At HEAV this year, I met a family that gave me a chance to witness a beautiful vision for home education, especially for those of us who may be entering the grandparent stage of life. Karen was gracious enough to assemble the story of how this extended family formed a TOG co-op. I found it fascinating and hope you are equally inspired by their story!
Karen’s account of how it all began…
Three years ago my sister, Rene, started looking for a new curriculum for her oldest daughter, Katy. That’s when she stumbled upon Tapestry of Grace. Katy was 13 at the time, and they jumped into Year 1 at the dialectic learning level. That first year, I think my sister would admit that it was a learning curve and while she loved it, she wanted to do so much more. She loved it so much that she went ahead and got the lower grammar books for her next oldest daughter, Kaylin, who was about to turn five. And she was hooked.
She began to talk to me about doing TOG with my oldest (who was only three weeks younger than her Kaylin). But, at the time I had a four-year-old, twin three-year-olds, and a two-year-old. I was at my max, but she suggested I just buy the lower grammar books to get my feet wet. So, I did. And I got hooked. That first year, we didn’t do much more than that. Rene and I read the books to our 5 year olds and she gradually did more and more with her oldest who was 13 at the time.
The next year though, we knew would be a whole new ball game. Our kids’ combined ages at this point were: Katy (14), Josh and Kaylin (5), Kathleen and Karissa (4), Kara and Isaac (3), David (2). Katy was entering the rhetoric learning level, and we wanted to do more for Kaylin and Josh. We got started just reading to the littles, and Rene and Katy were working through transitioning to the rhetoric level with its increased workload when, a few months into our Year 2 studies, our whole world kind of fell apart.
Seven of our eight children were diagnosed with sensory processing disorders. This explained why it was a challenge to do anything with children actually seated in chairs and why our attempts at crafts together resulted in our younger ones throwing back their heads and howling for literally two hours. These weekly craft days had become an incredible challenge because it put them all on sensory overload. Even having everything down and ready hadn’t worked. Fortunately, some occupational therapies began to make it so that we had children who could actually sit sometimes, and the screaming gradually began to get better, but Rene was overwhelmed trying to plan and get through all of Katy’s rhetoric lessons while taking kids to occupational therapy and doing home therapy. It was super stressful.
However, God works all things together for a much better purpose. My mom had always been totally supportive and open to giving tons of advice and helping out anywhere she could. She knew we needed help. We were both overwhelmed by everything that was going on, and things were slipping through the cracks.
So, the most incredible mom ever entered the scene. She volunteered to help by doing all the prep and planning for Katy’s History, Government, Worldview, and Fine Arts lessons, in addition to offering to do anything else needed to help. Rene kept doing all of her prep work for the Literature and Writing portions of TOG, but Mom’s help took some off her plate. Katy loved everything that my mom was doing. And her grasp of those sections of TOG was growing by leaps and bounds as my mom was able to put in so much more time than my sister had.
Rene and I started chatting one day about Katy’s Literature, and I helped her understand a few of the points that Katy had been asking about. As we were talking, it became clear that teaching Literature was definitely more my passion than hers. In a subsequent conversation, we discovered the same thing about Science for me. Yes, my kids were being taught it, but not by someone with a passion for it. Truth be told, I had to force myself to open that Science book each time. And the thought of experiments made me cringe.
So, we decided to work a swap. I’d help her oldest on her Literature questions – I figured this was the only time in my life I’d actually have the time to read the rhetoric Literature - and Rene took over my kids’ science questions. We were well on our way to an effective division of labor, and figuring out ways to help all our kids get answers from people who could spend more time on individual subjects. And we were loving it.
My mom was loving doing Katy’s prep work each week so much that she began to brainstorm what all the younger ones could do with TOG. And truth be told, as soon as she read the books and looked at the curriculum, she was salivating over all that could be done. She began to bounce ideas off of us for what kinds of crafts we could do, and ways to tie it together and having a plan to most effectively have everything build to the rhetoric level. I think we must have given her a bit of panicked look because at this point we were barely holding our head above water with all the occupational therapy and subsequent home therapy that we were having to spend all our time prepping. She said, “Well, why don’t we try having me plan out some stuff for the Littles that would go along with what you are doing?” And it went amazingly well – at this point there were four lower grammar participating: Josh and Kaylin (6) and Kathleen and Karissa (5). Needless to say, everyone was thrilled.
Well, a few weeks in, I had taken over any Literature questions while Rene supervised all of Katy’s questions and homework, my mom was doing her prep, and my sister came to us about a paper of Katy’s. She read the rubric, but she just couldn’t decide what grades to give her. And truthfully, I was struggling as well. It’s the first time I’d ever graded a high schooler’s paper. It was laid out well, but the more subjective categories, I felt like I just didn’t know enough – and truthfully, I’d had her do so many rewrites, I was a bit confused as to which version was which! So, my husband entered the scene. I was proofing it for another edit one night, and he leaned over my shoulder and began to make better suggestions than I could have ever made. I, with great excitement, passed him the computer, and after his suggestions, she produced a great paper. I just couldn’t put into words what I was trying to say. So, he came on board as a semi-regular writing professor!
Well, a few weeks later, we had a family dinner and we were joking about what all everyone was doing, and my sister’s husband piped up and said, “Well, what about me?” We all just looked at each other and said, “Well, are you interested in something?” And my mom said, “What were we thinking, you were a political science major. I would love to hand off prepping Government.” So, a Government professor was born for our rhetoric girl. My dad jokes that he’s the woodworking professor, and since he’s forever building something and letting them help. And since he’s amazing at it, I think that qualifies.
This year we have expanded what all we are doing. We are doing Year 3, and we have the following ages of kids: Katy (15), Josh and Kaylin (6), Kathleen and Karissa (5), Kara and Isaac (4), David (3), and one on the way.
- As far as preparation goes, we are still in the midst of professional occupational therapy as well as home therapy for our kids, so most of the prep work falls on my mom right now.
- She prepares all the History, Worldview, Geography, and Fine Arts in a notebooking style for all the kids.
- Then, she does a weekly class for Katy on History, Worldview, Geography, and Fine Arts.
- She also does a weekly class for our lower grammar students for their History, Geography, Worldview, and some of the arts. Since she was a music teacher for years, she includes anything age-appropriate that she has on musicians and music that corresponds to what Katy is studying at the rhetoric level.
- Rene preps all the science, and we do science together. For science classes, we include all of the kids from ages 4 and up.
- I prepare the rhetoric Literature and do a class with Katy, but my mom is doing the Littles’ Literature and Grammar right now. I’ll take that over as well, probably when they reach the upper grammar level.
- My sister assigns the writing assignments for Katy and does her Grammar and Spelling programs as well. My husband grades Katy’s writing as needed. Although a lot of these writing pieces, Rene feels qualified to grade herself.
- Katy gets a Government class from her dad once a week – who gets a special one-hour trip out to prep each week.
And that’s kind of how it works.
The beautiful thing is that, because my mom has it all written out, we can share our prep notes (this would be things like our schedule of when to read each book and what activities we have chosen to do) that we make from our individual copies of TOG on an Internet cloud server. Using this method, other families wouldn’t necessarily require living as close together as we do to accomplish many of the same planning benefits. Also, even though we live so close, I teach Literature every week via iPhone’s Face Time. [Others might use the LLC's Blackboard Collaborator software, or simply Skype.]
We are able to share the books for our lower grammar students, which wouldn’t work for a family that was not living close together, but the activities my mom has chosen (and the way she has it all written out) means that we could do the work in our own homes–and we have when kids have been sick or when our mom is busy or out of town–though then, of course, co-op doesn’t double as time with cousins.
In summary, we have loved it, and it’s neat to be able to share something so much as family. Family homeschooling links us in a special way, and it’s been tons of fun. None of us would be able to do all the things we are doing with our kids if it was all on our plates, but since we are doing it together, it has been amazing what all we have been able to accomplish.
My sister, Karen, wrote you an e-mail about the history of how and why we started splitting up our homeschool classes among family members. This e-mail is about the nuts and bolts of how it works.
Our families’ homeschool most weeks from Monday through Friday. All of our prep work and the majority of our non-TOG classes take place at our individual homes. We meet most weeks for classes as a group at my mother’s house because she has a large room where we can all sit.
First, I will talk about my eldest daughter, Katy.
- My mother has created notebook pages for her to write her answers on, and she uses these in her work throughout the week. She completes all of her Tapestry of Grace readings and notebook pages that include the questions from the TOG curriculum. Throughout the week, we discuss what she is learning, and I answer any questions that she may have.
- Once a week I drop her off at my mother’s house where they discuss History, Geography, Philosophy, and Fine Arts.
- Mom creates a Power Point presentation for each class, and has notes about what to say and cover, so that we will be able to use if there is a week that she is unable to do class for Katy.
- For Katy’s Literature, Writing, Grammar and Spelling, we use a couple of programs throughout the week.
- I assign her writing assignments and have Spelling and Grammar classes with her most days.
- I grade the majority of her writing assignments. However, if she has a paper that takes several weeks and is a big project, my brother-in-law grades these for me. He is an adjunct professor at a university, and is accustomed to grading college papers. Since, we really want our daughter to be writing at a college level by the time she leaves high school, he grades these papers and makes additional suggestions. I love having him do this since I feel these grades are more objective since he grades papers all the time.
- My sister took classes towards a minor in Literature, and she has taken over the discussion section of Katy’s Literature classes. Each week Katy reads her book and answers her questions at home. Then one night a week, Katy has a Literature class with my sister via Face Time. This is an easy way for us to conduct class even though we live close to each other since our other little ones all go to bed during her class time.
- The plan eventually is for my brother-in-law to take over philosophy when the younger ones get to the rhetoric level.
- My husband is a political science major and loves learning about government. He usually takes one afternoon a week and goes and sits for an hour at a local restaurant with Wi-Fi to read the Government documents and prep for his class. He actually really enjoys this and what would be a 15 minute class if I were to do it often turns into a 2-3 hour discussions that they both really enjoy. I love that they have this time each week to discuss current events, worldviews and the Government portion of TOG. My husband is able to relate what she is learning to things going on in the world in a way that relates to what she is learning.
- I teach all of the children Science. I have a BS in Biology education and a BS in nursing. Katy is excellent in science and does not require much help, but I do make sure that she understands each concept and has answered all of her questions correctly. I also ensure that her labs and lab reports are done correctly.
We currently have four children in lower grammar. We have a six-year-old boy and girl, and two five-year-old girls.
- My mother is amazing and has made it really easy to teach them! Not all of our children will just sit and listen to the books, so my mom has come up with sheets and activities for them to do during their readings which really does help them to listen well and learn.
- We do the little ones’ class once a week at my mother’s house, where there is a large room. She has created really fun notebooking pages and the kids absolutely LOVE going to her house and learning. They have had so much fun doing the activities and projects.
- Some of the books are read at my mom’s house and others at our houses. I read the books at our house to my littler ones as well. (I have a four and almost three year old as well as one due this fall.)
- We finish up the notebooking pages throughout the week at our homes and do the read-alouds at our individual houses.
My mom has written out really easy to follow lesson plans as well as all of those notebooking pages that she has created. When she is out of town or we have sick kids, we are able to easily do classes individually.
My mom and dad are really amazing and supportive of homeschooling. They actually allow us to store all of our TOG books in one place at their house. We spent hours helping my mom to organize all of the books. Also, since we all live close together we are able to share many of our books for the younger kids. My sister is gifted at using Excel; she and I have typed up all of the books onto a spreadsheet. We keep track of which books we have, who bought them and if they are a share book.
And here is Nana’s account of the story and her unique goals in customizing Tapestry of Grace…
It really started years ago with my interest in curriculum when I taught school and again as I taught piano. I was always adapting and changing to fit the situation I was in. As my husband’s ministry moved from just the local church to helping pastors, I was traveling with him and feeling lost in my own personal area of ministry. As I was seeking the Lord in one of my Quiet Times, He very clearly told me that I was to leave a legacy to my grandchildren. I had no idea exactly how this was going to work out, but the Lord is constantly showing me and working with me.
Several years ago, I attended the NC homeschool convention here in Winston Salem with my daughter. I spent a full day looking at curriculum. (I know. I am a geek when it comes to curriculum. It is that teacher in me and the education degree that keeps appearing. I taught school and worked in churches for years planning children’s curriculum and later student ministries. So, curriculum is something I love to study.) I looked at lots of materials and many of them would have been adequate, but not really what I felt would teach a Christian worldview. My daughter Karen had friends that were using Tapestry of Grace and I was intrigued. I glanced at the materials at the convention, but really wanted to see more in-depth material. There was a printed copy there and I spent an hour pouring through the binder and listening to a lady share how wonderful Tapestry was. Still, I was concerned about the prep time for the Rhetoric girl with so many preschoolers with special needs. I watched and made some suggestions as my daughter, Rene, worked with Katy as a dialectic student, and also saw her increasing frustration with not having the time to devote that she really wanted.
So… I offered to help her prep the material. I was hooked immediately. As we progressed, I began to not only prep, but do a weekly discussion with Katy. She was really struggling with the Socratic discussion portion and has struggled some with minor learning disabilities. I knew that we needed to adapt the questions to help her progress in her thinking. The advantage that I had was that for years I had prepared curriculum for our children’s choir program in a large church in Houston, had written a curriculum guide for Spring ISD in TX, and had taught children’s choir workshops for the state of TX. I knew that any curriculum needed to be customized to fit the learner and situation. So, I began to work on some more detailed plans. At first, I put together a Power Point presentation that directed Katy’s discussion. She really needed the visual to stay on target. Slowly I have weaned her off that and we basically just use the questions, but I have broken the questions into parts to help her answer them before coming and make her think more logically.
My thoughts were to make the Power Point presentation and re-type some of the lecture notes into the note section of PP. That way, I would not have to flip back and forth between the actual curriculum and the presentation. Then, either of my daughters could use my notes and presentation to teach as each child reaches Rhetoric. Mom printed the slides for Katy to take notes on during our discussion and used this to study for her test. This year, I have prepared notebook pages to go with our discussion and she must progress beyond the Power Point to defend her faith and begin reasoning better. We’ll see how this plays out.
The little ones have sensory processing disorders. They listen and are very intelligent, but have trouble sitting in one place for any length of time. I have provided pages for them to color that fit the stories we are reading. I also provide some activity sheets, and sheets where they can draw what they have read about, copy work, etc. Then, we always have a craft of some sort to help them stay interested. I always include something fun to work on that keeps them excited about their learning. It really helps that I have studied the different levels of the curriculum so that I can see where it is going, and I can discuss things with the little ones that Katy is doing as well so they can all learn together.
I hope those of us who are approaching (or just reaching) grandmotherhood can look at this account with a prayerful heart. Are you able to help your daughters or daughters-in-law to homeschool? This grandmother customized Tapestry in ways that the Lord led her according to the needs of her grandchildren; not all of us will need to do so much preparation in order to implement Tapestry! While some might use PowerPoint or make notebooks, many others use simpler approaches to implementing Tapestry lesson plans.
That said, mothers of adult children who are in those early years of building their families and starting homeschooling might need a little help. Can you take any of the teaching or preparation load from them, and enter a whole new world of family closeness, even at a distance? Or, perhaps you’re already doing some of this? If you are either newly provoked by this story, or are already functioning in like circumstances, could you take a moment to share? Comments are welcome (and encouraging)!