The way we work science

Up until 7th grade, my approach to Science was nature studies and reading books and books about whatever science topic seemed interesting to the kids (or to me!) at the moment. But when my older child hit middle school, I wanted to do something more directed for Science. 

We did Geology last year and for the second year of middle school, we decided to study the human body. I picked the book The Way We Work as the spine. I read the reviews online, and there is no clear agreement among readers about this book. 

One of the criticisms people make is about the style of illustrations. I like the illustrations, which are sketch-like rather than slick, polished drawings, but I showed them to someone who was trained in medical illustration. I asked my expert to tell me what he thought of the illustrations. "They're great," said my expert, "use the book."

The other criticism I've read is that the text is difficult. That criticism didn't stop me in the slightest because we're used to texts that others say are too difficult for kids to read.

Well, let me tell you, the text in this book is difficult.

But we handle the difficulty by adapting some CM techniques to our readings.

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First, we go slowly. A two-page spread is often all we cover in one sitting. The writing is dense and sparse - a lot of info is packed into each paragraph. We haven't had to do the one-sentence-at-a-time version of narration in years, but that's what we do with this book most days.

Second, we narrate orally. I say "we" because this is a topic I'm learning right along side my soon-to-be teen daughter. When we're reading, we're studying together. I narrate, she narrates, we narrate.

Third, my daughter writes a narration in her science notebook and illustrates it with a diagram or drawing. After years of nature journaling, the task of illustrating her science notebook seems natural, though not necessarily easy.

We both feel at home with these techniques, and CM has helped make this book a success for us. When I picked up the book, I knew what to do with it, and I like seeing my daughter use CM tools - it's quite fun for me as a mother to see the confidence in her to take a difficult text slowly and to confidently delve into it.

Once we finish a chapter in The Way We Work, we read a shorter book focusing on that chapter's subject. For example, we read a short book about cells and another book about the circulatory system. We have found that The Way We Work totally prepared us for the other books on the topic. In fact, sometimes we feel over-prepared and indulge in a few pats on the back and high fives for our hard work.

From my point of view - as a homeschooling mom looking toward high school subjects - this book serves as a transition from the younger years to the older years. It will take us a long while to get through all the chapters and supplements, and I hope by the time we finish, I'll have figured out what we will be doing for high school.

Dear Readers
Please note: This book includes illustrations of all the human body's systems, including the reproductive system in detail. I know some parents are sensitive about this topic and I don't want to lead anyone to a book that would make them uncomfortable or that would be inappropriate for their family. Out of respect, I did not put any links in this blog post that will bring you to the book. Please use your judgement about checking out the book, as I know you will. 


  1. My oldest enjoyed this book very much. We took the approach of using it as a supplement/reference to our Anatomy spine and that worked for us. Like you said the language can be challenging and she is younger than your daughter ; )

    She enjoyed it so much that she asked to have his other book The Way Things Work be her supplement to her physics (Secrets of the Universe) this year. She is also enjoying that one! The illustrations are an appealing feature to the books and her narrations do show she understands concepts.


  2. Ladies, you are such a great wealth of knowledge and wisdom.
    I'm very encouraged reading that those seemingly little drawings for nature journals and nature studies that some regard as very insufficient, paired with narration, if we believe what Charlotte Mason tells us, they are wonderful tools for observation, understanding, classification... and also the difference in years of your children and the fact you do help them and they understand the difficulties but that it paves the way for learning science at a high school or simply high level, are a great inspiration.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Grace'n'Chaos: Glad to hear that others have used the book and liked it. My DD says that science is now her favorite subject, so something is working! :)

    Silvia: Nature studies really are a great foundation for further studies...I regret I missed out on drawing in nature when I was a girl. I think I would've loved it.