Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tapestry of Grace: A TOS Homeschool Crew Review

I have been curious about the classical approach to homeschooling. I know several homeschooling families who use a classical approach. (They do not have any children with developmental delays or special learning challenges, so I have no idea how to compare my situation to theirs.)



When Crew members were given a unit of Tapestry of Grace from Lampstand Press in the form of a digital edition to review, I got my opportunity to look at, feel, use, a curriculum from a classical approach.

I had not experienced a curriculum this broad, and did not know what to expect. I had assumed (incorrectly) that it would arrive with everything I would need to begin, right out of the box.

What is Tapestry of Grace? Lampstand Press offers a summary in “The Loom,” in the digital edition on-line:

“Tapestry of Grace is a humanities curriculum, written for four levels of stud in three major subjects: History, Fine Arts, and English (including Writing and Literature). It includes elective studies (at age-appropriate levels) in Geography, Church History, and the History of Philosophy, as well as an emphasis on the history of missions and a focus on unreached people groups. You could use t his curriculum for all subjects except Phonics, formal English Grammar (though recommendations for this are included in the Writing Component), Mathematics, Foreign Languages, traditional science studies (for h igh school, these include General Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics).”

The web site excerpt from “The Loom” continues:

“What is a curriculum? It is a plan of study. This is a curriculum, not a textbook. You will need to use many resources besides this plan in order to educate your child(ren), many of which are now available through our online bookstore, The Bookshelf. We hope this plan and our bookstore will make finding resources, planning your family’s school work, and teaching lessons easier than ever before. “

And this excerpt from the Tapestry of Grace web site elaborates:

“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.”

Crew members were given a choice of units and I chose to begin at the beginning, with Year 1 Unit 1, The Books of Moses. My daughter has an interest in Egypt, and I thought we might be able to build upon one of her interests.

Downloading the curriculum and LockLizard took a few minutes. Soon, I was looking at the files that make up Year 1 Unit 1, The Books of Moses.

It’s HUGE. Comprehensive. Detailed. I was overwhelmed by the amount of information available to me. I opened several windows and loaded different sections of Year 1 Unit 1 on my monitor and began toggling among them. Each “GI-normous” unit is only $45 (there are four units per year for four years).

I found yahoo groups that focus on Tapestry of Grace. The support from other families who love the program is phenomenal.

If I could go back in time and BE a homeschooled student, Tapestry of Grace is what is *I’d* like to study! I can imagine that this material is as exciting for the homeschooling parent as it is for the children!

Before I had a child diagnosed with autism and I imagined what homeschooling looked like, this type of program was what I imagined.

Take a look at the first three weeks of the very unit we have been using:
http://www.lampstandbookshelf.com/ZC/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=4


Whether you are seriously considering Tapestry of Grace or are mildly curious about it, I recommend that you spend some time with the three-week sample and “test drive” it for yourself. The three week trial will give you enough experience to know if it’s a fit for your family.

If you consider yourself a classical homeschooler, I think you might like Tapestry of Grace.

If you have at home a modern day one-room schoolhouse with students spanning ages and grades, I suspect you’ll appreciate Tapestry of Grace, because you will be able to teach all of your students with one curriculum, and effectively individualize to each student’s developmental and educational level. For a family homeschooling several children, Tapestry of Grace is both cost-and-time-effective.

If you have a child who, developmentally, is “all over the place”, with scattered skills, who is working at different levels in different subjects, you will appreciate Tapestry of Grace, because you get all of the levels for each unit in one purchase Tapestry of Grace appears to me to be easy to customize for an individual student with unique learning needs, as long as they are at least comprehending the world (humanities, history) at a lower grammar level.

If you are homeschooling an Aspie who loves facts, is driven by learning more and more about a subject, I suspect that you will like Tapestry of Grace. Tapestry of Grace provides a recommended weekly schedule, a routine, and individuals on the autism spectrum thrive on routine.

I really like the concept of traveling through the same material every four years, and each trip through the material is a new journey using the same curriculum as a framework with new books, activities and assignments for new levels.

Browsing the digital edition

The opening page offers users a “How to use Tapestry DE” button, an “About Tapestry of Grace” button, and a “Free Tapestry Samples” button. From this page, users may also enter the units they have purchased, and users may enter The Loom. The Loom is considered the framework of the Tapestry year plan.

In The Loom, I opened a document called, “Scheduling Advice by Dana Cawood”. Even though my daughter is “upper grammar” by age, her auditory processing challenges and developmental delays have us still building and shoring-up some pre-school foundations right now. There is not a pre-school section in Tapestry of Grace. So, I peeked at the section written for “lower grammar” students. I could see from the get-go that using Tapestry of Grace at this particular time in our homeschooling would be a lot of work for me as I modify for a 9 year old who is, in my opinion and that of our RDI® Program Certified Consultant, not ready for content delivery for the sake of content delivery and heavy-duty academics. The 9 am – noon block of time on the suggested schedule is crammed with too many items and activities for a child with learning challenges. I am trying to guard against my tendency to push my daughter into frustration mode. We’re deliberately trying to work on short lessons with long breaks, growing trust in me as a teacher, and giving her opportunities for her to experience being a learner. I saw more problems: The read alouds and memory work and recitation scheduled by Cawood are not developmentally appropriate for us. I knew I’d be doing a lot of modification (in terms of paring down) in order to get to know this resource with my daughter.

There are two schools of thought in terms of teaching a child on the autism spectrum. One is to try to support and compensate for weaknesses and push the strengths, and that perspective often has students studying heavily modified age-appropriate material with same age peers. Another is to avoid over-growing the strengths while remediating issues that are considered developmental delays or weaknesses, and that perspective encourages the use of developmentally appropriate materials.

One of the reasons I withdrew my daughter from public school was the emphasis that the public school staff placed on the belief that children with special learning needs should be doing as much age appropriate work with same-age peers as possible. I’m all for inclusion, but some learners are hindered when they are able to tackle age-appropriate materials that are not developmentally appropriate.

Developmentally, we are still working on the experiences that broaden a pre-reader’s self-to-text and text-to-self comparisons.

I know that I can teach my daughter facts. Memorization is skill for many individuals on the autism spectrum. But memorization of static facts in autism often turns into one-sided attempts at interaction and conversation that is a turn-off for the other party involved in that interaction. We are trying NOT to reinforce recitation of facts in place of conversation right now. My challenge in using Tapestry of Grace has been using it in a developmentally appropriate fashion and to guard against memorization for the sake of memorization.

Getting started

Tapestry of Grace took a lot of preparation in order to begin. I needed a lot of time to figure it all out. There’s no way I could have purchased this product in July and been ready to hit the ground running in August. If you’re going to use Tapestry of Grace, buy it at least a month before you plan to begin in order to give yourself the time you need to locate the recommended reading material.

The digital edition was bothersome to me. Magazines and articles in digital format are fine for me, now. I’m growing to like them. But this gigantic curriculum is too big for me to manage while I’m sitting at the computer monitor.

My daughter has several therapies and lessons during the week, where I sit and wait for her. I don’t have access to a laptop to use during those therapies. A hard copy would have been transportable for me to use during wait time. I could have chosen to print the digital edition, but I chose not to spend the money to print the curriculum in order to be able to carry it with me.

The materials are set up for a family with several students of different ages, and the set up would be really useful for a family like that. I’m homeschooling just one child, and I don’t want to see the other levels. If I’d had an option to print ONLY the lower grammar materials, I might have printed a hard copy, but I did not want to waste toner and paper on pages and pages that outline an entire lesson for first through twelfth grades.

I opened the book list in one window and my local library web site in another, and began searching for recommended books. My library and the bigger library system offered very few of the titles. I opened another window, accessing an even larger library system, to continue my search.

I managed to find five or six of the recommended books, and only one was available immediately. I put holds on the others and waited. One did not arrive for nearly eight weeks. By then, I’d had to return the other books, because I’d renewed them to the limit.

I finally drove to my home library and checked out all the books that I could find (not many) about Egypt for young children. None are on the recommended reading list, but that was the best I could do.

Dana Cawood has a trip to the library scheduled on Friday in the suggested schedule for the week, for getting books for next week’s lessons. Unless you have an incredible library, you are not going to be able to rely on it for having the books you need when you need them. You may need to consider purchasing the recommended reading.

The Verdict

My biggest problem about using the materials for writing a review is related to the situation that my daughter is still growing developmental foundations for much of what Tapestry of Grace offers. While I am pleased with the amount of materials the curriculum offers (it’s HUGE), I found that we did not use very much of it because most of the lower grammar levels were developmentally inappropriate at this time. We spent our time laying foundations, setting the stage to begin Tapestry of Grace, much like a family would do with a typically developing three or four year old who are using the program with older children in that one-room schoolhouse in a homeschool setting. YES, Tapestry of Grace is incredibly versatile, completely customizable, and yet, it was too much material for me to go through in order to plan for one child who is not quite ready for the first level (lower grammar). I used very little of the material compared to what is available in the unit, and the time I spent way too much time to read and consider what to use and what to set aside in our situation.

I wanted SO MUCH to be able to USE Tapestry of Grace. Despite the frustrations with the “gi-normous” digital edition and locating the recommended reading material, I see that it is a well-planned and beautiful program. We just happen to not be developmentally ready for this program at the moment. We WILL get there – and when the time is right, we have our digital edition waiting for us.

To read reviews about Tapestry of Grace, including other units, please click HERE.

1 comment:

TOSHeidi said...

Awesome review! I really appreciated reading this one.

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