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Thursday, April 30, 2009

review of Tapestry of Grace: Colonial America unit study by Lampstand Press

Wow...where to begin? In the words of the company website, Tapestry of Grace (TOG) is an "award-winning multi-level, integrated, 4-year, classics-based Christian curriculum for the whole family. " Whew! What a unit study program this is, quite unlike any we've ever tried. I believe it is one of the most thorough, detailed studies we've used to date. We received a digital download version of year 2, unit 3, Colonial America, or as it's called in the study, "Of Crowns and Colonies".

It covers:
Early New World Colonies and Eastern Europe
Puritans in New England
Charters, Creeds, and the English Civil War
Restoration Colonies and the Age of Louis XIV
Dissenters in America and the Age of Reason
Colonists and Native Americans
Empires at Odds
Thirteen Established Colonies

It is a massive 500+ page study geared toward lasting 8 weeks.

(If you're not familiar with unit studies, I highly suggest that you learn about the basics of the unit study method before tackling such an in-depth curriculum. I love them-- highly recommend them--and see them as a significant blessing in our school day, but they are not for everyone. Perhaps someday I'll get on here to blog about them. For today, I must assume you have knowledge of this method of schooling and move on).

As with other unit study programs, all your children can be taught a few subjects together each day. In this case, all students, grades k-12, will be on the same subject matter in history, church history, literature, geography, fine arts, government, philosophy, and writing & composition, each on their own learning level. You will need to add in a phonics program, science, math, grammar, spelling, and foreign language, if needed. Teaching multiple ages together (as much as it is feasible) can be a huge time and sanity saver for mom.

As with other unit studies, you can repeat the lessons later on. This is called "cycling though" and is very popular among unit study users. You simply use the lessons now, doing what your children are able, and then repeat the entire course/volume in few years when your children are on a higher grade level. Don't fret about children being bored during a repeated course; public schooling is all about repetition. Children learn well through repetition. Besides, when they repeat the course there will be new literature assignments and new, harder projects to tackle.
Cycling through a unit study is also a frugal use of homeschooling dollars. You buy the study and use it over and over again.
Here is an excerpt from a Tapestry of Grace (TOG) flyer explaining how cycling works:

"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."

The teacher's portion/guide is very detailed. I found that I needed to read it, then put it aside for a bit, only to reread it multiple times later on to really grasp all that it covered. This unit study will not let the parent down as far as guiding you and giving you information. Keep in mind that, TOG, is mostly a teacher's guide with loads of detailed notes. You will need additional books/items to use TOG. It is not an "open and go" curriculum; it will take a few days of planning.

Visiting the TOG website for resources is a MUST. I found their website to be a wonderful help in organizing our study. You'll certainly want to visit the entire website, especially an area called The Loom. I would suggest you do not plunge head-long into TOG without reading on your own first, or you may find yourself confused. The writers have worked very hard to keep this study easy for parents but if you do not use the website resources, you may end up in unnecessary frustration.

Again, as taken from the website:

  • "The Loom is a crucial Internet & CD resource that serves as a framework for its year-plan. On the Loom, you’ll find...

  • Summer reading list: assignments for students to complete before starting the first unit of each year-plan

  • An important Year-Plan Introduction, with in-depth information about our philosophy of education and many useful tips for getting started with your new curriculum

  • Digital copies of all the Student Activity Pages (which are also in your year-plan), so that you can print out work pages, instructions, or student questions as many times as they are needed week to week or year to year

  • Digital copies of all Supplements: print and use as needed, or access digitally

  • Digital resources to provide important helps for teaching rhetoric-level Literature

  • Extra hands-on activity helps for some projects

  • Writing Level Overview: a helpful tool for placing your students in the proper writing level at the start of the year

  • Detailed information for figuring out how to give high school credits for Tapestry work, or write a transcript

  • The Book Updates Index, which offers information on replacement books in case the ones listed in your curriculum become unavailable, as well as updated reading assignment charts. "

Again I advise: DO NOT SKIP OVER THE LOOM. It is your best friend when using TOG. :)

TOG will largely appeal to many learning styles. From your wiggly child who needs hands-on projects to your auditory learner who enjoys read-aloud and discussion, TOG covers it. That's yet another appeal of unit studies for many families.

What does it cost?

Individual digital units from any year of the plan run about $45.

An entire digital year will cost $170. Keep in mind that this will be used by all family members from k-12 and can be used again and again, making it fairly expensive in the beginning, but very cost-effective over time.

The best buy seems to be the bundle. For $250, you get one full Year-Plan including the Loom and all four units plus Map Aids plus the Option: your choice of Writing Aids, a full year of Pop Quizzes, a full year of lapbook kits, or every level of Evaluations and
the Bonus: your choice of a Unit 1 Pop Quiz, Unit 1 Lapbook Kit, or Unit 1 of Evaluations.

*Please note that the digital edition is not for resale. This is an important factor for me to consider before purchasing any curriculum, in case it is not a good fit for my family.

How did it work for our homeschool: This is tough one. As I mentioned before, we use unit studies. In fact, for over 9 years or so, unit studies have been our core. I have used mini units by Amanda Bennett and Jennifer Steward, FIAR, A World of Adventure, tried a KONOS sample, made my own units, will have a high-schooler using Blessed is the Man this upcoming fall, you name it. So I really thought I could just dive in and begin this study. But there was so much information I often felt overwhelmed. I am still not 100% sure I have grasped all that this study has to offer. I am not too familiar with the classical method of study either, and TOG is very classical in nature. It does take a few days, maybe even weeks, to look it over and gather your supplies.

I really didn't like reading the digital edition, yet to print all the pages would've cost me a fortune in ink. So early on, I read what I could on screen and printed only what I really needed. Due to my home business, homeschool group events, blogging, and emails, I am already on the computer too much. I really think I would have preferred TOG in print form. Even taking the time to sit at the computer and pick through the information to decide what I need to print overwhelmed me.

When you open a unit, you'll see a nicely laid out PDF screen with direct access to teacher's information, scheduling, and even the student activity pages. I did like the list of projects and additional reading for each grade. It was easy to glance at the grid and see what I wanted to try to do for the study. Those pages have nice little check boxes included, so you can check off what you have accomplished. I like checklists to keep me on track.
**One note to mention was after I picked out the books I wanted to use to supplement our study, my local library didn't have too many of them. We settled for reading the books and completing the worksheets on The Courage of Sarah Noble and one of my old favorites, The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Although for general learning I am sure you could substitute other books on the same subject matter, to complete the student sheets you'll need the books listed.

The projects are well-rounded and balanced with the other aspects of the study. Unit studies are notorious for being heavy-laden with almost nothing but hands-on projects. With Tapestry there is a balance. The activities are fairly easy to carry out, for example, making a travel brochure or drawing a picture of Pocahontas. Its nice to give the children a break from reading to complete a project.

Overall, I like the idea of TOG. I think it would be very cost-effective given time. I feel it is adequate and thorough. However, I would like to see a print version and be able to compare the two.

Check out what other TOS Crew members are saying at http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/HomeschoolCrew


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