I started this post back in July and finally got around to finishing it this afternoon.
So one of the most popular ways to tackle a given academic subject, especially for classical home schoolers, is to use a spine instead of a single textbook like you might find in a brick and mortar school setting.
In this context a spine is the backbone of a scope and sequence, but not the full body.
For instance, Elemental Science: Biology for the Grammar Stage was written by a pair of home schooling parents with degrees in Biology and Biochemistry. I printed off the pdfs last night so I could file them in our system, and I was really impressed with what I saw, despite the unfortunate use of Comic Sans (why? why???). Paige clearly put a great deal of work into organizing the curriculum and coordinating experiments, ongoing projects, readings and narrations. What we purchased from them was not a book, but rather a ready-to-use 36 week plan for using three spines: The Kingfisher First Encyclopedia of Animals, The DK First Human Body Encyclopedia and Plant Parts (The Life of Plants Series). Additionally, they use two sources for experiments: Janice VanCleave’s Science Around the World and Janice VanCleave’s Biology for Every Kid. Every lesson involves some combination of narration (parent and child read the appropriate entry from the spine and then the child narrates back to the parent what he has learned), a coordinated experiment from one of the VanCleave books (this includes the experiment itself followed by filling out an observations & conclusion page), a hands on craft activity such as drawing or building a diorama, and recommendations for further reading and activities.
In addition to this, we make heavy use of the library (of course!). For example: when we studied habitats, I found the assigned VanCleave reading just a little to dry for a Colin to sit still for. It kind of bored even me. So we trooped off to the library and found a huge stack of age appropriate books on different habitats– rainforests, deserts, tundra, etc– and gleaned them for the information we needed. It was great!
It does take some time to do it this way rather than using a single textbook, sure. But I like the element of control and adventure. Most importantly, though, we are teaching our kids from an early age how to find things out for themselves. Colin already knows that if you want to know more about something, you
Google it go to the library and find sources, and then you check them with other sources. Yay for research!