Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Review: Lampstand Press/Tapestry of Grace

I'd first heard of Tapestry of Grace through the homeschool grapevine a few years ago. A few Kind Souls insisted I try it out, being that I'm such a fan of unit studies and all. They explained how the information was very thorough, enjoyable to teach, and really made a difference in their children's IQ's.

Now, you must understand that these Kind Souls had "perfect" homeschool children. (You know what I'm talking about.) Their children were super smart, as in "There's no way I'm ever watching Jeopardy with you!" smart.

Not wanting my kids to be total doofuses under-educated, I began to eyeball this product with a great deal of interest. However, I suffer from a severe lack of mental fortitude, therefore I never went beyond the "eyeballing" stage.

But as fate would have it, one of the products I've been given to review was none other than Year 2, Unit 2 of Tapestry of Grace, Digital Edition. (Yippee yahoo! Screw on your thinking caps, kids! Momma's gonna get you some learnin' done!)

Tapestry of Grace (TOG) "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."

Beginning chronologically with Creation and ending with Present Day, TOG provides a very thorough understanding of a specific time period through the following subjects: history, church history, geography, fine arts, government, philosophy, and writing & composition. The program does not cover grammar, phonics, spelling, math, science or foreign language, so you'll want separate materials for these subjects.

TOG follows the Classical model of education, so instead of lesson plans and assignments based on age/grade, they're organized under the following "stages":
  • Lower Grammar (approximately K-3rd grade)
  • Upper Grammar (approx. 3-6th grade)
  • Dialectic (approx. 6-9th grade)
  • Rhetoric (approx. 9-12th grade)

As I stated above, we received Tapestry of Grace's new Digital Edition (DE) for Year 2, Unit 2 which covers the Renaissance and Reformation.

There are 9 weeks in this Unit, and lesson plans are provided on a weekly schedule vs. the typical daily format. Each week begins with Threads, which is a fun way of saying "teaching objectives". (Get it? Threads? Tapestry?) Next comes Reading Assignments, Weekly Overview, Writing Assignments, Student Activity Pages (*Note: you will need to read over The Loom section in order to really get the most benefit from this section. More on that in a moment.), Pageant of Philosophy, Supplement (not all weeks contain this), Teacher's Notes, and finally Week at a Glance (which prepares you for the next week's lessons).

The Loom is probably my favorite part of the whole deal. This is where you'll find a general introduction to the program, as well as scheduling advice, blank assignment sheets (for use with older students), Summer Reading Program both for students and teachers (to prepare for using TOG in the fall), suggestions for high school credits, Answer Keys, Socratic Discussions (I just love how that sounds, don't you?) and more.

If you're new to Tapestry of Grace, I highly suggest you allow plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the program, lest you become frustrated and lost. I felt extremely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material at first. In fact, I felt tired just reading through the introduction! (Gulp!) However, I was able to successfully navigate my way around by "chewing" each bit of information slowly and giving it plenty of time to digest.

The benefits of the DE (digital edition) include instant download gratification, no clutter, content is automatically updated and "kept fresh", and network licenses are available for multiple computers in the same household (which is perfect for us!) at no additional charge.

Digital units are available individually and economically priced at only $45. Not bad, considering the material covers every grade level for nine weeks! You can also purchase all 4 units together for $170, or buy the nifty print/DE combo for $270.

You'll need to make a few trips to your local library or bookstore for the suggested reading materials. Most of the books are pretty easy to obtain, but there were a few that were either out-of-print or unavailable in my area. (Not sure why exactly, but this was also the case for a few others in the TOS Crew.)

Overall, I was very impressed with Tapestry of Grace. The content, activities, and assignments are amazing and varied--never dry, boring or frivolous. My son especially liked learning about castles and knights, as that's what his best friend's into, whereas my youngest simply wanted to know where the Princess was in said castle. I took great joy in introducing my oldest to the thrill of Shakespeare, but alas, her thrill-level wasn't as high. (Humph)

Finally, the activities pertaining to architecture, painting and color were especially enjoyable, considering we'd already touched briefly on Greek architecture with our "regular" curriculum.

Although I wouldn't necessarily suggest this program for a brand-new homeschooling family (due to the significant mind-boggle factor), I would suggest it for a more seasoned family looking for a change of pace. However, new homeschool families would get more out of it if they didn't start smack in the middle of the year, as I did for this review. Taking the time to go over all the Summer Reading Lists would be extremely beneficial in that case.

If you're considering TOG, you can check out sample pages available here. (Nothing says "love" like free samples!)

My children and I were very pleased with TOG and will gladly use it again in the future. The quality of both the program and suggested books are exceptional, and the download process itself was smooth and user-friendly. Once my right eye stopped twitching and my brain began grasping the beauty of Tapestry, it was smooth sailing from there on out.

Lampstand Press/Tapestry of Grace has earned 2 thumbs up! :o)

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