Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review: Tapestry of Grace

For those of you who have been reading my reviews this year, you've probably noticed that I can be pretty detailed. I try to explain the product well, assuming my readers don't know much about the product, and then share how it worked in my personal homeschool. However, I'm going to do this review a bit differently. Because I could take pages describing this next product, I'm instead going to mostly direct you to descriptions and samples at the website and spend more time telling you how the product worked for me, what recommendations I have and how I see this product fitting in other homeschools.

What is it?

Up for review is Tapestry of Grace (TOG) by Lampstand Press, a literature-based curriculum that covers the humanities: history, church history, literature, geography, fine arts, government, philosophy and writing & composition. TOG is a Christian curriculum which follows a classical approach to education. To get a better feel for what this curriculum is about, you can read all about the philosophy, getting started, planning and support here.

Though I had some familiarity with TOG, I never had the opportunity to see it prior to this review. I was quite excited at the chance to check it out, especially since it had been mentioned as an alternative to programs I had used in the past.
I selected Year 1, Unit 4: In the Fullness of Time (the Roman World) for review. I also received the supplemental Evaluations CD.

TOG goes digital!

Because of the current economic conditions, TOG has made the decision to go digital with their product, DE (digital edition). I was curious how this would work given that this product is massive. One single unit, intended to be used for 9 weeks, is around 450 pages. Furthermore, TOG is using a third party software product called LockLizard, which prevents users from infringing upon copyrights. What Locklizard means to you is that this product can be viewed from only one computer and you cannot put it on a memory stick to take to your local copy shop to print. There is an option for copy shops to call in and get a temporary license to print for you. I can't speak for the ease of this since I used my personal printer.

Some of you may be wondering if it is necessary to print this product. While seasoned TOG users may be fine using just their computer screen and selectively printing, I would not recommend this for new users. In fact, I highly recommend if you are new to TOG that you plan to either be stocked up on print cartridges or purchase the print edition. At the very least, print a few weeks initially to get a feel for the curriculum. At that point, those who like typically like digital products might be able to get by without mass printing. Whether or not to print the DE seems to be an often asked question and the pros and cons have been addressed at the TOGblog here.

Purchase Options

The cost will vary depending on the product purchased. Four Units make up each year and can be purchased individually as a digital edition for $45. However, the whole Year package can be purchased for $170. Alternatively, you can get a print edition for $225 or get
both the print and DE in a combined package for $270. The supplemental Evaluations CD costs $15.

Be aware that
you may not resell any digital TOG product (even the DE printed version). However, the product is yours to use indefinitely throughout your homeschooling years. Should you switch computers or lose a hard drive, any past purchase can be downloaded from your account on the TOG site.

"Don't worry about a hurricane or hard drive crash! Your Digital Edition is safe no matter what happens to your home or computer. Each Tapestry of Grace Digital Edition is yours for life--including all upgrades to that Redesigned product. You can download the latest version at any time for no charge, or order any Digital Edition product you previously purchased on CD for $1 per disc plus a $4.00 shipping and handling charge. The new Lampstand Press Store records all your orders so that you can go back at any time to see what you bought and download it again for free."
Most TOG users consider the purchase cost to be an investment. The design of TOG is that each unit is to be cycled through multiple times by multiple students. Once you've purchased all four Years, you just need to buy the different book titles at each level.

Planning Stages

Lampstand Press warns new users of a 4-week fog when starting their product. I have to agree, with the exception that the digital product makes the fog more dense and longer to lift. I simply could not figure out the product on screen because there is so much information. I ended up printing a week at a time in its entirety, a mammoth 50 pages each, to get a grasp of the curriculum. Once printed, it took quite a bit of reading and page flipping before I even started to get an inkling of what to do.

My first stumbling block was that there is no daily schedule provided. Reading assignments are given by the week on a table that lists different assignments depending on the level of the student. There are no checklists, but there are recommended readings and a list of alternative titles if you either want to supplement or can't find a title.

There is also not an easily found book list, but lists are available at the TOG website in the area called the Bookshelf. In this part of the website, titles can be purchased but it is also designed to be easily printed to take to the library. You can find a book list for the Unit I reviewed here. Acquiring titles may be difficult, especially if you don't have a well-supplied library. I would recommend that you purchase any titles that are repeatedly used throughout the unit. Using a title you own on the same subject or using for reading material may also be an option.

I found that quite a bit of planning was required to get started, even after the fog started to lift. TOG is definitely not an open-and-go curriculum. There are support materials located at the portion of TOG's website called The Loom to help plan, including sample schedules and templates.

Getting Started

Once a basic plan was made and titles acquired, I recommend just jumping in and getting started. Starting with just one section and add as you go along will help get accustomed to the curriculum. The amount of information, which includes levels for K-12, can be intimidating. However, there really isn't a wrong way to use TOG. The learn-as-you-go with full understanding that users are to modify the program to their family is the best way to keep from getting overwhelmed.

There are some titles that are to be read aloud, but a fair amount of the curriculum is for students to read on their own throughout the week.
If your child doesn't like to read, this may not be the curriculum for you. Also integrated with the reading are hands-on activities, writing assignments and, mostly for the older students, discussion questions.

Start with the Primary Resource materials and add on from there. Select words from the Vocabulary section or historical figures from the People section. Games and art projects can be added for hands-on activities or time-lines developed. Once started, the curriculum will seem less overwhelming.

In Our Home

My first step was to download the product. Overall, the download of the Unit went smoothly. I had a glitch with printing, but found the technical support to be responsive.

My 9-year-old son, who would be considered in the Upper Grammar level, gave TOG a trial run for me. I was fortunate to have a couple of the suggested reading titles on my shelves. Through the library's inter-loan system, I found several more. However, not finding particular titles and having to wait for materials to come in was a little frustrating. Getting materials took much more planning than I anticipated. Someone a bit more organized could purchase important titles and create a better system for requesting library titles in advance. But, alas, organization is not my strong suit.

In the introduction materials for the teacher, it is recommended to create a schedule with your student at the beginning of the week, perhaps even having them set the daily schedule with the teacher-given weekly assignments. However, I didn't feel that my son was quite ready for self-management at this level. Instead, I gave him daily reading assignments from the selected titles and had discussion afterward on what he read. This worked better, but required further planning on my part.

For the younger set, hands-on activities, e.g. making a salt map or playing a related game, and leveled writing activities are provided. However, the real meat of the program seems to be for the older set through discussion using the Socratic method. In fact, it is advised that this curriculum is best suited for families whose oldest child is at least 5th grade. I have to concur, as it seemed much of the value was lost using it with just one Upper Grammar child, though there are some circumstances where this may be favorable as will be discussed.

I actually liked the Evaluations CD. Evaluations is provided for the parent that needs a bit more structure in the program
and as review for the student. Included are option tests, quizzes and other evaluations for each Unit.

Overall, the curriculum just didn't work well for our family. I liked most of the title suggestions and certainly felt there was plenty of substance. My son didn't mind the reading material. However, there were several factors working against this being successful in our home.

  • I am not a classical homeschooler, but rather eclectic and relaxed.

  • I'm not that organized. My fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants style wasn't well-suited for TOG.
  • I only have two students, one of which is not yet independent and needs quite a bit of overseeing.
  • Digital products, especially of this magnitude, are not something I embrace.
  • For our personal circumstances, I found this curriculum to be costly. I tend to focus more on the 3Rs and spending this amount on humanities did not fit within our budget. My small family and eclectic style did not justify the cost.

However, this is my home and not yours. TOG is a product many love and I can definitely see the attraction.

Who would like this product?

TOG has a distinct advantage over other curricula for a particular homeschooling family profile – large families using the classical method. Marie Somerville designed this curriculum strictly for this purpose, at a time when she personally needed it the most,

First of all, you really need to be a classical homeschooler to fully appreciate this curriculum. That isn't to say that those using another method won't get anything out of it, but someone not dedicated to this methodology may not get the full benefit of TOG. Also, each Year is intended to be used by the student four times throughout their school career, based on the trivium. It is meant to be revisited, each time at a new and deeper level. I view TOG as a curriculum on which you make the foundation of your homeschool journey, not something you inject and hope for the best.

Large families will get the most out of the TOG design. If you have students of all ages, K-12, TOG is an excellent way to pull the studies of all your students together with one curriculum. All of your students, regardless of level and age, can study the same time period and even work together on various projects. While I was overwhelmed with the planning for one student, I can certainly see where the pay off would come in if you had multiple students in your family working separately.

For families with gifted students, who tend to be asynchronous in abilities, TOG may provide a solution by offering various levels from which to choose within one curriculum. For example, a student who has a large discrepancy between reading comprehension and writing ability can easily be accommodated by selecting the higher level readings but lower level writing assignments.

Lastly, parents who like to plan and customize the curriculum for their students will appreciate the options of titles and the flexibility TOG provides. Those who are organized will do better with this curriculum.

Conclusion and Informational Links

Tapestry of Grace is a meaty, Christian, classical, literature-based curriculum that is sure to be just what some families need in their homeschool. Families that fall within any of the above categories who are interested in trying TOG will want to try it before they buy it and download the free 3-week sample. Another offer you'll want to take advantage of is a free Map of the Humanities download. There are also forums available to ask questions and get information. Browse the Tapestry of Grace website to find our more and see other products offered at the Lampstand Store. To see how Tapestry of Grace works for other homeschools, read more reviews at the official TOS Crew blog.


Jenn said...

Well said! I just finished my review and thought I'd browse others. It sounds like we had similar experiences, though we did use classical already. I'm glad I'm not the only one!

Linda L. said...

WOW...this is a fabulous & fantastic review! I am in awe of the detail that you put into this review!

Great job....
I linked to your blog from a post @ HSB on your latest Paws and Tales contest. I think her name is Sarah. I enjoyed reading through your blog and plan to add it to my Google Reader.

Diane Allen said...

I stumbled upon this and have to say it is probably the best review of this product I've ever read. You are honest and detailed enough so the reader can judge if TOG is a good fit for their family. I just love the way you write!