Physics with The Well-Trained Mind

We’ve followed the methods laid out in The Well-Trained Mind since I discovered the book on a library shelf when TJ was still a toddler. I bought the second edition after I got tired of renewing the library’s copy of the first edition. When the third edition came out I purchased that one as well! I have never regretted the decision to strike out on our own in this homeschooling journey without the safety net of a boxed curriculum. TJ is now in 4th grade, the last year of the grammar stage, and I can see how she has progressed and blossomed through the years.

Science in the Homeschool

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One of TJ’s favorite subjects has always been science – she’s had lots of hands-on time and this year is no different in that regard. What is different is my expectations for her – now she’s doing more writing and I’ve added in extra reading assignments.

So, how are we tackling the subject of physics in this last year of our science rotation? While we keep to the “spirit” of the science sequence laid out in The Well-Trained Mind, I don’t necessarily use all the recommended books, so this isn’t an exact copy of what you’ll find there.

I decided to divide up our physics study into topics and spend 6 weeks on each topic (we school for 6 weeks then take 1 week off so our year is arranged into 6 6-week terms followed by one extra “summer school” term). Here’s the list of topics we’ll be covering:

  • Simple Machines

  • Energy & Motion

  • Light & Sound

  • Electricity

  • Magnetism

For the first half of the year, we’ll be using Physics Experiments for Children (also available free – online PDF) by Muriel Mandell (the recommended resource in The Well-Trained Mind). Then we’ll be studying magnetism with TOPs Magnetism and finishing the year with Snap Circuits.

Here’s the general breakdown of one science session:

  • Perform an experiment

  • Fill out an experiment page

  • Look up topic in the science encyclopedia

  • Write 3-4 sentences about the topic

  • Optional extras: DVDs, diagrams/drawings, textbook reading

So, during science time, TJ pulls out her science binder. She finds the experiment that is listed on her schedule, gathers all the necessary supplies, and does the activity. My only job is to direct if needed and take pictures!

After she’s finished with the project, she pulls an experiment form out of her binder and fills it out. Then, she decides on a topic and looks it up in The Usborne Science Encyclopedia. Sometimes I’ll read it with her if it’s a challenging topic and we’ll discuss it for a bit. Then it’s time to fill out the “Finding out More” page and add a drawing or diagram.  After that, if we have time, we watch a DVD (Bill Nye, The Way Things Work, and Disney Imagineering all have great videos for physics). The last part of a science session is devoted to reading from a science text. There are a few reasons for this –  eventually, she will be using science textbooks so I’d like her to have some experience with them. I also don’t want all of her reading to be geared to literature or history. And, I’ve discovered that, with some of our previous science work, it was more of a matter of reading it and then explaining it to her instead of her reading and understanding on her own. If she spends time reading from a science book on her own she will gain that experience with textbooks, broaden her reading horizons to include more nonfiction, and also add depth to her understanding.

This is the first year that we’ve implemented science reading time, and for us, it’s worked out very well. TJ’s reading skills are strong enough that she can read the text herself and discuss it with me. We’re using one science text for the year – The New Way Things Work. It is a good choice for this age because each page is divided into smaller chunks of text with lots of pictures. Each day she reads one 2-page spread during reading time and I try to discuss what she’s reading a few times a week.

Want to see our year with physics in action? Keep reading!

Simple Machines

Since we divide our school year into 6 6-week terms, our study of physics has been divided along those guidelines – focusing on one topic per term. For our first term we’ve learned quite a bit about simple machines.

For this study, we’ve been using Physics Experiments for Children.  The section titled “Mechanical Energy and Machines” deals with simple machines as well as friction, forces, and motion. There are 19 experiments in this section (and we only have 12 science sessions scheduled) so we are doing the 9 activities with extra time for reading or DVDs. Here’s a list of the experiments we’re doing:

  1. Why use wheels?

  2. What is friction?

  3. Why do we oil machines?

  4. Seesaws and scales are levers

  5. Wheel and axle

  6. Bottle-top gears

  7. How a pulley works

  8. Something about ramps

  9. Screws and screw tops

While the book is a bit dated (copyright 1959) it’s clear and simple, covers a lot of materials and I just like the way the experiments are laid out. It has instructions for performing the experiments followed by a sentence or two about what should happen. Then there is a paragraph or two that explains the concept in simple language.

When TJ finishes her experiment or demonstration she pulls an experiment page from her binder and fills it out.

After that, we spend a few minutes rereading the explanation in Physics Experiments for Children or looking up the topic in our science encyclopedia. Then she’s ready to fill out her next page and add a drawing or diagram.

Sometime that day we’ll watch a DVD. We have a fabulous library here with many choices. We’ve watched some Bill Nye, The Way Things Work, and Disney Imagineering – there are lots of choices for simple machines.

To round things out a bit more, TJ also read a 2-page spread from The New Way Things Work each day as well. I had planned to line up all the topics in the book with her experiments but there was just too much reading crammed in. So I decided to forgo that idea and just have her read a 2-page spread each day. While things don’t line up exactly, she’s making connections between her reading and the experiments she’s done. I think that’s more valuable than having everything neatly lined up. If she has an “aha” moment with her reading and can apply it to something that she’s already learned then I’m a happy teacher!

Energy & Motion

During our second term, she focused on the topics of energy & motion. Here’s the basic format for each lesson:

  • Read the instructions and gather supplies

  • Perform the experiment or demonstration

  • Read any other included information from the experiment book

  • Write up an experiment page

  • Decide on a topic to study further

  • Use the Usborne Science Encyclopedia to research the topic

  • Write 2-4 sentences about the topic

  • Add a drawing or diagram

  • Watch a DVD about the topic if one is available

Here’s a list of the experiments from our list:

  • Which Falls Faster?

  • Water Pressure

  • Some Surprises About Air Pressure

  • The Siphon

  • Heating by Radiation

  • How Heat Blows up a Balloon

  • Which is Heavier, Hor Air or Cold?

Each week we’ve been following the same basic format:

  • Perform an experiment from Physics Experiments for Children

  • Write up an experiment page detailing how the experiment worked and what was learned

  • Look up a relevant topic in The Usborne Science Encylcopedia

  • Write a few sentences about the topic (‘Finding out More’) adding a drawing or diagram

Each school day (separate from the once or twice a week science sessions) TJ also reads a 2-page spread from The New Way Things Work. She reads lots of fiction but I want her to learn to appreciate nonfiction and science texts and this book has been perfect for that. It’s just hard enough for her that she has to concentrate on what she’s reading but still interesting and entertaining enough to hold her attention.

We also check the library for any DVDs and have watched many Bill Nye, Disney Imagineering, and The Way Things Work DVDs. If you can find them at your library, I recommend you check out a few!

Since our focus was on light & sound, we used two sections from Physics Experiments for Children – Sound and Light.

I included the following experiments on our list:

  • Seeing sound waves

  • Can sound travel through nothing?

  • Controlling the direction of sound

  • Variations with strings

  • Can we see in the dark

  • How light bounces

  • Make a periscope

  • Making rainbows

  • Magic colors

TJ’s favorite project was making a periscope using some small mirrors and a milk carton. It was a fun term and quite a few interesting projects so I’d say it was a success!

That completes another term of physics with The Well-Trained Mind. During the next half of the year, we are changing things up a little and using some TOPS books.


Learning about magnets with TOPS

Instead of using the experiment book that we used for the other topics I decided to use a TOPS book – TOPS Magnetism (also available on Amazon).

 What a week with TOPS looks like…

TJ and Nick spent 2 sessions a week working on a project in the TOPS book.  There’s a handy chart in the front that shows you which experiments are important and those that you can skip. There are quite a few projects and we chose 12 to work on during the school term.

Each day they would grab the science box and a copy of that day’s experiment. The projects are really fun – you’ll learn to find the magnetic poles on a magnet, create a compass, and discover magnetic fields. There are different charts and fill-in-the-blank areas on the TOPS page, and along with the detailed experiments and the extra assigned reading and writing, I think that is sufficient for science. (The recommended ages for the TOPS books are right on target. This book was just hard enough for TJ and still required parental involvement. If she were on the older end of the recommended age she could probably work independently.)

Each day TJ also read two pages from The New Way Things Work and once a week she would choose a topic (something to do with magnets or magnetism) and research it in The Usborne Science Encyclopedia. She would write 2-3 sentences on the chosen topic and add a drawing or diagram.

We really enjoyed using TOPS Magnetism and I have a few more TOPS books stashed away for the future. We’ve really enjoyed our physics study this year. My main goal for the year was for TJ to become more independent and that has slowly been happening. She still needs a little help discussing the topic and the TOPS books (for her age at least) work better with a bit of guidance.

Following The Well-Trained Mind science sequence has worked very well for us. We haven’t touched a science textbook – it’s been hands-on with reading and lots of writing that have become progressively harder each year.



Science with Snap Circuits!

This has probably been our favorite science year – TJ has had a great time with all the fun experiments. And this last term has been her absolute favorite. Learning about electricity with Snap Circuits is the best kind of science!

A peek at our week:

If you’re going to use Snap Circuits as part of your science curriculum you will want to invest in the Student Guide. It adds a lot of great content that really brings extra depth to the kit. 

Every day TJ and Nick would read a few pages from the Student Guide and then do some of the Snap Circuits projects (there were usually some suggested projects for each topic in the student guide). She’d also read 2 pages a day from The New Way Things Work. On Friday, she chose one topic that she had learned about that week and looked it up in The Usborne Science Encyclopedia. She wrote a short paragraph and drew a diagram. Each day was fairly short but action packed and lots of fun.

It was a great way to wrap up a perfect science year.

What you need to do Physics The Well-Trained Mind way:

This year TJ spent time learning about electricity, simple machines, energy & motion, light & sound, and magnets. We’ve used a variety of resources:

We so enjoyed learning about physics this year. The projects and experiments have been interesting. TJ has been getting more independent each year. The Well-Trained Mind method for science in the grammar stage has been perfect for us. If you’ve been considering a make-your-own science curriculum – this is the perfect way to go.

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