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Weekly Planning with Tapestry

This summer, I had the opportunity to spend time at conferences and explain Tapestry to some great moms. What I discovered was that while many people understood the “big picture” of Tapestry, they didn’t get how to actually sit down and use it in a hands-on way.

That’s why I made an informal video to share with you all how I have walked through a week of planning Tapestry for my family. This seemed to help so many of you that I remade it and mounted links to it elsewhere on the Tapestry website. The embedded copy that used to be here doesn’t play any more, so please try going to: to watch the updated one!


Homeschooling in Hard Times: Options with Unit Study

Tapestry reading plans and Socratic approach offer homeschooling moms a real opportunity to give a prep school quality education in the humanities at relatively cheap costs. However, homeschooling should not be seen as just a cheap answer to private schools, since it’s a calling that can only be accomplished with God’s provision and help! Homeschooling always involves costs! With quality academics as a goal, homeschooling will be costly with virtually all approaches, both in terms of the expense of providing great educational materials and in terms of the “lost productivity”: dollars that moms could be earning out in the work force if they weren’t teaching at home. However, besides salvation, there may not be a better or more lasting gift that parents give their children than well-trained minds that know how to both work and play with others!

When first looking at book lists for humanities programs that utilize whole books, the costs can seem daunting. But consider: families using textbooks also pay quite a hefty sum per book, per subject, per grade. Textbooks–written from a single point of view–become the only game in town once a family is invested in them. They also tend to present one pre-digested point of view on any given subject, and can be written in a style that doesn’t engage the student for long. Textbook teachers lose flexibility in approaching a subject. Students may gain information from textbooks, but they often don’t retain it for long since textbook learning is largely passive. This is the reason that, while textbooks can provide an overview of subject matter, we prefer a whole-book (or real book), unit study approach to in-depth learning that requires the development of critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis skills. Now, again, such an approach seems more expensive at first, but consider these factors.

  • Whole book, or unit-study approaches to the humanities are usually broad, and topic-oriented. To learn about a given subject, a teacher or student doesn’t need to obtain one certain, comprehensive resource so much as a variety of complementary ones that express different “takes” on the topic, and may be purchased new or used, borrowed from a public library, or found online for free.
  • Whole books are generally non-consumable. So, if a family invests in building a library of whole books that serve their oldest students first, younger students will eventually use these same books at no extra cost. While this is also true of many textbooks for older students, the difference is that moms of younger children using the unit-study approach usually can find what they need used or at their library, whereas textbook users need to invest in hefty textbook costs from the earliest years, and many younger-child textbooks are “work texts”–consumable (write in) resources–and thus can’t be reused.
  • These days, one can also supplement the whole book approach to learning using a myriad of Internet resources. Thus, a student might borrow a book or two on a topic from the nearby public library, and then go on to research the topic in more depth using the Internet. (Students using the Internet for research should be supervised, for dangers lurk when surfing alone!) This way, students gain the perspective of a variety of sources without the expense of buying a variety of books.

Unit study programs can thus be far more cost effective than text book approaches for families living near good libraries. But in the past, this approach has meant that moms using an open-ended approach have also needed to have the ability to be extremely energetic in planning, and also flexible and creative when books on desired topics are missing. What such moms save in dollars, they also spend in time consuming planning, hunting, carting, and returning of these borrowed resources.

What we’ve tried to do with Tapestry is to tap the best of all the various approaches to learning, harmonize them, organize them, and then present them in a way that is most flexible, yet usable, for the greatest variety of families. The various user’s choice awards we’ve been given over the years (as well as our growth as a company) tell us that we’re doing something right and, more importantly, meeting needs of busy homeschooling moms nationwide!

Using Tapestry plans, one can do any of the following (or combine any two or more of them). These options escalate in total initial investment, but continue to pay dividends over the years of a homeschooling family’s life.

  • Borrow almost all needed books from the local library, and supplement missing titles with pre-screened, preselected Internet resources linked to the Tapestry of Grace website. This option works especially well for families with all children in only the Grammar stages of learning.
  • Buy almost all needed books used, and then supplement missing books by purchasing them new, borrowing from your public library, or, again, with pre-screened, preselected Internet resources linked to the Tapestry of Grace website. (This is an emphasis on building the library that you need from primarily used resources, over time, and using supplements as needed.)
  • Purchase all books (new or used) for only your oldest children (in dialectic/rhetoric levels), and then reuse them with younger children as they grow. Meanwhile, borrow, buy used books, or use Internet links (supervised!) with younger, Grammar-aged children.
  • For those who have more money than time (and this includes those of us who school in hard times that include spouses serving overseas in the military or family members with special medical needs), Bookshelf Central has one-stop shopping for all your Tapestry book needs. It can come quickly, all in one box, and be ready at hand for meaty, academic learning.
  • Use our textbook listings to quickly cover historical subjects for any/all students in your home. Then, supplement using borrowed, used, or Internet resources when you really want your children to dig deeper into a topic. We don’t highly recommend single-source learning, but we do have such listings for families whose hard times include a combination of money and time being in short supply.

Anyone have any tips or experiences along these lines to share? Please leave a comment!

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!

Homeschooling in Hard Times: Introduction

The “Love is…” series is close to my heart, but each post takes me quite awhile to produce. So, I decided to start another series concurrently that would involve less study and prayer to produce, yet hopefully be timely and encouraging. The Lord put it on my heart to start a discussion about what we all do when we are called to homeschool through hard times. Let me start by defining my terms: “homeschooling” and “hard times.

“By “homeschooling,” I mean teaching your kids at home, but I don’t necessarily mean the 3 R’s. There are many things that we teach our kids by modeling responses to life’s ups and downs. All homeschooling is not created equal–or alike! Some of us teach all academic subjects to all our kids, some use resource centers or co-ops for some classes but teach others ourselves, and some of us have older students whom we drive to and fro and continue to parent, but we do no academic instruction with them. Even in this last listed case, you are by my current working definition “homeschooling.” Someone has wisely said, “All parents homeschool; some just do it full time.” Said another way, homeschooling is “parenting concentrate,” and while all parents have differing degrees of intensity, we are all homeschooling in this, the broadest, definition of the word.

What do we mean by “hard times”? Again, I’m going broad. With the national news so full of doom and gloom economic news (and with homeschooling fathers that we know losing their jobs), the term “hard times” immediately connotes “economic challenges” to homeschooling. We’ll include that situation in this series. But there are other ways that we homeschool in hard times. Here are a few that this series will address:

  • There are those among us who have given birth to children with serious physical or mental challenges. These newcomers need many hospital trips, surgeries, and/or specialized care at home, not to mention the emotional toll on the parents. What happens to the homeschooling (and the new child’s siblings) when Mom’s time is so drained by the challenges of caring for needy children? These are hard times, but there is grace in this situation. We’ll be looking for that grace!
  • Take a similar case, but different: some older children develop new ailments, sometimes life threatening but other times simply grinding. I’m thinking of everything from a diagnosis of a brain tumor to diabetes. Suddenly, a homeschooling family that had great balance is thrown off as new demands on Mom’s time surface. What does such a family do to cope? What about the missed lessons–should we be concerned?
  • How about the care of elderly parents? Many of our parents haven’t prepared for their retirement, or their savings have disappeared, due to the downturn in the stock market. Or, maybe money isn’t the issue: rather, it’s for their physical needs–such as in-home sick care, the sale of a home or other financial management, trips to the hospital, or providing meals–that we, their children, simply must provide. Whether we take them into our homes or travel to serve them in theirs, elder care drains our resources for homeschooling, so it qualifies as “hard times.”
  • What if you or your spouse become sick or disabled? Is it a given that the family must stop homeschooling? What are the options–the pros and the cons–of continuing to keep children home through such a difficult season?
  • What resources for homeschooling do we have if we become single parents? Whether through accident, illness, or relational conflict, losing a spouse is hard times, and these hard times demand much prayer and thought. Many suddenly single parents ask, “Is homeschooling even possible?”

I think God may have other scenarios for us to discuss as well as the ones I outlined above. The heart of this series won’t be the topics that I come up with, though. I am hoping that this series of posts are “thread starters,” where some of you who are living out these hard times currently to the glory of God can chime in and share both the things you’ve learned along the way as God brings you through hard times and your prayer requests for ongoing situations.

When we consider the possible trials of this world that we may be called on to endure, and when we see our nation stepping close to crossing the lines of prudent governance, aren’t we all tempted to fear? But God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7)! The watch verse for this series will be the following, from Isaiah 43:1-3 (ESV):

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

We will all go through various trials. Jesus promised us that. Since homeschooling is our way of life, it too will be tested and tried. Homeschooling takes faith; homeschooling through hard times takes faith that eagerly looks up in hope and expectation. God is real, He is there, He is sustaining us with His amazing grace. What we probably most need in hard times is the reminder that He will never leave us nor forsake us; that He is refining us like gold or silver tried by fire. We will not be eternally harmed in hard times, nor will our precious children. If we walk by faith, even in hard times, we will not only live, because we know that “the righteous shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:7, and Galatians 3:11), but we will grow stronger in our faith and our love for God as He proves Himself faithful to us (James 1:2-4).

Let’s start the conversation now: does anyone have a testimony to the fact that your homeschooling journey through a rough patch has grown your faith or love for God?