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Homeschool High School Lab Science

August 4, 2014

Why would anyone skip Biology Lab? What could possibly be more fun than dissecting critters and peeping through a microscope, and what is a lab science anyway?

Lab science

Biology lab can be a lot of fun, but it’s also fairly expensive, which is something I discuss in my Special Report, 7 Secrets to Homeschooling Though a Financial Storm. Holly read the report and had a follow up question.

Dear Lee,
I just read your special report and think it was very well done.  Lots of great tips for saving money and giving parents confidence to strike out on their own a bit more. I was surprised to see that you suggested skipping Biology or doing it with media applications (online or video) instead of hands-on.  In Arizona, the state universities are very particular about the high school sciences being first-hand LAB courses.  This is something that I have stressed with my contacts and in my workshops–not just Biology, but any high school science needs to be documented actual lab work.  Tell me what you have encountered that puts a lighter emphasis on the labs. Is this more a state-by-state emphasis or is there more of a trend toward “softer” science coursework?  Keep up the good work.  You are doing many of the things that I dream of doing and can’t make happen all by myself.
~Holly in Arizona

I’m a trained nurse, so it is surprising to see me suggest that dropping biology lab is an option! I loved biology and especially the biology labs! I think it’s important to remember how financially desperate people can be in this economy. It’s better to drop a biology lab than not do biology at all or worse, to stop homeschooling entirely because of concerns about science costs.

Public universities sometimes have very different requirements than colleges as a whole. Because I have to gear my message to “general” college preparation, I urge parents to check requirements at the colleges their child is planning to attend.  Some colleges requires lab sciences be taught in a classroom with a certified teacher, for example.

Surprisingly, there is also no national definition for what a lab science is. The US House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology formed the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education issued a report about lab science, and it is remarkably clear in their conclusion. National Research Council’s America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science states:

“The NRC report committee concluded that there exists no commonly agreed upon definition of laboratories in high schools amongst researchers and educators.”

Most colleges do not require documented lab sciences. Some colleges do. Usually a college that has specific science requirements will also provide a specific method to achieve it. Perhaps they will allow the ACT science portion to meet the requirement, or they will accept an SAT Subject Test or AP exam in an area of science.

There are many colleges that don’t require excessive math or science. Perhaps their emphasis is on music, art, or a specific trade, and general sciences will meet their admission requirements. In general, when I look over college preparation sites, they don’t mention taking a lab science every year as a requirement.

It’s a good idea to make parents aware if the public university in your area has a greater emphasis on lab sciences. I think it’s also important to remember that colleges are rarely specific about WHICH sciences, and it’s OK for parents to include some delight directed science courses along with the more ordinary biology-chemistry-physics choices. For more information, check out my article, You CAN Teach High School Science Labs!

Which lab science are you choosing to cover in your homeschool high school? Please share in the comments!



Please note: This post was originally published in November 2009 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


  1. J W says:

    Fresh roadkill is great for dissection, and it’s free. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to convince my husband of that :-( He hasn’t yet let me bring anything dead home except a salmon a fisherman gave me ;-)

    November 19th, 2009 at 8:58 pm

  2. Leticia Barnes says:

    I just had a thought about science and testing. I have always taught science through a Christian perspective. Is that going to mess them up with sat testing?

    February 17th, 2010 at 7:26 pm

  3. Lee says:

    Dear Leticia,
    Great question! I just answered that question today with another mom, too! The answer is no, it won’t mess them up on the PSAT, SAT, or ACT. There are hardly ever questions that are very specific, only some passing references to “Billions of years ago…” Not enough to really affect a score, and most homeschoolers are savvy enough to answer correctly anyway. I’ll blog post on that topic later, though. It’s interesting!

    February 17th, 2010 at 7:29 pm

  4. Sharon says:

    Would a Nature Study count as a lab science? My girls are neither one interested in science – one is going into music, the other film production. We’re doing biology now, and I suspect we’ll either do chemistry or physics, but the thought of doing both is a little…exhausting to thing of to my two non-science-centered girls.

    And another question…would earth science count as a lab science? We covered astronomy, weather, etc., oceanography, etc. and built lots of weather forecasting items and built a telescope to study the stars.


    March 8th, 2010 at 7:06 pm

  5. Lee Binz says:

    I’ll answer your question in a future blog post, but the answer is yes!

    March 14th, 2010 at 12:06 pm

  6. Sandy says:

    We dissected a snake the cat left dead in the front yard. We broke apart a cheap razor and used sewing pins in a cardboard mat. Not the best methods but for a 9 year old he was thrilled. Luckily I had dissected dogs, cats, etc in college so I was past being squeamish.

    April 16th, 2010 at 6:09 am

  7. Selina says:

    Your idea sounds like a good one but, fresh road kill is NOT a great idea. You could actually get rabies from them. You have probably already thought about that since posting this. You can read more at this site.

    May 25th, 2010 at 10:27 am

  8. Angie says:

    Food Chemistry is a great way to get some chemistry into our students. I love the Magic School Bus series that deal with more aspects of science. We need to think more out of the box when describing life experiences that have taught our students more than what can be taught in less than 170 hours in a classroom setting…

    Describing a child’s passion in terms of what they have learned is a much better approach to science. Observations, experiments and the all important recapping of their experiences in a written form are excellent ways of accomplishing lab work.

    August 17th, 2010 at 7:06 am

  9. edutext says:

    I’m quite surprised that science isn’t required by more universities, because it’s probably the most wide covering subject studied. Only basic maths is ever needed in a regular job (and not even that anymore) and obviously English is important but science covers a lot more of what we actually understand in life.

    September 10th, 2010 at 6:20 am

  10. Lee says:

    Science IS required for admission by almost all colleges. Some colleges allow some flexibility, and others are more specific about the types of science or the lab experiences they require.

    Most colleges also require 3-4 years of math – as possible for the student. Some colleges allow some flexibility on WHAT math you teach, and others are more specific, and want to see Algebra 2 or Pre-calculus.

    Here is an article that may help you think about math:


    September 10th, 2010 at 6:56 am

  11. Donna says:

    Hi, We work with horses,my high school girls go to the barn almost every day. last year we were riding as a p.e. class.
    we actually have two equine classes one happens to be equine science and equine horsemanship.

    While the girls have a lot of hands on things with the horses this year was rough, our personal horse coliced and then foundered and then had to be put down. Lots of people asked what i did for school for the last two weeks while we took care of him 24/7 and i replied it is science. hands on/lab science. tempature, injections, caring for a sick horse…now i am havng second thoughts can i use that as a lab?

    thank you for imput

    October 17th, 2012 at 11:33 am

  12. Lee says:

    There is no real definition of what a high school lab science entails. If you would like support, become a member of the Gold Care Club and we can discuss it: The issues can be complicated, and it really depends on your situation.

    October 18th, 2012 at 12:47 pm

  13. Colleen says:

    Do the video labs count? We buy those as the kits were way too expensive. I thought that as long as the child had the lab workbook and filled it out as they watched the video that it would count for lab. Now I’ve been told that isn’t true, that the student has to get their hands dirty.

    November 22nd, 2012 at 5:12 am

  14. Lee says:

    You can read my full article about lab sciences here: Some public schools can’t afford lab kits, and they use videos. Independent homeschoolers get to choose what is best for their children.

    November 23rd, 2012 at 7:39 am

  15. Mary says:

    I guess this is a follow-up to what Colleen asked or just a clarification. Generally speaking, video dissections can be counted as labs? if your child is not going into a science based career?


    January 1st, 2013 at 3:25 pm

  16. Lee says:

    You will get more information in this article: There is no definition on what a lab science is, so YOU get to decide for your own students. However, many high schools across the country to have video dissections for some labs. I think it sounds like a perfectly reasonable lab.

    January 2nd, 2013 at 7:01 am

  17. Ariana says:

    Knowing which college to look at for specific science requirements made me wonder if there is a flow chart of sorts that helps you decide which type of college(or not) is best suited for your student? Maybe yes, no answers to indicate, public, private, community college, certification courses, in state, out of state, etc.

    And maybe even a flow chart for types of high school credits to earn- CLEP, AP, dual enrollment, online, virtual school, co-op classes, home based, tutor etc.

    Maybe even which standardized tests are best suited to your student- SAT, ACT, PSAT etc.

    Is there anything like that out there? Maybe on pinterest? I haven’t seen one yet.


    March 26th, 2014 at 3:22 pm

  18. Assistant to The HomeScholar says:

    That would be very nice, Ariana! I can’t imagine what that would look like, since (as Lee says) Each College is Unique. Maybe some day…

    Assistant to The HomeScholar

    March 27th, 2014 at 2:34 pm

  19. Angela says:

    We dissected a mouse today that was killed by our dog yesterday. It was great & low cost! We did pay for the dissection kit, but I knew we would need it for years to come. It wasn’t my 15 or 13yo who requested this dissection (although they liked it), it was my 6yo. He loves dissecting things and seeing what’s inside.

    August 6th, 2014 at 8:42 pm

  20. Assistant to The HomeScholar says:

    I think it must be only homeschoolers who think that’s a good idea! I’m impressed! I have never used an animal that died in our home, because they are always known “personally”!

    Assistant to The HomeScholar

    August 6th, 2014 at 9:14 pm

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