Monday, April 7, 2008

Nebel's Elementary Education

My son Neal is very science-minded. He is always coming in with a new rock, or bug, or question about how the world operates and why we see it the way we do. He’s rather wiggly, and he builds things and takes things apart to see how they work.

He is my fifth child. I tried using the books that I’d used before with the other kids. It didn’t work, and I realized that it had been a bit of a struggle here and there with the older ones who had similar inclinations. The problem was, I realized, that most give short shrift to mathematics and science, while focusing on language arts and social studies. While these subjects are important, the imbalance explains a bit about why some kids are antsy, and why the US has to import many scientists from Asia.

Science is not well-represented in most school or homeschool curriculums. They tend to be language-arts-based, because most teachers lean in that direction. Many elementary school textbooks are full of factual errors, and don’t contain enough real information to satisfy the curiosity of a science-oriented child. For many years, there were few alternatives, outside of designing your own science-based lessons.

Enter Dr. Bernard J. Nebel, scientist, educator, and curriculum developer. He has developed a well-organized resource for teaching and learning middle childhood, Nebel’s Elementary Education: Creating a Tapestry of Learning. This isn’t a book of worksheets and fill-in-the blanks: it’s a compendium of what can be learned by children ages five to twelve or so, with a definite science and math bias.

Nebel’s is really an all-purpose guide, like a scope and sequence list, but with detailed explanations and resources. Subjects are presented in seamless threads, all of which intertwine and build upon previous knowledge, which leads to greater understanding and comprehension.

It is divided into seven themes, each of which can be partly covered each year, according to the child’s ability and interests. For instance, Theme Four is Living, Nonliving and Human-made Things. Obviously that’s a bit much to cover in one year, but a plan is laid out and suggestions for when and how to teach about the world around us are given. Experiments and websites are suggested, but textbooks and such are not. This can be a bit frustrating, but in the end it may be better, since it means that the book will not become dated as quickly. The themes start out with what the child knows and has encountered in his or her world already, and builds on that knowledge with activities and ideas in a way that allows the maturing mind to grasp it all firmly.
There is an excellent section on values and character which stresses the traits which advance civilization, and the need for goals and purpose, with suggested ways to encourage these traits.

History is taught with an easy and clever timeline that will last several years. The chapters on economics and government may seem a bit mature for the younger ones, but older children definitely want to know how the world works. The ‘Baloney Detection Kit’ is an excellent resource for teaching thinking skills.

Unit study homeschoolers may be particularly attracted to this book. It gives a framework, makes quite a few practical suggestions, then leaves a lot of room for library books and internet exploration. It can serve as a guide that reassures you that you’re covering all the bases, and can be used with multiple grade levels, and with children who like to work more slowly or more quickly than most. Unschoolers may also like the framework and activity guides….and your older child may even decide to read the book!

Nebel’s is non-sectarian, but not anti-religious, which makes it useful for anyone. There is a heavy emphasis on connecting what is learned to what the child already understands, creating a structure in the mind that can support more information and be used to consider a variety of ideas. There is also emphasis on developing children’s critical thinking abilities and values.

There is also an online forum for discussion listed in the book, where Dr. Nebel answers user’s questions and assists them in using the curriculum.

All-in-all, this is one of my favorite resources!

Book Notes

♦ Title: Nebel's Elementary Education: Creating a Tapestry of Learning Author: Bernard J. Nebel, Ph. D.

♦ Publisher: Nebel's Press for Learning

♦ ISBN: 1-58820-892-3

♦ Binding: Softcover

♦ Pubication Date: 2001

♦ Price: 29.95 : $18.87USD on : used only on

Usefulness for Homeschoolers *****

Quality of Materials *****

Recommended Ages: 5 to 12

Pro: Science-based for a different take on children's education; well-written; a good overall guide to elementary education.

Con: I'd love to have a full curriculum based on this!

Cautions: Non-religious, but not anti-religious. Can be used with most any curriculum.
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