Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In the Hands of a Child {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

Lapbooking is popular among many homeschoolers, but we have been late to that particular playground. We've only completed a couple of lapbook projects, but Kennady enjoyed her last one, so we thought it would be a great idea to review the Natural Wonders Project Pack from In the Hands of a Child, a company well-known for their lapbooks.
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In the Hands of a Child began in 2002, as the result of two homeschool moms, Kimm Bellotto and Niki McNeil, combining their efforts to produce ready-to-use lapbook kits. Their first customers were friends in a homeschool support eGroup. The business grew and added writer and researcher Katie in 2005. Their goal is to help educators of children of all ages and skill levels with the use of just one product - the lapbook. The team at In the Hands of a Child puts together kits that save homeschool moms the time and effort of finding all the items and graphics needed to make a lapbook. To date, they have published over 450 Lapbook and Notebook Project Packs, and continue to add many other products to their line as well.

We chose the Natural Wonders Project Pack, partly because it included some natural wonders in North and South America, and we'll be focusing on these continents in our Social Studies and Geography curriculum this school year. This is a unit study on the seven natural wonders of the world. By following the included lesson planning guide, this project can be completed in six days. It also includes a related reading list, all the printables for the twenty activities that make up the lapbook, and some extension projects.
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How did we use it? I printed the lesson planning guide and reading list right away and got to work ordering books from our library. I found a fair number of the ones suggested available to borrow, and substituted others as needed. It's not necessary to have the specific books on the reading list, so that is just a starting point. Basically, we just needed some books to help us do a little extra research on the natural wonders. At first, I thought Kennady and I would work through the whole project together, but since she enjoys reading on her own, we soon found that it was more efficient for us when I assigned her the books to read on her own, and then we would spend some time together every few days to work on the activities that would make up her lapbook.

For the first few activities, I would print a page for the activity and then we realized that it might have been better printed on colored paper or on cardstock. We also puzzled over the brief folding and construction instructions a few times, before just deciding to do it the way we thought it would work best. I think we wound up doing it the way it was intended after all, and I'm sure we stressed over whether we were doing it "right" more than we needed to.

There are twenty activities altogether, but there were a couple we chose not to include in Kennady's finished lapbook. For example, we left out an activity that asked the student to take a poll among classmates or family and friends as to which of a list of natural wonders they thought were most impressive. We focused instead on the geography and history of the natural wonders in the lesson, and were especially interested in those located in the Americas - Angel Falls, Grand Canyon, Paricutin, and the Harbor of Rio de Janeiro. (The other wonders, by the way, are: Aurora Borealis, Great Barrier Reef, Ayers Rock, Mount Everest, and Victoria Falls.) 

As an aside, I need to ask if I am the only person
who has never heard of Paricutin before?
Seriously, I didn't know what it was or where it was located,
and I thought I knew quite a bit about geography!
One of the seven natural wonders of the world,
but I hadn't heard of it. Shame on me. LOL
 So I learned something brand new in doing this with Kennady.

We went over the vocabulary words, did some research into each of the natural wonders on the lists, and completed the activities that summarized the highlights of what we'd learned. Once we had all the components completed, we had to fit them all onto the lapbook, which took the assistance of an older brother who has a good sense of spatial organizing! We wound up leaving off the vocabulary cards, and we had skipped doing a couple of the activities that could have gone on the lapbook. How they would all fit is beyond me, and other than some sample photos, we didn't have any guidelines. Good for kids that want to do it all their own way - potentially frustrating though. I think it turned out very well.

The printable materials come in a .pdf format, and answers can be typed into the activities before printing, which may be a huge bonus for some students! We chose not to use that option, so I had to find out the hard way - if you choose not to use the type-in option on the printable activities, you will need to clear the words "Type answer here" before printing on a couple of the pages. Or they will come out saying "Type answer here" and you'll have to print them over again. LOL 

What we liked best:
  • with the six-day lesson plan outline, this project can be completed in a short period of time, so for us it was a great 'teaser' to get started in the school year. It could be spread out over a couple weeks as an "extra" activity, the way we did it. Or, we figured we could have done it as a one-week unit study. 
  • flexibility to use as a quick overview study, or to go much deeper if we wanted to.
  • the brief articles included gave enough information to answer the questions in the activities, so if it's a fun overview study, or if we'd had trouble finding books on the particular topics, we could still have completed all the activities. In addition, there is an answer key included that supplies direct answers to some of the questions.
What I need to mention:
  • I could really have used more instructions or suggestions about printing and construction. A suggestion to print certain activities on cardstock or on colored paper would have been appreciated. There were no instructions given for where to place each element on the lapbook itself, so while it allows the student to put it together however they think it looks best, it can be confusing for a student (or mom!) that hasn't done many lapbooks or prefers lots of instructions. There are example pictures of completed lapbooks included in the materials, so there is something to guide you a little, but essentially you are on your own with that part of it.
  • We felt that the activities were better suited to students on the younger end of the age recommendation for this project. It is suggested for Grades 4-8, but the activities seemed to me to be more suitable for perhaps Grades 3-6. Older students could certainly focus more on the reading and research, and it might be very suitable for a family to do together, with older students providing research and younger ones doing the coloring/cutting/folding elements.
  • Kennady and I both thought the components were rather bare looking, since when they are folded, most of the printed and written material is inside. Obviously the student can easily add her own drawings or color to the elements if they wish. We wished we'd thought to print them on brightly colored paper or cardstock. All the reproducibles are in black and white too, which was disappointing. Having the graphics of the Aurora Borealis appear in blue and green, or the graphics of the Grand Canyon and Ayers Rock with some reds and browns would have added a lot to the overall appearance.
Our bottom line: As a homeschooler who frequently makes up my own study guides and course outlines, it may seem odd that I would have liked more in the way of instructions for this project, but I really did feel a little at loose ends as were putting this together. I guess lapbooking is just not our style, so this wasn't something we loved. We are just not lapbooking enthusiasts here, and still feel like it's more for little kids than for middle schoolers and up.I did like the flexibility of the activities, and think it might be good for co-op classes and for multi-age homeschools. I can easily see why families that are devoted to lapbooking love products from In the Hands of a Child - the kit we tried provided everything needed to put together the lapbook, and at a very reasonable price. Even though it's not our style, we can still confidently recommend these Project Packs to homeschoolers who love incorporating lapbooks into their learning. There is a wide variety of topics in many subject areas and for many grade levels.

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Would you like to get these Project Packs into the hands of your child? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website at: http://www.handsofachild.com/
Find out more about Lapbooking and Notebooking.

Pricing: The Natural Wonders Project Pack is available for $12. At the time of this writing, this is one of the items included in the 2013 Back-to-School Sale running through the month of August, and the price is only $5 - over 50% off! Visit the Curriculum page at In the Hands of a Child to browse all the products they have available.

Recommended Ages: This Project Pack is recommended for Grades 4 through 8. There are other products available for all ages.

You may want to sign up for the Newsletter or read the Blog. You can also follow In the Hands of a Child on Facebook.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other Crew member reviews. Crew members reviewed a wide selection of products from In the Hands of a Child, so be sure to check out their thoughts on those titles as well!

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