Homeschool Chemistry Unit Study
Homeschool Chemistry doesn't have to be intimidating or complicated. Here are resources for a Chemistry unit that is engaging, fun, and easy-to-do at home. This unit focuses on:
Simple hands-on chemistry experiments
History and people who contributed to the science of chemistry
Engaging videos for each element of the periodic table
This unit is intentionally holistic to meet the needs of different kids. My 10yo son is more technical and engineering-minded; my 13yo daughter is more artistic and creative. This unit was able to spark interest and curiosity for both of these diverse learners.
In this post, I will detail all of the resources and books we used, to make it easy for you to have your own chemistry unit study, too! This unit is geared for late elementary or middle school grades, ages ~9-14yo.
Exploration, NOT Mastery
When embarking on any particular subject with your kids, it's important to think about your overall objectives first. For elementary and middle school science, perfect mastery is not the goal. We're not trying to make science seem really technical or hard or arduous. That's not the point.
Rather, we're trying to give kids a chance to fall in love with science by awakening their curiosity and getting their brains moving in a scientific direction. We want to focus on fostering exploration and delight.
This means that, if there is any particular topic that is not sparking your kids' interest, just let go and move on. There is no need to force or require or cajole. If it starts feeling like a chore to either you or the kids, you've gone too far and it's time to switch to another topic on another day.
Choose a Chemistry "Spine" Book
Using a "spine" book for chemistry will give your kids exposure to many of the foundational principles of chemistry, while also providing a flowing narrative that you can use as a jumping off point for further learning. Having a "spine" book will work best if it is used as a read-aloud book, so there is plenty of opportunity for discussion.
There are two different chemistry "spine" books I would recommend. Both of these tell stories of the history and real scientists who contributed to chemistry. Just choose one to use as your "spine" book.
The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker: This book is a bit lighter reading, and was preferred by my more-artistic older child. This book includes simple experiments in some of the chapters, so browse ahead to be prepared for those.
Exploring the World of Chemistry: From Ancient Metals to High-Speed Computers by John Tiner: This book a bit heavier reading, but my younger more-technical child actually preferred this one. There are more pictures in this book. There are quizzes at the end of each chapter, which my kids enjoyed doing out loud with no pressure or stress. This book does include some brief Christian references, which can easily be skipped if desired.
There's no wrong choice here. Both of my kids enjoyed both of these books. If you're not sure which one to use, Mystery of the Periodic Table would probably be better suited for 9-11yo and Exploring the World of Chemistry would probably be better for 11-14yo.
Periodic Table Videos
The Periodic Videos are a fantastic free resource to complement the chemistry reading. There is a video for each element of the periodic table, and the videos range from 4-18 minutes long. We used these videos after our chemistry read-aloud, to further explore the specific elements we learned about in our reading.
Periodic Videos website
Periodic Videos elements playlist on Youtube
The American Chemical Society (ACS) has a free middle school chemistry curriculum that includes relatively simple experiments. The experiments serve as a great hands-on addition to the chemistry reading and videos. (The actual ACS textbook that accompanies the experiments is typical and kinda dry for reading, which is why I prefer to use the "spine" books mentioned above instead.)
Individual lesson plans for the ACS Middle School Chemistry experiments
Download of ALL lesson plans and text
Multimedia and videos to accompany each lesson
There are over 40 experiments. Don't feel the need to do *every* lesson or to complete the full series of experiments. Keep it fun and be okay with stopping whenever your and your kids reach the end of your interest. We made it through about 20 experiments in one semester of Chemistry, and that was enough. Just print out the materials and prepare for a few experiments at a time, so you won't feel invested in having to do more.
The lessons plans include student worksheets. I recommend that you let your kids choose whether or not to do the worksheets. My kids chose not to do most of these worksheets, and that is totally fine.
An alternative free set of chemistry experiments is MIT Kitchen Chemistry. I have not actually tried these lessons, but they might make a good alternative if the ACS lessons aren't piquing your interest.
A Chemistry Book for *You*
One of the best ways to get excited about Chemistry (or any other subject that your kids are studying) is to read your own book about it! There are amazing, engaging, thought-provoking books about all sorts of seemingly-dry subjects. And, when you read your own Chemistry book, it'll give you more to share with your kids.
I highly recommend that you read Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik. It's packed with interesting information about different materials ranging from concrete to diamonds to chocolate. As I read it, I kept marking sections that I wanted to share with my family; it's that interesting!
Everyone is different, so if that book doesn't work for you, some others to try are The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean (this one was a little too meandering for me) and Atom by Isaac Asimov (I read most of this one, but it is kinda technical). Find what works for you.
Materials for Experiments and Exploration
One of the great things about the ACS chemistry experiments is that they use a lot of common household materials. Feel free to substitute what you've got already available in your kitchen whenever you can. Some of the materials we used for experiments and general chemistry exploration were:
Elements by Theodore Gray book
Tea light candles
91% isopropyl alcohol
Wires with alligator clips (from electricity discovery set)
Some of the ACS experiments require a bit more-advanced materials such as Bunsen burners, density cubes, equal mass rods, metal rings, etc. We did not have these and I did not want to invest in them, but we watched the multimedia videos instead for those lessons and that worked well.
Bringing It All Together
This chemistry unit study can easily take a semester or longer to complete. Relax and take as long as you need to complete the unit study. The most important thing is to keep it light and fun, rather than turning it into an "assignment" for the kids. Allow your children to participate as much or as little as they choose, and focus on building your own enthusiasm which you can share with your kids.
Here is an example of how you can use all of these chemistry resources to have your own unit study:
Hang a periodic table poster on your wall for handy reference.
Read aloud from the "spine" book once or twice a week.
Follow the read-aloud with Periodic Videos for the elements you read about.
Do a chemistry experiment once a week. Leave plenty of time for self-directed exploration afterwards.
Meanwhile, read your own book about chemistry. Share your insights with your family.
I hope this post serves as a jumping off point for you to find what works best for you and your kids. Have fun learning about chemistry together!
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