Homeschooling in Hard Times: Money and Books

One of the realities that anyone considering a rich, whole-book program like Tapestry will quickly encounter is the cost of buying the books that our kids read. The price tag for the number of books called for on four levels for Tapestry studies as written can daunt the newcomer. However, as with most things, perspective helps! That’s what this three-part post on money and books is written to do.

For many of us, we’ve developed a habit of having things new, with just the right fit, and often right when we wanted them. We can thus assume that, if we can’t get what we want right up front, it’s not worth investing. In hard times, of course, our perspective changes. We realize that used things are just as functional as new, and that we can make things do, or do without. When it comes to not buying every book recommended on the Tapestry book lists, though, you’re not necessarily shorting your kids. This post will explain the history and features of Tapestry that mitigate initial sticker shock. Part II will give practical tips on how to apply this historical perspective and Redesigned Tapestry features to your homeschooling journey!

Redesigned Tapestry of Grace as it exists today is, to use an analogy, the Cadillac for many of us making the homeschooling journey. At least, that’s a widely held perception. Why? You ride in style! It has all the bells and whistles, everything someone could want or need for a comfortable, safe, and convenient trip, and with a price tag to match. However, Tapestry did not start that way. And, because of how Tapestry has developed, built into its structure are some real and simple options for homeschoolers in hard financial times that convert Tapestry from a Cadillac to a solid, reliable Ford van that is well in reach, and will go the distance!

When we first wrote Tapestry (the version we now call “Classic”), we suggested books that could easily be shared by students on congruent learning levels. We also listed more than enough different resources for each week. Some were in print, and some weren’t. We relied on the discernment and energies of homeschooling moms to pick and choose from among these resources. Our starting thought was that moms of older children (or large families) would most commonly use Tapestry, and that such moms would naturally be experienced enough (and budget conscious enough) to pick and choose the right resources for their unique children. We felt sure they would be thrilled by the recommendation to share many books between kids on close learning levels.

Surprisingly, the feedback that we received five and six years ago (when most of the country was still doing quite well economically) led us in new directions after Classic Tapestry began to be widely used. Here were the unexpected developments:

  • First, many Tapestry moms were new homeschoolers, with very young children, who were attracted to our approach and our quality. These younger moms wanted to start right, and use a curriculum that would carry them throughout their homeschooling years. While they appreciated the hand holding of our Teacher’s Notes, they asked, “Could we have a bit more direction and clarity with the book lists?” It seemed that picking from a purposefully over-abundant list of resources that might or might not be in print bewildered newer moms of younger kids. We could understand! We’d been there ourselves!
  • Second, it surprised us when both seasoned and newer moms asked that we offer distinct titles for each learning level. They said that, when cycling back to a year-plan, their kids remembered a book they’d read four years early, and balked at re-reading the same book. Even though we believed (and shared) that a student who was four years older was going to profit from a re-read at a more mature level, still we got the plea for a list that offered moms a plan for having four distinct books per level per week.
  • Finally, Tapestry moms asked that our discussion questions offered for dialectic and rhetoric learning levels be both more specific (or, put another way, less open-ended) and more definitely answered for students by the reading assignments we offered. In Classic Tapestry, we offered longer lists of books and more open-ended, general questions. Some books did not speak directly to those questions, and some moms and kids were frustrated by not seeing direct answers to discussion-priming questions. We had looked on our questions more as “conversation starters.” Newcomers (many of whom were often more familiar with textbook approaches than whole-book learning) were confused and giving up on the whole program because of this feature. We did not want to compromise the learning approach by providing “answer keys” that facilitated “ping-pong discussions.” “What to do to aid busy moms and stay true to our approach using whole books and Socratic discussions?” we asked ourselves.

As we came to produce Redesigned Tapestry of Grace, we addressed these three obstacles by means that are often not clearly apparent to Tapestry buyers. Let me detail them briefly, and then show you how they directly relate to buying books in hard times.Our new approaches were these:

  • We simplified and streamlined our recommended reading assignments by splitting our book lists into two distinct parts: the Primary Books (always on page 4 of each week-plan) and the Alternate Books (always listed on page 5).
  • If a mom does not want (or know how) to pick and choose books, the Primary Books on page 4 offer significant hand holding for newer moms, especially if they had younger children. It was these newer moms who most needed our help on this one: they needed a simple list that said to them, “Do this weekly, and all will be well.”
  • At the same time, seasoned moms wanted flexibility and options, as well as the ability to satisfy voracious readers in their homes. We gave them all these things via our page 5 Alternate Book list. We reasoned that, if experienced moms want to rearrange our suggestions (or add to them) they can easily now do so.
  • While the Primary Books are always in print (or replaced with new recommendations as they go out, via our Book Updates Chart), many of the Alternate Books are out of print (OOP). This provides opportunities: older books are often more readily available in libraries and used book stores, or present on seasoned homeschoolers’ shelves from pre-Tapestry years. While it’s important to understand that these books will not necessarily have all of the answers to our more-specific discussion-priming questions, they still provide a solid platform for learning history in depth each week. (We’ll return to this later!)
  • The second request–for four distinct books on each history topic each week so that repetition would not be necessary–was fulfilled in Redesigned Tapestry by the Primary Book list as well. On page 4, you find weekly four distinct sets of reading assignments. However, not all families want to spend money on distinct books.
  • They reason that the same children who watch movies over and over can benefit from a re-read of a book four years later. As a matter of fact, they feel that the combination of repetition of the familiar coupled with an older student’s  greater maturity level gives new depths of understanding about history.
  • Or, some moms are simply looking to save money by combining learning levels on books, and again, the goal of distinct book lists is secondary to the budget.
  • For such families, beyond the Alternate Books listed on page 5, we offer a regular notice in the Glance Ahead. Found at the end of each Redesigned Tapestry week-plan, the Glance chart gives moms a heads-up for the week upcoming. Here, we give warnings to moms about either elevated work loads, pages in recommended readings that might contain sensitive or difficult material for some families, and also suggestions for combining learning levels to use fewer books. This is a money-saving suggestion for many families!
  • The third request–about making our questions more specific and making sure that students could find answers to these questions–was also answered by the page 4 Primary Book lists.
    • By narrowing down the list, we were enabled to say, “If you want to be sure that the answers are there for students to find, you can assign these books and only these books.” Some students aren’t used to extrapolating answers to our questions (which are not word for word questions or answers, but often require reasoning or summary skills of the student in order to be answered) but the information is almost always there. We have expended much time and many dollars to make it so, though occasionally, we do find that human error has crept in.
    • Using Alternate Books is usually a simple exchange for grammar learning levels. There are no questions to be answered for these students. Rather, they can simply inhale facts and information, and it is not at all necessary to purchase the page 4 books in order to accomplish the week’s objective: teaching what happened.
    • However, using Alternate Books for dialectic or rhetoric books means that answers may or may not be present! There is then a trade off: you weigh the possibility that answers to some student questions may not be present against the budget constraints. The good news is that we provide free, Internet links for each of our year-plans. These are chock full of useful and interesting information that students can use to hone their Internet research skills and thus arrive at answers that may be left out of books listed on page 5.

What does this history lesson about Tapestry mean to you? Well, understanding how we got to the current organizational framework for Redesigned Tapestry of Grace should give you an “ah ha” moment! It should say to you, “Oh! I guess I don’t really need every book listed on page 4 after all! I have real choices, and they’re all good ones!” You can buy new all of the Primary Books for all learning levels and ride in a Cadillac on your homeschooling road, but you don’t need to feel like you’re sacrificing quality if you don’t. Using used books, or library Alternates will get you just as far, and often with richer scenery along the way! Taking the by-roads that unlisted books afford your family, and teaching students to do Internet research when answers are “not in the book” can develop important skills and self confidence to tackle upper-level assignments in college.

Tapestry has always been designed with as much flexibility as possible, because as a homeschooling mom myself, I knew that none of my fellow teaching moms had the exact same values, approaches, or goals for homeschooling  as I did. We all taught our kids to the best of our ability, but made very different choices as to the vehicles we used. Furthermore, I noticed that all of us have different gift mixes: some of us loved crafts; others couldn’t stand ’em. Some families love to read; others get reading done as fast as possible so as to leave lots of time for sports.  Some of us actually liked field trips (gasp)! Some of us loved having someone tell us what to do each day; others wanted to tinker with whatever curriculum we bought, no matter how great it was when we started. As with our Christian walks, we share the one Spirit, but He gives many kinds of gifts. The beautiful thing is the unity we share as we take our homeschooling journeys together. My goal in writing and supporting Tapestry is to make the trip easier for as many moms as I can.

I was encouraged to read the following post from one of our online Yahoogroups recently. It summarized a lot of what I’ve been sharing. A newer Tapestry mom who has started using Classic Tapestry had thrown out “the book question.” Here was one of many good responses:

Hi Katie!

We too began with Classic TOG (can’t believe it’s already been 8 years now!), and had to substitute books when we couldn’t find them at our library or if they were Out Of Print (OOP). It was very doable–I think the hardest part for me as the teacher, was getting over my mental stumbling block of having to make sure every question was answered and feeling like it was a failure if it wasn’t. I think that was part of my public school mentality–check every box– even though it is VERY nice to find all the answers in your resource, certainly! What I would encourage you to do, is just use whatever resources are available, answers the questions as you can (without getting frustrated-that is the hard part!!), and move on either using the teachers’ discussion script to help you or just skipping it if you think it is marginal in comparison to everything else that was grasped.

Laurie and Sheri summed it up well with their suggestions. It’s keeping your eyes on the “big picture” that will help you to keep moving forward. Welcome to TOG!! It is an awesome adventure! (I am STILL learning, after our 2nd time through the TOG cycle!)




Do you have a tip to share with others about using Tapestry and saving money on books? Or, do you have experience with combining learning levels on books or using libraries and Alternate Book lists? Please feel free to share via the comments box!

10 thoughts on “Homeschooling in Hard Times: Money and Books

  1. Megan Bumgardner

    We are just finishing our third year in TOG, so it was interesting to hear the history lesson. My kids love the reading assignments and great literature picks! It is very quiet at my house after a trip to the library. I actually have to “hide” the books for the next week. : ) We are on a very tight budget, so I am unable to purchase the books unless they are books that are used for many weeks or they are used. We get most of our reading material from our wonderful library system. We request all the books that we can from both pages and devour them all. The librarians smile and groan when they see us coming each Friday. It has saved us a lot of money. My oldest daughter requests the books about three weeks out to be sure they are in when we need them. We get almost all of them through the library or inter-library loan system. Thanks for a wonderful curriculum!!!!

  2. Trang Nokelby

    We, likewise, get most of the books through the library or inter-library loan system. When I have my kids read from the Alternate list, I have them do written narrations of what they read, since there are no questions to be answered. These written narrations then count for the writing lessons that week.This is our first year using TOG. I started with the Classic version with Units 1&2, then upgraded to the Redesigned version and I am very pleased with the changes.

    1. Candice Dice

      I love your idea of doing a written narration for the alternate books. I get as many books as I can from the library and buy the remainder as long as we will be using the book for more than 3 weeks, or if it’s the only selection for history (my kids are both D level this year). There are weeks, however, that I don’t have a primary source for whatever reason. I’ve always struggled with figuring out how much info they should have gleaned from the alternate source and this a great way for me to ascertain what they actually learned.

  3. Lucinda Brown

    This is our second year of using TOG, and I have to say that it has been life changing for both my daughter and I. I am so thankful that the Lord led us to this wonderful way of learning! My family is not at all wealthy, but educating our daughter is a top priority. It is necessary for me to stay within budget every year, and I’ve developed a method to be able to do that very successfully.We are in a rural area and the only libraries require us to pay fees to use them, and not all books on the TOG lists are available anyway. For this reason I prefer to obtain our own books. I look for bargains and have my eyes open all during the year. I buy used copies, new ones, nearly free from paperback swap sites, etc. all year long. As I gather them up for future use, I just keep my Year Plan and Unit lists updated. I watch for sales at Bookshelf Central and other sites, using standard shipping methods that are usually quite reasonable. Whatever I don’t have when we are about to start a new unit, I will finally buy from Amazon with my Prime membership and have them within two days of ordering.Please note that in order to save the most money I spread it out over a period of months rather than all at once. Then after we are finished with our books I keep what we want for the family library, then resell the ones we no longer need. All money from the sale of books goes back into the homeschool curriculum budget to buy more books.I feel that TOG is worth the cost because it is an excellent education for my child, and for that reason I am willing to sacrifice. All in all, the cost of the books are far less expensive than private school.Thank you, Marcia, for all that you continue to do in helping homeschool families. You are a true blessing to each of us!

    1. Marcia Post author

      You are MOST welcome, and I sincerely love doing my little bit to channel God’s love to all of you moms who are still in the trenches. Thanks for posting such a great comment!

    2. Candice Dice

      I agree with keeping a running list of books to purchase. I make an Excel spreadsheet for each year plan as we are getting ready to go into it listing all of the books needed. The spreadsheet includes the title, author’s name, which subject and level it is used for, how many weeks it’s needed, how many copies the library has (to determine a possible waiting time), and what Amazon or CBD sells it for new.I used to keep these lists in my purse so they would be readily available when I hit the book sales, garage sales, etc. I’ve stopped doing that, but I need to start again. It’s a great way to save money and to spread the cost of the program out.

  4. Liz Bennet

    Two cheap sources for cheap books have been, which is a search engine for books which pulls pricing and availability from online booksellers. THe shipping price is included, and used library book sales, which can be found at Hope this helps. Liz

  5. Melody Townsend

    We are starting round two. My two oldest were thrilled to see favorite friends come out of hiding.I too bought for the oldest the first time around and supplemented with library books and free literature guides. If I had a few extra dollars, I bought D and R level books that were used in many weeks.The other best use of our book dollars has been in the read alouds.

    1. Marcia

      I always organized my books by year, then unit, then week-plan. I kept all the ages together within the spot for the week. I even color-coded my books so that my kids could reshelve them. I used those colored dots that one can find at office supply stores (the year-plans are already associated by Lampstand Press covers with red = Y1, mustard yellow = Y2, green = Y3, and blue = Y4). Those dots won’t stay on well, so I covered them with clear tape. However, I’ve since heard about ingenious ladies using colored electrical tape instead of these dots. This is genius, imho. If you use dots, before covering with tape, use a sharpie to put such marks as “D 12” for “Dialectic, Week 12” for single-week books, and then just the level “D *” for books used multiple weeks, and put the book in the first week used. For tape option, just sharpie right on the tape. You can use multiple layers of dots or tape for books used in multi-years.


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