As we headed into this year I found myself going back and forth between two really good choices to use as a framework for our science studies: the Young Explorers series published by Apologia, and the God’s Design for Science series published by Answers in Genesis.
They have many similarities. Both use biblical, creation-based books, which was essential for our family. Both are designed to be used by students for 1st through 8th grade. All the books I’ve seen in both series are full of beautiful color illustrations that draw students in and make them want to find out more. So what are the main differences between them?
To answer that question I spent a lot of time online trying to find out what other people’s experiences with them has been. While I found a lot of helpful reviews, I didn’t see a lot comparing the two (which was what I was really hoping to find). So I thought I’d take some time to write out some of my thoughts as I made my decision.
First, let me introduce you to each series in case you’re not familiar with one (or both) of them.
The Young Explorers Series
This popular series helps students explore God’s creation by focusing on a specific topic for an entire year. The books in the series are:
Written at about a 5th grade level, the books are intended to be used with the entire family, from ages 6-13 (though Jeannie Fulbright, the author, recommends the last three books on this list be saved for 3rd grade and up). There are seven books, so it would take seven years to complete all of them at the recommended pace. Student notebooks are available for each book (also Junior versions) to help reinforce what is being learned.
The books are divided up into large “lessons,” most of which can be covered in about two weeks. (For example, the Zoology 1 book has 14 lessons.) The lessons do contain smaller sections with subtitles, but they aren’t specifically broken up into chunks of what to read each day.
I’ve heard people call these “living books” a la Charlotte Mason, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. They have beautiful pictures and are written fairly conversationally, but they are still a textbook as far as I am concerned.
The God’s Design for Science Series
The other series I considered using is God’s Design for Science. The entire curriculum can be covered in 4 years, with 3 books for each year (books can be purchased separately or as sets):
God’s Design for Life
- The World of Plants
- The Human Body
- The World of Animals
God’s Design for Heaven and Earth
- Our Planet Earth
- Our Weather and Water
- Our Universe
God’s Design for the Physical World
- Heat and Energy
- Machines and Motion
- Inventions and Technology
God’s Design for Chemistry and Ecology
- Properties of Matter
- Properties of Atoms and Molecules
- Properties of Ecosystems
Because it takes only 4 years to complete the curriculum, it is possible to go through every book twice, doing deeper with students as they get older. Each of the smaller books contains 35 lessons, so by doing 3 lessons a week, you easily get through the entire set of 3 books in a school year. A CD-ROM with worksheets to go along with the lessons is included in the Teacher Supplements.
What Influenced My Decision
I heard so many wonderful things about the Apologia series when Ian was younger that I just assumed we would use them. Last year we tried to use Exploring Creation With Astronomy (I had read of several families online who used it with Kindergarteners), but he definitely wasn’t ready. He’s really interested in space, but it got too tedious after a while. I stopped because I didn’t want to kill his natural love for the subject (though a few times he’s pulled it off the shelf and asked me to read a little more).
Because of that experience, I started looking into other options for science, and sometime in the middle of last year I discovered the God’s Design series, which became the only other one I seriously considered. I had a really hard time even thinking about letting go of the Apologia (Young Explorers) series, just because I know it is fantastic and so many people love it. However, when I forced myself to look at the two more objectively, the decision became much easier, and in the end I decided to go with God’s Design for Science (at least for now).
Here are the main reasons for that decision:
Clear Differentiation for Younger/Older students
The main thing on my mind as I decided which series to choose was how easy it would be to implement each one with our large family over the next several years. The differentiation for younger and older students in the God’s Design books was the main selling point for me. I know so many people who love the Apologia books, and while I agree that the content is wonderful (we have two of them and I’ve been able to look through several others), I feel like they’re just a bit advanced for younger students to go through the entire book, and we’re going to have young ones around for quite a while.
To show the difference between the two, here are lessons on flight from each book.
This page from Exploring Creation With Zoology 1 (Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day) has a lot of wonderful information, but it would be a lot for my 1st grader to take in:
In contrast, here is the page on flight from The World of Animals (one of the books in God’s Design for Life):
On the left is the “Beginners” section, which is a basic introduction to the topic, just enough for younger students. On the right, you can see the beginning of the more in-depth section for older students. The blue boxes have extra activities, some of which are appropriate for younger students, but others we’ll save for later.
It is so easy to use these books with a 1st grader. We just open the book and read the appropriate section. If we want to go more in depth, we either read further or pull out related books according to Ian’s interest. With the Apologia book I think I would probably have to read the information on my own and then just summarize it for Ian (judging by our experience with Exploring Creation With Astronomy a few months ago).
Yet it will be just as easy to use the same books in four years. Arianna will be in 1st grade that year and can stick with the Beginners section, but I won’t have to buy a new book to use with Ian in 5th grade because everything is already right there, requiring no additional lesson planning or work to coordinate what the different members of the family are studying. I love that!
When we were reading through the Astronomy book, I just read as many smaller sections as I thought Ian could handle at once, not knowing if we were really staying on schedule to get through the book in a year (though it soon became clear that I wasn’t). I suppose I could have gone through and marked out specific readings for each day, but that would have been rather time-consuming. Plus, we probably would have had to read every day to get through the entire book in a school year using the length of reading that Ian could handle.
I really like the way the God’s Design series breaks down the reading into specific material for each day. The way the reading is structured makes it really easy to know whether we are behind or if we have a little extra time to spend on topics that interest Ian.
My goal is to to do science 2 days a week. Since we want to finish 3 lessons a week to stay on schedule, sometimes I read 2 lessons in one day, which hasn’t seemed overwhelming at all. He’s also creating a notebook as we go, and the separate lessons have made it easy to decided what to write about.
4-Year Program is Easily Repeatable
If you’re familiar with my blog, you’ve probably heard me talk about how much I love “cycles” when it comes to long-term planning. I think it is extremely beneficial to give children a chance for repeating the same material at increasingly deeper levels as the grow. I like that we can cover the God’s Design series in 4 years and then repeat it before my children get to a more thorough study of individual subjects in high school. (I also am drawn to 4-year cycles because, as I said earlier, I think it will make it easier to study subjects as a family.)
Broad Scope of Science
The Young Explorers series seems to spend a disproportionate amount of time on life science as opposed to physical science. While I personally lean toward biology and anatomy, I know my boys are fascinated by things like machines and inventions, and it just seemed like those subjects got the short end of the stick with the Apologia series.
Variety Within Each Year
I appreciate Jeannie Fulbright’s desire to help students retain knowledge by pursuing deeper study and spending an entire year on each subject. Maybe it’s because I’m not as much of a science enthusiast as she is, but the thought of spending an entire year on most subjects fills me with dread.
I don’t want to skip any major parts of science with my children simply out of my own reluctance to spend such an extended period of time on them. I like the way the God’s Design series allows for flexibility as far as subjects. Although they have three similarly themed books in each set, you can actually just treat each individual book as a separate unit. If you want to do one book from God’s Design for Life and then take a break by choosing a book from God’s Design for Heaven and Earth, it wouldn’t be a problem. Even if you do the entire set (as we plan to do this year), there is still some variety built in. I decided to spend the our first term on animals, then we’ll move on to the human body, and finally we’ll finish up by studying plants in the spring.
A Final Word
Both of these series offer fantastic, God-honoring science curricula for homeschool families. While for now we are using God’s Design for Science, I will probably still collect the rest of the Young Explorers books when I see a good deal. Perhaps later on we will use them as the main part of our science studies, but for now they will be a beautiful addition to our library.