Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Product Review: A Journey Through Learning

"Never judge a book by its cover," they say.

I have learned that saying holds true for lapbooks, too.

When I first encountered lapbooks, I just did not get it. I thought it looked too "cookie-cutter" for my style and judged it to be like painting by number. I am a creative type, and paint-by-number art… well, don't get me started.

Then I received five lapbooks with study guides from A Journey Through Learning. Amphibians, Reptiles, Autumn, Deserts, and Parables of a King were the titles that I received. I was required to complete one for my review and having the opinion of lapbooks that I did, one was all I cared to complete. I let Wilbur choose which they would do, and he wanted to explore the topic of Amphibians.

Okay, great. I'm not too crazy about those slimy little critters either. But I opened up the file (I received all five as e-books… more about that in a minute) and started getting organized. As I did, my opinion began to change.

If you are not familiar with lapbooks, they are usually completed by adhering three manila file folders together and then gluing in a collection of mini-projects, usually booklets on various aspects of the overall topic. This is what ours looked liked upon completion.

As I read through the instructions and study guide, I learned that lapbooks are not paint-by-number at all. In the lapbooks I received, there are templates for each of the booklets to be completed. However, there is a lot of room for creative thought in forming answers to the questions and completing the tasks. Several of the booklets required higher-order thinking, like the "Compare and Contrast Frogs and Toads" chart.

All the information we needed to complete the lapbook was contained within the thorough study guide. I really liked having a concise source that matched the tasks directly. No reading mounds of books. No searching online. The information was presented well, and we were able to work straight through the guide easily. This meant that each day we were able to complete 3-4 booklets within about half-an-hour.

The e-book format allowed me only to print the pages we needed, too. We gathered around my computer to read the study guide pages for the day and then printed off the templates that matched. The boys worked independently at their desks while completing the booklets and returned to the computer to reread the study guide as needed. The very clear directions, along with the color-coded visual aides, allowed them to place their completed work within the lapbook with ease. In fact, all the assembly instructions were concise and very easy to follow. This was not one of those crafty projects in which figuring out which end is up and what goes where stifles the learning process.

After their lapbook was complete, I interviewed the boys. My first impression was that they really enjoyed creating the lapbook. Secondly, I had to admit that they learned a lot about amphibians. They were able to recall in detail most of the material covered in the study. I asked them what they liked the most and the least about the lapbook. They both had many answers for the "most" question… the booklets were interesting and varied, it wasn't boring, the writing was not too difficult, and the graphics were appealing.

The aspects they did not enjoy had more to do with personal preference and how I implemented the plans. Orville commented that the cutting was difficult at times. Some of the booklets do require more developed fine motor skills. If you have a child who struggles with fine motor coordination, you may see this as a negative or you may see it as something that would benefit him or her and help develop these skills.

Wilbur, my tactile child, loved putting together the lapbook. His only criticism was that he had to share the work with Orville. He wanted to complete all the booklets himself. This played right into his learning style, and I have decided that lapbooks are far better than I judged them to be. In fact, the boys will be completing A Journey through Learning's Autumn lapbook over our two-week fall break. I feel confident they can do this as a mini-project, unassisted, while I lesson plan. I am considering including more A Journey through Learning lapbooks in our regular school work, particularly for Wilbur.

Though we have not completed the other four lapbooks, I have thoroughly inspected them. They are all of the same quality as the amphibians books. The study guides contain everything needed for the research aspect of the project. The instructions are clear and well-done. The booklets are cute and easy to print. They are great for tactile-kinesthetic and visual learners, and if you read and discuss as you complete the projects, they are good for the auditory learner as well.

There are few statements in the Parables lapbook that did not exactly mesh with the doctrinal beliefs I hold. Rest assured that A Journey through Learning promotes a Christian worldview. I recognized and appreciated that, particularly in the science studies. However, when providing a study guide for the teaching of Scripture, doctrinal differences can be difficult to avoid. If you think this could be a problem for you, take a minute to look at this sample.

You can purchase each lapbook with study guide as an instant download (what I received) for $13, on CD for $14, or in printed form for $21. They do offer free shipping on the CD or printed form if that is your preference. Additionally, you will need these materials: folders, printer and ink, printer paper, brads, staples, stapler, scissors, and glue.

Overall, I give A Journey through Learning two thumbs up. They blew my preconceived notions about lapbooks to smithereens which means they're good. Really Good!


Heather said...

Yea lapbooks. We are finishing our first one this week for our first unit of TOG. But, I have had to design all of my mini-books. My crafter LOVES them, and my daughter with fine motor issues, even likes them.

argsmommy said...

I have had the same attitude about lapbooks, but it does sound like it was a fun way to learn. Is this the type of project you spread out over days or weeks?

Homeschool Dawn said...

We took 1 week for ours. I felt a little rushed and would have preferred to take longer (had a deadline to meet though!). There's a lot of flexibility. It would be possible to complete it in about 3 days if you spend a few hours each day on it, or you could take the approach of doing 1 booklet per day and stretch it out over 3 weeks or more.