Monday, August 19, 2013

Schoolhouse Review: In the Hands of a Child - Strega Nona Project Pack

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I was thrilled that we had the privilege to review a copy of the Strega Nona Curriculum Project Pack from In the Hands of a Child. Tomie dePaola is one of my favorite authors. I own many of his books. One of my goals this year was to begin an author study with Alyssa. This lapbook jump started the project. We LOVE lapbooking! You can find out what a lapbook is by visiting the website here.

In the Hands of a Child is a company dedicated to creating ready-to-assemble project packs (lapbooks), note packs, and lapbooks with a fill-in option. Their products cover a variety of subjects and topics including but not limited to Bible, Language Arts, Literature, Math, Science, History, Economics, and Geography. The products may focus on either broad or specific topics for children in preschool through high school. The company offers a variety of formats to choose from including e-books, printed book, CD, and printed book with CD combo.

We received the Strega Nona Curriculum Project Pack in e-book format. The e-book version arrived via e-mail as a 56-page PDF downloadable lapbook file which is currently available on sale for the special price of only $5.00. Prices are subject to change. The project pack curriculum retails for the regular price of $10.00. This project pack is suitable for children in 1st through 3rd grade. You may want to take a peek at their specials and freebies this month. In the Hands of a Child is offering a discount of 50% off e-book products purchased during the month of August as part of their back-to-school sale. No coupon code is necessary!

Strega Nona Project Pack Includes:
  • Getting Started Project Pack Guide
  • Suggestions for Adapting a Project Pack to Fit the Needs of Your Student
  • Table of Contents
  • 6-Day Planning Guide
  • Bibliography of Related Reading and Websites
  • 18 Hands-On Activities with Folder Instructions
  • Creating a Lapbook Base Visuals and Directions
  • Sample Photos
  • 7-Day Research Guide
  • Nonno Vincenzo's Spaghetti and Meatballs Recipe
  • Vocabulary List
  • Graphic Organizer Reproducibles
The Strega Nona Curriculum Project Pack began with a basic "Table of Contents" indicating which page to find particular sections in the document. I loved the simplicity and organization of the "Planning Guide" which stated the activities to be completed for each day in addition to vocabulary words to be taught and guided reading lessons at a glance. A separate vocabulary list was included in the pack. The company provided a "Bibliography" which contained a list of related books including other books written by the author in addition to websites that will enrich the study. The "Research Guide" is the most important feature of the project pack, because it contained all of the reading material and lessons related to the activities for the day. The guided reading topics mentioned in the planning guide matched the bold-printed text and wording used in the research guide making it fairly easy to follow. The 18 hands-on activities including booklet directions came after the bibliography list. The assignments are in the form of creative templates or mini books such as wheels, maps, petal books, accordion books, three-flap books, shape book, layered books, flip flap books, five fact books, mini pockets for sorting cards, and more. All of the graphic organizers were towards the back of the file. Here are a few photos of the activities Alyssa completed as assignments below.
Layered Story Map Book
Mini Pocket Sorting Cards
Timeline Accordion Book
Our Experiences
I opened the file using Adobe Reader on my MAC 10.5.8 computer. The file was easily downloaded and saved. I printed all the activities and stored them in a 3-ring binder with pockets. I stocked up on the items from the supply list:
  • File Folders
  • Glue Sticks (Adhesives)
  • Brads
  • Crayons, Colored Markers, Colored Pencils, Pencil with Eraser
  • Scissors
  • Cardstock and Colored Paper
  • Stapler
How We Used It
I used the Strega Nona Project Pack to supplement our geography studies and as part of Alyssa's summer reading curriculum. My daughter is five-years-old so she is a little younger than the recommended grade range, but I knew that she could handle the project after viewing the samples. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the company also suggested ways to adapt the writing activities to make them easier or more difficult if necessary.

Alyssa and I read the book repeatedly throughout the week. The planning guide indicated that the book should be read a minimum of three times during the study. I was a little confused when it showed the book being read for the first time on two different days. She asked to read the book aloud on the fourth day. Thought-provoking discussion questions focusing on comprehension were asked after each reading requiring my daughter to recall the information from the story or to think critically about the story events. We completed three activities each day. The activities usually took us approximately 45 minutes to complete. Alyssa worked independently on the activities after we read the information from the research guide or the picture book. I gave my daughter the option of either tracing, cutting out the printed text, or writing the important information in each booklet. Several activities included traceable and cut-n-paste modifications for children who dislike or struggle with writing activities. I didn't have Alyssa write the responses in all the mini books. There were a few days that she chose to cut and paste the information into the booklets. If she wrote everything, then I think I would have extended the pack possibly over a two-week period. We just finished a writing intensive program not too long ago. I wanted the lapbook experience to be fun and enjoyable so I gave her the option and didn't push the writing aspect.
Quick Facts Three Flap Book
Anthony's Job Petal Book
We completed the entire project pack lapbook in one week. The seventh day was reserved for making the meal. My daughter and I didn't take any detours from the project pack. However, now that the project pack is completed she's asking to research information on Italy at the library.

A recipe was also included in the project pack. Alyssa and I bonded as we cooked a special dinner for her father. It was her first time making meatballs! I will never forget her face when she squished the meat between her fingers. We made this recipe several times on pasta night during the review period with a few minor adaptations to meet the likes and dislikes of my family's taste buds. Yummy!

Topics Covered
I was thrilled that the project pack incorporated geography into the activities! Alyssa learned geography specifically with regards to Calabria, Italy. The project pack included information and facts about what Italy is best known for including outstanding food, amazing artwork, beautiful coastlines, vineyards, and mountains. She also learned that Italy was located on the continent of Europe through the use of miniature maps and mini books. She immediately pulled out her Europe puzzle to complete after the mapping assignments. My daughter also colored the Italian flag. Alyssa stated that it looked similar to the flag of Mexico explaining the differences in detail. She discovered that the capital city of Italy was Rome. Not to mention, she became more familiar with Italy's bordering countries which I never imagined would be covered, but was happy to see that it was taught.
Flip Flap Book About Italy
Fact Three Flap Book
Additionally, this lapbook discussed the main religion practiced and the language of Italy. She was utilizing the Italian words and phrases taught in her daily life. She would say "thank you" in Italian after her meal. On many occasions, Alyssa was asked to do a specific chore. She said "yes" in Italian showing off her newfound language skills.
Italian Language Wheel
This literature-based unit study utilized a hands-on approach to learning requiring active participation. Several reading comprehension strategies were addressed including story elements, story structure or story event sequencing, characterization, and summarization. I appreciated the fact that the company exposed my daughter to a variety of graphic organizer formats that helped aid comprehension or understanding of the text. Furthermore, additional skills were taught in the project pack such as rhyming words and recognizing some parts of a book. Alyssa recorded key ideas. She also expanded her vocabulary by learning eight new meaningful terms from the picture book that helped her comprehend the story events even better.
Three Flap Book
Her absolute favorite activity was the graphing assignment. We didn't make it into a shutter book. I decided to post a survey or poll question on Facebook with the help of my daughter. Our friends and family members responded quickly. She LOVED recording their favorite types of pasta in her graph. She has always been a big fan of graphing activities! She paid more attention to the different types of pasta at the store too. Our least favorite was the slit tab book. Creating slits in the middle of the paper without tearing it can be frustrating to younger children and she couldn't get it to fold properly or remain closed.

  • I absolutely LOVE how geography, math, and foreign language (learning to speak a few Italian words) were integrated into the unit.
  • The content and the reading level of the required picture book was age appropriate. The book was written by a well-known, popular author that is loved by many children and adults. Furthermore, the book utilized for this unit study and related literature was easily available and found at the library.
  • I liked how everything needed, except for the physical books, was included in the file. There was minimal planning on my part. The research guide contained valuable information to be read. The booklet templates for each activity were included with written directions. I simply gathered the supplies and book(s). We had all of the materials on hand so there was really no out-of-pocket expense except for the cost of ingredients for the meal.
  • The core picture book makes references to God and prayer. I felt I needed to state this for secular homeschool families. The project pack doesn't focus on religion; it only mentions the main religion spoken in Italy. 
  • The activities were flexible and easily modified for younger and older children than the intended grade range. 
  • Active learning was taking place. I could see the enthusiasm on my daughter's face.
  • The project pack contains numerous hands-on activities that foster and promote creativity while providing variety or a change in the regular activities planned for the day.

Possible Cons
  • There was no indication in the planning guide as to what size file folder to use in order to create the lapbook. I believe this information would be helpful to a new lapbook user.
  • I prefer seeing more up-close photos indicating exactly where each mini book or project should be placed instead of having to figure it out. My daughter said that the hardest part of the entire project was trying to make everything fit. I tend to agree with her thinking. The included photos only showed a partial lapbook and suggested placement for a few of the activities. A suggested placement visual or photograph of the entire lapbook would have been much more useful. I understand that children do personalize the experience when being involved and choosing the location of the booklets. However, some children may find this aspect of the project tedious. It may be better for the parent to arrange the lapbook with the child as an overseer who can willing suggest placement ideas.
Possible Vendor Suggestions
  • I felt that the research guide could be more organized. I prefer having all of the pages for a particular lesson or activity with correlating reading material, questions, and templates together instead of flipping towards the back of the file to find them. Some additional spacing may help. I felt like the pages were too crowded. 
  • I know that you have written directions for the activities, but is it possible to also include a visual of how to do the folds for each booklet enabling visual learners to be more successful.
Overall Thoughts
Alyssa was definitely proud of her completed lapbook! She showed it to several of our friends and started teaching them what she learned. The idea of a lapbook was new to them and they found the concept intriguing wishing they had been taught the same way. I was impressed with the thoroughness and found the lapbook to be complete. After using this lapbook, I quickly realized that the study didn't require or need any extensions. It could be implemented as a stand-alone project. However, the company provided a recommended reading list with suggested websites for families wanting to take rabbit trails in the study. It was evident that my daughter was retaining the information recorded during the hands-on activities. We will definitely continue using In the Hands of a Child lapbooks in our homeschool as supplements to our curricula. The activities within the unit study were quick and easy. The flexibility of the study was also impressive. Your family can do fewer activities or extend if desired. Alyssa is eager to create more lapbooks this year so I am finding ways to incorporate them into her studies.

Would you like to see Alyssa's completed lapbook project pack?
Front Cover
Left-Side Opened
Right-Side Opened
Vocabulary Mini Book on Right
Back of Lapbook

Well, we have about 27 items on our current wish list at this time so I won't be sharing it with you. However, I do know that the last three products above are being reviewed by my fellow crew members so I will definitely be stalking their blogs and reading the reviews once posted.

I highly recommend In the Hands of a Child and the Strega Nona Project Pack to any homeschool family that utilizes lapbooking or notebooking methods in their school day. Individuals that teach with an eclectic, delight-directed, and unit study or thematic approach may find their products enjoyable. Furthermore, early elementary classroom teachers from private, Christian, public, and Montessori schools may find In the Hands of a Child products appealing. General lapbook topics could also be used during after school care and more specific titles related to subject or content could be used in a co-op setting. I believe the Strega Nona Project Pack would be a great enrichment project to extend an author study and is a wonderful supplement for literature-based learning. I hope to see many more literature-based unit studies created by the company in the future!

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I hope you will visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read more reviews about various In the Hands of a Child products. 
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  1. When my girls were little, they would have eaten this kind of stuff up. That was 23 years ago when there was basically nothing but mom's brain and a good library to choose your curriculum from. The cover of this book alone would make me pick it up and check it out. Do you have a the website of the author? I want to discuss the possibility of so me one creating lap book materials for the curriculum I have written for literature.

  2. The Sarah Plain and Tall study is on my wish list, too. I'd also recommend the Princesses lapbook. My daughter did it last Spring, and we had a blast.

  3. Love the lapbooks. I wish I had know about lapbooks when my kids were young. We did a few about science...such a fun way to learn.

    Kerry Beck