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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tapestry of Grace Review

Ironically, had I not become a reviewer for the TOS Crew, Tapestry of Grace was the curriculum I planned to use this year. But as I started trying to do math and reading on three different levels, entertain a preschooler, and then use and review new products, I realized this past fall was not the right time to start Tapestry. So I was THRILLED when it came up as a product to review this spring and literally begged to be included as reviewer! This review is kind of dual purpose, as we were asked to review Tapestry's new Digital Edition, so that warrants some mention beyond just the basic Tapestry curriculum and requires assessing the digital editions strengths and weaknesses too.
Tapestry of Grace was developed by a homeschooling family (the Somervilles) and Lampstand Press is the company they founded to publish it (although they now carry far more than just one product). Tapestry of Grace (TOG) is, in essence, a unit study approach to history, Bible, and the humanities like literature, writing, critical thinking, art, geography, and government. The curriculum strives to be historically accurate and Biblically oriented, so while the unit studies are organized chronologically through history, they are organized around the events of God's Word and His people. TOG is also considered a classical approach and as such the student levels are organized by stages, not ages. And the curriculum consists of four volumes of four units (or 9 weeks of lessons) each. The idea is that your student(s), if started in kindergarten, would visit each era of history 3 times during their schooling. As reviewers, we were given the choice of what unit we'd like to review, and since I had been planning to use Tapestry anyway, I chose Year One Unit One The Books of Moses.

TOG has many "pros" obviously, or I wouldn't have been wanting to use it as my curriculum! I love that all the kids in my house can study the same topic at the same time, and the teacher's materials show me what additional activities to do with the older children beyond or differently from what the younger ones do. For example, Year One Unit One starts in Egypt, and so all three "school aged" kids studied Egypt, but my oldest used a few resources is siblings didn't use. He also had some different activities, but to simplify things, I chose to just have them all do the same things. Tapestry is a VERY comprehensive program. And it can seem TOO comprehensive at first, as there are tons of activities and resources suggested, but one of the curriculum's "pros" is that the Somervilles repeat over and over that you should treat TOG as a buffet. Don't try to "eat" everything. Do more when you can, less when you can't. Skip things entirely if you want to. It's a very flexible curriculum that way. The assignments are organized weekly, so you can do as much or as little on any given day as you want. YOU are in control, not the curriculum. Another pro is that TOG encourages students to be responsible for their own education in that they are encouraged to be an integral part of everything from setting up their binders to choosing what assignments will be done and by when. There's encouragement for the teachers too in the form of extra material on "The Loom" (a supplemental resource included with the curriculum that contains tons of extras) and though online forums for TOG users. The biggest pro to me though is that this is a solidly Biblical curriculum that presents history in the order it happened, but based on the timeline of the Bible and the events that have happened since the canon was established. It really is woven together like a tapestry, with key ideas (threads) followed from one time or local to another so that you can see the continuity of God's plan through history. And from a Digital Edition perspective, the pro is that you own this FOR LIFE-Lampstand Press keeps track of what you have purchased and you have access to it forever. If your computer has a track record like mine, you know how important that is! And the best thing about the Digital Edition? If they update the curriculum, you get the update FREE. No more having the "older version" of the curriculum and wondering whether you should pay to buy the new one or not.
But I found some "cons" to TOG too. First, it seems universally hard to get started. It's such a common problem that the "tapestry fog" is an issue they address in your materials. I know I had a really good grasp on how to begin, and I still had a hard time getting going. Call it a "learning curve", but be prepared to spend a bit of time getting used to this curriculum. And depending on how good your library system is, you may have trouble finding the books they recommend, or getting your hands on them if anyone else in your area is doing Tapestry. That leaves you with three choices-buy all the books you will need, use something else in place of the books you can't get, or delay moving on until the books become available. Obviously the "something else" option is better, but sometimes the supplemental worksheets go specifically with a particular book.
I also had a really hard time with the Digital Edition. I guess I'm just a paper sort of gal, but while e-books may be fine, an e-curriculum for a visual teacher is a challenge. I had to print a lot of pages to "see" them and have them available to me even when my computer was not. That can get pricey, and frustrating. And because of the way the materials are organized, there is not always the ability to print the assignments specific to you student(s) levels, so you may find yourself printing things you don't even need. I suppose I would buy the digital addition and then either pay the extra for the print copy OR take it and have it printed. Finally, and this may be a big "con" to many homeschoolers, you can't resell the Digital Edition, so this investment is one you can't recoup part of later by reselling what you don't need anymore.
So what's the bottom line? I still like Tapestry. A lot. I like so much about it. I'm a total history buff, and this Biblical approach is the best of both worlds, but also a good way to make history meaningful and therefore memorable. I love unit studies. Love the idea of all my kids learning together. Love the chronological approach. BUT. I'm still struggling to get in the groove. I haven't "relaxed" into the curriculum yet, and find myself second guessing whether I'm doing enough, or doing it right. I imagine that goes away, but this curriculum seems to have a longer learning curve than others. On the flip side, TOG users are a devoted group. They LOVE their curriculum. But you also hear from people who just couldn't get into it, so I would say if you decide to try it, allow for the slow start. The best thing is that you can try 3 weeks of the curriculum for FREE HERE to get a feel for it, but know that that probably won't be long enough to really hit your stride.
TOG is available HERE. You can buy individual units digitally for $45 or in print for $60. Digital Editions of the entire year are available for $170. Print versions are $225. Additional resources such as Map Aides, tests, or lapbooks for each unit are also available. We tried the lapbooks, and I'd highly recommend them as a tangible way to capture the learning you glean from the many different sources you will refer to for information.
To read what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE. Many people chose different time periods, so be sure to check their reviews out!
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10 comments:

Lori said...

I loved reading your review of TOG. We're making the switch to TOG next year and your review tells me my expectations aren't off the map. I went with the print edition because I'm technologically impaired and didn't want to add unnecessary frustration to the process... I think I'll always be a paper girl.

It's good to be warned about the fog - I tend to stay in a fog so it'll feel normal to me!

Melissa said...

Thanks for this review! I'm trying to decide about next year - combining that with the info I got at the Finish Well meeting. I feel the need to get my ducks in a row regarding high school.

StephieK said...

Well, Amy, you know how I feel about TOG. I just love it so much, which is why we have used it since almost 7 years, minus the one we used Sonlight. I was wondering about the DE and what your thoughts would be. I too am a hands on person, so I need to see and feel. If we had enough people in the area using this it would be nice to have a co-op for the hands on stuff and lit review. Although, I am in the middle of YR 1 now, so we would all be in different places.

Smith Schoolhouse said...

thanks Amy! what a timely review! I will be checking into this. Although I can't imagine leaving MFW I think TOG might go better with the co-op I am considering. And it looks like If I got the 1st year then it would compliment what we are finishing which is Creation to Greeks so maybe we could hit the high points of the first year. I'll let you knwo what I decide.

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Mrs. David Hankins said...

Thanks for sharing! I've looked at samples of TOG but haven't bit the bullet due to the amount it would cost us. (Not only would we have to purchase the curriculum, we'd also have to buy almost all of the books since we live in a rural area with a very small library.) I ended up purchasing the History Revealed curriculum that Diana Waring has written (published by Answers in Genesis). I think it has a lot of the strengths of TOG (Gospel-saturated, chronological focus on God's redemptive work throughout all of history, multi-level (K-12), focuses on learning styles and stages rather than ages. History Revealed is a bit more relaxed than TOG which could be a pro or con, depending on the needs of a family. Anyway, have you looked at Diana's curriculum at all? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts and read your comparison. :)

Thanks again for sharing! :)

Mrs. David Hankins said...

Thanks for sharing! I've looked at samples of TOG but haven't bit the bullet due to the amount it would cost us. (Not only would we have to purchase the curriculum, we'd also have to buy almost all of the books since we live in a rural area with a very small library.) I ended up purchasing the History Revealed curriculum that Diana Waring has written (published by Answers in Genesis). I think it has a lot of the strengths of TOG (Gospel-saturated, chronological focus on God's redemptive work throughout all of history, multi-level (K-12), focuses on learning styles and stages rather than ages. History Revealed is a bit more relaxed than TOG which could be a pro or con, depending on the needs of a family. Anyway, have you looked at Diana's curriculum at all? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts and read your comparison. :)

Thanks again for sharing! :)