See also our frequently asked questions page.
Click on any of the questions below to view the answer to that question.
A: We hope you’ll let your kids help select what programs they want to study. But our first choice to introduce kids (and parents!) to hands-on learning is Electricity #32. Materials are easy to find (even easier if you order our kit); student instructions and teaching notes are simple; kids get the thrill of instant success (“Look, Ma, I can light the bulb!”). Younger siblings will want to work along with older siblings, and will happily repeat these activities in greater depth a few years later.
Cross-age learning is built into many other titles as well, like Get a Grip #73 and Perfect Balance #31.
These are engaging and flexible math programs that even preschoolers will “grasp” independently, at their own ability level.
Once your kids get the hang of working independently, they’ll be eager to try more challenging units. By then, you’ll get the hang of being a resource person and trouble-shooter, while your kids learn to become their own best teachers. Homeschooling is especially well suited to achieve this noble educational goal. And TOPS is especially well suited for home schooling!
Our number one recommendation: You are not required to use TOPS instructions like a cookbook. Unlike public school teachers, you have more flexibility and time for your children to explore the “hows and whys” of what they observe happening. If an experiment doesn’t go as projected, we suggest you relax, observe, hypothesize, and experiment further as time allows.
Keep a journal of your explorations, because you are doing science as a process, whether or not you arrive at “the right answer.” This is the very heart of science education, and your children will be learning far more along the way than you might guess. And they are likely to be learning joyfully, unless you project a mood of tension, despair or failure.
You can do TOPS at home! Once your family is hooked on discovery, your kids may well take delight in exploring a subject that hooks them in greater depth on the web, in the library, on field trips, in museum classes, or in textbooks.
Next, check the book description page on this website related to the experiment in question to see whether we’ve already addressed your question under 'teaching tips.'
Then, if you’re feeling the need for more background than is provided in our teaching notes, or more explanation about some scientific phenomenon, (or simply have curiosity about any topic!), Google is an amazing resource. Type in a few key words, and discover that experts in many fields have made their knowledge available, often for free, right on your desktop. This process gives your offspring a fine introduction to research, which you may want to continue at your local library.
Finally, if you’re really stuck, you can email us. Be sure to mention which book and lesson you are using, and describe your problem clearly. Ron or Peg will get back to you as quickly as possible, sometimes even evenings or weekends.
Except in dire emergency, please don’t phone us. We want to give all our TOPSciencers the best support possible, but we’re a home-based business with a staff of two, and we can get spread mighty thin. The phone doesn’t give us much time to collect our thoughts or look up and review specific labs, so it's not usually the best way to get the clearest answer.
A: Budget about an hour per lesson in terms of overall planning, but expect wide variation among specific lessons. One of the best things about homeschooling is that you don't have to stick to a regimented schedule. Your children may get so excited about hands-on science they'll want to do several activities in a row, perhaps even designing their own experiments and extensions along the way. This is the essence of great education; encourage this if you can! Some families have a Science Day every week (A few parents have told us their kids enjoy TOPS so much, they used this as a reward for completed work on other subjects!)
Be aware that Radishes #38 and Corn & Beans #39 are scheduled around the growth of real, live plants, and should be given at least an hour every weekday.
Once kids learn to be their own best teachers, they can become the rocket scientist, the plumber, the homemaker, the farmer, the writer, the grocer, or the poet they were meant to be. The TOPS books you use, and that college you have in mind, are merely developmental stepping stones to help your children along their way.
“So you’ve entered the high school years and are looking for guidance on how to integrate TOPS into your daughter’s curriculum. I’m glad to share our experience with you. You need to find out what (your state’s) requirements are for science. Also be aware that most colleges require a minimum of three science courses, two of which must be lab sciences. (Hello, TOPS!) If you choose to give them more, it will make their application review that much easier!
We were late 'discoverers' of TOPS and started using their materials in the 10th grade when we needed to meet the lab requirements for chemistry. We used TOPS again in 11th grade for our physics course. Each of these years, at the beginning of the summer, I reviewed the TOPS offerings using both their grade level and subject (chemistry, biology, physics, etc.) index. I selected enough Task Card Series books in the subject area we planned to cover to provide us a number of lessons close to our 180-day instructional requirement. I must note here that we started with WEIGHING #05 as I knew we would need a scale, and the equal arm balance we made served our needs very well!
In PA the homeschool law requires public schools to loan their textbooks to homeschool families. We always took these texts and used them as a study guideline -- a loose guideline! If we happened to be working with TOPS PRESSURE #16, we might see what the text had to say about the subject. In some cases, the texts were so boring and tedious that we closed the book (I know that you know what I mean!); in other cases the texts offered some enhancement. We also selected portions of the texts, that is to say, the topics that didn’t make us cringe, to study in addition to our TOPS task cards. (A unit on mirrors & focal points comes to mind.)
The PA homeschool law also requires that a portfolio of representative work be submitted to the school at the end of every school year, and that requirement has been an asset to us. We took many photographs of experiments in the works; after the photos were processed (weeks or months later!) our daughter organized them in her portfolio with a description of the activities taking place along with the scientific explanation of the activities. An excellent review process!
Our daughter... is not planning a career that requires a strong chemistry or physics background. As a matter of fact, she has no idea what she wants to do, fortunately, this isn’t uncommon, and I’m not really worried. She’s been accepted to all three of the colleges to which she applied, and I feel that the TOPS materials we used in her high school science studies have given her enough comprehension, with a high measure of enjoyment!, of the subjects to adequately prepare her for any subsequent college requirements.
I hope this information is helpful to you and that you thoroughly enjoy your high school years.”
Susan W., Pennsylvania
So our “target” grade ranges may actually be deceptively narrow for homeschoolers. Sometimes the limiting factor is the amount of math required. Sometimes it’s the manual dexterity required to build a model or a measuring instrument.
We hear from quite a few families who sidestep these obstacles by having children of different ages work together. This can save you time, planning and preparation. For example, manipulating small parts might be the only thing standing between a pre-schooler and an exciting exploration of electricity, or balancing, or radishes. An older sibling might help the younger follow directions and assemble a gadget, thus making hours of self-directed learning possible. And we should never underestimate the value of teaching others as a way for the older child to learn at higher levels of comprehension.
You probably homeschool because you want your children to be treated as the individuals they are. You know whether your children are ready, or not, to handle any given subject area. You hope to nurture each of your children’s unique aptitudes. TOPS helps kids and their parents discover how exhilarating learning can be when they have the opportunity to indulge their own curiosity.
A general note: Some folks are dedicated scroungers and want to collect their own materials. If this is you, consider introducing lentils with a complete, ready-to-use Get A Grip Workstation. You can then purchase one or both Lentil Science books separately, and gather additional materials gradually as your kids work through the chapters. You don’t have to have all materials ready in order to start using the activities, and can probably find reasonable substitutes for some items. (We always encourage creative improvisation!)
We offer these supplies as a convenience, and strive to offer quantities sufficient for single lab groups, which educators can then multiply to meet class needs. You may find cheaper sources for many of the materials at local stores or online. So please shop around if saving money is more important to you than saving time.
Another tip: If you just need a small amount of something that comes in a big package, team up with other homeschoolers, or ask a neighbor or local businesses to give or sell you some. When testing our labs, we’ve asked the local high school for a few chemicals. Folks are often happy to help out when they know it’s for science education!
The homeschool situation is rather different, since you generally use a book for only a few children. But homeschoolers often reduce their outlay by puchasing and reselling used books — eliminating sales to publishers like TOPS. So how do we balance our needs with yours?
If you are sharing TOPS materials with other home schoolers, we ask that you support our continued work by sending TOPS a voluntary Honor System ROYALTY: we suggest 25 cents per lesson per recipient. Or if you prefer, you may simply make a contribution on any book description page for value received. Our copyright rule, for homeschooling, is somewhat open to your interpretation and needs. We trust that you will want TOPS to remain available to students everywhere, so please let your conscience be your guide.