Myth Busters: “Everyone says that Tapestry expensive to use! Is it?”

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-bag-money-coins-clip-art-image2292306The tricky part about this myth is that it’s over simplistic.

“It’s expensive!” is all about your perspective and what you value. And isn’t that true about most money questions? People pay higher dollar amounts for things that are valuable to them. Homeschoolers are people, too! So, they put different values on differing aspects of education.

We have never supposed that the goals and methods of Tapestry of Grace are right for every homeschooling family. But, among those who value a whole-book, integrated, history-driven, classical education, Tapestry is highly valued and often we hear the comment, “What a bargain!”

This is especially the case when users find in Tapestry the more intangible values: that our program seeks to help parents foster a love of learning, of reading, of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, and of the Great Conversation in which the human race has been engaged since the dawn of time. Our program equips parents whose values include promoting family unity and discipling Christian children so that they might become kind, compassionate apologists for the faith to which they have been called.

As a means to these ends, we create products and offer services that aim to help parents raise up a thinking, creative generation who love God, serve others, and become leaders in their communities. We sell our curricula (which are the plans of study for 12 learning levels plus the teacher) and we recommend whole books (without which the plans are not very useful). We also provides support for all homeschooling parents (not just those who use Tapestry), and for those who are specifically using Tapestry in group settings.

So, if you’re hearing others say “It’s expensive,” a good follow-up question to ask is, “What’s the value for money ratio?”. Or, put differently, “What does my money buy?” In order to answer this question, I believe you need two yardsticks.

1. First, measure your expectations for homeschooling education in general. Do you believe that, somehow, education at home should be less expensive than in traditional school settings? I think this in itself is a myth worth exploding.

  • While we don’t pay teacher’s salaries or building costs or administrators, all education has a price tag in terms of needing the materials used for actual studies. I’m thinking of books, pencils, paper, art supplies, field trip entry fees, etc. as well as (in our modern era) digital devices, software, and — at times — tuition for outside classes and activities such as sports, music lessons, and club memberships.
  • And, unless we are experienced teachers, homeschooling parents do need teacher materials from which to teach! Thus, our budget should include the purchase of teacher’s manuals, tests, answer keys, and the ongoing costs of “continuing education” — convention entry fees, online classes for homeschooling parents, support group membership dues, periodicals for home educating parents, etc.
  • Many of us have budgets that are limited because we are single-income families, but let us not confuse a limited budget with the fact that a variety of excellent resources are needed for a well-rounded, excellent education.

2. Second, evaluating “what you get for your money” might involve doing some research on how curriculum contents are assembled, program to program. Some “inclusive” curricula might have a math program that doesn’t work for your kids, so you might end up supplementing, or buying another program altogether. Some programs (like ours) may include books from a variety of authors; others might provide an omnibus written from only one perspective. The latter program would be cheaper, but do you want your student to get a variety and spectrum of viewpoints, or only one?

You alone can decide this, and “It’s expensive!” might be totally worth it to you! So, breaking down the components (and quality of components) in different contenders for your homeschooling dollars brings us to how to make an “apples to apples” comparison.

How to Compare Apples and Apples

First, the “It’s expensive!” claim can be true in terms of dollars alone if you compare Tapestry with programs that are nothing like it. You can buy less expensive programs that teach single subjects, for instance. You can buy one that teaches the facts of history, or that give you reading lists for Literature, or that cover Geography and Bible and Writing Composition, all as separate subjects. It is possible to find basic texts or workbooks (especially in the earlier grades) for most of these disciplines that have a lesser price tag, but only if you include on the Tapestry side of the ledger the costs of the books that we recommend (and that are admittedly integral to our program).

Be aware as you compare that most textbook programs separate out costs for students and costs for teachers’ manuals (also called Instructor’s Guides, or IGs). Tapestry year-plans include teacher and student materials, and on upper (but not lower) learning levels, discussion outlines for teachers and questions for students depend on the purchase of certain resource books. On lower levels, substitution of resources is easy, so the program is cheaper to use. As you get into upper learning levels, you need more specific books. Even given this, often you’ll find that pulling together scattered resources for up to five humanities disciplines for both student and teacher at a price that beats our curriculum (IG) costs (not including resource books) is not so easy!

If you compare programs that are similar to Tapestry in that they are using whole books as resources, you will quickly find that Tapestry prices are on par with other programs. If you add in the fact that Tapestry is non-consumable (you use it and it’s suggested resources over and over with each succeeding child), you find that it’s an “investment program.” The longer you use it, the greater the value per child. And if you value a united, full-family education–where all (kids, Dad and Mom) are studying one historical topic each week in an integrated fashion–Tapestry stands alone at any price.

Another difficulty about an “apples to apples” comparisons is that some companies produce readers (for younger children) that can be considered “essential resources” but are not really whole (or living) books, and are thus inexpensive. Breaking out essentials and non-essentials of various plans is challenging when you don’t really know programs, and we can’t do the work for you with others, but we can with our program. Let’s take a look at how we break down Tapestry costs so that, if you go and do a comparison with other programs for yourself, you’ll have this information in hand.

Tapestry costs should be broken down into two parts: curriculum costs and recommended resource costs.

“But,” some might reasonably object, “aren’t the recommended resources essential to implementing the curriculum?” Yes and no; below is the breakdown that includes the reasons why separating the plans of study (curriculum) costs from the costs of our recommended resource makes sense.

1. The curriculum component: a set cost for valuable plans of study over seven distinct subjects.

Tapestry year-plans use the timeline of human history to organize a study of the humanities, and then lists various aids for the studies. So, what do you get in the IG’s? For 12 learning levels, we offer the following:

  • Weekly, there are lists of reading assignments in specific, whole books. (At lower learning levels, these are easy to tweak.)
  • There are assorted craft ideas offered each week for grammar and dialectic students (grades 1-8).
  • We list suggested map labels for Geography work for all levels.
  • We provide lists of the famous people of the week.
  • There are Literature worksheets (that are specific to certain books) for three learning levels (grades 1-8).
  • There are detailed class plans for high-school level Literature discussion.
  • In upper learning levels (junior high and high school) questions for students and discussion outlines for teachers that are specific to suggested books are also provided.
  • For teachers on all levels, background information for all six disciplines that we cover are provided as needed.
  • Over the four years, Tapestry plans offer full high-school electives for Philosophy and Government.
  • A full Bible survey for all learning levels is offered in our Year 1 plan, and then in Years 2-4, there are student assignments and teacher support materials for a study of church history through the ages.
  • Finally, there are answer keys to all worksheets, and discussion guides include sample student answers, and often helpful supplements, week to week.

All these components of our IGs together form a buffet of good educational options each week, among which parent-teachers choose in order to make up a specific menu for each child in their house. These IGs are non-consumable and come in a variety of formats (which differ in price).

  • The least expensive is the most versatile and long lived (because we update it for free yearly). One Digital Edition year-plan costs $170 today, and that suggested retail price has not changed since it was introduced in 2008.
  • We offer each year-plan in print as well, which has the advantage of being resaleable when you are finished with it.
  • And then, there is a popular option to get it all: digital + print.

Four year-plans give all that I’ve described above for all of the children that you will teach, grades 1-12. As a bonus, each week these plans put you (the busy teacher) and all of your children on the same historical topics each week, which simplifies your teaching life and unifies your family. (We even a have supplemental product called the Pop Quiz that brings dads in on the action!)

2. The recommended resources: fluid costs.

So far, the comparison is pretty straight forward. The difficulty with apples-to-apples comparisons come in when we start to look at resource books and Supplements.

From the Tapestry buffet, the teaching parent must choose among the items listed, since no one student is meant to do all the options that each week-plan offers. Since all families will choose different resource combinations, it is not fair to say that one price for resources reflects the true cost of using Tapestry in all families.

In addition: some families have more money than time, so they tend to buy new books at retail prices. Some families have more time than money, so they tend to hunt and purchase used books, wait for sales on new books, or use their public library a lot.

So, here’s the point of this section: one price does not fit all! “It’s expensive!” if you buy every book at retail and are on a tight budget. It’s not so expensive if you buy used books, or substitute books found at your library, or trade books with a friend who is using a different year-plan.

In the grammar years (which represent fully half of the years one could use Tapestry in the life of a child) it is very easy to substitute books.

  • Because we’re just introducing young children to the basic stories and people of human history in grades K-6, Tapestry guides do not have discussion outlines that rely on specific books (except with literature worksheets).
  • Thus, almost any history book that covers the historical era of the week will give younger children the introduction they need.
  • We screen books, listing the best ones we can find that are also in print, and Bookshelf Central stocks them, as support measures for busy parents, but there’s absolutely no downside to substituting books in the grammar stages (using libraries, used book stores, or even sales at big box stores), and so, again, it’s really hard to set a single price for the costs of recommended resources.

Returning to the topic of perceptions…

We said above that the true meaning this word “expensive” is relative to the spender’s values. “Expensive” is also relative in the sense that any expenditure represents a portion of total income. Many homeschooling families operate on a single income, but many teaching moms also have home businesses, or work from home part time, or have a comfortable income from the one breadwinner. For these families, Tapestry may not be “expensive” given all of its benefits.

But, if all people hear when asking the Internet is how expensive Tapestry is, without checking into what the dollars are buying, especially relative to other programs, then the “it’s expensive” blanket statement is an unwarranted stopper. A family that prizes the values the benefits that Tapestry offers might not know that this is a relative statement, and might turn away from researching it for themselves to see if they think it’s expensive.

Finally, the label “expensive” is relative as well when we look at the costs of what amounts to a prep school education. Take some time to look around at private, Christian schools in your area. and ask the following questions:

  • What is the tuition for one child for one year?
  • Are they delivering a customized, Classical Education, unit study model to the children that they serve?
  • Do you need to buy books and uniforms in addition to paying tuition and fees?
  • How many children do you have?
  • Do parents have any input into the content of what is taught?
  • What theological perspectives do the schools present to your children?

Add up the costs of attending such a school for 12 years of education for each child, and then see if you think that Tapestry of Grace, which is a non-consumable program that serves all of your children over 12 years of school for all of the humanities with you in the driver’s seat the whole way, is relatively expensive.

And, while on this topic of “bang for your buck” consider that Tapestry can qualify your student to gain double-credits while in high school, thereby shortening his college years (and costs). Here’s a portion of an email that we recently received on this topic:

My daughter tested out (through CLEPS) of her literature classes and she certainly could have tested out of history. As a matter of fact, she is planning to come home in December and review to CLEP Western Civ. (I wish there was a CLEP for Bible!) It’s possible for students to take Tapestry, study for CLEPS, and avoid many of the first 2 years of general ed at a liberal arts college classes. Anna and Christina (my oldest two) are on track for getting their bachelor degrees in 2-3 years as opposed to 4. I actually love Belhaven University so much, I considered their high scholar’s program, a dual-enrollment humanities program, for my 15-year old daughter for her last two years of high school.  However, I looked at the topics week-by-week. She is getting the very same thing through our co-op and Tapestry and it isn’t costing me thousands of dollars. (For her, it’s actually costing nothing since I own all the materials.) I’ve decided that for my 15-year old kids, we are going to study Tapestry and then CLEP for end-of-year exams.

The myth that Tapestry of Grace is expensive is not a new one.

We’ve heard it for years, which is why we wrote the Bottom Line Brochure years ago, and have recently updated it. This Bottom Line Brochure sums up some of the points I’ve been making in this post into a neat, two-sided flyer. On the front, it does some comparison work and lists prices for Tapestry components. On the back, it lists real, retail costs of all the books needed for Year 1. As the flyer says, “It only gets less expensive from there! We invite you to peruse, print, and share this document with anyone who has heard–but not researched for themselves–about Tapestry being “expensive”! As you look at the book list, note that it’s broken down by subjects and by learning levels. A fair comparison would include noting only the prices for your unique family in the coming year, not the full price for all subjects on all levels–unless, of course, that’s how your family will roll this year!

Want more information on this topic?

On this blog, there are archived posts and reader comments give even more detail on the history of why we list books as we do, and how you can economize in supplying books for use with any whole book program, including Tapestry of Grace. I pray that they are helpful for you!

Homeschooling in Hard Times: Money and Books

Homeschooling in Hard Times: Options with Unit Studies

Managing Those Living Books

Additionally, you may be interested to read value-related posts: how have graduates of Tapestry families done once they go out into the world? Here are a few posts that relate to this question:

A Journey That Prepared Me: Matt Spanier

A Journey I Loved: Rodney Dowty

Poetics Goes to College with Anna

(And, if you have not read the Introduction to this series of Myth Buster posts, please do so, so that you can see what this series is all about and the other myths that we’ve addressed. Thanks!)

 

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