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A Summary and Review of American History 1855-2009 (Two Books) Review by Jennifer Harrison

In The Hands of a Child
3271 Kerlikowske Road
Coloma, MI 49038

If you've homeschooled very long at all, you have probably heard about lapbooking. This creative method of collecting information on various graphic organizers and then displaying them in a portfolio (often a file folder) has been around for over a decade. With lapbooks, students are able to take information that has been read and record it in bite-sized chunks rather than in dry reports. Children too young to do much writing can dictate answers for mom to write down. In addition to the auditory and visual stimulation, kinetic learners also benefit by assembling the lapbook. In 2002, Hands of a Child began making lapbooking easier for parents by creating pre-made lapbooking kits that save time and keep students (and parents) from being overwhelmed. These Project Packs include Research Guides for studying and hands-on activities for packaging the information learned.

My family has attempted several lapbooks through the years in an effort to add more fun into our lessons. We began by trying fun unit studies such as Nascar, Chocolate, and Snow. At first, we weren't very successful. There was nothing wrong with the lapbooks themselves, but my boys quickly tired of cutting and pasting. Eventually we realized that mom likes to cut and they like to assemble, so now we all sit down together and share the work. Once I've cut out each graphic organizer, they are happy to write down the data and assemble the rest.

This year, we branched out and attempted our first full-subject lapbook. A Summary and Review of American History has been a wonderful addition to our lessons. There are two books in this set: Civil War Through Spanish-American War (1855-1898) and Turn of the Century to the Modern Era (1900-2009). We used each as a summary review after each semester of our fourth year in the chronological history cycle. Using this method, it took my family a little over a week to complete each lapbook. It was wonderful for my boys to have the visual reminder of everything they had studied. It was also a good review for them, refreshing their memories on some key historical facts. It helped my confidence level to know that we had, indeed, covered all the basics. It also helped me stick to a plan, knowing we had this activity to cap the ends of our lessons.

Lapbooks could also be used throughout your studies, rather than at the end of semesters. Data can be written down as it is learned, and graphic organizers can be stored in plastic baggies or envelopes while they are in-process.

Another possibility is to use the Project Pack as the spine of your lesson. Neither book in the Summary and Review of American History series could be considered all-inclusive. For instance, the timeline in the first book lists the Dred Scott Decision and the Lincoln-Douglas Debates even though these events are not studied in the Research Guide. The timeline tells us when Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes became president, but no details are given on either man. Even with these holes, the product still covers the basics and gives you the flexibility to stop and study items in more detail along the way. The Research Guide includes an excellent list of related reading recommendations.

The Civil War Through Spanish-American War unit contains six reading pages and four hands-on activities summarizing the Civil War. There are four pages and seven activities on Reconstruction, two pages and three activities on the Industrial Revolution, one page and one activity on Labor Unions, one page and one activity on Immigration, and one page with one activity on the Spanish-American War. A timeline activity and a vocabulary activity span all topics throughout the book. An extension activity included in the book leads students in writing a brief biography of Walt Whitman and provides room for copying his poem "Beat! Beat! Drums!"

The Turn of the Century to the Modern Era unit covers the Titanic, World War I, Candy Bars and the 1920s, Women's Suffrage, The Great Depression, World War II, The United Nations, The Cold War, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, The Civil Rights Movement, Watergate, The Persian Gulf War, September 11th, and the War in Iraq and Afghanistan. One to two activities accompany each of these topics, as well as a timeline and a vocabulary activity. An extension activity provides a shape book for recording the reason for so much death at the sinking of the Titanic.

Both books are peppered with photographs and attractive drawings. The graphic organizers are creative but are not so complicated that they cause frustration. The instructions for assembly are easy to follow. The layout of each book has all of the reading material in the first portion. Graphic organizers compose the last portion of the book. In between those two sections, you can find the timeline, vocabulary list with definitions, recommended reading list, and assembly instructions. For me, it would be a smoother transition to pair the activity portions with their corresponding reading portions. But it's not a terrible nuisance to figure out what goes where. Hands of a Child is beginning to provide Answer Keys as an optional purchase for an additional $3.00. These will include daily lesson plans, breaking down the activities with their related reading sections.

For this review, I tried the pre-printed copy. Previously, I had only used the ebook versions. In the future, I will stick with the ebooks. The quality of the printed books is great; they are spiral bound with plastic covers. However, the ebook version allows me to print an extra copy if we spill coffee on a page or make an error in pen. Also, I will own it to print again with my younger children when they reach this stage. Another advantage to the ebook is the ability to choose your paper color. In the printed version, all of the lapbook components are white. With an ebook, I can put a stack of multi-colored paper into the printer and add some variety to our lapbook. A new feature that can be ordered with the ebook version is "Type it In," which allows students to type their answers right onto the pdf page before printing--perfect for my reluctant writers!

The price for each ebook is a little high at $18. Printing costs add up as well and have to be considered. The total cost for the two printed books we completed is $46.00--too expensive for something consumable, but easier to swallow in a reusable ebook. Hands of a Child does offer several sales throughout the year, providing opportunities to stock up on future lessons. And I will. These two books have been an asset to our history lessons this year. Once finished, two attractive lapbooks display a year's worth of learning that can be shared with grandparents and enjoyed for years to come.

Product review by Jennifer Harrison, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, January 2010