Homeschooling mamas are a brave and resourceful group of people, but even we are intimidated by homeschooling high school science.
While it’s human nature to shy away from activities that might set oneself apart from the crowd, homeschoolers take pride in swimming against the current.
We spend countless hours researching the best programs and curricula, planning activities and lesson plans, and learning our children’s learning styles in an effort to provide them the best education possible.
There is one thing that seems to make many of these courageous moms nervous: homeschooling high school science.
It always makes me sad to hear of a family who–despite the desire to continue the homeschooling journey—puts their child in traditional school during high school, simply because they felt they weren’t equipped to handle high school science.
I want to encourage you that it’s never been easier to equip your high schooler with an excellent science education from home! In this post, I will share 10 tips for homeschooling high school science.
Effectively Teaching High School Science
1) Start with the end in mind
Homeschooling laws differ across the country, but your first step should always be to understand what is required by your state to meet the high school science requirement. If your student plans to attend college, it is also important for you to do some research to learn what your student’s college(s) of choice require in terms of science.
Plan out a general 4-year plan for the high school years. Keep in mind that some science courses may require prerequisites. For instance, a student should have taken Algebra before attempting chemistry. Knowing this in advance, you wouldn’t want your teen to attempt chemistry before algebra was completed.
Several states recommend for a student to take 3 years of science to graduate high school, but no specific courses are required. Many students satisfy these 3 years taking the “Big Three”: biology, chemistry, and physics/physical science. These are great options and can give the student a good foundation at understanding how the world works.
If your state doesn’t explicitly mandate what courses are necessary to meet the science requirement, you can get creative! Marine biology, astronomy, earth science, forensics, and anatomy and physiology are all great options. My advice is to find something your teen is excited about and go from there.
I often hear parents say, “Well, my child doesn’t plan to go to college” and feel that meeting the minimum requirements set by the state for science is sufficient. By all means, you know your child better than I do. But, I’d like to give a word of caution: what if your teen changes his/her mind and decides to pursue a career that requires a college degree, but they haven’t met the minimum science benchmarks required by their chosen college? I’ve seen it happen.
In my opinion, it never hurts to “over prepare” a student just in case by taking at least three years of high school science. Maybe they really won’t go to college and that extra year of science wasn’t necessary. But any time spent learning something new is never wasted.
2) Encourage your teen’s curiosity
We are all born scientists. One of the first words a child learns is “Why?”, and they use the word liberally as they seek to figure out how the world works.
As children grow, their desire to learn the answer to their questions seems to fade. As homeschooling parents, one of the most important skills we can teach our children is to continue to pursue the answers to their questions. With today’s technology, it’s never been easier to find the answers we seek.
When your child asks a question, encourage them to find the answer. Model the process for them if necessary, demonstrating that learning isn’t something that stops once time in school ends. Not only does this help them foster their research skills, satisfying their own curiosity is delightfully addictive. Guiding your teen into learning how to teach him or herself is an important step in cultivating a lifelong love of learning.
3) Don’t be afraid to outsource
We are all born with natural gifts and passions. Maybe science isn’t something you feel particularly passionate about. If teaching science isn’t your strong suit, don’t be afraid to look for other options for your teen.
Perhaps there is a homeschool co-op nearby through which your student can participate in a science class taught by a teacher who is passionate about the topic.
Conversely, there are also many options for online science classes. Some are asynchronous (self-paced) while others feature a live, interactive teaching component. Often, online classes are taught by teachers with training in science and/or education with a passion for explaining science to others.
Additionally, there are some amazing YouTube channels featuring fantastic teachers sharing science. Some of my students’ favorites (and mine) include Amoeba Sisters, Tyler DeWitt, and Bozeman Science. You can also find many curated YouTube playlists grouped by topic: chemistry, biology, physical science, anatomy, and physiology, etc. YouTube videos created by passionate teachers can be a great addition to any high school science course.
There is no award for homeschooliest homeschooler, and there’s no shame in letting someone else teach your kid science.
4) Don’t neglect opportunities for hands-on science
A sure-fire way to get your kids to hate science is to limit their learning to dry textbooks.
Science is a discipline of exploration and wonder and is meant to be learned through experimentation.
While it’s true that students doing homeschool science may miss out on gas Bunsen burners and chemical fume hoods, it has never been easier to do science at home. There are many vendors through which lab equipment, chemicals, and supplies can be purchased for home use. One of my personal favorites is (affiliate link) Home Science Tools. Flame tests, dissections, acid-base titrations, microscopy, Petri dish experiments, and more can be done on your kitchen counter and will help make important connections to the material they are learning in their textbooks.
I recognize that purchasing lab equipment and doing hands-on experiments isn’t always feasible. Technology to the rescue! There are oodles of websites that offer quality virtual labs and simulations in multiple subjects (biology, chemistry, physics, and more)–many which don’t cost a thing. Some of my favorite resources for virtual labs and simulations are PhET, ChemCollective, and eMind.
Both hands-on labs and virtual options will satisfy any lab requirements your student may need, and they will make learning abstract concepts so much easier.
5) Homeschooling high school science is more fun in a group
A great way to make science labs more fun is to do them in a group. Homeschool co-ops are great in this regard, but they don’t have to be the only option.
Before we joined a co op, my kids were part of a makeshift science club. A few families had our kids get together once a week for science experiments. We’d all take turns hosting and split the cost of materials (including chemicals, dissection specimens, and lab equipment) providing a great way to save money on supplies. While one parent oversaw the day’s experiments, the other parents could enjoy some social time together (or even duck out to run errands). The kids looked forward to our science club days (and so did the parents!)
Not only does this arrangement give teens some social interaction as they get their science experiments done, but it helps them learn how to work as a team. Additionally, some labs (like animal dissections) are just more fun when done with a partner or in a group.
These same science clubs also work well to provide an opportunity to play review games. Genetic traits BINGO, science term Hangman, science escape rooms, and vocabulary Jeopardy are all games my students have enjoyed.
6) Recognize the hidden science in other topics
Homeschoolers recognize that topics like math, language arts, and history don’t fit into tidy buckets. Instead, we understand that as a student learns, they may incorporate facets of multiple school subjects simultaneously. After all, isn’t that the whole idea behind unit studies?
As your teen moves on to the high school years, you can still look for ways to sneak in science as they study other subjects. Here are some examples of how this can be done:
- As they learn about Henry VIII and how he searched in vain for a wife who would bear him a son, have them research the genetics of how the sex of a child is determined. (It’s the father’s genetic contribution that determines whether a child will be a boy or a girl–which makes King Henry an even bigger jerk for punishing his wives for not bearing him sons)
- When they learn about the Irish Potato Famine, have them explore the biological cause. (It was caused by a type of fungus)
- When someone celebrates a birthday, see if your teen can use dimensional analysis (unit conversion) to figure out how many months, weeks, days, minutes, or seconds that person has been alive.
- If your student likes to cook or bake, have them investigate the science behind the process. This video demonstrates the chemistry that transforms cookie dough into cookies.
- If your teen is into music, have them explore how different notes are made on instruments. How is a higher note played on a string instrument versus a wind instrument? What scientific principles relate to pitch? What’s happening within our vocal cords as we change notes while we sing?
- What science words have made their way into our vocabulary? Encourage your teen to research the origin of the words.
A person is said to gravitate to things they like.
She was just nit-picking.
There was quite a bit of friction between them.
He was under a lot of pressure.
This approach will reinforce the fact that science is everywhere (and NOT confined to a textbook).
7) Look for ways to make science relevant
“Why do I have to learn this? When will I ever use this in REAL LIFE?”
Who hasn’t heard similar words coming from their child? To keep teens engaged and interested in learning, it’s important to help students recognize the science at work all around them.
- Do mosquitoes seem more attracted to them than to others? Why is that? (It has to do with their blood type. Suddenly blood type becomes more interesting to study).
- Do they like the taste of cilantro, or do they think it tastes like soap? Why is that? (It all comes down to a single DNA nucleotide. People who like cilantro have one version of a gene, while people who think it tastes like soap have another.
- Have they noticed that yawns seem contagious? Why is that?
- Have they noticed that certain snow is better-suited to building a snowman (or a snowball) than others? Why is that?
- Why do we salt the roads when snow is expected? (It has to do with chemistry).
- Why do leaves change color in the fall? (It relates to photosynthesis and energy conservation).
Students will be much more willing to learn science when they can see the ways it is applicable to their daily lives.
8) Don’t be afraid to go down the rabbit hole when homeschooling high school science
As a long-time homeschooler, I know the pressure to stick to a lesson plan. But I also know that interest-led learning is a superior form of education.
If your teen gets excited about a certain topic (not just in science, but in any subject), I encourage you to let them explore. While the thought of not getting through the lessons you had planned may make you anxious, you never know the amazing things that may happen as you let your child govern their own learning.
If while learning genetics your high schooler decides to trace the expression of a genetic trait in your family and create a pedigree, let him. When your student sees something in the news or online that sparks an interest, give them the freedom to explore it. If your teen comes up an idea for an invention, let them try to make it.
I’m not suggesting that you abandon your chosen curriculum or lesson plans permanently. I am only suggesting that you foster your teen’s ability to research, find his own answers, and have ownership in his own learning. The ability to think and question will come in handy throughout life.
9) Take advantage of community activities
Just because we call ourselves homeschoolers doesn’t mean we are confined to home. Take advantage of the opportunities to explore science that may be going on in your community. Science museums typically host incredible classes, as do many libraries. Maybe your kids can sit in on a class on beekeeping, gardening, or canning. Maybe they can participate in Monarch butterfly tagging (this was offered at my local library).
Field trips are another great option—even ones you might not think about (like visiting a recycling center or water treatment plant). Often universities are happy to host field trip groups. For instance, my family enjoyed a field trip to the Entomology Department at the University of Florida where we learned all kinds of neat things about insects.
If factories are nearby, they also may host tours. We have toured a potato chip factory and a car manufacturing plant. In fact, after taking a tour of a local Toyota factory, my son decided he wanted to be an electrical engineer. You just never know where or when inspiration will strike!
Even when these events don’t take place during “normal” school hours, you can still log them away and apply them to any hours required by your state. Some of our favorite homeschool memories didn’t happen at home, but as we were out in our community.
10) Start early
Your kids don’t have to wait until high school to learn about DNA, atoms, cells, food webs, and genetics. In fact, it’s best if you start exposing your kids to these topics while they’re young. Even elementary students can start learning about DNA structure and base pairing rules (by creating a candy DNA model), or the periodic table (by playing Periodic Table Battleship), the parts of a cell (by creating a cell model) or what happens to atoms when a substance changes from one state to another (dry ice, anyone?). Students who start becoming familiar with these topics from a young age are much more equipped to dive deeper in high school.
The Benefits of Homeschooling High School Science
In conclusion, it has never been easier to homeschool through high school. With today’s technology, the ability to purchase lab supplies, and the options available to outsource or supplement your teen’s science education, providing a quality science education at home is nothing to fear. I hope you are inspired and feel equipped to confidently guide your teen through the exciting world of high school science.