Friday, February 8, 2013

Apologia Zoology 2 (Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day) - A Schoolhouse Crew Review


When the Crew posted looking for reviewers to try one of Apologia Educational Ministries'  science curriculum, we were very excited.   I had been wanting some sort of science program for Jude for a while now. Last spring, we attempted another science curriculum (advertised for ages 4/5), and it didn't suit us at all.  In the meantime, we were focusing on getting other subjects under control, so an organized science program got backburnered.  Having this program made available for us to test run was perfect.  We had a choice of three kinds of animals: land, sea, or sky.  I asked Jude his preference:

"Would you like to study animals that fly?"  He responded with an excited "Yes!"

"Would you like to study animals that walk?"  A squealing, "Yes!" followed.

"Would you like to study animals that swim?" "Yes! Yes, yes, yes!!"  Jumping around, followed by flopping on the ground and "swimming" across the living room floor. 

Apologia Zoology 2 Swimming Creatures text book.

I took that as "I'd prefer the swimmers," and filled out the application form to indicate that Exploring Creation with Zoology 2: Swimming Creatures of the Fifth Day was our first choice. (K-6 graders had their choice of Apologia's Zoology 1, 2, or 3; 4-6 graders also had the option of applying for Apologia's Human Anatomy and Physiology program.)   When we found out we were chosen to review it, we were both very happy and very excited to receive our Textbook and Junior Notebooking Journal (hardcover/$39 and spiral-bound/$24 respectively, from

Apologia Zoology 2 junior notebooking journalMy only hesitancy in applying for this program was that usually when a book/program is meant to span "K through 6th," it tends to be far over Jude's head.  I think that was our main issue with the other books; while the program was recommended for Kindergarteners, the books were really more on much older comprehension level.  (I have since learned that some of those books are really recommended for 2nd-3rd graders and up.  For a 4 1/2 year old who also has developmental delays, no wonder they were too hard for him!)  We have had similar experiences with other programs that focus on reading and comprehension as the base. Combined with being intended to span a large age group, we soon realized that style of program was just not suited for us.  However, Apologia books are considered "living textbooks," written as in a more conversational and story-like tone. I really do think Apologia means "This book is suitable for kindergarteners," when recommending this curriculum for grades K-6.  The first thing I noticed about about the textbook was that while it is sufficiently detailed for older students, it is not overwhelming for a younger student. While clearly a "textbook" in content, the paragraphs have a more relaxed tone. They are crammed full with facts, but easily read and comprehended, even for the youngest student.  Usually I lose Jude about four sentences into read-aloud passages; with his phonologic issues, it is very hard for him to maintain focus.  So far, he has been very engaged in learning about the "swimming animals." If anything, we need to settle and regain focus in the face of "bouncing out of the chair" excitement.   There is very little that I need to "abridge" into words he understands, or shorten so he doesn't lose focus as we read the text.  The writing really draws you into the book.

Studying whales, Apologia Zoology 2

Because at this point I really just want to instill some basic understanding of science, I decided to allow Jude to choose which animals we studied.  I gave Jude the choice between "Whales and dolphins" (Lesson 2: Whales), "Sea turtles" (Lesson 4: Aquatic Herps) and "Sea stars" (Lesson 11: Echinoderms).  He chose whales, so that's where we started.  If he were an older child, I would probably insist on working through the book in order as a more formal curriculum; this year we will continue through units as his interest takes hold.

Something that I found encouraging was the note written by the author, Jeannie Fulbright:

"However, as a seasoned home educator, let me encourage you not to attempt to do every single activity in this notebooking journal.  Choose the projects and activities that will be enjoyable and inspire a love of learning. If something is a drudgery, it will not serve to increase your student's retention, but will only discourage his enjoyment of science..."

Really? You mean I DON'T have to feel compelled to do every activity just because it is in the book?  We can work at his level of interest?  Sign us up!  Clearly, there is a fine line in there, but honestly, that alone makes me at least WANT to attempt this program.

The Junior Notebooking Journal is a nice mix of more "formal" journaling (a picture/diagram and written notes) and age-appropriate creative activity.  The "Fascinating Facts" section allows him to practice sorting one fact from the information learned in a day and reducing it to a few words to fit in the space provided; the copy page teaches both a Bible verse and handwriting, coloring pages allow for imaginative design while reinforcing fine motor skills.  The journal is an asset to the program, not another activity to complete. 

Note: This is most definitely a Christian-based curriculum.  While it does present a scientific description of nomenclature and attributes, as well as use of the Scientific Method for experiments, much of the focus is "This is how God created <that animal>."  If you do not have any belief in Creationism, then this program is definitely not for you.  This is one of the few things in the program that I am a little uncomfortable with.  While our family believes in the story of Creation, we also hold a more moderate view and believe there is a place for both God as Creator and for animals to adapt and evolve once placed on earth.  I am not really finding any nod to evolution in the text, even through the discussion of pre-historic water creatures.  In 2011, Apologia issued a statement regarding their scientific views, and I understand their principle. For Jude, I am less concerned about this part of the Apologia program.  However, as he gets older I would be hesitant to use this as my sole curriculum source, because I would want him well rounded in the science field, and that does include knowledge of evolution.  

Apologia Zoology 2 wales unit

However, as I have learned with Jude, my opinion doesn't really count for much.  The big question to ask is, "How does Jude like the program?"  If the beauty of homeschooling is to allow him to help direct what he learns so that what he learns is engaging and memorable, does this program support this?  I believe the answer there is, "Yes."

Because the program allows us to choose what topics to study, this greatly reduces frustration.  Jude is engaged in what he is learning, because he is interested in what he is learning.  On day one, we read the first two and a half pages of the chapter! This is huge -- usually more than a paragraph or two and I've lost him, because it's just too hard for him to focus on what he's hearing.  I kept saying, "OK, let's stop here," and he clamored for the next section.  Jude was intrigued by the imagery: most whales are larger than Mommy's car; a baleen looks like a toothbrush where teeth should be.  He understood "whales need to surface because they have lungs like us," just like he cannot breathe underwater in the bathtub.  He also enjoyed pretending to spyhop at dinner, although he was looking above the table for snacks, not danger.  The only drawback to lessons on whales: Jude made the connection that "Flukes help whales make big waves!!" and pretending to be a (breaching) whale in the bathtub meant "Dad should have worn his Sea World poncho."  

The Junior Notebooking Journal has a suggested lesson pace listed in the front.   It recommends working 2 days per week, for two weeks per unit.  I think for an older child (mature second through sixth grades), this is reasonable.  This schedule gives you the option of picking up the pace and doing a chapter each week, and possibly completing a second text.  If you wish to add in other activities (like a field trip, arts and crafts, videos, etc.) two days per week allows you to do so without saying to yourself "Wow, this is fun, but we really ought to be reading the next section." For a younger student (kindergarten through young second grade), it may be too much to accomplish at one sitting.  Since Jude normally struggles with reading long passages, I felt expecting him to complete the entire chapter in four days' reading was too ambitious.  For the first unit, I did not really set a deadline for him to complete it; I wanted to see how he paced himself.  The unit on whales took us just over three weeks, working four days per week to read through the chapter, reading two-ish pages per day (depending on the section breaks).  At the end of most reading passages, we worked in the journal a little, and then did another activity.  One day it was coloring pictures of whales I had printed out; another day we made water-bottle whales; on a third day we looked up whale videos on YouTube and watched whales lobtail and breach.  We even acted out being whales, pretending to breathe as they do:

Swimming down
Up for air! Thar she blows!!

Back in the deep!

Jude recognized this diagram of how humans breathe from seeing similar ones at the hospital.  He was fascinated by the different internal structures of humans and cetaceans.

water bottle whale craft

Our arts and crafts whales. 
 Jude's whale is on the left, Damien's is on the right.
We used them to demonstrate to the big kids what whales do.

Our second lesson was the Aquatic Herps (sea turtles, sea snakes, reptiles and amphibians).  Towards the end of our whale unit, we took advantage of a gorgeous day and went to a local zoo.  While he was not impressed by the alligators and snakes in the Reptile House, he did like the turtles.  He also like the turtles sunning themselves on the log.  It was a nice segue into the unit, and a way to see some turtles up close (even if they weren't the "sea" turtles).  We discussed how turtles use their flippers to walk on land and to help them swim.  This little guy came out of his shell and we could see all of him, but there were other turtles in another tank that tucked their heads back in when we came close to them.

This unit only took us two weeks to complete.  The text held Jude's interest a little longer, and were able to read closer to three or four pages daily.  We read a few sections each day, trying to tie in other media sources to make concepts come alive.  Jude's favorite lesson was on baby turtles. Again, we pulled up videos and watched baby turtles emerge from the sand and wobble off to the ocean. He tried to pretend he was a turtle, too.  It was really hard!

construction paper turtle craftWe did two turtle crafts.  First, we made a construction paper turtle.  We colored the scutes on the carapaces, then added a head, flippers and a tail.  And googley eyes, of course!  This was nice tie-in to the program for Jude, and a good activity for Damien to feel like he was part of the class.  While this program is "officially" intended for children in grades K-6, I think Damien is enjoying it as much as Luke.  He loves sitting on my lap as we read (God gave Mommies two legs so they can fit two children in their laps without "he's on my side" fighting!) and doing crafts with us.  Obviously, at age 2 1/2, he's far too young for the formal program and/or the Notebook Journal, but this has been a really nice "everybody learning time." If there were other young children around, they certainly could be included in activities.  I even copied one of the coloring pages, so he could "do colors" and have the same page as big brother. 

Our second herp craft was an adaptation of the Journal's Mini-notebook for Unit 4.  The exercise as it was originally intended was more than Jude is ready for, so we adjusted it for his current level, and will save the original exercise for another time.   We made a sequencing vignette called "Happy Birthday, Turtles!" First, they grow in the shell. Next, the baby turtle hatches and comes up on the surface of the sand. Finally, baby turtles craw to the ocean and swim away.
adaptation of Apologia Zoology 2 Junior Notebook mini book

paper plate frog mask

We learned sea snakes look different from land snakes.  We also learned that the Atlantic Ocean is too cold for them, so it's safe to go in the water near Mimie and Pop Pop's beach house in Wildwood.  *whew*  Jude also reminded me that frogs are NOT slimy.   They are covered in mucous. (He learned that from Prince Naveen in "The Princess and the Frog."  We found more fun frog facts from Naveen & Tiana here.)

paper and pom pom fish craft
 The Crew Review period for this book started at the beginning of January.  Our pace has been slower than the average, but we have started a third chapter already! Jude chose fish (Lesson 6) as his next field of study.   As we cut out our paper fish, Jude pointed out the placement of the different fins -- pectoral, dorsal, caudal -- and where the fish's gills should be.  When Damien dumped much of the bag of pom poms on the table, Jude pointed out: "Mommy, our fish is camouflaged!"  something he learned about how fish keep from getting eaten.  Jude also reminded me, "Fish are friends, not food. And don't touch them, or their slime will rub off and they'll get sick and die and won't be your friend anymore." How much he is learning continues to impress me.   It's obvious he is able to absorb and retain the material being presented.

Final question: will the program hold up over time?  Yes, I believe it willWe are three chapters in, and Jude is as excited as when we started.  Many days, he complains over having to do some of his work (especially Bible and story times, because he has to sit and focus).  Every morning he asks what schoolwork are we doing that day.  I list the same roster, and get the same response - Science is always met with a cheer.  After using Zoology 2, I'm definitely interested in exploring Apologia's other offerings.

If you have a read-the-book, write-the-notes learner, this is a very good program when completed "as is."  There are some hands-on experiments in the program, and those can be sufficient for lab-based learning for a young elementary student. (If you are a in a very cold climate, you may want to wait until spring to try the goldfish experiment.  With temperatures that have often struggled to get out of the teens (Farenheit), we settled for observing fishes as they swam around their tanks at a local store.)  If you have a more kinesthetic learner, you may want to pull in other resources (videos, crafts, etc.) or get up from your seat and pretend to be animals, but this text and pacing certainly allows for this.  As we worked through the chapter, I purposely left some sections of the Notebooking journal blank. With Jude's attention span, trying to do all of the activities AND the reading, AND fun-for-him things was too much.  Originally, I thought it would be good to repeat the program when Jude was ready for the "big kid" notebook, but I think now what I would like to do is come back to this book next winter, review what we learned already, and then add a little more information (as his attention span permits) and possibly complete the Junior notebook. 

One of the best things about this program? I am very pleasantly surprised at how easy science has been for him to learn this time around! I only wish we had tried this sooner.  Jude remembers what he has learned, and is excited to share it.  Every night, he races to tell Daddy what he learned that day.  He yells over the other kids, trying to get a word in sideways at the dinner table; he wants to share his day, too.   When I tuck him in at night, we often have a little bit of silly time before prayers.  If I call out "Lobtail!!" he flaps his legs onto the mattress; when I tease "Good night, my little herp!" he giggles "I'm not a turtle! I'm a HUMAN!" And really, is there anything quite like "fishy kisses" at bedtime?

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the the Apologia Zoology 2 Text and the accompanying Junior Notebook as a member of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, and I received no other compensation.  In exchange, I agreed to give an honest review of how this program worked for our family.

Find out what others thought about the Zoology Series and the Anatomy and Physiology texts by clicking below!

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  1. Great review! and what fun crafts!

  2. Love all your crafts and pictures! Looks like so much fun!

  3. I too love how you pulled crafts into your own lesson plan! You've inspired me to look for ways to incorporate more art with our Swimming Creatures science lessons, also!
    I enjoyed reading your detailed review!

  4. Your review is tremendous! I can't wait to get my hands on one too! I love Jude's response to learning about the different animals!

  5. Thanks for such a thorough review! Love the photos!


  6. Just wanted to thank you for this post! Last night I was ready to toss our apologia swimming creatures out and just call it five year old just wasn't getting it, after seek how you slowed things right down and broke it up into more manageable portions, as well as giving your son the choice of what he wanted to study, it got me fired up again to give apologia a real chance. I took some time at our local library, sticky noted our text and journal into a five week study on sea lions Etc. and have hope now that we can make thus work! Thank you so much for sharing !

    Cole from the crunchy homeschooler

  7. Meg @ Adventures with JudeFebruary 2, 2014 at 9:48 PM

    Cole, you are so very welcome! This was the first science program that worked for us...I know it's not for everyone (same as the other programs we tried were loved by the people who recommended them but we just hated them!) but I think it really DOES go down to a K level. (We also have reviewed Apologia's Physics & Chemistry for grades K-6 and loved it just as much, so I don't think this was a fluke.) The hardest part with younger ones is slowing it down - if you're like me, you feel like you have to do it "as is" -- like "If the book says this way, this must be how to do it." With this, you really DON'T - you can use it more as a starting point and then just wander about within the idea. If wandering works for all means, wander! :) Good luck!


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