
  • What’s your teaching style?
  • What are your goals?
  • How do your kids learn best?
  • What values do you want to instill in your children?
  • What’s your lifestyle?  Do you prefer routine or flexibility?