Sunday, November 4, 2012

Activity Bags - A Schoolhouse Crew Review

Have you heard of Activity Bags? I first learned of Activity Bags when my (almost) 13 year old was five years old. I had the blessing of participating in a Preschool Activity Bag group project. At that time the way our group did the project was that one mom put together the bags for all of the 25-30 activities, calculated her cost, and we divided that cost (plus postage) by all the moms participating. It must have been a real chore for her (Amy B., I think, who is in the credits by the author), but it was such a blessing for me! I had the money to do it that way, and I didn't have the time to do any organizing myself. I was homeschooling two high schoolers!

Reading the story behind Activity Bags makes me wonder where I fell in the creation of the company. Activity Bags had its beginnings in 2002 when two moms began brainstorming about how they would keep their preschoolers occupied productively during the upcoming school year. They came up with an idea, shared it with some friends, and it mushroomed! All us moms of preschoolers wanted a piece of the action! They tried it, tested it, expanded it, and then published it, and it has been a big success.

Let's see, I used the Preschool Activities in a Bag in 2004-2005 school year. I may have been one of the swaps where they were testing to see if other moms could successfully organize swaps. Whatever the case, I did love those bags. My son did too. He loved that he could open a bag, pull out safety scissors, and cut on the zig zag line all by himself! I can't remember all the wonderful activities we did, and they may be slightly different, but we probably did the equivalent of book 2, or maybe there was only one preschool book back then, I don't know.

From that first experience, I knew I loved Activity Bags, and I was delighted when I learned that they now make Activity Bags for older students, the Schoolhouse Review Crew was reviewing them, and I'd been chosen to participate! Fabulous!

For many weeks now we have had the blessing of reviewing the Science Experiments in a Bag, eBooks 1, 2, and 3

Science Experiments In a Bag are advertised as being appropriate for kids in grades K through 8th grade, but most of the activities individually say they are for K through 6th. Obviously, with such a wide age/grade range, some of the experiments might be over the head of some of the youngest students, and some of the experiments might be "old information" for some of the older students. My son is in 7th Grade, so he falls into the latter category, so I worked my way carefully through the eBooks, picking and choosing the choicest morsels for our trial. After all, there was no way, anyway, that I could complete 75 experiments in six weeks in order to do this review!

By the way, here are some free "tastes" of these eBooks for you:
Science Experiments In a Bag, eBook 3 sample (oops! Their 3rd link isn't working...).
No actual experiments, but you get to see what experiments come in each book. I'll update and insert the 3rd sample link if they get it fixed. Each book has 25 experiment ideas for you to choose from.

After perusing all three books for awhile, I decided we would park ourselves in eBook 3 for awhile. My son can never get enough chemistry, and I wanted to actually put some of the projects into "bag" form so I could take some photos, and then see how well my son would do at taking the Science In a Bag and doing it on his own.

On beginning to work through and pick experiments, I quickly found I was over analyzing certain parts of the instructions. "Place two 12-ounce plastic cups into each bag." My brain would ask, "Do they need to be see-through, or can they be colored?" "I don't have 12-ounce, I have 16-ounce. Does it matter?" And the next experiment I was compiling said, "Place three paper cups, 6-ounces or larger, into each bag." My brain replied, "Why paper? I only have 4-ounce paper cups. Can I use plastic?" and on and on. Sheesh! Can I just lighten up, already? At first I was reading each experiment to find the answer to these minute detail questions, but finally I relaxed and just threw the experiments together with what I had on hand.
Here a photos from an experiment we did. I was surprised at my son's reaction; wish I had gotten a photo of his face. He was astonished the way the candle went out.

My observations:
  • Activity Bags take a lot of teacher preparation time at the front end. This teacher labor is rewarded, later, when it is time to do the experiments and everything is already together ready to go. You still need to read ahead before experiments, though. Some additional stuff is sometimes needed, and if you want to do the experiment you might need to purchase more stuff. Examples: many of the experiments require vinegar on hand; one I saw requires skim milk on hand, no substitutes. If you only have 2%, you need to buy skim to do the experiment.
  • The activities are very fun! However, some of the experiments have the potential to be messy, so you want to know what experiment your child is pulling out, and you might want to supervise. For instance, I don't know if the tempera paint I had to use in one experiment bag is washable, so I want to make sure I supervise; I want my son to be wearing older clothes, and I want a plastic cloth on the table before he does that one.
  • The instructions call for preparing the Activity Bags, printing certain pages on certain colored card-stock. I opted to print these on plain white paper. One reason is that my printer is acting up and I don't want to mess with trying to figure out how to change its settings so that it can handle card stock. Another reason is that I'm only making these for myself; I don't care if the print outs are on card stock, nor if they are color coded. I don't even know if I have the colors that are being asked for, and I didn't want to look. ::sigh:: My son will never know the difference. 
  • If you are using these eBooks for yourself, you may have many of the items on hand and not need to purchase them (salt, baking soda, vinegar, balloons). Other items that are called for when assembling Activity Bags are not necessary when doing the experiments in your own home, but having them in the assembled bags will make it easier to get the experiments completed (plastic cups, plastic spoons, paper towels). Some items you may just need to purchase (in my case we purchased balloons and still need to purchase wooden skewers, potting soil, and various other things you may or may not have on hand -- toothpicks, gumdrops or mini-marshmallows, etc.). And several of the activities called for part of a diaper. I do not have any diapers; he's almost 13, and I am not going to buy a package of diapers to do these science experiments. ::sigh::
  • Preparing the Activity Bags, printing the pages for the Experiment Log for the child's notebook, can use a lot of printer ink, let alone printing out the instruction page, the labels, and the answer page(s). I printed a lot for taking photos, but for future experiments I will be inclined to work off my computer, not print much out, and have my son write things down in a spiral notebook Scientific Journal. If I were preparing bags for a swap, my hubby would want me to take my first printed out copy to a local copy store to print out the rest of the copies there. He might even want me to just take the PDF eBooks to the copy store on a jump drive to print all my print outs there. He says that costs less. (I say my time is also worth something...)
Science Experiments in a Bag, eBooks 1, 2, and 3 are priced at $15.00 each. There is an eBook bundle available to purchase eBooks 1 and 2 together for $27.00, or buy all three together for $39.00. These products are only available as eBooks. 

The normal way to prepare these items for a swap is to round up an interested group of  moms (20 is ideal), assign one experiment per mom. Each mom makes 20 of the same experiment, and then they meet and each mom gets one of each experiment. There is a free Coordinator's Manual to download to help you be successful. When using Activities In a Bag for an organized swap, you are allowed to give each participant the instructions for the experiment that they will be bagging and distributing to the group.

I liked the semi-independent nature of the activities. I say it that way owing to the nature of my son. In your house, maybe the Activity Bags would need significant supervision, or maybe it would need no supervision, depending on your specific family and family members.

I love that these activities are totally tactile! It will appeal to those kinesthetic learners. In family settings, those who are less kinesthetic and more visual can just sit back and watch, while those hands-on kids dig in.

These products are not overtly religious, and do not cover anything resembling evolution. These books are reusable, but not transferable. In other words, You can use the book again when your four year old is old enough, but you can't print it out or copy it and give it to your friend who hasn't done it yet.

My son loves these tactile science activities so much that while I was trying to compile Activity Bags for Chemistry, he was off doing General Science activities from eBook 1 without waiting for me. I didn't get photos. So, some activities he needs my help; some activities, not so much.

I really like these activities. To do some of them, I need to put a shopping list together; won't cost much. I need this and that, but items that are necessary for the activities (red cabbage; peanuts in the shell; antacids; on and on). I believe we'll be working our way through these three eBooks for a while yet. But, like I said, I need to print less to continue. I eat my way through so much ink with eBooks!

So, I highly recommend Activity Bags. Consider giving them a try. If you form a group of moms to create a bag swap, all the costs get divided! Activity Bags are also available for:

DISCLAIMER: As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I received Activities In a Bag Science eBooks 1, 2, and 3  in exchange for my honest, uninfluenced review.  I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.  All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.
This has been a Schoolhouse Crew Review.

To see more reviews of Activity In a Bag by the Homeschool Review Crew, see this product's blog entry at the Review Crew's Blog.


  1. Greetings,

    Thank you so much for the wonderful review of the Activities in a Bag products. Would it be okay if I used some of your pictures on our website?? I would give credit to your blog of course, but wanted to ask first.

    Thanks again,

    Sherri MacLean

    1. Absolutely! Thanks for asking, and thanks for letting me review your product. Too bad I no longer have young kids. ...we visited a college today. ::sigh::