History Unboxed® offers individual boxes, each focused on one history topic from ancient, medieval, or American history. Every box includes historical information, stories, and hands-on activities in a ready-to-use format. You can subscribe to receive boxes monthly, quarterly, or for an entire school year.
Boxes are available for three levels: ages 5 to 9, ages 10 to 15, and ages 16 and older. All of the boxes for all three levels have an eight-page “magazine” with articles, illustrations, a recommended reading list, and other content such as recipes and maps. Some of the articles are useful for all ages, and some are most appropriate for teens and adults.
All levels of a box on the same topic have the same craft(s) and other physical objects. For instance, the Missions box has a plaster replica of a tile from the Alamo mission with acrylic paints and a brush, wooden pieces and string to construct a toy similar to what children of the Missions era would have used, and a small box of salted crickets (apparently a favorite snack of native Americans). The Ancient China box has a terracotta warrior ceramic figure with acrylic paints and a brush; a fabric kite with watercolors; tea powder to make tea; and a simple kit for making a magnetic compass with a cork, a needle, and a magnet. Craft kits include just about everything you need and include items of relatively high quality.
Each level has an age-appropriate coloring sheet on cardstock. You have to supply crayons, colored pencils, or markers for coloring unless you order the optional Welcome Box that includes colored pencils. (I describe the Welcome Box below.)
The boxes for the youngest level include an “open and read” sheet that makes it easy to present information on an appropriate level for this age group. Younger children are given less information, and some disturbing topics are avoided. The boxes for ages 10 to 15 add a penpal letter from Ava, a teenager who manages to time travel to each time and location. Boxes for this second level are suitable for independent study, although parents might give input on recommended reading selections. Those using the age 16 and older box have another four-page “booklet” that includes additional articles, artwork images, a recommended reading list, and an “art challenge” activity.
The optional Welcome Box has a blank timeline poster, a time capsule for students to create their own historic memento, a family tree poster, a welcome letter, and a set of colored pencils. This kit is helpful but not essential
There are no specific instructions as to the order in which you should use items in a box and there are no writing assignments or other methods of having students exhibit an understanding of the content. So parents and teachers need to come up with their own way of assessing a student’s understanding, whether that be through discussion, narration, writing, or some other demonstration. This isn’t much of an issue if you use boxes as supplements. However, the publisher says that you can also use an entire set of boxes (Ancient, Medieval, or American), along with books from their recommended reading lists, as your core curriculum. This is a unit study approach, somewhat like other programs that use real books (rather than textbooks) along with activities, all focusing on one topic at a time. But given the extra work involved to make these boxes function as complete courses, I don’t think that using it as your core curriculum for history will be practical for most families.
Another reason that History Unboxed works better as a supplement is because coverage is spotty and selective. For example, these are the titles of the ten boxes in the Medieval series of boxes:
- Byzantine Empire
- Islamic Empire
- Medieval Japan
- Ming Dynasty
There are no boxes that address feudalism or Christianity and the development of the Catholic Church, two major topics one would expect to see in any history of the middle ages.
The perspective is secular, so these boxes can be used by government-funded programs. The authors of the written materials in the boxes try to balance their discussions on controversial topics. For example, in the Missions box, they point out that some of the Native Americans were happy living and working with the missions while others were not. Still, the material seems to be sifted through modern-day sensibilities and concerns as evidenced by what they choose to discuss. For example, in the Missions box for young children, on the “open and read” page, the final section—titled “Science and Industry”—has only a single paragraph about Lady Mary Mantagu. She was an Englishwoman who “went to Turkey and learned about a vaccination for smallpox.” I would have expected something much more pertinent since the Spanish brought the Native American population out of the stone age by introducing metallurgy, candle-making, plowing, and other technologies that made life easier.
While there is lots of interesting information in these boxes, they definitely need to be used along with other resources for fuller coverage of topics.
Even though I quibble about some of the content, these boxes feature high-quality material from the printed resources through the craft projects, and they provide an easy way to make the study of history more interesting.