What exactly is a Lapbook, and how does it encourage REAL learning?

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Dinah Zike

Before we begin discussing what lap books are, we need to begin by explaining what foldables are. 

In the early 1980s, Dinah Zike came out with a book called Big Book of Books.  This wonderful classic, which is still in print and selling for about the same price it did 20 years ago, describes in clear language, and with hundreds of examples and photographs, how to instill a sense of questioning, investigating , exploring and discovering and in your homeschool.  All this can be accomplished so very simply and cleverly with 8.5 x 11 plain sheets of paper that are either folded or cut into interesting shapes.  These folds and cuts are called foldables.

The absolute beauty of this concept and methodology is that it so naturally and easily makes concrete in a child’s mind, a newly learned concept.  This is accomplished by helping them to organize the thoughts and creates their very own teaching materials to retain this newly acquired skill.  Dinah Zike is the inventor of these foldables, giving them fun names and creating an illustrated guide that teaches you how to teach these folds to your children.

For example, she has a very simple fold called the large matchbook fold.  Here is a video showing you how to make one:

Begin with a sheet of paper folded in half but such that one side is 1 inch longer than the other then take that extra flap and fold it over so that it looks just like a regular set of matches.  You can cut this into smaller pieces or use as it is.  You can put on the outside of your matchbox a question, flip it open and the child can write in their answer.  You can use the outside and glue on a shape of a state.  Open up the inside and the child can place information of that state they have found.

Another example is the layered look book.  With this book, you’re going to stack a couple sheets of paper, placing them in such a way that they overlap.  All this is easily explained in her books for each subject with tons of photographs.  Next you or your child then pick a concept such as the solar system. Then you give each flap a title with the name of each of planets. You then fill out each flap with information that you researched or read using your existing curriculum materials.

What is so exciting about using this process is that you will very quickly find that your children begin to think in terms of keeping the information they’re learning into little mini books or foldables.  We have been using this methodology for the past 20 years.  It has revolutionized our homeschool.

Now we come to the concept of lap books.  Simply stated, a lap book is file folder, folded like a window shutter.  This shutter is the place to contain and organize your child’s collection of foldables. The inventor of lap books, Tami Duby, had been using Dinah Zike’s foldables in her homeschool and had accumulated  a bunch of them without finding a way of keeping them. She then came up with the idea of putting them together in one single file folder in a creative way. This new way not only fosters a love of learning in your children but also encourages clarity of thought.  It is also a visual reminder of all the things they have learned, not to mention a wonderful keepsake of their learning.  The important concept about making lapbooks is that genuine sustained learning is a process not  a fill in the blanks type of learning.  This methodology is a fabulous and successful process by which one learns and retains information.

By having your child create these foldables and then go through the thinking involved to sort them and categorize them into a lap book your child has a real sense of ownership.  We have seen this time and time again with our own children.  Concepts learned and made into foldables have stayed with them.

This methodology meshes so perfectly with the classical method of real learning.  It respects the natural stages of development which gives dignity to the child.  As your child grows the skills build up bit by bit just as outlined in the classical model of learning..  For example, in a classical education process, if your child is young and has not yet learned to write stories we began by having our child retell a Bible story we have just read to them.  The little retellings can be copied by you into a foldable and then illustrated by your child.  Once you have collected a number of these you can staple or glue them together so that you now have a wonderful keepsake of your little child’s Bible stories.

As your children mature and move through more advanced writing techniques you can still employ this methodology of making foldables. For example, our ninth-grade daughter needed to write a paper on some aspect of Westward expansion.  She came up with a thesis statement, and several questions she wanted answered.  Each question became a foldable.  It contained all the information she researched using several source texts.  Once she had collected all the information she took these foldables, organized them into a lap book and was able to use this as her outline and source material for her research paper.  She placed a copy of her finished product in a pocket outside her lap book, a job well done.

This process of learning can be used across the curriculum in every subject. We have made foldables and lap books for math, history, science, religion, and grammar.  This technique of learning is not meant as a craft project to do on top of regular schoolwork but is the process by which we accomplish real learning and retention of knowledge.

Now the next question you may have is, what do I need to get started?  The answer is use what you already have. Use the curriculum and texts you already are using.  Use plain sheets of paper, file folders,  and adhesive.   And oh yes, the only two books you really need to help you get started are Dinah Zike’s Big Book of Books and Tammy Duby’s The Ultimate Lap Book Handbook. Spend a week teaching your kids a bunch of the folds as examples and keep them in a zip-lock bag, one for each child.  Then just think of it akin to learning how to cook.  You take out your ingredients, in this case foldable examples and your curriculum books. Then try one of the “recipes” in the Ultimate Lap Book Handbook. As you and your children follow these recipes you will all get more confidence in your skills.  You will undoubtedly find your children creating their own wonderful recipes.

Here is a listing of just some of the skills learned using this process:

  • Writing.
  • Sketching.
  • Reading.
  • Researching.
  • Vocabulary and definitions.
  • Sequencing
  • Summarizing
  • Analyzing.
  • Recording information.
  • Cause and effect.
  • And much more….