Thursday, April 28, 2011

Homeschool Review: Noeo Chemistry I

A friend found Noeo Science last summer and I was intrigued. A more formal science study than nature study is certainly not required at the first grade level, but I like science. I did study biology in college, after all. I've also read that early elementary students often perform better on standardized tests (for what that's worth) when early studies focus on science and history rather than strictly math and reading. I'm also love good science books, so I really wanted to give Noeo a try. Because Kansas Dad was teaching one day a week this year, he and First Son selected the chemistry course, Noeo Chemistry I. (Kansas Dad likes science, too.)

Noeo courses are designed to be a "balance between the classical method and the Charlotte Mason approach." The catalog includes three options each (chemistry, biology, and physics) for the early grammar stage (grades 1-3) and the late grammar or early logic stage (grades 4-6). They have one additional course (Chemistry III) for older students. Though (apparently) the family that created the Noeo courses is Christian, the selected books for the course are secular. This review covers only Chemistry I as we haven't tried any of the others.

Here's a picture of the syllabus. I love the syllabus!

They provide lesson plans for 36 weeks, four days per week, in the spiral-bound syllabus. For each day, they've outlined exactly which pages of which book to read and which experiments to do (or a list of them so we could choose an experiment). My children adore our science experiments. They beg for them; they are nearly always the highlight of the day. Without such an explicit plan for science, I would have skimped on the experiments. Though I know touching materials and watching experiments is integral to learning for the young ones (and everyone in science), experiments are more work to prepare, conduct and clean up than reading aloud from a book. This past year, I would have skipped the vast majority of them if they weren't right there in the syllabus.

Chemistry goo back in November
One of the very best things we did this year was design our own experiment. I was flabbergasted at the idea at first, but Kansas Dad had some good ideas and First Son ran with them. Here's the post explaining how we tested what baking soda does for a light and fluffy cake.

Noeo provides printable pages for written narration (including some with drawing space for the primary grades) and we've loved using the experiment page for our science notebooks. I was pleasantly surprised at how eager First Son was to draw what we did and what happened for each experiment. Even First Daughter will draw something that is recognizable. Sometimes, he'll even write the reason at the bottom. We found, though, that all the written parts of the narrations went better if we let First Son narrate verbally and then wrote the statements for him.

I thought the books were great, for the most part. You can see the list of them for Chemistry I here. First Son struggled with some of them at first when we were trying to do chemistry only two days a week. He'd tire quickly because the books do not cover easy material. They jump right in to atoms, molecules, elements, and so on. After a while, we changed to the four day a week schedule which allowed us to shorten the lessons significantly. We also modified our narration techniques to include a few more direct questions or asking for narration after just a sentence or two of the reading (choosing the most important sentences). Chemistry was then much more fun for everyone. Many of these books would probably have been just fine in the longer lessons if First Son had been in third grade rather than first grade.

I think my favorite book was Super Science Concoctions: 50 Mysterious Mixtures for Fabulous Fun by Jill Frankel Hauser. The design is a little overwhelming (especially the little illustrations that repeat on the bottom of every page), but most of the experiments involve only items we have around the house and most of them worked. (Any course would be better if parents had the time to practice the experiments before sitting down with the kids, but that's simply not always possible.) I also thought How to Think Like a Scientist: Answering Questions by the Scientific Method by Stephen P. Kramer was quite good, though we read it during our struggling phase so First Son didn't appreciate it very much.

The Young Scientists Club experiments were a little disappointing. We haven't done them all yet, but so far they haven't seemed to include much in the bags for the price. Also, some of the reagents didn't seem to work very well. I sometimes added extra from our home stock to boost the experiment. It is nice that Noeo is able to provide only the experiment kits that fit with the course, though. I could only find them in the sets which are grouped by threes, presumably in the order they were created rather than by theme. I think someone with a little more time might be able to find relevant experiments in other science books to replace them.

Overall, we were pleased with Chemistry I from Noeo. The books were high quality. The syllabus was well-planned and organized for ease of use for the teacher. We're going to give them another try, I think, with Biology I next year.

This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive anything from Noeo Science, and will not if you follow any of these links or make a purchase from them. (I do receive a small referral fee from Amazon if you follow any of those links and make a purchase.) Again, this review applies only to Chemistry I.


  1. Just so you're aware, we have been doing Noeo Biology this year, and it is a mixed bag in my opinion. I like all the books it includes--very good choices. And I like the format of the syllabus. But the experiments were all Young Scientists Club and on the whole not too impressive, especially for the price. They're also grouped strangely so that there is a long gap in the middle of the year (weeks and weeks) with no experiments, and then a whole bunch all in a row. I also found the topics studied to be kind of disjointed as well.

    We're going to try Real Science 4 Kids Chemistry next year, and use some of the Noeo Chem. books to supplement so it will make a whole year's worth and so we're using living books in addition to the RS4K text. I'm actually really excited to try RS4K, having just gone to a homeschool convention workshop about it. One really nice thing for the future is that all their levels cover the same topics chapter by chapter, so you can have different ages of kids studying the same material at different difficulty levels, and to some extent, do experiments together, or at least be able to discuss material.

  2. Hilary, that's too bad about the experiments in biology. I'd say we did experiments at least once a week in chemistry, sometimes every day for days in a row. I'd already considered finding my own experiments instead of the Young Scientist's Kits for biology and now I'm more likely to do that.

  3. Hello. This is our first year with Noeo Science too doing Chem 1 for my 7 yo. The curriculum started out lightly but I agree with you that it gets a little technical going into atoms, molecules, etc. Honestly, I'm having a difficult time trying to absorb it all at first readings. My daughter is also having a tough time trying Ito graps the concepts. I looked ahead a little and hopefully the information are presented in a more interesting manner.

    I quite dislike the Heinemann Infosearch series as I think it's just presenting dry facts and for young children, it's hard to understand.

    Any advice?

  4. Wei Yun, Your daughter is still young, as my son was when we did Chemistry. I would say you have a couple of options, depending on what you think would work best for your family. You could slow down the readings a bit, either breaking them up over several days or even breaking them up within the same day. There are probably times in the future when you could double up to catch up or even leave out some things. You could also skip some of the readings with which you are struggling. The Super Science Concoctions book touches on many of the same topics so you could read those instead along with the experiments. We really enjoyed Super Science Concoctions. I think you could make a very respectable first grade chemistry course just from that book if you wanted.

    You might find it helpful, too, to ask for drawings for narrations. I found that First Son was often able to figure things out a bit more, especially with those atoms and molecules, with drawings. Building molecules can be fun, too: a few colored mini-marshmallows (easy to find this time of year) and toothpicks can go a long way.

    Don't be afraid to substitute other books if you find some you like more. Libraries often have a large collection of science books for children. The "Let's Read and Find Out" series is a good place to start.

    Finally, I think it's very reasonable at this age to let the children absorb what they can and then move on. With children so young, they will have opportunities to revisit chemistry and molecules over and over again in the years to come. I think it's more important to leave them with a little information that is correct than to try to push too hard and have them confused or misunderstanding something that will need to be corrected in the future.

  5. Dear Kansas Mom,

    Yes that is my consensus exactly! I don't wanna push too hard when she's not ready. Like said, I think it's a title too technical for this level.

    Thanks for the tips on the Super Concoction book. I will look more into that. This being our first year homeschooling, there is a tendency to try to stick to the schedule s much as possible.

    I have to say, I kind of wish we started with Biology instead. Is it more children friendly?

  6. I think the Biology I is easier then Chemistry I, but I didn't like it as well. We had a lot more fun with Chemistry. I'm going to post a review of the Biology course in the near future with some ideas of what I wish I'd done differently. I'm finding I have more confidence now to make up my own course outlines.

  7. Thanks so much! Since we are talking about reviews, do you have much experience with Sonlight?

  8. I haven't used Sonlight, though I often use their book recommendations when choosing literature for my children to read.


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