Thursday, May 2, 2013

Review: Homeschool in the Woods, Great Empires Activity Study

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For the month of April we have had the pleasure of reviewing Home School in the Woods: Great Empires Activity Study (for elementary ages).  This "unit study" type approach covered 14 different great empires with over 35 different links, games, crafts, recipes, maps, and more. It is available as a download for $18.95 or as a CD for $19.95. They also offer pricing for schools or homeschool co-ops. I think this would be an awesome class for a weekly homeschool co-op!
This curriculum came as a download of a zipped file. When unzipped, there were files for:
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  • Masters: the maps, recipe cards, and masters of the craft projects, about 4-6 pages per empire.
  • Projects: this was one pdf sheet for each of the different empires, which had the overview of the unit study.
  • Text: this was the text to be read for each empire, averaging 1-3 pages per empire.
  • Timeline and figures: to show each empire in relation to each-other in the scope of history.

We had recently finished our World History course, so this was a perfect follow up for the year. I think if I used it again I would do one of these unit studies at the end of each particular country's chapter. We focused on doing two per week, since each one can take 2-3 days. If you have a whole day to devote to it, you could do one in a day, and it would be a FUN day indeed!

There are 14 empires covered by the Activity Study, and we chose to work on these seven for the review period:
  • Russian Empire
  • Chinese Empire
  • English Empire
  • Egyptian Empire
  • Viking Empire
  • Roman Empire
  • and the Greek Empire
For each empire we studied, we had a map with important cities and boundaries marked, a blank map to fill in, a project sheet giving instructions and links, several craft template masters, and a recipe sheet with two recipes unique to that region. We also had a text portion to read aloud while working on the projects.

Some highlights of what we did:

  • Egyptian cartouche from salt dough
  • A pop-up book of Chinese history
  • Viking coins for the kids to plunder
  • Creating our own Matryoshka dolls, and making ones that look like us (sort-of)
  • Making matchbooks highlighting significant people in English History, and a couple of them for ourselves.
  • Baking a loaf of Roman bread, a new favorite!
  • "Bubble and Squeak" a recipe using cabbage and sausage. 
  • Painting a pot with Greek art!
  • Making our own Chinese proverbs
  • Tracing the voyages of Vikings on a map
I asked the kids which empire was their favorite to study, and they all agreed that they enjoyed the study of Egypt best. While one child studied the map, we mixed up the salt dough for creating an Egyptian cartouche  ("an oval with a horizontal line erected at one end, indicating that the text enclosed is a royal name," -wiki). Then, while they created with the dough, I read to them from the history text. It made the history come alive to read about it while they did something with their hands. I am now finding the kids writing their names in hieroglyphics everywhere. We took this one step further and shredded some newspaper to create home-made paper (our own idea) as we talked about papyrus.

We used the blank map to fill in with the info from the full map, and then we colored it in. We did this for each of the empires we studied. We also tried the recipes that were included. My family wasn't sure what to think when we were cooking "Bubble and Squeak" (English Empire) but when it was done, even my hubby said he really liked it. Even though I had doubled the recipe, there were no leftovers.

What we liked:

  • Units studies are new to me, but I really loved how the kids retained the material after seeing, hearing, touching, and tasting it.
  • The crafts were doable and fun, and didn't call for too many supplies I didn't have on hand.
  • The recipes were tasty and easy to prepare. Nothing too bizarre!
  • The text was never too long, considering it was trying to cover the entire history of empires spanning centuries.

What we didn't like:

  • The text was a little dry at times, hitting lots of dates and facts, but not much of a story-line. It was more like an outline. Since we had just studied these countries though, it was great review.
  • We also felt that the Christian perspective in the text was more of an added afterthought. Often the church history part of the puzzle was included only in the last paragraphs. 
  • The timeline activity was not mentioned on any of the the project sheets, which were our base instructions for each empire. I plan on exploring it more as we finish up this curriculum.

Bottom Line:

I can truly say this was a joy to review. The kids looked forward to our history time every day, and I find them talking about what they learned to everyone they meet. I want to foster that kind of excitement for learning in my home, so this was a real blessing. We chose to supplement the text with videos and extra books, but even if you didn't, this could still be a fun unit study. We plan to continue using this curriculum, it was SO fun!

Be sure to read about other empires studied by the crew, as well as other products from Home School in the Woods:


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*Prices and links are accurate at the time this is published, and are subject to change.

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