Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tapestry of Grace

Note:  I received one free digital unit of Tapestry of Grace to facilitate this review.

Before we started our homeschooling adventure a couple of years ago, one of the many many (many!) books I read was Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Trained Mind, and I think it was this book that planted into my head the beautiful idea of organizing our studies around history with all the children studying the same period at the same time. All of our other studies (science, literature, geography, art, etc.) would be based on our history studies as well, with plenty of hands-on activities to keep little hands busy. It's a beautiful idea, and the kiddos love this approach, but boy can it be a lot of work. Beginning with researching living history books that are age appropriate, writing out an outline of relevant geography and finding the appropriate maps and resources, deciding on science topics that mesh with the core studies...and tracking down resources, resources, resources. Books, websites, lapbooks, pictures for art studies, etc. and the list goes on and on. While I love putting things together and my kids loved the studies, I just about drove myself nuts putting it all together.

So, when the TOS Homeschool Crew got the opportunity to review Tapestry of Grace's new Digital Edition, I was thrilled at the opportunity! Tapestry of Grace is a history-based unit study designed around the classical trivium...it'll keep all your children on the same page in history. All of history is covered in a 4-year-cycle with appropriate reading assignments, writing assignments, activities and discussion topics for each of stage of development (lower and upper grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric). As I read about the philosophy behind Tapestry, it seemed to mesh with what I had been trying to do all along, and I became more and more eager to try it out for myself.

I'm not going to try to reinvent the wheel by explaining Tapestry completely here, as a lot of time and effort has been put into their website to explain their philosophy and how it works. You can Explore Tapestry of Grace to find out more. I'll concentrate on giving an overview and how the program worked for our family.

Crew members were given a choice of which unit they would like to receive. There are 4 years and each year is divided into 4 units. I chose Year 2, Unit 2, which covers the Renaissance and Reformation. I also received the accompanying lapbook download (sold separately).

The Digital Edition (DE) version of Tapestry is delivered in a reader called Locklizard and this program is part of the large download to your computer. Locklizard is a secure reader that will only allow licensed computers to open Tapestry. Your purchase entitles you to multiple licenses to use on multiple personal computers (for instance, if you want to install the curriculum on your desktop and your laptop), but the license is non-transferable. It cannot be sold or loaned to anyone.

Downloading and installing Locklizard to both our HP desktop and our Acer Aspire One (both running Windows XP) went without a hitch. After installing, you will find a shortcut on your desktop which will open Tapestry's menu in your browser. You can access each week of your unit from the menu, or you can go to your "Program Files" and open the files directly. The Tapestry files will open in Locklizard. It takes a moment, because the program needs to verify the license for each file that you open and you can only open up to 3 files in Locklizard at a time.

Each week is over 50 pages long and with each unit being approximately 9 weeks long, you're talking about 500 pages per unit. There's quite a lot there. Each unit begins with an introduction, giving you a general overview of the period that will be covered. For each week you'll find:
  • the week's objectives (the "Threads")
  • a chart with the reading assignments for all different levels
  • the week's overview---a checklist for the different topics, including people and places, to be covered
  • writing assignments by level
  • student activities, including worksheets for literature assignments, fine arts, and geography for all levels, and history, church history, government, background info, thinking and accountability questions (for the dialectic and rhetoric levels)
  • teacher's notes, including background information (mainly excerpted from World Book), answers to any worksheets, and extensive notes for leading discussions with dialectic and rhetoric level students
  • "Glance into Next Week, an overview of the next week's studies, including warnings on things to look out for (inappropriate language, immorality, etc.) in literature readings.
  • extras (varies by the week)
A couple of things you will not find in the unit:
  • a book list giving the specific weeks a book is used during the unit
  • everything in one spot---in addition to the unit itself, your download will also contain "The Loom" which contains your introduction to Tapestry and various resources, but you will also want to check out "The Loom" on-line which is different and contains many additional resources, including links to numerous websites to supplement your studies.
Since my oldest kiddo is 9-years-old and a strong reader, I decided to use a mix of the lower and upper grammar books and assignments. The books used in Tapestry seem, for the most part to be good, solid selections, with primary resource material being used for the upper levels and children's versions being used for the grammar levels. Tapestry of Grace is written from a Protestant perspective, so expect to preview any books if you are coming from a different faith tradition. As a Roman Catholic, while I did not find anything outright offensive to the faith presented either in Tapestry's materials or in any of the books we read (keeping in mind we were using the lower and upper grammar materials), I was a little amused by one of the "warnings" given concerning the book I, Juan de Pareja: Juan, who is slave in Catholic Italy during the Renaissance, at one point in the book prays to the Virgin Mary. Don't get me wrong, I can see why this would a concern for many Christians, my amusement was more in the fact that this is something I would expect to encounter in the book given that the characters are all Catholics.

Which brings me to the big question: How did Tapestry work for our family?

I had a lot of difficulty locating the books listed for the lower and upper grammar levels either in our library or through interlibrary loan. In the end, I was only able to find a handful of the "primary resources" (books considered necessary to the study) and the "alternate or supplemental resources" combined. If I wanted to use the book list as written, I would need to purchase a whole bunch of books, not something I was able to do for the purposes of this review, but something I might consider if using Tapestry as my full curriculum. But buying all the books, even just the primary resources, would run to a lot of money, especially when you consider that you will still need to buy your math, science, and grammar from other sources. Art and literature are included in Tapestry, but only insofar as the books to buy and use are listed and assignments are given. The study itself is mainly focused on social studies (history, geography, government, and church history) and literature, and that is what the background material and teacher's notes focus on.

Since I was not able to get most of the books without buying them, I made a number of substitutions from books I already owned (we were planning to study the Renaissance, anyway) and books I found at my local library. Something else to note about this curriculum: you cannot possibly do it all in one year. In fact, some families will take 2 weeks for each "week" of material, or even spread out a single unit over an entire year. The idea is that you choose what to cover this time around and, after going through the 4-year cycle a few times, you'll eventually touch all the bases. For example, one week had us studying both Michelangelo and da Vinci at the same time. While we read a little about Michelangelo, I chose to focus on da Vinci and do a more in-depth study using several resources I had on hand, figuring that we would cover Michelangelo more in-depth at some point in the future. Of course, you'll want to keep careful notes of what you did and did not cover to refer back to in later years.

Not using the books given in the list did not have a detrimental effect on our studies, but it did have an impact on the usefulness of Tapestry for us. Since the majority of the teacher's notes are focused on information for teaching dialectic and rhetoric level students, I really ended up using the study just as a loose outline of what to cover. The background material from World Book, while helpful, was not really necessary either, since most of our history reading at this age is done aloud---I had no problem with keeping up my children's studies and the background material was above their level of understanding, anyway. To be honest, I was a little disappointed that so much of the background material was directly excerpted from an encyclopedia, but I suppose it's important to use an "authority" for your facts.

I think that the value of this program is greatly reduced if you don't have children at different levels in the curriculum. In our particular situation, I found that it really didn't save me any time or trouble. I spent a tremendous amount of time finding different books to use that would accomplish the same goals (a list of different possibilities for books that are not available would be helpful, here), compiling my own list of which weeks each resource was used so I could determine when to request things through interlibrary loan, reading the Tapestry materials in order to understand the program, printing reading lists, etc. It was simply too much work, but I think value would be gained if my children were older.

Another thing I found is that using Tapestry involves a tremendous amount of reading...the emphasis, even for young children, is on books. There are suggestions for hands-on activities, but I still found that I had to add a lot of my own in order to keep my children's interest. The lapbook download we received for review was about average in terms of artwork and content, as far as pre-designed lapbooks go. Basically, black and white templates for mini-books covering topics for each and every week of the unit. Lots and lots of writing as everything needs to be filled in by hand (no type-in capabilites or answers to cut-out and paste in---these would be nice options). Really a little too much for younger children.

As for the Digital Edition of Tapestry: This is such a huge curriculum, it's very difficult to navigate in a digital form without printing some of it (I printed just the reading assignments, "Threads," and activities for the grammar levels). It might be impossible to use at all unless you have it on a laptop or take copious notes off your desktop (watch out for eyestrain). The LockLizard reader is not as user friendly as it could be. A reader that has highlighting capabilities or some other way to make notes would be an improvement. One of the advantages of using a digital media is to make it interactive...not so, here. There are no clickable links within the documents, either taking you to other parts of the document for reference or to a website or anything...this is essentially a regular book that you read on your computer. I understand that there are future plans for making Tapestry more interactive, but at this point they are concentrating on updating the curriculum and transferring it to a digital format. Perhaps we will see some changes in future updates.

LockLizard also caused me some printer problems. I kept me from being able to use the duplexing function with my HP LaserJet 1022. While it is possible to manual duplex (print the odds then flip and print the evens), I found that just trying to print double-sided from LockLizard somehow corrupted my printer drivers so that I was unable to duplex, booklet print or even print multiple copies from ANY program. Tech support was puzzled, as re-installing the drivers did not solve the problem. In the end, I had to completely un-install the print drivers, disconnect the printer, reboot and re-install to return my printer to normal functioning. Since this is a problem with the reader and not Tapestry, their hands are tied when it comes to fixing it. Since it is now a known issue, let's hope the makers of LockLizard come up with a patch.

If you have children at multiple ages and you are tired of coming up with different lesson plans, Tapestry is worth a look. I would highly recommend trying out their sample weeks (Go to Egypt or Sail to the New World) to get a true feel for the curriculum and see how you like the digital format.

Tapestry of Grace DE is available by the year and by the unit. Cost is $170/year or $45/unit. The Lapbook templates are $75/year or $20/unit. Concerned about using the Digital Edition? There are limited quantities available in print of Years 1, 2, and 3 for $225/year or $60/unit (Year 4 is only available in the Digital Edition at this time). Or have your digital and hold it too, get a one-year DE/print bundle for $295.  (Prices current at the time this review was written)

Disclosure: I received this product free of charge for review purposes. I received no other compensation.

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2 comments:

  1. Thank you. This review was very helpful to me!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have a lot of admiration for those who home school. It takes a lot of effort. It sounds as if this product can be helpful. Cheers, Marian

    ReplyDelete

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