Popular Scientific Recreations {Free eBook}

As we have mentioned elsewhere, during the younger years, science is best kept to reading and investigation. With a healthy curiosity not dulled by constant memorization of vocabulary and testing, a student will have a strong background that will carry him through the higher sciences where higher levels of math make real scientific study possible. To this end, Popular Scientific Recreations by Gaston Tissandier is a perfect fit!

Originally written in “Sixpenny Monthly Parts,” with “nine hundred engravings,” Popular Scientific Recreations provides:

…[P]hysical facts being illustrated and explained by a series of Experiments, without any elaborate apparatus or special appliances. To the mind of a NEWTON, the fall of an apple was suggestive of the grand truth of gravitation; and in like manner the action of the atmosphere, the pressure of fluids, the laws of sound, of colour, of heat, and an infinity of subjects, can be explained in a manner that shall render their study truly a recreation and an enjoyment, instead of a task.

At the same time the explanations of all the experiments and exercises are based on scientific principles, and the recreations are not presented as mere tricks and puzzles, but as a method of teaching agreeably, yet accurately, undoubted scientific truths.

Scientific explorations are told in a semi-story form with charming illustrations while still offering a depth of study missing in most texts aimed at this age group.

Science in the open air, in the fields, in the sunshine, is our first study; we point out how, in the country, it is possible, pleasantly and unceasingly, to occupy one’s leisure in observing nature, in capturing insects or aquatic animals, or in noting atmospheric phenomena.

We next teach a complete course of physics without any apparatus, and point out the methods for studying the different phenomena of heat, light, optics, and electricity, by means of a simple water-bottle, tumbler, stick of sealing-wax, and other ordinary objects, such as everyone has at hand. A series of chemical experiments, performed by means of some phials and inexpensive appliances, completes that part of the book relating to the physical sciences.

Another kind of recreation, both intelligent and useful, consists in collecting the ingenious inventions which are constantly being supplied to our requirements by the applied sciences, and learning how to use them. We have collected a number of mechanical inventions and appliances, with which most ingenious and skillful people will wish to supply themselves, from Edison’s electric pen, or the chromograph, which will produce a large number of copies of a letter, drawing, etc., to the more complicated, but not less valuable contrivances, for making science useful in the house.

The book covers:

  • Nature.
  • Gasses.
  • Water.
  • Heat.
  • Light.
  • Optics.
  • Acoustics.
  • Electricity.
  • Aeronautics.
  • Chemistry.
  • Metals.
  • Mineralogy.
  • Astronomy.
  • Geology.
  • Physical geography.
  • Meteorology.
  • Climatology.
  • Botany.
  • Zoology.
  • More!

Due to the story-based nature of the book, it may be difficult to break the chapters up for scheduled study. One paragraph can go from an experiment in light to an observation outing to experiments under the microscope! In any case, while you’ll find our suggestions for dividing up the text to fit into a normal school year, this one may be one of those that deserve a family read-aloud with spontaneous experimentation afterward — knowing in advance you’ll need a few things handy.

Or simply use the book as an experiment resource, utilizing the index in the back of the book to help you find something that fits your current study.

A wealth of information, projects, and discovery — all free!

Note: Please remember that the book was written in the late 1800s and some of the experiments may no longer be considered “safe”!

Free eBook
  • As mentioned above, dividing the book into distinct lessons to fit a schedule is a challenge. For that reason, it may be easier to use the book as a family read-aloud and see how far you get! For the determined:
    • There are sixty chapters. If you plan to cover one chapter each week, you’ll have two years of lessons. That may be a bit ambitious as one chapter may cover as many as 10 different subjects!
    • Another option is to spread the book over four years (it does cover significant ground), covering one chapter in two weeks.
    • Finally, one last idea would be to ignore the chapters and simply cover one topic each week (topics are listed under each chapter title in the table of contents). Just know that some topics will go very quickly while others will take quite a bit of time. If you take this route, the book will take approximately three years to work through.
  • Some experiments will not be for every family. You know your family best!
  • For the geologic portions of the book, you may appreciate reading The Geology Book by Dr. John D. Morris alongside to learn more about the dating of the strata.
  • Have your student provide a written or oral narration after each reading.
  • Occasionally use Drawing & Writing Notebooking Paper to illustrate and narrate concepts.
  • Complete a scientific experiment page after each activity.
Additional Resources
10 Ways to Use Notebooking: #7 Science

10 Ways to Use Notebooking: #7 Science
Suggestions, tips, resources, and lots of notebooking helps.

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