Nearly at the end of my rope with Apologia Biology…

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  • Bookworm

    As per what Karen said– I hear this ALL the time, too.  I hear moms say “I don’t like science.  I can’t do science.  Science doesn’t make sense.”  Guess what these moms’ kids feel about high school science?  I didn’t like math OR science much, myself.  I didn’t even like going outdoors much.  But then God gave me 3 boys and expected me to teach them.  Hmm.  “I AM a mom who needs to teach children.  I CAN learn whatever I expect them to learn.  I OUGHT to take their math and science educations seriously.  I WILL TEACH REAL SCIENCE!!!!!!”  I sat up with their physics text many, many nights trying to figure out what was going on.  I love physics now!  Teaching our own children is a great way to rectify omissions in our own educations.  

    If something doesn’t make sense, there are things you can do.  Find help.  Design an experiment.  Look for more stuff online.   Do you want to know where we got the inspiration to do extra experiments to help ourselves? Would you believe Mythbusters?  LOL


    Bookworm, I LOVE your “I am, I can, I ought, I will” application for a mom who is embarking upon science & math instruction! I wish we had more “doing hard things” applications of Miss Mason’s motto posted here for various hurdles (perceived or real) faced by moms on this forum. They would be so encouraging. (Maybe I’ll have to start a thread for that & “borrow” Bookworm’s motto….*ahem*….is it copyrighted???)



    Perhaps your daughter needs to expand her exposure to some of the concepts in her textbook. It may seem like it will slow her down to add in additional readings and videos and make a colorful biology notebook, but I’ll bet she may make some mental connections that inspire her to press on in her textbook. Guest Hollow has some biology books and video recommendations…keep scrolling down the webpage (but check out and see what your own library has in its system. You may be surprised to find a cool DVD on cells).

    In addition to their Apologia Biology textbook, my three older children read living books, wrote narrations, and watched DVDs on biology and anatomy. The books and videos provided the needed context for the knowledge packed in the textbook. Because they had to type up and print their vocabulary, Study Modules, lab reports, and living book narrations plus include an illustration/diagram for each module, the children’s biology notebook became a favorite project.


    I am really enjoying the new responses to this thread.  I know I have room to improve in this (okay in most!) areas.  However it is encouraging to me to hear.  I know Makayla took some time adjusting to Apologia’s General Science this year, but she did the work and she stepped up and did it!  She had never completed a formal science curriculum either – she read a lot of science, explored a lot of nature, and we did science every year in some way.  She may have done part of an Apologia Elementary book or worked with an experiment kit, solved a problem, had a garden from planning to harvest, etc. 

    She really needed to learn how to read an information packed book – to slow down and really figure out the information.  She needed to learn to divide up her work into chunks that worked for her.  She had to learn how to read an experiment before starting, gather materials, and read the experiment again before doing it.  But those were easy adjustments when I didn’t insist on an artificial schedule and push her on through.  I gave her time to get her feet under her and once that happened she picked up the pace naturally. 

    Will physical science this year and biology next be huge adjustments again?  I don’t think so.  But only because we didn’t feel the pressure to ‘stick with this exact and fast schedule’.  She started the book narrating after a page.  Now she narrates after several pages.  It’s work.  But it is work she takes pride in (I am, I CAN, I ought, I will).  She recognized after the first month that she really could handle this. 

    And as her mom I learned a lot too.  I never learned science to the depth that Apologia teaches.  I’m starting to study her next book (Physical Science) right now and it’s going to be a great.

    Thanks for the encouragement and reminders!


    Thank you bookworm for your timely posts!  I have been encouraged, uplifted and admonished in a loving way. 


    Thank you for all the suggestions for building our children up in this area.


    I’ve marked this thread as a favorite! @Bookworm: How did you/your boys progress to tough narrations? Does it gradually happen as the reading material becomes more difficult? I sometimes worry that we just skim the surface at times with oral narration. How do expect/require your child’s narrations to change over time? @Karen Smith: Could you add to your comment about the parent directing the study of science? Would that mean having covered usual scope-and-sequence topics during the elementary years? Intentionally seeking specific things for nature study rather than just whatever happens to be in the backyard?


    Bethanna, I would often just watch the child carefully.  I don’t know about yours but mine behave a certain way when they are just trying to get by or evade me.  That is a clue that I didn’t get their best.  Not every short narration is a shirking–but I was just looking for clues that they are THINKING about the material as they get older.  They knew what I wanted–I would at times show them, especially as they got older and I wanted them comparing, coming up with similar examples, analogies, processing—One of the things I would do would simply to keep looking at them with an expectant expression.  Gentle “try again” reminder.  Sometimes I’d ask them if that was their best effort.  And then wait.  Sometimes I’d even ask a question, although I tried not to make connections for them, I’d just say things like ‘Does this remind you of anything else?” “OK, now tell me as though I were (younger child or someone) and I REALLY NEEDED to understand this”


    Good morning! And thank you! That is helpful. I am thankful for what you and others said about CM methods being rigorous yet enjoyable work. I have had others make me feel (or try to) that CM is easy, lazy, not “real.” I usually let it slide off b/c the proof is in the pudding: my children love to learn! History & science are exciting to them b/c we do not use the tedious fill-in-the-blank/20 questions workbook approach. Your assertions help me sweep away any cobwebs of doubt!

    Alicia Hart

    This thread is super motivating for us.  Gives me inspiration to keep up with those written narrations!

    Bookworm-  You mentioned the importance of “tough narrations”.  Can you explain what you meant by that?



    Just narrating tough material, thinking about it and trying to process it, not just skipping over the top.  


    Bookworm, I’m looking at everything you mention above on narration (high expectations, not letting them skim, drawing comparison, etc.) and the HARD WORK CM education.  Whole-heartedly agree with you, but it brings a question to mind that I think I just need a firm answer on:  reading and knowing all the books and materials of our students.

    My feeling since we began the CM way (about 3 yrs ago) is that I would not TRULY know whether my kids are learning properly if I was not personally reading and learning ALL of their material.  For me, in an educational approach that relies so heavily on narration, understanding of the content seems essential if I am going to be an effective CM teacher.  Let’s face it, the curriculum in a box companies give the teacher an “answer key”.  The CM education, with a feast of living books as material and narration as the student activity, does not.  So how do so many CM moms assess narrations without having read the material?   Is there something here that I am missing?

    For those who DO strive to read and know all the student material that your kids have as independent reading, HOW do you do it?   How do you do it when there are four+ kids, each with a different set of independent assigned readings for narration?

    This issue is big for me.  There are days I even wonder whether I can continue on CM – due solely to this one issue.  And I have tried the alternative.  But any time I listen to oral narrations or review written narrations from material that I have not previously read or studied, I um well, I feel kind of like… a fraud!  I feel like I’m in no position to give that gentle, expectant look described in the bookworm post above, or to ask the “did you ever think of how that compares to…” kind of questions, if I am not truly familiar with the material.  Do others feel this way?  It seems to me, from reading many past forum topics, that the challenges hit us as CM Mom/Teachers most heavily at the high school level.  After a coast through elementary, and perhaps getting by with not reading or studying our children’s material, it catches up to us in high school.  Yes?

    All this said, is it fair to say that in order to provide the effective CM education that bookworm describes above, the CM teacher really must stay on top of all student readings and textbooks, and be ENGAGED alongside students with all nature study? 

    (I’m remembering bookworm’s comment about staying up late those nights learning the physics material before her son came to it….this is ME, constantly trying to read and learn my kids’ material before they get to it.  Thinking also of bookworm’s comment on memorizing butterfly life cycle and cloud types…I would never think to do this unless I were truly “engaged” alongside my child in nature study). 

    I love CM, but I sure wish there were more hours in the day for me to read and plan to ensure it’s done well.  While others have found the posts on this thread to be motivating, to me, it is a real wake-up call that I am going to fail my kids unless I know I can keep up with doing CM the HARD WORK way as described.



    Angelina, I understand your feelings of discouragement. I, too, have a large family. With high schoolers and toddlers in the mix, there are many days I wish there were 2 of me. So I would like to tell you what I am telling myself and have since I started my homeschooling journey many years ago. God doesn’t expect perfection, just obedience. He knows when we are giving our all and He knows our all isn’t good enough, that’s why He sent His Son. I have often prayed and asked God to fill in the gaps because there will be gaps. All we can do is continue to give our best and trust God with the rest because He is so very trustworthy!

    Karen Smith

    “@Karen Smith: Could you add to your comment about the parent directing the study of science? Would that mean having covered usual scope-and-sequence topics during the elementary years?”

    In the elementary years you are laying a foundation for more in-depth science studies in the high school years. Making sure that you provide a wide feast of science topics for your children in the elementary years will lay that foundation. So, yes following a usual scope and sequence would help guide you in choosing topics.

    There are many living science books covering a variety of topics available at libraries. Experiment books are helpful for studying topics that don’t necessarily stand out in nature, for example electricity. I recommend using libraries for science books because science books go out of print so quickly.

    I think this excerpt from volume 6, A Philosophy of Education, gives us a peek at how Charlotte Mason taught science that wasn’t readily observed in nature.

    “We find an American publication called The Sciences (whose author would seem to be an able man of literary power) of very great value in linking universal principles with common incidents of every day life in such a way that interest never palls and any child may learn on what principles an electric bell works, what sound means, how a steam engine works, and many other matters, explained here with great lucidity. Capital diagrams and descriptions make experiments easy and children arrive at their first notions of science without the verbiage that darkens counsel.” (Volume 6, p. 219)

    “Intentionally seeking specific things for nature study rather than just whatever happens to be in the backyard?”

    Yes, you should be intentional about nature study, but also allow the child the pleasure of his own discovery. I think that nature study is one area that moms tend to not be intentional and it becomes almost a bit of unschooling, allowing the child to decide what to study today. Most children will not naturally observe all of the nature even in their backyard. We all tend to gravitate towards what we enjoy. One child may enjoy birds, but won’t look at insects. Another may love to observe insects, but doesn’t like birds. It is the parent’s responsibility to make sure that both insects and birds are observed by both children.

    In Charlotte Mason’s schools, nature study was intentional, but still allowed the student to make his own observations.

    “They are expected to do a great deal of out-of-door work in which they are assisted by The Changing Year, admirable month by month studies of what is to be seen out-of-doors. They keep records and drawings in a Nature Note Book and make special studies of their own for the particular season with drawings and notes.” (Volume 6, p. 219)

    “The studies of Form III (ages 11-15) for one term enable children to––”Make a rough sketch of a section of ditch or hedge or sea-shore and put in the names of the plants you would expect to find.” “Write notes with drawings of the special study you have made this term,” “What do you understand by calyx, corolla, stamen, pistil? In what ways are flowers fertilised?” “How would you find the Pole Star? Mention six other stars and say in what constellations they occur.” “How would you distinguish between Early, Decorated and Perpendicular Gothic? Give drawings.” Questions like these, it will be seen, cover a good deal of field work, and the study of some half dozen carefully selected books on natural history, botany, architecture and astronomy, the principle being that children shall observe and chronicle, but shall not depend upon their own unassisted observation.” (Volume 6, pp. 219-220)

    Here are some examples of exam questions on science, or natural history, from Charlotte’s schools. The answers given by the children show that their studies were both directed and intentional, and from the students own observations. The exam questions can be found in Appendix II of Volume 3, School Education.

    “Q. What have you noticed (yourself) about a spider?

    C. (aged 7 3/4):––

    “We have found out the name of one spider, and often have seen spiders under the microscope––they were all very hairy.

    We have often noticed a lot of spiders running about the ground––quantities. Last term we saw a spider’s web up in the corner of the window with a spider sucking out the juice of a fly; and we have often touched a web to try and make the spider come out, and we never could, because she saw it wasn’t a fly, before she came out.

    “I saw the claw of a spider under the microscope, with its little teeth; we saw her spinnerets and her great eyes. There were the two big eyes in one row, four little ones in the next row, and two little ones in the next row. We have often found eggs of the spiders; we have some now that we have got in a little box, and we want to hatch them out, so we have put them on the mantelpiece to force them.

    “Once we saw a spider on a leaf, and we tried to catch it, but we couldn’t; he immediately let himself down on to the ground with a thread.

    “We saw the circulation in the leg of another spider under the microscope; it looked like a little line going up and down.”

    “Q. Gather three sorts of tree leaf-buds and two sorts of catkin, and tell all you can about them.

    D. (aged 6):––

    «(1) “The chestnut bud is brown and sticky, it is a sort of cotton-woolly with the leaves inside. It splits open and sends out two leaves, and the leaves split open.

    (2) “The oak twig bas always a lot of buds on the top, and one bud always dies. Where the bud starts there is a little bit of knot-wood. The oak-bud is very tiny.

    (3) “The lime bud has a green side and a red side, and then it bursts open and several little leaves come out and all the little things that shut up the leaves die away.

    (4) “Golden catkins and silver pussy palms’ of a willow tree. The golden catkins have stamens with all the pollen on them. They grow upwards, and two never grow opposite to each other.

    The silver pussy palms have seed boxes, with a little tube growing out, and a little sticky knob on the top. The bees rub the pollen off their backs on to the sticky knob.”

    “Q. What have you noticed about a thrush? Tell all you know about it.

    F. (aged 8):––

    “Thrushes are browny birds. They eat snails, and they take the snail in their mouths and knock it against a stone to break the shell and eat the snail. I found a stone with a lot of bits of shell round it, so knew that a thrush had been there. Where we used to live a thrush used to sing every morning on the same tree. The song of the thrush is like a nightingale. We often see a lot of thrushes on the lawn before breakfast or after a shower. They have yellow beaks and their breasts are specked with lovely yellow and brown. Once we found a thrush asleep on a sponge in a bedroom and we carried it out and put it on a tree. Thrushes eat worms as well as snails, and on the lawn they listen with their heads on one side and go along as the worm gets under the ground, and presently, perhaps, the worm comes up and they gobble it up, or they put their beaks in and get it. Thrushes build their nests with sticks at the bottom and line them with little bits of wool they pick up, or feathers, and they like to get down very much.”

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