Hands-On History Activity Paks primarily center around Lap Book™ activities, but they also feature opportunity for illustration and handwriting practice plus other activities that vary depending upon the topic. (Please see my reviews of other Lap Book products under "Creative Learning" if you are not familiar with the concept.) These Paks provide hands-on learning opportunities that supplement most any basic curricula studying the selected topics for grades 3 through 8.
Four Activity Paks—The Old Testament, The New Testament, Composers, and Artists—are available as I write this review, but I expect more will be coming. These products, available either on CD-ROM or as a download from the publisher's website, are a collection of PDF files that can be viewed and printed on either Windows of Mac computer systems. You are free to copy pages for use with your family, but not for classroom groups. (Contact the publisher for classroom rights information.)
I have reviewed only The Old Testament and Artists. The Old Testament Activity Pak begins with the days of creation then hits highlight events in the Old Testaments such as Noah and the Flood, the Ten Plagues, and The Fiery Furnace, up through an activity summarizing the major and minor prophets. There are 15 Lap Book activities, all ultimately combined to create one large Lap Book.
In addition "The Old Testament Tribune" provides opportunity for creative writing as students use pre-printed forms with headlines and "prompts" to write about various events in the Old Testament. The completed forms are assembled into a lengthy scroll.
Students might also use the forms provided to practice penmanship (cursive) or copywork with the selected Proverbs. Those who don't need the penmanship practice can use the versions of the forms that have Proverbs already written. Whatever the handwriting choice, all students can create their own illustrations of each proverb in the space provided on each form.
While all PDF masters are in black-and-white, you might print some of these on colored paper or card stock. You might also have students use colored pencils to color in some of the illustrations.
The Artists Activity Pak is a bit different from the Old Testament Pak. Students create a Lap Book on "Artists of the 16th-20th Centuries" with all the component projects that comprise the Lap Book. Students learn about 33 major artists, art media, art movements, and artistic styles. While there are fewer Lap Book projects in this Pak, many of the activities are more involved than in the Old Testament Pak. Among them is the "Paint Like the Masters" project that has instructions for 10 actual art activities using various art media to learn painting and drawing techniques. Students also create and play the "Art Gallery" game to become familiar with some of the master artworks, and they create and use "My Personal Art Sketchbook" to practice drawing.
Hands-On History has also begun publishing Lap-Paks that can serve as complete topical studies on narrow topics. These Lap-Paks differ from their Activity Paks because they include booklets to construct that have text with the information to be learned along with the Lap Book activities. All content is contained on a single CD-ROM for each Lap-Pak.
Like the Activity Paks, Lap-Paks have printable pages and complete instructions for creating a Lap Book on each topic. Activities vary by the age range of each Lap-Pak. Thus far, there are three Lap-Paks available. The publisher recommends the two Lap-Paks Benjamin Franklin and Knights for kindergarten through second grade, with the idea that families will use these in conjunction with Home School in the Woods' upper level products they are using with their older children. Benjamin Franklin might be used along with either Time Traveler: Colonial Life or Time Traveler: The American Revolution, while Knights works well with Project Passport: The Middle Ages. The third Lap-Pak, The Twentieth Century in America, is recommended for grades three through eight. While I think the third Lap-Pak works well for a broad age range, the first two seem to fit a very limited audience.
My impression is that the content of the first two studies is really more appropriate for about second through fourth grades, yet the studies are constructed with lots of craft activity and require a minimal amount writing—less than you would want for students beyond second grade. The content of each study covers quite a bit of historical information; these are not storytelling booklets. Yet, younger children are unlikely to have the historical background needed to understand some of the material. For example, the Knights "text" mentions a number of famous knights such as El Cid of Spain and Sir William Wallace of Scotland, yet young students might not yet have any concepts of these countries, much less their history.
As far as the writing required, in Knights students copy short phrases onto the "Rules of Chivalry" patterns and possibly copy the vocabulary words, but that's about it. Most of the pre-printed templates for the Lap Books include text already written on them. And young children might not be able to read much of the written information on the templates. In addition, most of the text in the booklets will be too difficult for kindergartners and first graders to read. The publisher recognizes this, so these two studies come with audio files of the booklets that students can listen to as they are read aloud from your computer.
Since children in kindergarten and first grade are still developing reading and writing skills, much of the academic work seems over their heads. Other than that, most of the work is cut, paste, draw, and color which IS age-appropriate. While I think these first two studies might work for second graders, they don't seem to fit younger or older students very well.
On the other hand, The 20th Century in America Lap-Pak should work for a wide age range. The publisher suggests grades three through eight, although I would recommend it as best for grades four through six. It has 22 projects and a 32-page booklet. Each project is a tool for studying one of the 22 topics such as fashion, music, wars, disasters, modern missionaries, sports figures, science, and the space race. The booklet has sections to read that correspond with each topic.
Students do significantly more writing than in the younger level studies, although not on all of the projects. For example, they write just a brief sentence about each war, while they will research and write about their choices of modern missionaries as well as about the stock market crash and the Great Depression. And while the "Science and Technology" project requires complex folding and assembly, it requires no writing at all!
The 20th Century in America Lap-Pak has lots of variety and interesting content. While the study isn't sufficient for an entire U.S. History course, it should work very well in conjunction with other resources—particularly a real-books approach to history. The CD-ROM has suggestions for additional real books to read and music to listen to that could easily help you expand the study into a more comprehensive course. You might also consider using Home School in the Woods' Time Travelers American History studies for coverage of earlier periods in U.S. History.
Amy Pak's wonderful artwork is used throughout the Activity Paks and Lap-Paks to make all the projects very visually appealing. Watch for future additions to Home School in the Woods' excellent line of products!