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Operation: English Grammar Project Pack Review by Cindy West

Katie Kubesh, Niki McNeil, Kimm Bellotto
Hands of a Child
3271 Kerlikowske Rd.
Coloma, MI 49038

Hands of a Child is a company that develops learning units whose activities are completed, for the most part, using mini-books and mini-projects. All of these projects are meant to be contained in a series of file folders that are attached to one another so that you have a neat and thorough record of the unit contained in one place. These units are called Project Packs, but many people may be more familiar with the term "lapbook."

All the background information, templates for mini-projects, and directions for completing the units are included in the spiral-bound hardcopy or e-book you choose to buy. Maybe most importantly for some of us, color pictures are included to show what the final project should look like!

The units begin with a table of contents, followed by a research guide. This research guide is where you or your child will find the background information needed in order to complete the activities. In other words, all the info you need is included! There is no need to run to the library for further research, unless you desire to add books for supplemental reading. Depending on the ability of your child, you may choose to read the information from the research guide to them or have them read the information themselves. Information needed for each activity is clearly marked and written with thorough yet concise explanations.

A list of core concepts covered in the unit is found next, with the activities following. Templates for the mini-books, graphic organizers, and other activities are included with clear directions on what to do and how to put together the pieces if necessary. Each of the activities asks your child to take something they read from the research guide and show what they learned. They might be asked to cut out a series of cards on which to write definitions then create a pocket in which to store the cards. They might be asked to cut out pages that will be stapled into a little book where the steps of a certain procedure are to be written. The activity ideas are varied and almost endless.

Many of the templates include little pictures that add visual interest to the activity. You can also often find extra clip art here and there that your child might use for decorating their file folders. The templates are made so that it's very clear what is to be cut and what is to be folded so no (or few) cutting mistakes are made. As a side note: I've found that my younger children struggle a bit with all the cutting involved with the activities. I have opted to cut their pieces out for them so that more learning occurs in place of cutting frustration.

You are expected to copy the activity templates, so a copier or a copy shop is necessary--unless, of course, you buy the e-Book version, in which case a printer would be necessary. It is suggested the copies be made on 24# weight paper or cardstock for more durability. You'll find having lots of colored paper on hand enhances the look of the projects too. Other supplies needed to complete the unit packs include file folders, coloring tools, tape, glue, a stapler, and scissors.

At the end of the book, you will find directions for putting together the folders that will house all the projects, as well as color pictures showing an example of the final product. There is also a note-taking page for your benefit as you plan your unit. The units are very thorough, but you may occasionally decide you'd like to add something yourself or even take away one or more of the activities. As with any unit study, these are very adaptable to whatever suits your family's needs.

Geared for children in grades 3 and higher, the English Grammar Pack is unique. The student becomes "Special Agent Art Lang" from Planet Gabgone. He or she goes on an undercover mission to Earth in order to bring English grammar and sentence structure to Planet Gabgone. Through the various missions (activities), the special agent (your child) completes a thorough portfolio (file folder of activities) of English grammar research so that Planet Gabgone will easily be able to adopt the English language. Then the mission will be completed. Luckily for you, your child should have a complete and thorough understanding of the English language as well! Each mission is assigned in the activities and instructions section, while the research to complete the mission can be found in the research guide. The activity templates revolve around a cute secret agent theme too.

Each grammar or punctuation topic is covered in-depth. For example, the section on nouns covers the following types of nouns: common, proper, concrete, abstract, collective, singular, plural, compound and possessive. Four separate missions are required to cover all of these types of nouns. And the section on conjunctions covers coordinating, subordinating, correlative, and adverbial conjunctions. This is no simple jaunt through grammarland! The 28 different missions cover nouns, pronouns, adjectives, prepositions, verbs, conjunctions, phrases, clauses, sentences, and punctuation. This is such a thorough "tour" of grammar and punctuation, I plan to use it with my 6th grader this coming school year!

A long list of related books is included that might help cement the various parts of speech. Personally, I believe adding at least some of these related books and some worksheets for each topic might be a good idea. As much as a child will learn from the Project Pack, a bit of additional practice using each part of speech or punctuation might be beneficial.

Although other Project Packs can be easily modified for use with younger children, I believe this pack might be an exception. In fact, even though it's recommended for 3rd grade and higher, I feel like a 3rd grader (and maybe even a 4th grader) would need to be pretty advanced in order to completely understand everything covered. Whenever your child is ready to tackle these topics, though, I highly recommend this Project Pack for a "whole picture" of English grammar.

Product review by Cindy West, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May 2008