The Hands-On Homeschool offers online classes through their AMPS Learning Library. You can join for a month or a year at a time. One subscription covers the entire family and gives you access to everything. There’s also a 30-day, money-back guarantee.
Children in kindergarten through eighth grade are the intended audience, but teens might sit in on some classes. Classes are not designated for specific grade levels.
The goal of AMPS is to provide enrichment with courses in art, music, physical education, and STEM topics—areas that sometimes get shortchanged. These low-pressure, flexible courses are taught by experts. The creator of The Hands-on Homeschool website is also the instructor for music and STEM classes. Kathryn Strong teaches art, and Katie Whitney is the primary physical education instructor. (Other teachers add more variety to physical education with instruction in yoga and sports skills.)
Classes are pre-recorded for use on demand and usually run for less than 30 minutes. Some classes are only a few minutes long since children go and do whatever has been taught or demonstrated. AMPS classes are generally simple to use and fun for students, requiring active participation, exploration, and fun rather than memorization, mastery, or other stressful forms of education.
The AMPS Insider Curriculum Guide and the SmartSIX Planning Toolkit (online) are also included with membership to help parents choose and schedule classes. Under the heading SmartSIX Planning Method, Figg provides extensive guidance on planning and scheduling for all subject areas--not just those covered with AMPS classes--with several videos and a downloadable planner. She discusses the importance of setting goals for the whole year, then breaking those down into manageable chunks. Every six weeks, you check your progress and plan for the next six weeks (periods can vary from six weeks if needed), adjusting your records to show what actually happened.
Figg is very practical and realistic. She builds in every seventh week as a bonus week for textbook-free reinforcement of what your children have been learning—field trips, a book club party, a movie related to something learned, etc. You might also fill in the seventh week with AMPS activities.
Those using AMPS classes don’t have to follow the SmartSIX Planning method or use the provided planner.
Published monthly online, the AMPS Insider Curriculum Guide recommends four courses from each area to use each month plus a seasonal activity. If you aren’t using classes just through the libraries (described below), and don’t have specific goals of your own, this is an easy way to plan what to use from AMPS. Membership also includes access to other parent training and support.
“Get started” videos for each of the four areas let you know how each type of class works. Under each of these videos, the screen shows the required supplies and a list of the suggested classes you should start with. Supplies are typically found around the house or are easy to get.
On your AMPS dashboard, classes are grouped under “libraries,” with each library set up like a regular course with 15 to 20 classes arranged in sequence. Some classes build upon one another, but you don’t have to stick to a library sequence. However, following a sequence makes it easier to keep track of what’s been done.
The emphasis varies within each library, and the classes vary in design depending on their content. For instance, as I write this review, there are four music libraries titled:
- Sing and Play Instruments
- Explore Musical Connections
- Listen and Respond to Music
- Create, Read & Write Music
The first music library teaches children how to play rhythm instruments, and those classes are quite different from those under the other three libraries.
The titles of the libraries for the other three sections of AMPS are listed under their headings.
- 3 Dimensional
- Mixed Media
- Basic Skills
- Sports Skills
- Rhythm & Dance
- Fitness & Nutrition
- Simple Machines & Mechanical Engines
- Storybook STEM Novels
- Structures, Architecture & Creative Challenges
- Natural Science Exploration
One additional library, titled LEGO Back to School, doesn’t fit neatly under the four categories. These classes have children build with LEGO blocks with classes grouped under the headings Nature & Math Week, Simple Machines Week, Building Week, and Game Week. I doubt that most families can get through all the classes under any of these headings in one week. More likely they will be spread out like the other classes.
There’s lots of flexibility for using these classes. Assuming you are using about two classes per week from each library, there is content for two years. However, you might use only one or two libraries per semester rather than four, and you might use them one day per week rather than two, taking longer to work through the libraries. On the other hand, you might also use classes several days a week. The classes are intended to serve as enrichment so that art, music, physical education, and STEM don’t get skipped altogether. They are not as sequential and comprehensive as courses designed to be used like traditional courses, but there’s so much content that it can be sufficient coverage for art, music, and physical education for at least a few years. And the STEM classes can supplement your science and math curricula.
As I mentioned, the format of the classes varies, but the following are descriptions of sample courses that you can try for free.
The sample STEM course is based on the book Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit and includes a project to build a baseball stadium on a square base (such as a LEGO base plate or square dinner plate) using blocks or other building materials. In this 23-minute course, Rachel Figg reads this rhyming story while showing the illustrations. Then she discusses the book, highlighting Randy’s use of math and science to solve a huge problem. Figg teaches about symmetry before students begin building their symmetrical baseball stadium. She wraps up the class with questions that encourage students to reflect on the project, such as “How is this [their baseball stadium] similar to a structure in real life?” Note that only selected STEM courses are based on books.
The sample art course on one-point perspective walks children through drawing a see-through tunnel that goes through an aquarium. The directions for drawing the tunnel itself are very specific, then children can fill in the aquarium with sea life and color their drawing however they wish. This is an easy and fun way to learn drawing skills.
Music classes include music appreciation, music theory, singing, and playing music. The sample class on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony begins with Figg presenting biographical information about Beethoven. Then she guides students as they listen to and analyze the music, focusing on a particular repeating musical phrase. Students watch and listen to performances of the symphony, then play the musical phrase on an online digital xylophone.
The sample class for physical education has four primary videos and links to three others. The first three run for only a few minutes each. In the first video, the instructor simply demonstrates various exercises against an energetic musical background. In the second, she shows warm-up and stretching exercises. The third video briefly explains the value of juggling for coordination and other benefits. That video is a precursor to the fourth video (10 minutes long) in which the instructor teaches juggling with lightweight scarves. The three remaining videos have other instructors teaching juggling with scarves and balls.
The AMPS Learning Library can be very useful to families who often skip art, music, physical education, and STEM activities—maybe because those subjects have lower priority than core subjects or might be difficult to teach. Because the classes vary in content and design, families might enjoy some more than others, but there’s plenty to choose from, with even more under development. The organizational resources might also be an important bonus for some families.