TOS Review Crew: Home School in the Woods

One of the perks of homeschooling for us has been the flexibility to take longer breaks. Right after Easter, we took about three weeks off. However, I also know that we tend to lose brain cells during that time as well, so even though we take a break from our academic subjects, we have found it the perfect time to squeeze in something that keeps the ol' brain running without it being too strenuous. Enter Home School in the Woods' Activity-Paks!

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Company Information: Home School in the Woods is the publisher of historical materials for homeschoolers (or any learner, for that matter). Like many of us, homeschool mom, Amy Pak, did not relish teaching history to her kids. But also like many of us, she came to love and enjoy history as she began to dig into it with her children (how many of us can agree?). In her desire to find suitable illustrations for the timelines that would become foundational for her products, Mrs. Pak finally drew her own. (You may recognize her artwork from other curricula!) From Bible times to the modern era, these products cover the whole gamut of historical periods through detailed, beautifully drawn artwork. These materials are available in either a physical CD form or as a downloadable e-book format.

The site itself is a wonderful place to explore. I appreciated the free unit studies and collection of web links that Mrs. Pak put together (check out the left-hand sidebar on the home page). You'll also find samples of her work so you can see the wonderful quality for yourself.

ComposersGroup-SMALL_zps73a0d718Product Reviewed: Hands-on History Activity-Pak: Composers (PDF download). This Lap Book is jam-packed with six different activities designed to introduce your kids to the beauty of classical music. I was immediately drawn to this product because---I'll be honest here---it is easy to relegate music into the "optional" category. (Sometimes I think I enjoy the review products that stretch me out of my comfort zone the most!) Never mind the fact that my mom was a piano teacher. I confess...I have not been very diligent in passing that on to my own children

This product includes activities that covers periods of music from the Middle Ages to modern, 42 different composers (scroll down on the product page to see the entire list), the orchestra, and music appreciation through the use of timelines, mini booklets, interactive orchestra board, and composer cards. Each composer and piece in the Lap Book  is exquisitely hand-drawn. Fully illustrated and detailed instructions on printing and assembling the projects are included. As an extra bonus, 29 mp3 tracks of music (totalling to over 90 minutes of listening) allow you to listen while you work on your Activity-Pak with your kids!

While the product is complete in terms of content, you will need to supply file folders, printer paper (white or colored), colored cardsdtock, tape, glue, scissors, colored pencils, and some small office supplies to finish the projects. For the mp3 files, you will also need some device or mp3 player. Make sure you've got plenty of printer ink and you're ready to go!

Price: Download version $18.95. (If you prefer the CD version, it is $19.95 plus shipping and handling).

Age Range: suggested for grades 3-8, but I think it can easily be tailored up and down.

Parental Preparation: The bulk of the parental preparation came at the beginning. Using the detailed instruction sheets for each project, I printed off the pages as was suggested. This does take a bit of time, as some projects suggest using colored cardstock or printer paper. (In a pinch, I used construction paper and cut it to 8.5"x11" to fit my printer and used that instead.) Fortunately, everything is spelled out very clearly.

At first, I thought I would use this to just do a special unit study during our spring break, but after looking at the material, I was inspired by it to actually go a little deeper. There were suggested books, audios and videos to supplement and enrich the study, so I went ahead and placed many of these items on hold at our local library or purchased some of the videos. This is entirely optional. I did this in order to fill out our study with more depth and detail. (I'll go into more in the next section.) If you would also like to round out the topic, plan some time to find your extra materials. For us, it was worth it.

How We Used It:

We started this project while we were on our family vacation. (Yeah, I'm such a mean mom.) I had pre-printed out the pages, gathered the supplies, downloaded the mp3 files onto my laptop, and voila! We had a portable activity that came along with us for the ride. We continued it throughout our spring break, a little here, a little there, so that we learned something together even though it was spring break.

I really enjoyed this project because all of my kids got involved in some way. While the study was geared mainly for Matthew, my high schooler and little one helped as well. There are a lot of pieces to cut out, so Janna helped by doing that for us. Jonathan loved to color, so he did the bulk of the coloring (though we do have a green, red, and yellow American flag because I did not catch him in time!). This was great for Matthew, who is my least-inclined-to-lapbook child!

We put the lapbook together per the directions included, but didn't cover everything all at once. We started with an overview of the orchestra and Baroque music, then went into a little more detail. [I found some great overview videos on music appreciation from Zane Education, a product I reviewed last year!]  We specifically looked at Vivaldi, reading several excellent picture books (even to my older son!) and music fact books. From those books, we filled out the mini book on Vivaldi.

We learned from one of our books that The Four Seasons actually had poetry that went along with it, so we read the poetry and listened to it. Using a listening guide that came along with a CD we had, we were able to listen to the piece several times, first as an overview, then later with the details. Wow! That was rich. Then we filled out a Music Appreciation page with our thoughts on the music. We learned that Vivaldi was a violin teacher, so we then spent some time studying the string section of the orchestra  in depth.

What We Liked:

  • You can go as deep (or not) as you want. If you just want to do an overview, just pick out a good book on composers and/or the orchestra to accompany your study and you're set. [The Story of the Orchestra by Robert Levine is a wonderful text to supplement this study, as it includes both information on the orchestra as well as gives brief overviews of composers.]
  • Detailed help in putting the Lap Book together is included. As these are very intricate, it really helped to see step-by-step instructions, as in the pockets of the interactive orchestra.
  • The interactive orchestra alone provides so much learning. We enjoyed learning what the orchestra looked like in different time periods and my kinesthetic boys loved being able to put the instruments in the pockets.
  • The activities were meaningful. This is not always true of lapbook products. This is not just busy work. I found it to provide high-quality learning challenges for us that helped us.
  • Did I mention that the artwork is beautiful?

What We Didn't Like:

I thoroughly enjoyed this product, but if you are:

  • not inclined towards crafts, cutting, paper projects, this may not be for you.
  • if you want an in-depth study that includes study notes, you may want to look elsewhere.

Overall Summary:

Although I have not looked at the history products per se, if they are anything like this one, I am sold! For me, the beauty of the artwork is what draws me personally. I don't know if it means that much to my children, but this product doesn't just look like kids' work. It has an elegance and detail to it that I hope my children will enjoy looking at for years to come. Great job, Amy Pak! We are looking forward to more!

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