Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Home School in the Woods: A la Carte Games (Homeschool Review Crew)

Home School in the Woods  Á La Carte products

Every time I'm looking at history programs, I circle back to Home School in the Woods.  Lessons are presented in a lapbook form, not a textbook, and the information taught is well written.  I get excited, we dive in, and I'm inevitably disappointed because in my excitement over the content I forget about the work involved.  Lapbooks involve cutting and pasting, and often, for my kids, become more about being an art project than a way to learn history. They're no longer an independent project because they need help cutting tiny pieces or refocusing on the content. The printing is often a pain in the rear, too - lots of "print one page, change the paper, another page, new color," etc.  I keep wanting to love the full Lap-Paks, give them yet another try, and by day 4 or 5 invariably find myself saying, "What was I thinking?"

And now you're thinking, OK, so then why are you bothering to review the Á la Carte products? And not just one, but both Get Your Kicks on Route 66 File Folder Game and Westward, Ho! File Folder Game? Are you a glutton for punishment? Maybe, but hope springs eternal.  Here's my reasoning:

  • The Á la Carte items are not a full curriculum,  These two are 30-ish page projects, including game boards, markers, and Q & A cards.
  • The games are self-contained, so they take about 30-60 minutes to play.  
  • My hope is they will be a "sneaky way" for kids to learn without feeling like they're doing "more schoolwork." 

I chose these two because we have been on all of the trails and they were familiar to us.  A couple summers ago, we did a colossal cross-country road trip that had us following both pioneer trails and Route 66.  While some facts were new, it was a good way to test ourselves about how much we remembered from our trip.  I think this made them seem more like fun than schoolwork.

So, let's test them out, using the metrics that usually burn us out.

1.  Printing and assembly.

Ok, so you're likely still going to want to babysit the printer, and send individual pages to print, rather than a whole document that you can click "Print" and come back to.  Ideally, you'll print the cards on cardstock, which means at least a little paper shifting.  Cardstock does make for sturdier game pieces, so it is a worthwhile time investment.  However, you only need about a dozen pieces of colored cardstock plus one piece of white for each of the games we reviewed.  I opted to just print on plain paper for now, because the kids used up the last of my cardstock for another project, and frankly, I didn't want to buy an entire ream of paper for just a few sheets. (The games themselves are under $5 for a digital download of the game project, but add in the cost of paper, and they're now approaching a regular toy store board game price.) If the games get played enough that the cards start looking sad, or I need more cardstock for another project,  I will reprint the cards.  I considered laminating the cards and game pieces but decided that laminating would be neither cost effective nor an easy project.

Side note: If you have a paper cutter, this is a project for it.  The game dice are easily cut out with scissors, but for the game cards, a paper cutter makes it go much more quickly.

2.  It becomes an arts and crafts project.

Once these are put together, they're put together.  Yes, there is an opportunity for coloring, and there is some assembly required with game pieces, but it's not a daily color-cut-paste project.   It's almost a two-for-one activity.  I can live with this.

That said, it's not easy for younger children to assemble. There is a lot of fine manipulation, so I found I was doing a lot of folding and taping.  The boys could have cut out the cards themselves, but we opted to use the paper cutter for speed since there are 15 cards on each page.

This was definitely a grown-up activity.

Damien took control of coloring for Westward, Ho!  That was safe for a very squirmy almost 8-year-old.

That meant Jude colored the board (and cards) for ...Route 66.

3.  Independent activity.

I was hoping the games could be something the kids could play together without me.  They have become avid board game players, so I thought it would be a novel presentation. No, a board game isn't an in-depth unit study, but I have hopes that these are going to be a great "for fun" item that will augment their general history studies. These games are designed for two to six players so any combination of kids would be enough people to play.   Finally, my kids revel in presenting seemingly random and obscure facts, so even if they memorize all of the facts, even better!  So far, so good.

We got our games assembled and sat down to play, starting with Westward Ho!

And then the squabbles began.  Here's why.

The game cards are cute, with the "Westward, Ho!" logo on the back of the card, which helps you know which game they belong to.  The problem was that they had the logo on one side, with all of the game information on the other.  The directions say, "Each roll of the die must be earned by answering a question correctly." Well, whether you know it or not, it's not hard to answer it correctly when the answer is given right under the questions.

This meant an opposing player needed to ask the question...and then be the judge of "Is that the correct answer?"  Some were pretty obvious -- like "Remember the Alamo!" doesn't leave a lot of room for interpretation.  Others depended on how much of a stickler the card-holder felt like being.

The card shows the "game-official definition" of a jump-off.  I'd take "Where the pioneers got their stuff and joined the wagon train." A sibling? Not necessarily.  So much for "independent" when Mom winds up refereeing all the time.  I think it would have made more sense to design the cards with the rope motif around the border as the identification, with the cards printed more like traditional flashcards.

I thought the "Greetings from..." postcard theme of ...Route 66 was absolutely adorable.

This game was also easy for kids to play, except for the questions.  Same style cards, same style squabbles.

A watermark-style road shield under the text might be a better option.

I'm not sure we will get as much mileage out of these games as I had hoped. They were relatively easy to assemble -- under two hours, including coloring, for each game.  I did enjoy playing with them - there were somethings I knew, some that I know I learned but couldn't remember, and some new things I learned.  The little boys definitely learned new material, but Celia and Matthew enjoyed trying to outwit each other with what they had learned in their American History studies.  I think I'd say this is something I'll probably use for fun when we've had enough of books for one day, but the games aren't an activity that I can say, "I need to make a phone call, go play with this."

The Á la Carte series has over 60 programs including games, timelines, and short lapbooks to choose from.   Crew members have been reviewing nearly all of them, and I'm particularly interested in reviews of the Penny Rug Notebook/3D Project and the Name that State! File Folder Game.  The Penny Rug looks like fun, and Jude has expanded his interests from Colonial America into state facts.  I'll be clicking the banner below to read those reviews. You should, too!

À La Carte Projects - Individual projects designed to enhance your studies! {Home School in the Woods Reviews}

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