Review In A Nutshell:
Overall Rating (1-10): 7
Value (1-10): 8
Flexibility (1-10): 5
Ages: 1st grade – highschool chemistry (I only reviewed HS biology)
Cost: varies, but our course was $55/month for the standard course and $95/month for the deluxe course which includes twice as many labs
If you poll college admissions counselors about weaknesses within the homeschool applicant population, they will tell you that one major area of weakness is a lack of science labs. This is one area where classrooms just have an upper hand. They have the numbers and funding to justify complete science labs that homeschool families typically can’t rival. And let’s face it – there is only so much one can learn from a book. Hands-on learning offers a rich experience not to be duplicated even through online “virtual labs”.
When my son entered his first year of highschool (9th grade) I researched our options for biology and settled on Labs In A Box. For a monthly fee, they send you all the supplies you need to conduct various experiments in the science class you subscribe to. And when they say “all the supplies”, they really mean ALL the supplies including the return label and packing tape to get the goods back to them when finished. Although the cost was high for us, I weighed the options and decided it was worth it for a good solid biology lab experience at home.
My first contact with the company threw me a little. We contacted them at the beginning of September and were told that they had already sent out the first box and would send our box out in October. We pushed a little and they agreed to rush our order to get in, mid-month. It didn’t arrive until October. So word to the wise – start planning now if this is a service you hope to use from the beginning of the school year.
Most of the science programs offered do not come with a textbook. You will need to supply your choice of textbook and align the lessons accordingly. This isn’t as easy it may seem. It took a significant amount of preplanning and work to correlate lessons in the box with lessons in our biology textbook. It took additional planning to try to space or schedule labs so they would be complete before the next box was expected but without necessarily skipping important information in the textbook. Because the company expected supplies and labs to be returned with each new shipment, this added extra pressure to make sure everything was done on a schedule that often did not mesh with the natural progression of our textbook.
So the labs arrive, around 8 at a time. Each lab is in it’s own bag organized with the unique supplies for that lab and a checklist of total supplies needed. There is some digging around required to pull out supplies used in previous labs that are required for future labs but if you are organized, this is easy. Each box comes with two student lab books and a teacher’s manual. The teacher’s manual offers answers to lab questions as well as biblical tie-ins, if you opt to use them. Also the teacher’s manual offered an easy way to scan the lab and see what would be required and how much time it would necessitate.
The labs were mostly very good experiences. They were definitely lab-quality, utilizing oil lamps, high powered microscope and toxic chemicals and involving dissection of several species. Because the labs were completed at home, my kids really had time to put into each lab without the time constraints a classroom constructs. Only a few of the labs didn’t work. A bigger problem was that often the lab manual did not give enough information about the topic being learned and our textbook didn’t either. So while it was assumed that the child would learn background information elsewhere, that wasn’t happening. I consider that a flaw of both the labs program and our chosen textbook. Labs In A Box could really eliminate all of these challenges and vastly improve their program by either providing a textbook with the labs or by offering a textbook that is aligned with their labs for additional purchase. The Chemistry course does come with a textbook and the dissection portion of the biology labs come with a dissection manual that was extremely helpful.
My biggest complaint about Labs In A Box is that their shipping processes were not smooth, at all. We only received one shipment all year that did not necessitate us calling to inquire first and that shipment arrived in June when most schools are trying to wrap up their lessons. A few times, live items were sent without any indication on the box that living specimens were inside. By the time we opened the box, they were dead. Labs In A Box was happy to send replacements but it certainly slowed down our progress. Because we had to so carefully construct our lessons to coincide with our labs, it left huge gaps of learning while we waited for new boxes that were consistently weeks and weeks late to arrive. Likewise, we ended up not even using the last box of labs because of how late in the summer they arrived. A few times when we called for our boxes we were told the supplies were on backorder or had to be reordered due to some issue. However in every single case, the box arrived within a few days of our call which begs us to wonder if they were being truthful with their explanations.
Tips: Make space to store your supplies as many will carry over to future labs. Reuse bags from your first kits to separate and store supplies when not in use.
Improvements I’d like to see: As previously stated, I’d love to see an aligned textbook available with the program. I’d love to see, on the list of each lab’s items, whether the item is ultimately disposable, will be used in future kits or will be returned in the next box. It was difficult to undersand which items we should hold onto and it would have been easier to organize future supplies if we knew when they would be required again. Also, clearly, their shipping methodologies need to be reconstructed.
Bottom Line: We don’t regret using this service. It supplied us with high quality lab supplies we never would have been able to afford on our own, along with the labs traditionally used in a highschool setting. I liked that we were able to order a deluxe kit for my child who requires a more advanced/honors biology lab experience. He feels he learned so much more through the hands-on labs than he learned through textbook reading alone. The hiccups and difficulties were worth the solid learning expiences the service provided for our family. However I’m not sure what we will use for Chemistry at this point. I have not been able to find anything that duplicates so closely such high quality lab experiences as we had this past year. If we find one, though, we might give it a shot and see how it compares.