TOS Crew Review: Tapestry of Grace

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This year with the TOS Crew has been such an interesting one!  I’ve been able to review some great products and some not-so-great products.  It’s really been a blessing, and I’m sad to see the nine months come to an end.  There are about 5 products left for me to review and then on to summer!

Tapestry of Grace is a program I was looking forward to receiving.  I was so excited when we were asked to choose which year and unit we’d most like to review, and chose Year 3 Unit 3 because we have been working on American History this year through Classical Conversations and Sonlight.  I wasn’t able to set everything aside and plunge in completely because of all the things we were ALREADY needing to finish up this year, but have spent many, many, MANY hours poring over this curriculum sample.

If you’re not familiar with Tapestry of Grace . . .  where have you been?  Just kidding!    Seriously, though, they’ve been around since 1998.  Marcia Somerville, a homeschooling mom with many kids, designed Tapestry after finding herself overwhelmed and ready to quit while trying to juggle multiple curriculums over many grades.  In words from their website:

Tapestry of Grace is a homeschool curriculum: a plan of study that helps parents provide a Christian, classical education using a guided unit study approach, with the history of the world as the core organizational theme. From Grades K–12, all students cycle through world history every four years, with all ages studying the same slice of history each week, each at their own learning level. Detailed lesson plans and discussion outlines enable parents to be their children’s primary teachers and mentors and shape their students’ biblical worldviews.

Tapestry covers the humanities: history, 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.

I love this idea!  Tapestry is a program designed to help parents with many children teach them in a cohesive manner–to let your family work together on the same subjects at the same time, each child at their own level.  That’s a marvellous idea.  They use a unit study approach, which takes learning beyond seat-and-textbook work into the realm of hands-on, whole book reading, stick with a topic for a set period of time type learning.  Another marvellous idea.  They’re classically minded and organized–many great books are included, and one of the major "threads" of Tapestry for older, dialectic level students is philosphy.  Wonderful.  Christianity is a central theme and organizing, unifying concept over the entire curriculum.  Fabulous!  I love this idea!

So why does this curriculum make me cry?

I’m not even kidding you.  For the past four years, I promise, every spring when the birds and bees start thinking about  . . . birds and bees, and homeschool moms start dreaming of next year’s NEW curriculum (because we are sick of what we’ve been doing, I tell you!  ) I start looking through all my magazines, and the advertisements flooding my inbox, and (Lord forbid!) sometimes even homeschool convention vendor halls (tread with care!) and I see Tapestry of Grace.  And my heart leaps.  I start having visions of all of us sitting around the living room, drinking tea, describing what we’ve all learned about the landforms of China and labeling our maps, reading something about Hudson Taylor, and then dismissing the little ones to go quietly read some poetry in their rooms while the eldest continue on in the livingroom with me discussing Kirkegaard . . . and I am drawn to the table/article/email like a moth to a flame.  I start reading about how it’s all for large families, and how you can choose whatever books you like best from their pages, and what great books they suggest and how smart all my children will be if we study all this in such an organized manner.  That’s it.  I’ve been bit. 

Then I go to the website.  I download the sample teacher pages, and they are nine million pages long.  And I watch them coming out of my printer . . . and they keep coming . . . and coming . . . and coming . . .

and that’s when I start to cry.

Ahem.

I’m back now.  Okay, so I was so thrilled to receive an actual nine-week sample of Tapestry.  Finally, I’d get to see if I could really do it.  Perhaps having it all in hand would make it seem simpler and more do-able.  I printed out the notes for the first week; introductory notes, reading lists, cheat notes for the mom, student worksheets for the kids.  And one week was 64 pages long.  64 pages.  For one week of study.

Let me give you a taste so you’ll understand a bit of what I’m talking about.  (And just so you know, I was a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist and did pretty well on my ACTs . . . I’m pretty sure this isn’t an intelligence issue on my part!   )

First of all, every Unit (there are 4 units to a year, so you can order a quarter’s worth of work at a time) starts with Introductory Notes which let you know what you’re going to be studying and how it relates to what you’ve been studying.  The notes are wonderful; there’s a lot to be learned for Mom just on those few pages!  There’s a brief overview of what you’ll cover each week, and suggestions for an end-of-quarter celebration–another of those great ideas I was telling you about.  How much fun would it be to have a group of people get together who were all studying Tapestry and host a Midieval dinner, or your own Olympics, or something?  Great stuff!

Next come the actual teacher’s notes.  First come "Threads," notes telling you the basic themes in each area for the week.  Then there are the Reading Assignment pages, which give you suggestions for History, Literature, Art, Worldview and Enrichment for all 4 potential age-levels (lower grammar, upper grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric.) This week, there are a total of 54 possible books suggested.  Now, I realize some of these will be used again on other weeks.  But even if that were half of them, it’s still an awful lot of books!  And while Tapestry now has a very helpful thing called the Bookshelf where you can order books corresponding to the grades and year plan you’re using, it’s obviously not every book they’ve suggested–too cost and time prohibitive.  So each week you’d need to look over the lists and head to the library, or else you’d have to do it nine weeks at a time, or something. 

Lower grammar is Grades 1-3, basically.  The spelling/vocab list for this week includes nationality, kimono, and origami.  I’m not sure about your kids, but mine would be a bit over their heads with those words.  The older students add 8 events to their timeline (timelines–another great idea!) and everyone is encouraged to go out to eat at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant as well as make a Chinese lantern and try thier hand at origami (fun!)  They can draw a picture of a Japanese flag and look at pictures of jade.  Trying calligraphy is another suggested activity.  Now, that stuff I love.  Many, many curricula don’t include this type of "fun" stuff, which to me is what makes everything else stick.  I love this part of Tapestry.

Writing is another big "thing" with this program, which I appreciate as I know it’s an area we as homeschoolers tend to be weak on.  Suggestions are made for each grade individually (there’s much overlap) and they’re great. 

The Student Workpages are another thing that I think is great about this program, especially the ones for younger students (the older kids’ questions were extremely extensive, in my opinion.)  I like the idea that there’s somewhere to write down what they’ve learned–another thing more literature-based curricula tend to be missing.  I love the fact that there’s so much great reading in this program; I really do.  And having Philosophy taught alongside everything else is a wonderful idea.  Students need to have worldview topics really *taught* to them–it’s no good to shelter them forever and never give them a chance to really interact with other, oppositional views to Christianity.  They need a chance to find out what other people believe and why, so they can test their own convictions–and best to do it with mom as their guide.  Kudos to Tapestry for including this in the curriculum.

The teacher’s cheat notes have made me feel smarter already.  Seriously, when my kids are older and I have more time, I think I’ll buy all of Tapestry and read through all the Rhetoric Level reading suggestions and notes for myself.  Great stuff!  Moms are encouraged to have "Socratic discussions" with their older students weekly, and given the cheat sheets so you don’t have to actually read every page of your student’s reading assignments.  Good thing.  This week they read Whitman and Emily Dickinson and about Hudson Taylor and of course, Kirkegaard.  Heavy stuff.  Fantastic notes.  All the answers for the student worksheets are here, too.

I was also blessed with the lapbook templates for this unit.  I love lapbooks!  They’re very well-designed and a great way for the kids to have a concrete demonstration of what they’ve learned–it’s one more place to see that name and write something about that person, to define that vocabulary word, or to color another map and get those memories in there.  Fun to show grandparents what you’re learning, too! 

This is one well-thought-out, well- planned curriculum.  I can’t imagine there’d be anything you’d possibly miss if you followed it, and I know the kids would be getting a wonderful education.

If only I could see through the Kleenex.  I think my problem is that I so *want* to love this curriculum because it fits all my philosophies.  But like so many other things in my life, the reality when all printed out is just flat-out way beyond anything I could actually do.

You really have to take a look for yourself.  You can catch Tapestry at http://www.tapestryofgrace.com/index.php

There are four years of curriculum available, along with Writing Aids, Map Aids, and the Loom, where you can find all sorts of great helps for using Tapestry.  There’s also a community of people who chat about what they’re doing in homeschool, life and with this curriculum available at the website.  Each Tapestry Unit costs only $45, or you can get one year’s worth of guides for $170.  I think that’s a great price for the amazing bulk of information involved.  The Units are downloadable in an e-format which can be very convenient as you can print out what you want when you want it, and for a limited time you can still purchase a print copy for $225 if you like to have something in-hand and don’t want to do the printing yourself. 

I hope you’ll take a look!

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One Response to TOS Crew Review: Tapestry of Grace

  1. Shawne says:

    You summed up exactly how I feel about this curriculum. I've purchased and sold it several times over the years. I even went as far as travelling to Alabama for one of Marcia's "how to TOG" seminars. Nothing helped – I always ended up in the kleenex box too.

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