Monday, April 1, 2013

Review: A Journey Through Learning

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For the first time ever, thanks to A Journey Through Learning and The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew, we were able to try out lapbooking in our homeschool! For this review, we completed two lapbooks, one on "The Earth",  and the other on "Knights and Castles".

Lapbooking is something I have heard a lot about. It seems very popular with many homeschoolers. Our curriculum is very book-oriented and we don't have much time for a lot of extras, so I have never even really looked into it.

Boy, was I missing out!!!!!  Well, really, my kids were the ones missing out. 

I am so glad we got the opportunity to review these lapbooks. I almost turned it down, mostly because of not really knowing what it was all about, and worrying that I wouldn't have the time to put into it thoroughly. Not only did I learn that lapbooking is a very easy and fun activity, but I also learned that Kelly and Melissa really LOVE doing it!

What is lapbooking? Very simply, it is taking a particular subject and making a kid-friendly study out of it. It is very flexible - you can take it as simple or as deep as you want. If it is something that your child is really interested in, you can dig deeper and add books and other resources to learn even more facts! Taking the facts that you learn, you help your child to make a folder to record the information in a fun and interesting way.

I learned that each little activity is called a mini-book. You read a page of information together with your child, and then they complete a small activity. This mini-book is glued into a particular spot on the folder. Once you get a bunch of mini-books together, and all the surface area of your folder is covered with them, your child not only has a fun way to look back and review the information they learned, but they also have a very nice way to show off some of their handiwork in a contained project.

I need to mention that this project is self contained, meaning all of the lessons are included along with the mini books. The way these worked is that there would be a lesson, for example, about a knight's armor. The lesson would be about a page long. I would read the lesson out loud while the student cut out the corresponding mini book activity. As soon as I finished reading, we would discuss the lesson for a few minutes and I would make sure they understood what to do for the mini book, then they would complete the mini book activity and glue it into the proper spot on the folder.

How do you set up a lapbook? At first, I was a little nervous about this. I have never done this before, and lapbook veterans just say to fold and glue the folders together and you're ready to start! I just couldn't picture it.

Thankfully, I was able to review lapbooks from A Journey Through Learning for my first attempt, because they made it very easy to learn.  This company was started by two homeschool moms who were not satisfied with the quality of hands-on learning projects that were available for their children, so they decided to just produce their own! I like that it comes from homeschool veterans who know what works! I feel like they wouldn't produce something to sell that they wouldn't first use with their own children.

On their website, they have some easy directions for beginners to follow. They also have a page with several videos that show what kinds of supplies you'll need (folders, glue, stapler, a ruler, scissors, and brad tacks) as well as "how to set up a lapbook" with step by step video directions on folding and gluing.

Not only that, but the individual units that we reviewed also had step-by-step folding and gluing instructions. Between all of that information, I found it very easy to set up our lapbooks.

Our next step was choosing a lapbook unit. Kelly chose a lesson about "The Earth" that is geared for grades 1-4.

We received this lesson as a download. It is 42 pages long. I printed it out and we were able to start immediately, thanks to already having the simple supplies on hand. This lapbook is a 2 folder project. Most of the activities were black and white, but there were a few color ones. Kelly liked the black and white ones because she likes to color, and this gave her something to do while I was reading the material to her.

Kelly is in 2nd grade and is able to read and write very well. She was able to understand this material well, and even recognized some of it from things we have already covered in science this year. There was some information that was advanced for her age though. There were some pretty big words.  One thing I did notice was that the mini books that had the "big, new words" were mostly just cut and paste activities, which was helpful. While she was introduced to big words like "troposphere" she didn't have to feel pressured to write it correctly, only cut out a block that had the word and glue it onto the proper spot on that particular mini book.

Other topics that were covered in this study were various types of rocks, landforms, the water cycle, and volcanoes. Overall, I thought it was a very complete study of basic earth science for the particular age level it is intended for. While there is some more in-depth information that an older student could delve into a bit deeper, most of it was easily comprehended by my 2nd grader. I feel she was able to learn a few new things too, and I also think the beauty of the whole lapbook process is that she will go back to admire her handiwork, thus continually self-reviewing the things she wrote down, and the diagrams glued into the folders.

Melissa chose to complete a study on "Knights and Castles" for her review. You can see sample pages that the company has made available.

As you can see, this lapbook is intended for grades 2-7. I have to say that I think a 2nd grader would probably have a hard time with this, unless they were an exceptional writer and artist. There are several different art and sketching projects that were a little intimidating, even to Melissa, who is in 6th grade. While Kelly (2nd grade) was interested in listening to the information as I read it, much of it seemed over her head.

The download for this lapbook is 51 pages long, and it requires 3 folders to complete.

This unit study covers the Middle Ages, beginning at the Fall of the Roman Empire, and has a strong Christian emphasis, which I feel is very necessary. We chose this particular unit to study because it is something that we know very little about, and we felt it would really give us a good perspective on just how effective a learning tool that lapbooking really was!

Some of the topics covered include knights and the process of becoming one, castles, heraldry, weapons, and chivalry. One really interesting page in the lesson was about the coat of arms, and it described how a herald would be able to identify which knights in the battle were 'his' by use of their coat of arms and colors. The corresponding activity for that lesson was for the student to make their own coat of arms for their family. We found a really neat website where Melissa could actually design and print a coat of arms. I think it was probably her most treasured activity in this entire lapbook. At the very least, it's the thing she has showed off the most!

For an older student, each study includes a printed list of additional books and resources that they could get from the library that could be used to study deeper into that particular subject. Since these lapbooks were 'extras' for us, we didn't go much deeper than the information that was already given (which I felt was thorough enough for our purpose) but I think that if we were using one of these as a sole source of study on a subject, than we would definitely use the resource list and dig deeper. For this study, Melissa was content to just find a few extras online to supplement the material.

The study also includes some instruction for the older students on using the lapbooking material to make an outline or a short written report. I like the idea of the "Nick Notes" page that is included.

Melissa used this page as I was reading the lesson to her. She would take notes, and write down words that she didn't know the meaning of, so that we could look them up when I finished reading. This is a concept that I would actually like to incorporate into more of our studies, so I was glad to learn of it.
Overall, what we thought:  At first, Melissa seemed a little hesitant to embark on our lapbooking adventure. I think she thought it would just mean more writing assignments - something she already gets plenty of! Once she saw that it was more of an interactive time, where I would read something to her and she could just pick out one thing that she learned and write it down, she was much more enthusiastic about the project.
It is suggested to read one lesson page and do the corresponding mini book activity per day. This would probably take about 10 minutes at the most. We found that it took longer to get everything out and set up than it did to actually complete an activity! So of course once we got everything spread out, the girls wanted to do more. We would usually end up doing about 3 lessons/activity mini books, each time we pulled it out.
The set up is very simple, and the directions are easy to follow. Each lesson page and activity has a diagram that shows the student what to cut out, how to assemble the mini book, and where to glue it into the folders. Both girls were able to follow these directions with extremely limited help and input from me.
It was amazing to see their delight at being able to learn new things in a short time. It was also neat to see the pride and joy they took in the completed lapbook projects that they made. The lapbook directions gave an idea to use duct tape folded onto the edge, punch holes in it, and store the lapbooks in a 3 ring binder. I am definitely planning on utilizing this idea, because I can see more lapbook making in our future, and I want the girls to be able to take them out and look at them any time.
I love that all the information is already assembled. One thing that always scared me away from lapbooks was the thought of having to gather all the materials from various sources. I really enjoyed all the thought that was put into writing these lessons, having everything in one spot, and just being able to pull it out and start in on the lessons right away.
I guess the best proof is in the statement that Melissa made. One evening her and I were sitting at the table working on her lapbook when someone entered our house and asked why she was still doing schoolwork that late in the day. She answered that she was not working, but that this was just a fun project that her and mom were doing together. The enjoyment of the lapbook and the time with mom canceled out any thought that she was 'doing extra school' that day!
The only negatives I found were a few glitches in graphics layout on the mini book activities. When I printed them, some of the lines didn't match up, and this really bugged Melissa, who likes everything 'just so' in her projects. We were able to work around it. Also, some of the lessons had a few typos, which bugged Mom the proofreader. There was also several quotes and references in the lesson material that we couldn't understand - the most prominent one being a reference to "Mr. Tunis" and quotes he had made about the subject matter. Melissa kept asking who that was, and I was not able to find a source to explain it.
A Journey Through Learning has quite the variety of lapbooks available. Some are based on various curriculums, such as Apologia and Truthquest, while others look like fun ones that the girls might like based on things they already read, see, and study, such as VeggieTales, Little House on the Prairie, or Spanish.
Prices on the lapbooks range from $1.00 mini studies available on the website, to full course lapbooks or notebooking materials.
For the two units we reviewed, "The Earth" is available as an instant download for $13 or a printed version for $21.  The "Knights and Castles" is available as an instant download for $13, on a CD for $14 or the printed version sells for $21.
There were two other lapbook units available for the Crew to review - one on Astronomy and Space for grades 2-7, and the other was a preschool unit on Letters, Numbers, and Shapes. If you would like to see what other Review Crew members thought of these, please click the banner.
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