The first thing that drew me into Tapestry of Grace a few years back was, of course, the name. Who wouldn’t want to teach their children using a beautitul tapestry woven together with the grace and love of Jesus Christ?
Upon visiting their website, I found the Somerville’s Lampstand Press, along with an awesome mission statement: "In ancient times, a lamp or torch was hung on a lamp stand so that its light could reach farther. As we write, select, and sell the best homeschooling products we can find, we seek to make your homeschooling path brighter and easier to find."
This is another company founded and based on a homeschool family’s journey to excellence. Marcia Somerville has certainly been added to my list of hero homeschool moms, as everyone knows my fierce dedication and admiration for moms (and dads) who are ultimately dedicated to providing the very best education and training materials for the children they have been entrusted with (even when the very best is not yet out there). Tapestry of Grace was created in this very light of determination to not give up on providing the very best education for multi-level learners in the same household, and then graciously shared with the rest of the world.
To begin with, let’s visit the three big ideas behind this multi-level, integrated, 4-year classics-based Christian curriculum.
1.) Multilevel Education
All of your children focus on the same main topics and learn together, though they study differently, and on different levels.
2.) Cyclical Education
Use the 12 years of school to their fullest, revisiting eras of history multiple times as your students mature, so that they can learn more each time.
3.) Integrated Education
Study concurrent topics in different subjects such as history, literature, and art in a related way, enhancing retention and enjoyment.
As I navigated this new territory, I was just amazed at the visually pleasing artistry of the products and website, and the clever way in which the Tapestry theme "weaves" together the many facets of the program. And there are…well…so very many facets to this program!! Now I must interject that I began this review by referencing my "finding" of Tapestry a few years back. At that time I did download a free sample of their very first year and unit to take a look into what it was all about. I found the many facets, nooks and crannies of this program to be both fabulous, and overhwhelming at the same time. My original look was really cut short by the fact that I just did not have the time or patience to grasp Tapestry in its entirety, or really even just the parts I needed to propel me forward into this meaty program because of the complexity of it all.
This being said, you can imagine my excitment in finding out we were to review a unit of the new redesigned Digital Edition Tapestry of Grace!! This was my chance to dive in and really understand and grasp this intriguing program with some helpful insight from fellow crewmates; some who have already been using it, and some starting at the beginning just like me. For me, this review was among the most challenging, and definitely the most time consuming of any I’ve done so far. You see, as I began my journey with my girls sitting beside me to read through which unit we might enjoy studying, I found my eyes already strained from hours of searching their website. There is an unbelievable amount of helpful information there, including a whole community of support to give advice, ideas and answer questions as my crewmates did for me!
So what did we choose? Well, since we were just finishing up our Egypt study when the TOS Crew voyage began last fall, we decided to plug into the next chronological time period. Year 1 unit 2 seemed to be the best fit. Here it is:
Unit 2: All Governments Are Established by God
10. The Indus Valley, Hinduism, and Buddhism
11. Ancient China: Confucius and Taoism
12. Ancient Americas: Inuit, Mound Builders, and Mayas
13. Early Greeks: Cycladic, Minoan, Mycenaean, and Trojan Cultures
14. Early Greeks: Everyday Life, Religion, and Mythology
15. The Promised Land: Conquest and Settlement
16. Judges, Samuel, and Minor Neighboring Cultures
17. The Rise of Saul and the Philistines
18. David, Shepherd of Israel; the Phoenicians
I was very intrigued by the first three lessons, because my current history plan didn’t include these as individual subjects. Here is where I hope I don’t lose you completely. You see, this TOG was just mindboggling to grasp for me. Upon downloading the different components of the digital edition, (which I felt the instructions were really straight forward and I had no problems with…and now they’ve made it even simpler to use!) I began clicking around the different areas to see how it worked. First I read about the 4 different levels of study which coorespond to the Classical approach (lower grammar, upper grammar, dialect and rhetoric) and found I have one Upper Grammar and one dialect student. "Perfect," I thought! I can even test the multi-level intent of the program!
As I began to explore the format of the program, I found that for each section of the unit I chose, there were about 50 to 60 pages that contained the working contents of the program:
*Threads-overview of what will be learned broken down by level and core subjects
*Reading Assignments-recommended and alternate book lists
*Weekly Overview- student learning objectives, vocabulary words and timeline, people, activities, geography, etc. broken down into learning levels
*Writing Assignments- broken down into levels, this is the language arts part of the program encompassing grammar and composition
*Student Activities- this is where you will want to print pages for your students to use; it begins with general information for all grades, then is broken into each level complete with daily and weekly assignments, specific activity recipes and instructions, worksheets to use while reading specific literature selections, geography assignments, Bible and church history assignments, and much more; (one of my favorite parts of TOG is the philsophy section for rhetoric students-very cool!)
*Teacher’s Notes- background information and history that you will need to discuss and review what the student is learning; discussion questions, and answers to worksheets and assignments in student section are included
*Glance into next week- overview of upcoming lessons to help prepare what you will need
So after getting familiar with the format and what there was to do, I began looking for the materials to use. Now this was where I hit a brick wall. We are currently residing in a small town where I had already discovered that the library was less than adequate, with no intralibrary loan as I had been accustomed to in larger libraries. I printed off the recommended and alternate book lists, and began my search. As I suspected, our local library had none of the books, so I searched many of the surrounding community libraries and found none of them either. I spent much time on the internet searching out the books on many websites, including the Lampstand Press bookstore ,but found it simply was not feasable for my family to purchase these resources. Next, I headed to our tried and true Half Price Bookstore, which has saved my homeschooling venture more times than I care to say. My daughters and I split up the list I had printed of Y1U2 recommended and alternative books and searched the shelves for the titles. I came up empty for any of the exact titles, but did find about three books I felt might work.
This is where my TOG venture started it’s downward spiral. I am happy for the families who have unlimited funds to homeschool, and maybe I am a little bitter to be among the crowd who must shop the used boards to stay afloat, but for my family this curriculum is not in our budget. I have certainly done the math and agree that for a family with multiple levels who will be recycling this curriculum for the entirety of the children’s education at home it could be affordable, but for my situation is not (particularly without a good library from which to borrow the resources referred to sometimes by page number). And with the DE of this curriculum, you are not allowed to resell it, or buy it used. That cuts down on the value of the purchase price tremendously for me.
I quickly found that the resources I had chosen, while they were pretty much the same subject material, really didn’t work with the program (two of the books were even the same titles by a different author!). Through conversing with fellow crewmates and perusing the TOG community forum, I did see several mention that they made a lot of substitutions, using whatever their library had available on the subject being studied. One person even stated that they had never spent a penny on materials. So I see this can be done, but I wouldn’t be the person to ask how, because it certainly didn’t work for me. I printed off the first two sections, filled in assignment charts for each child (which are really awesome resources by the way) left the books and bookmarked internet site resources I had found, and went through the weekly overview with the girls. We tried, but the whole thing just didn’t fit together for us.
I will state that starting TOG with the Digital Edition or Y1U2 is not a good idea. For my dialectic student not already familiar with this program, reading about Hinduism and Buddism was a bit confusing without first prefacing the culture and beliefs as we did with Egypt. When we studied Egypt last year,I did a lot of research and praying on how to present Egypt in all of it’s darkness and death-oriented cultural beliefs before deciding on what to use, how to use it, and even whether to present it at all last year. In the same way, I feel this was not an appropriate way to present and study such controversial material. With a printed assignment list in hand, and literature resources we had found, what my daughter gleaned from her studies was more about the Hindu and Buddism belief system than the culture, geography or people. I believe had I been more familiar with the program that I could have geared it differently, but then I wouldn’t have been really using the program as presented. I am a firm believer that every program out there must be "tweeked" to fit each family, but to me the program should also be usable "as-is" , at least in the beginning stages. Now had we had the recommended books stacked beside us on the table to use, would we have had different results? Don’t know. Sorry.
I do think my experience might have been different if our family would have started TOG at the very beginning Y1U1, having been used to the layout and materials before arriving here, and I would have been able to been more hands on in teaching the unit rather than presenting the material as semi-independent material from the get-go.
Now in addition to the base program units and books to purchase ,TOG offers quite a lot of "extras". Our Crew was able to choose one "extra" to try out with our unit. I really want the Writing Aids, since myself and my girls have been using a few different writing programs and enjoy writing quite a bit. Okay, I’ll admit I’m the one who really loves writing and was hoping for a chance to go through a complete program. As several were interested in the writing aid, I did not get chosen to review it. Instead I recieved my second choice, which is called "Pop Quiz." Now this thing is really cool. It was designed so that Dad can be involved in knowing what the kids are learning. At our house, Dad is always quizzing the kids on what they did that day, but unfortunately has seemed to bring tears more than once, as Daddy really had no way of knowing exactly what they had covered and not. This is an audio CD that Dad can listen to summarizing what they are learning, and then cards with age-appropriate questions Dad can use to ask the "right" questions. Since TOG didn’t really work for us, Daddy never became involved to try this out, but I can certainly see how it would add a whole new realm to our learning. I really zoned in on Pop Quiz because it stated "A great tool for mom’s on the go". I will certainly agree with that. In my time-crunched situation, I do feel that Pop Quiz would be adequate for my teacher’s review of the material without having to sit at the computer and go through the pages of teacher’s notes.
The many other supplements that go along with TOG just look awesome. For those whom TOG is working, I can imagine they would be wanting to add many of these neat resources to their program. Take a look at all the cool stuff they have to go with your TOG studies!
My bottom line:
*Too expensive for my family situation, especially since we couldn’t borrow any of the book resources from our library. For me, it’s just uneconomical to purchase the books, and the program itself can’t be used as a sole program without other resources for my family. I have yet to find any individual program that has everything I wish to teach in one place. I am used to using multiple resources together, and have some tried and true favorites. For me, TOG has some really great stuff, but as I would still be using some other beloved history resources with it, that makes the price of TOG out of the question. For those using it as an only-resource, however, it might fit into your budget better than mine. There are families out there for whom it does work as an only-resource with no other history resources necessary.
**I was unable to use the program as written due to lack of resources it recommends, so that left me spending the time the program is suppose to save you finding alternate resources, then spending time trying to figure out how to make them fit in. To me, I was just creating my own history unit study following the TOG outline, which is quite confusing to follow until you get the hang of it. So my advice…find out which books you can’t borrow from your library, and then go ahead and order them. Don’t even start the program without the resources sitting in a stack on the table. Once you’re an old pro at TOG, then you might find yourself substituting resources, but I wouldn’t plan on that until you really get the hang of it. I guess I will add here in this section about having access to appropriate resources that the TOG "extras" would really make the whole program run smoothly. Again, another added expense, but for those with multi-level kids who will be using this over and over, the extras would certainly be worth the extra cost.
***I wouldn’t start using TOG with the Digital Edition only. For a beginner, I think it just adds confusion to an already overwhelming program. I would choose the print option so you can hold it in your hands and flip around to get a better feel for the program before trying to navigate it digitally. They do have many different options for printing the program, or you could just take your DE and have it printed yourself. But again, this adds quite a bit of cost to the program. The DE is really nice to have for printing out worksheets, schedules, and assignments for students, but again, you must have a working printer and add in the cost of the ink.
****I would start TOG at the beginning Year 1 Unit 1. They state you can start anywhere, but to me I think the beginning is best. Best part about that is…you can try it out for free. I would REALLY recommend you visit Egypt or Sail to the New World for a three week free trial before purchasing. Interested?
*****TOG will certainly give your student a good grasp of history. It also covers church history, literature, geography, fine arts, government, philosophy, and writing & composition. Tapestry does not include a phonics program, science, math, grammar, spelling, or foreign language. TOG for me would be inserted into my history slot. Unless one is to purchase and use the TOG writing aids( which I really know nothing about because I wasn’t chosen to review them), I really don’t feel the writing and composition included in the program is adequate for the language arts I include in my homeschool. It would really take a significant chunk of time for me to teach the writing and grammar included in this program and make sure my girls were grasping the concepts. Again, I would basically be creating my own grammar and composition program if I used this outline.
******The TIME involved is completely insane for my family!! I can see *maybe* how if the initial investment of time to figure out and familiarize yourself with the program was progressing on into using the program that it might get less hectic, and take less time in preparations. But I never got past the hours upon hours of reading and putting it all together to run smoothly. (There is a phenomenon known at the "4-week fog" discussed over at the website.) Again, part of my problem is that I don’t have hours upon hours to sit at the computer putting it all together, or reading and learning it all myself to be able to teach it to my kids. I need something that they can do independently and I can easily review with them. Don’t get me wrong here, I do sit with my kids and learn with them a lot. But being gone from the home two days a week, I have limited time to actually sit and go through every little detail of what they are learning with them. One of my goals in homeschooling my children is to give them the skills to be independent learners. To know what to look up and where to look it up; to hunger for knowledge and be so inclined to feed themselves. My job is to help them figure out how to do so, and making sure they are getting adequate "nutrition". I enjoy learning right along beside them, but not learning it all myself then teaching it to them. That’s one of the public school methods were are trying to avoid here. As I study and read the TOG program, it looks like it certainly could work for independent study, but again, one would have to have the recommended resources available to begin with. The many pages of teacher’s notes just made me feel I must be familiar with all the facts and material myself, and that really just isn’t happening at my house. The way I know my kids are learning? They teach what they learned back to me.
Well, there’s lots more to talk about with TOG, but at this point I feel I’ve covered the basics. I’m certainly not discouraging anyone from trying out and using this fabulous program. I will admit my many hours spent coming back again and again were because I soooo wanted it to work. I like Tapestry, its ideas, its philosophy, and certainly the story behind why it exists. I just couldn’t fit our round peg into its square hole. That doesn’t mean it won’t work for you, though. If you have a multi-level household, enjoy history, have some extra time to devote to the education of your kids, and a fairly adequate budget to devote to your children’s education, then this might just be the program for you. Best case senario? Book yourself into a hotel for a weekend (yep, you’ll need a good 2-3 days of reading to even get started!!), take your laptop, and log on to Tapestry of Grace dot com. Even if you decide it’s not for you, I guarantee you’ll come away with some great encouragement and ideas.
Now, I guess I’d better go find my kids, it’s aweful quiet out there after spending all these hours at the computer….