Review: Homeschool in the Woods
It’s almost the end of the school year, and all year long, we’ve been using a history curriculum that well, we just don’t love as much as I thought we would. Chris (7th) and Chey (5th) were definitely ready to change things up a bit, and the Hands-On History Lap-Pak: The 20th Century in America from Home School in the Woods arrived at just the right time.
We received this unit study / lapbook in downloadable form; it’s also available on CD, with the same files, just in hardcopy. Personally, I prefer downloads whenever possible – it saves on shipping & handling costs, plus it’s a space saver, since I can fit many more downloadable texts on one CD or memory card.
Who is the Hands-On History Lap-Pak: The 20th Century in America for and what does it do?
Recommended for grades 3-8, the 20th Century in America Lap-Pak includes a text booklet, printables and directions for 22 projects ranging from fashion and tech to food and conflicts. Each project incorporates hands-on learning, enhanced with detailed artwork and research recommendations. (This has the most visually appealing, unique reproducible graphics I’ve seen in a lapbook yet! I love them – and so do the kids!)
Now, depending on how in-depth the family wants to go with the study, there are a couple of options: stick with just the basics, reading text and printable projects, or take advantage of the extensive list of additional resources. The optional resource list includes over 130 books, plus suggested musicians, composers, and singers to research. No artists, authors, or inventors were listed, which I thought would have been reasonable to include, but it would be easy enough search the library for people and events mentioned in each of the projects.
Supplies for Hands-On History Lap-Pak: The 20th Century in America
- white and colored paper
- white and colored cardstock
- regular and colored pencils
- scissors, stapler, clear tape
- double-sided sticky tape
- clear packing tape
- liquid glue, glue stick
- paper fastener
- 2″ square of corrugated cardboard
- exacto knife and cutting surface
- white cotton
- gold glitter glue
- acetate (or Dura-lar) 8.5″ x 11″ sheet (we may substitute something for this – cut up a sheet protector? or a heavy zip-lock bag?)
- one file folder (tab in the middle recommended for aesthetics – it’ll work with any, though)
- 1 needle for assembling booklet (optional – we used the stapler)
Preparing Hands-On History Lap-Pak: The 20th Century in America
When you open up the download for the first time, you’ll discover two folders, named “images” and PDFs, along with two other files, titled “Start” and “autorun”. Ignore autorun – it’s what makes a CD start playing when you place it in the computer. Click on Start.
Clicking Start should open a page in your browser that gives some short instructions about how to use the lap-pak, plus many organized links that will make it easy to find the printables you’re looking for. Also included are photos of completed projects, plus assembly instructions for each of the individual projects – and of course, suggested placement for all pieces into the lapbook as a whole.
Clicking the buttons for each of the individual project master opens that PDF inside your browser window, where you can open and print it. In our case, I did things a bit differently. The same PDF files are in that folder marked, of course, PDFs. I hate printing from the browser, and generally have much better luck printing directly from PDF – so I went that route. The project instructions have clear directions as to what type of paper each master should be printed on, and whether or not there is a page on the reverse.
Printing, oh, the printing
That said, I *still* had trouble with the printing. Trying to get everything printed correctly rapidly became my least-favorite part of this unit study! Despite my careful following of the instructions, and Chey’s help choosing paper colors, things still got messed up several times. I wasted more ink and paper on this project than I have in the last several months together, and I could be wrong, but I don’t *think* it was entirely my fault.
Since each page is it’s own individual PDF, rather then being combined in a group of pages, one must flip the pages manually to get printing on the back. [Enter mass frustration.] Despite extra caution, pages were still somehow being flipped oddly, and I often discovered that the pages would need flipped *opposite* of the standard way. [About the tenth time around, my 17-year-old wandered in, offered to try it, and didn’t have any more success than I.]
I’m NOT a newbie at special print jobs. I’m generally NOT easily frustrated. I WASN’T having an off day – until the print fiasco happened – and really, it took me closer to a week to get them all printed.
I think something is bizarre with those pages. I’d be *ever* so much happier with one nice, normal, PDF per project. That would retain the “only print the one you need” ease of individual PDFs, yet allow for a lot more simplicity in prep work. As an added bonus, people like me, who just got a new printer that auto-duplexes, would actually get to *use* the auto-duplex to their advantage. (As a side note, I’ve printed something else recently with mixed orientation, and because the pages were all in one file, it was SO easy.)
More advice, since publishers so often overlook things like this… I greatly appreciate that all the files are descriptively named. Even better would be if they were both numbered by project and named. To really jack it up on the ease-of-use scale, break the project pages into groups based on what type of paper they need. Create PDFs that are duplex-ready, even if that means that the reverse of some pages are blank. And then name those PDFs with the lesson numbers, the page numbers, AND the type of paper. I’d be in heaven, that’d be such simplicity.
One final parent prep-work note
There are tons of great books listed for further reading and research. This is a perfect time to make use of your library card. Chances are, they won’t have every title, but with so many options, there should be plenty available. Get those books requested early, so you don’t have to wait on them, especially if they need to come from other libraries.
The 20th Century in America is ready to use!
Chey and Chris are pretty independent with lapbook-style work these days; in most cases, my part is to get stuff printed, admire pieces as they’re completed, and provide advice, help, and/or special instructions when necessary. Life has been rather busy around here, and in the interest of not-overwhelming them, they were asked to do 3 projects per week.
It hasn’t happened quite that fast – Chey is on project 13, Chris on 11 – but primarily because we’ve gotten sidetracked into rabbit trails with all those books I’ve been bringing home from the library. I promptly realized that I was going to need to find some method of recording their book-reading, both for the virtual school they take some classes from, and for my own records – plus, it would encourage them to pay closer attention to their reading.
I created a fairly simple form – just title, author, subject, up to 10 things they have learned, and their thoughts about the book they have read. It’s been surprisingly effective at capturing their impressions, and gives me a glimpse of what the book impressed upon them. You’re welcome to download a copy of it here.
What kind of homeschool uses the The 20th Century in America Lap-Pak?
If you like just-the-facts texts and routine workbook pages that are the same week after week, The 20th Century in America Lap-Pak is not for you. However, if you’re willing to find paper scraps all over the table, translate project instructions, debate the relative merits of liquid glue versus glue-stick, and wonder who took your tape – again – then I’d highly recommend you give materials from the Home School in the Woods a try.
I love the creative, highly-detailed graphics and inventive designs of each project. The kids are excited about history again, and I’m SO glad that they’ve had the opportunity to enjoy this *fun* unit. We’ve already discussed purchasing more – at this point, it’s down to arguing about which one and when. My only complaint is the way the files are set up, and how difficult it makes printing, when it really doesn’t need to be that way.
I’m well aware I’m a stickler for a good organizational scheme, at least when it comes to digital files, and when it disrupts something that should be simple, like printing, it bugs me. Regardless, I’m not describing the printing issue as a deal-killer, not by a long shot. Take my grumbling more like this: I really WANT to give it all five stars, it richly deserves five, but due to the built-in frustration, I can’t help but knock it down to a less-than-perfect four.
We haven’t put completed lapbooks together yet; we’ve taken so much time with extras, that we’ve only finished about half of the projects so far. Given the quality we’ve already seen, I’m certain it will continue throughout the rest of the materials.
I want to buy Hands-On History Lap-Pak: The 20th Century in America!
Hands-On History Lap-Pak: The 20th Century in America may be purchased in two different formats, downloadable pdfs ($21.95) or a CD with all files ($22.95) – choose whichever is better fit for your family.
Schoolhouse Review Crew members also reviewed two other items from Home School in the Woods:
Hands-On History Activity-Pak: Composers ($18.95 download, $19.95 CD) – Introduce your 3rd-8th graders to 42 composers and many musical styles ranging from the Middle Ages to the Modern era with six projects enhanced by 29 musical pieces in MP3 format. Similar in structure to the 20th Century Lap-Pak my children have been using, Composers will engage your student with compelling artwork and unique manipulatives.
Great Empires ($18.95 download, $19.95 CD) – An elementary Activity Study, Great Empires breaks out of the lapbook mold, bringing a full spectrum of hands-on activities to the study of the world’s great empires at their height. From recipes to games, reading lists and web links, there really is a little of everything.