Category Archives: Other Products We Love

Other products that we enjoy.

Pin It! Maps Review

Have you ever discovered a product that answers a need SO perfectly, you just can’t help raving about it? I have wanted to enrich our geography a little more, and I am thrilled to have discovered Pin It! Maps. These maps have added so much fun to our geography, and they are both beautiful and fun to use! My kids and I love combining our Tapestry geography with Pin It! Maps!Using pins to label beautiful maps makes geography so much fun! Read all about Pin It! Maps!

I enjoy geography, and I delight in teaching it to my kids through our Tapestry studies. It enriches their history, and gives them a wonderful understanding of the world. But over the past school year, I have wanted something to enrich Map Aids. My kids benefit from the focus that Map Aids gives during their history studies. But as I have gotten more comfortable as a teacher, I started to look for something that would broaden their understanding of geography without distracting from the focus of our Tapestry geography.

I kept my eyes on different geography supplements over the school year, in case something stood out. Then I heard about Pin It! Maps. Pin It! Maps are large, glossy maps with flag pins that allows your child to label countries, capitals, landforms, or putting country flags on the respective countries. Each category of flags are color coded so you can easily focus on one topic or another.We love using these pin maps to make geography fun!

I received a review copy when we were beginning to study Ancient Greece and Rome in our Tapestry studies. I pulled out the Pin It! Map that focused on Europe, and separated the flags that I wanted my girls to know. Then I tried to have them pin the map weekly, so not only would they know the places they were studying in that particular week, but also they would have a feel for the Mediterranean area. For example, while we were studying Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius for one week, and used Map Aids to focus on those places, the kids had also been spending the whole unit labeling a map of the Mediterranean. My kids now have a better understanding of what happened in Pompeii because they have consistently seen the geography of Greece and Rome.My girls love doing Pin It! maps!

This has been the perfect fit with our Tapestry studies. It allows me to keep our geography studies focused on what we are studying in history, but it also enlarges the scope of the map. It will give them a good understanding of world geography as we move through our Tapestry studies, because although history continues to move on, geography mostly stays the same!

Pin It! Maps has a number of wonderful maps to choose from, but one of my favorites is their Early America’s maps. They are their historical maps, and would have been so much fun to use when we studied the American Civil War last year! I am glad we will cycle through that time period again and I can put those maps to good use.

The Tactile nature of using Pin It! Maps delights all three of my children. It gave them something unique to do, that was unlike any of our other subjects. As a teacher, I liked that I could simply add or remove pins if I wanted to make it more challenging or easier for each of my students. Using these maps could be used for all grades of school, and even I like labeling those maps with the fun pin flags!These Pin it! Maps are so beautiful and fun to use!

I cannot stop raving about the quality of Pin It! Maps. They are so beautiful I want to fill them in!  You will be able to use it for all your homeschool career, and then share it with your grandchildren! The maps are beautiful, large and glossy. They feel thick in your hand. This is not something you can create at home using your printer and laminator. I was honestly surprised how inexpensive they are given the quality of the product! All my homeschooling friends and family will tell you that I pull out the maps when they come over because I have to tell them how amazing these maps are!

I find geography fascinating and I want to pass that love along to my children. I want my children to not just look at a past time in history and judge it according to their worldview. I want them to understand what factors influenced people’s decisions. Geography often plays a much bigger part than we give it credit. Pin It! Maps gives you those tools to understand geography, while having fun learning it!

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy for my use. All comments and thoughts are my own.

Quality Learning Activities with History Unboxed

     Here at Tapestry of Grace, we love combining history with hands-on learning. So, when I first heard about History Unboxed I was intrigued by what it offers: subscription and on-demand boxes filled with crafts for different historical periods. My second oldest loves any hands on crafts she can find so I am regularly on the lookout for things that will bring history and hands-on activities together.

Emma History Unboxed

I was delighted to discover that History Unboxed has options for a range of time periods. Some of my favorite boxes that line up nicely with Tapestry Year 1 are:

They also have an Anglo-Saxon box that would fit well with Year 2, Weeks 1-2 and they will be adding medieval and American history boxes. For each time period, you have your choice of two age levels: you can get a box for ages 5-9 or for ages 10-15. If you have a teenager who loves hand-on learning, this option offers so much more for them than just “little kid” crafts.

We received two boxes, one from each age group, for Ancient Australia. Our family had just learned about Australia at the Grammar levels of Tapestry of Grace Year 3, so I thought a box about it would be a fun history enrichment activity to do with my daughters (aged 8, 6, and 4).

The boxes had a number of educational materials that I loved!  There was a paper explaining the history of ancient Australia, a cartoon for my children to read and color, and a letter written to them from children “visiting” that time period. These printed pages served beautifully as teaching aids—they helped me begin to explain to my daughters about ancient Australia. The box also included a list of book recommendations, though I chose to use our Tapestry books on Australia instead.

History Unboxed spray art

Then we started on the crafts. Out of the box came a boomerang for my girls to decorate, as well as drawing paper and aboriginal paints! There were age-appropriate coloring pictures in each box, and a fun lollipop with ants in it.  The girls were both grossed-out and fascinated by the lollipops.  However, once I convinced them that ants were safe to eat, everyone wanted to try one!History Unboxed craft box

Many parents are eager to incorporate crafts with their children, but not all of us find it easy to gather ideas and materials. History Unboxed provides an answer for that problem—an answer that I loved! Their wonderful activities directly connected my children with a time and place in history. I was also impressed to find that the activities we received were not crafts that I could pick up at a craft store. They were unique and well-thought-out.

You can buy one box at a time from History Unboxed (and they are always adding new boxes)—or you can set up a subscription to receive a new box every month. Imagine having a package full of historical hands-on goodies just show up on your doorstep!

There is one thing to note: History Unboxed expects each box to be used with one child, so for multiple children you would need to purchase add on items. Fortunately, they now offer a sibling add on option if you subscribe to their boxes so that you can receive extra materials at a reduced rate.

We loved this product. If you prefer not to invent or collect materials for hands-on activities, but still want them for your students, History Unboxed may be just the thing for you!

(Disclosure: I received two boxes from History Unboxed in exchange for this honest review.)

Things We Love: Homegrown Preschooler


Review by Casey Somerville

The second my daughter Violet turned two, suddenly it seemed like the word “preschool” was on everyone’s lips. The wisdom of many homeschooling moms convinced me that I was doing fine as long as Vi was being read to, learning her colors & shapes, and being instructed on how to sit cross cross applesauce (okay I added that last part). So I wasn’t stressed about preschool (at least not out loud) and as Violet got older and started on the road to official schooling, I was content to incorporate daily common sense learning in my now 4-year-old’s life.

Violet (age 4)

Violet (age 4)

When my sister-in-laws started raving about Homegrown Preschooler, I was skeptical. How necessary was an actual preschool curriculum? What if it just proves that I actually haven’t been teaching Violet all she needs to know before she hits Kindergarten? What if my way of sitting cross-cross-applesauce was all wrong? So it was with gritted teeth and slight heart palpitations that I began leafing through Homegrown Preschooler’s teaching manual.

But. As I flipped the pages and read through their philosophy and activity suggestions, I breathed a sigh of relief. And then I started to glow with encouragement. And then I was inspired. Not only did Homegrown Preschooler complement what I’d already been working on (albeit unscheduled and unofficially) with Vi, but they creatively expanded on topics and ideas I wanted to incorporate anyway.

I appreciated how the plans are monthly, giving you free reign as to how you want to divvy up the projects you choose to do. Note, I said choose! It’s a no-guilt curriculum. You choose what works for your time, budget, and children.

The monthly topics and activities provide light structure to your preschool, and I was blessed to see how many things we were already doing–Homegrown Preschooler’s suggestions simply sharpened and rounded out our focus.

Beatrice (age 2)

Beatrice (age 2)

The topics are well chosen and matched up beautifully with my 4-year-old and my 2-year-old, meeting them where they are developmentally, socially, and in terms of their interests. The fact that it spans several ages is wonderful–Beatrice (age 2) was thrilled to be included in “school.”

It took about an hour to read through the month plan (we started in January) and decide which activities I would include. While they do provide a printed space to plan your month, honestly I just used my laptop. The folks at Homegrown Preschooler also include a helpful, comprehensive list of supplies you’ll need and most of the printables for each month. (However, I did have to spend a little time looking for a weather wheel template.)

As I read through the suggestions, it was easy to latch on to the ones my daughters would love and discard the ones I knew wouldn’t work for us this month. Again, I didn’t feel guilty about it. Score!


I also found that the activities are open-ended just enough that it was intuitive to change them here and there to better fit our life and resources. Plus, for some of the more nuanced activities, Homegrown Preschooler includes specific resources in their curriculum package (i.e. water beads, fake snow, Arctic animals…) which made it easy to say yes to those particular ideas!


Overall, we really enjoyed our month of Homegrown Preschooler. As an “unofficial preschool” type of mom, I was impressed at how well it worked for us and I’m looking forward to February!




(Disclosure: I received this curriculum in exchange for an honest review.)

Lampstand Learning Center

img-ocIn this post, we interview Barb Spanier, the director of Lampstand Learning Center, as she helps us understand what online education can offer the homeschooling family.

What is online education, exactly?

Online education choices run the gamut—from full blown online schools to online tutoring sessions and anything in-between. Parents who want their child’s entire educational journey to be conducted by a certified online school with official transcripts are able to find many options available to them.  Most homeschool families that I interact with, though, are looking for online classes as a supplement for their home education program

 What types of classes are there for online students?

There are two types of online classes, synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous classes meet in real time, and typically a live teacher either leads a discussion or lectures the students.  Asynchronous classes do not meet in real time, which allows students to do the work when it fits into their schedules. Such sessions are pre-recorded or use relatively static forum interactions.

Synchronous classes are great for families that want their students to have a set time each week to attend class.  You will find many different styles of synchronous classes online with most leaning toward either live lectures or discussions.  Class sizes also vary, with lecture classes having any number of students, and discussion classes being on the smaller size—typically 15 to 20 students.

Asynchronous classes work well for the busy homeschool family that is not able to fit a synchronous class into their schedule, as well as for overseas families whose time zones vary widely from those in which the classes are typically held. Asynchronous classes are typically lecture-based or forum-based with a larger number of students in each class.

What tools should a student expect to use with online classes?

The student should expect to use a class management system (CMS) if they are taking an online class. Class management systems are used by teachers to provide most, if not all, information that a student will need to be successful in class.  Online learning centers typically have one CMS for the center and then each class will have its own class page.  Students go to their class page to download assignments, watch lectures, take quizzes, upload homework, check grades, etc.  The CMS is the virtual “space” that hosts the online experience, and typically students will be checking their class page numerous times a week.

If your student is enrolled in a synchronous class they will also have an online classroom, as well as their class page.  The online classroom is where they will go to listen to the lecture or participate in discussion.  Typical online classrooms offer text chat, live chat via a microphone or video, hand raising capability, and a whiteboard to display visual presentations. Students will need a computer with a microphone and camera, and a good connection to the internet to fully participate in synchronous classes.

What questions should parents ask as they explore online education?

Here are some good questions to ask if you’re considering online classes for yours student:

  • Is the class synchronous, or asynchronous?
  • What is the class size?
  • Is there daily/weekly homework assigned?
  • Do students turn in homework? If so, how do they turn it in and in what formats?
  • Are there assigned papers? Will you give quizzes and tests?
  • Are students graded by your teachers, or do we do it?
  • How do the students contact their teachers?
  • What equipment is needed? Do your students need a microphone and camera to participate?
  • What if we are traveling/sick/have a power outage and miss a class?

What kind of classes does the Lampstand Learning Center offer?

We offer small, synchronous discussion classes using the Tapestry of Grace curriculum. These classes are designed for dialectic and rhetoric students (of junior and senior high school ages).  Our classes are a bit different in that they will each focus on one “thread”. For example, we offer Year 1 Dialectic or Rhetoric classes in History, Literature, Writing, Bible/Church History, and Government. A student who wanted to use the Lampstand Learning Center for Literature and Writing would sign up for two online classes. Click here for the full list.

We strongly believe in Socratic discussion, as promoted in the Tapestry curriculum, and seek to create an environment that is conducive to offering the best chance possible for students to actively participate in each class discussion. Our classes provide a “flipped classroom” where the students are working through the assignments at home, and coming together virtually for guided explorations of the material.

We purposely keep an average of only 10 students per class (which is much lower than most online education options), because our desire is that each student will learn the skills necessary to participate well in a Socratic discussion.  We also offer writing classes that teach students the necessary writing skills to be successful in college, and in life.

Because we expect that each student is doing the assignments independently and coming together for discussion, we do require each family to own a Digital Edition of the Tapestry of Grace year plan that the class is using. We do this to ensure that each student is on the same page with the teacher and other classmates.

Do you have any examples of students’ work?

Whether in our discussion classes or our writing classes, our students are given opportunities to create presentations. Here are two you might enjoy watching.

Level 12 Writing Class Senior Thesis

Pride and Prejudice Literature Analysis

Does it work?

We think so. While many families love Tapestry of Grace and benefit from it without the online courses, our classes have been a great help for other families. Here are a few quotes from those currently using the Lampstand Learning Center:

I have been very happy with the writing class, and am quite pleased that you discuss history so much.  This class has helped remove some of the stress from homeschooling, and her [the student’s] writing is improving. ~ LLC parent

My student so enjoyed his lit-lite year 4 rhetoric class last year. He learned a lot – mostly that he can enjoy literature, “even poetry,” as he says! LOL! Seriously, though, this class was a real blessing for him and for me. I’m so glad you offer this resource. ~ LLC parent

I would just like to thank you for everything I have learned from you this past school year. You were an excellent teacher and I really enjoyed the classes that I took with you. ~ LLC student

Registration is currently open for the 2014- 2015 school year.  Please visit our site (Link: to see if what we have to offer would be a blessing for your family as you “love the journey.”

Review of Love the Journey

LTJ coverWe have been enjoying feedback from readers of Love the Journey. This one was particularly thorough, and we thought it gave a good overview of both the book and what the reader found valuable. So, we decided to publish it here. Love the Journey is highly recommended reading for homeschooling moms on all levels of experience. Enjoy the review!


Review by Julie in Kansas
(a missionary to sensitive countries who cannot share her last name)

On page 179 of her book, Love The Journey, copyright 2014, Marcia Somerville says, “This chapter is as much about parenting as it is about homeschooling, but as I’ve said previously in this book, homeschooling is parenting concentrate, so that shouldn’t surprise anyone.” [Italics are my emphasis.]

Do I resonate with this idea that homeschooling is like having poured too much OJ concentrate into the glass before adding water? My husband often says that our son is worth 10 boys! Intense, sometimes bitter, but full of flavor are EXACTLY my sentiments about being with our children all the time. I wouldn’t trade the opportunity or responsibility for the world! But could someone please, please, please, gently, and when appropriate, firmly, reset my gaze on the right ways to do this?

Because of its orderly structure, featuring five sections, Love the Journey is an easy go-to reference tool after it has been read. I must mention that each chapter is so chock full of truth plus the need for personal application that it took me longer to “read” the book than I first anticipated. Joyfully, I feel as though I have taken a year’s course, and been enriched beyond any class I’ve paid for. Thanks, Marcia, for truly being an “older woman…teaching what is good.”

In this review, I have chosen to mention the recurrent themes throughout the entire book that stood out to me and continue to be ruminating in my mind.

THEME ONE: Scripture. Marcia starts off in the Introduction with passages and then continues throughout the book with words from THE Teacher. How can an author not be Christ-centered if they are searching for what the truth is? Familiar passages take on a fresh meaning as she helps mothers slow down and see how God loves and directs us each and every daily moment. “Once you’ve heard a child out, I Thessalonians 5:14 gives parents useful categories to think about when addressing children who are not in a good place. Paul writes, ‘And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.’ Not all misbehavior stems from the same wrong heart attitudes…you’ll find that sometimes people don’t act the way we think that they should from inability, rather than bad attitudes” (182).

THEME TWO: Humility. She uses the much-welcomed conversational tone of a beloved relative, cheering you on by sharing what she has learned so far in her life. All of the mistakes she shares helped me, even if I haven’t been making the exact same ones. And guess what? She humbly allowed God to make changes in her, which encourages me to do likewise. “God will use your experiences in this season of journeying with your children as part of the mix of you (and their) unique ‘soul soils.’ You aren’t finished yet, and as He equips you to meet and greet the challenges of the homeschool journey, the hills, the vistas, and the valleys are all part of the process that He beautifully orchestrates to bring forth the varying expressions of Himself in you and in your children” (64-65).

Combined with her humble words, she includes humor and situations we have all found ourselves to be in. “When we bow to the tyranny of others’ voices or our own feelings and thoughts, we so often end up taking on more than we can handle in a quiet and orderly way. We find ourselves rushing, which makes it easy to take to give in to temptations to be rude and unkind to our children and husbands. In rushing them out the door, we go yelling through the house to hurry them up. While busy with other tasks, we rebuke with a sharp word or sudden swat, or because we are among outsiders, we grit our teeth and try to pretend that the two-year-old kicking and screaming on the department store floor isn’t our baby!” (127).

THEME THREE: Flexibility. I am guessing that Marcia can bend and reach her toes! Remaining true to her Tapestry of Grace reminder of choosing what your family needs from the vast buffet of homeschooling choices, she is not offering or expecting one rigid road. She not only addresses mothers who have known they would homeschool from the first sonogram, but also those of us who allowed our children to be in a government school before bringing them home. She praises the military wife right alongside the single mother. The working mom is valued equally with the stay-at-home mom. Whatever our families’ situations, Marcia reminds us that we are to live our lives without comparing ourselves to others. A snippet: “We are most often the ones that are called ‘Type A’ personalities. We like to have all our ducks in a row…We know that sometimes we can trample on relationships, and we’re sorry about that, but for us the mission usually trumps the feelings of others…[vs.] Those of us who don’t like schedules tend to be creative, passionate, and somewhat (okay, a lot) disorganized and messy. We usually don’t want to take things too seriously, we value relationships above tasks, and we don’t want to be hemmed in by either our own choices or the rules that others make” (132).

THEME FOUR: Life stories. What an intimate step we take inside the Somervilles’ home to read personal stories of what Marcia has learned from 22 years of homeschooling! An added benefit in Love The Journey is of also hearing what her children learned as they share from their adult viewpoints. “Our then college-aged son talked about how the transfer from home to a liberal, secular college wasn’t hard because he’d learned that his siblings and parents were sinners at home, so at school he didn’t really get surprised by the presence of sin–though its increased volume among his peers saddened him greatly” (72). “[T]wo of my became professional artists…another became a team leader and IT systems engineer…one loves his job…[don’t want to spoil all the details!]” (206). “Towards the end of one particularly busy day, I was putting four-year-old…to bed. ‘Mommy?’ he said. ‘Yes, Davey,’ I answered… ‘Mommy, I know that you were really busy today, so when I finished my drawring…today, I held it up behind you so that you could see it with the eyes in the back of your head.’ That was a moment that I hope I never forget. My heart constricted with love and pain” (168).

THEME FIVE: Practical. While we all love the warm fuzzies and need to hear the “good” more on some days than others, Love the Journey is also full of “I can do this in my home” pointers. “What this book is, or is trying to be, is a book that helps you to find (and define in your own words) the principles behind wise homeschooling practices. It’s a book about ways to be intentional, purposeful, and Christ-centered as you sit in your house…” (15). Some of the chapters for grunt work include: “Clarifying the Ends We Have in Mind,” “Training in Liberty,” “Keeping a Quiet Home,” “A Time to Plan,” “What to Do With Preschoolers,” “What About Memory Work,” etc. Read the book with your husband not only to have him keep you accountable, but also to come up with your unique family goals and methods! Frequently, Marcia shares how throughout the years of schooling her husband was the instigator of something needed in their family.

THEME SIX: Raising Questions. There are several thought-provoking gentle probes strung throughout the book, but by far my personal favorite section was the last one, Section Five: “When You Lie Down and When You Rise Up.” Marcia lovingly confronts us with much-needed pointed questions for how we, as teachers of life to our children, will choose to live out our salvation in our homes. These questions solidify Love The Journey as life changing for me. Included in the answers are Words of God—the ultimate mentor.

Chapters on commitment, patiently loving, loving kindly, loving without envying, and having gratitude permeate our homes cover topics that can never be overemphasized for us saints stuck in this sinful world. Various, but far from all-inclusive, questions from that section are “In what (or, better, in Whom) am I trusting for the success of our homeschool?” (290). “What bad fruits did I reap as my unloving behaviors created ongoing cycles of folly?” (305). “In light of what I’ve seen, how should I respond right now to God and others regarding my current, unkind habits?” (322). “What does God say? How can the gospel make a difference, and teach me to love better and envy less?” (334). “What cycles of blessing can I hope for as I turn to God and grow in my ability to love?” (340). “Which is more characteristic of your attitude as your rise up each morning and think about the day ahead: do you ‘get to’ or have you ‘got to’? That one vowel change can make all the difference in seeing that our daily tasks are a privilege” (351). Though in no way conclusive, these are some of the many nuggets I mined. What an unexpected deeper surprise to have found real Gold as I hopped on board the moving (but purposeful) train of Love The Journey.

There is one sentence, however, that I disagree with. In her introduction, Marcia writes, “This book is written to women who are disciples of Jesus Christ and are new to homeschooling” (15). I would argue against both sides of this compound sentence. The first part about the audience being only those who are currently following the Master excludes all of those who might be future followers. Often God uses personal testimony, such as Marcia has graciously shared on these pages of her book, to be the catalyst of turning a heart towards Him. There might be those who are not even saved who need to hear her “tried but failed on my own” to homeschool. God’s Word does not return void! Secondly, I am not new to homeschooling. But I have been blessed, challenged, encouraged, redirected, and 100% infused with His great plans for our family by sitting by Marcia’s armchair side throughout this book. I would strongly suggest that people read this at any stage they are on in the homeschooling journey, and then reread it a few years later as a type of plumb line. And read it again!

Also remaining true to herself, Marcia is current with technology and has a study/discussion group. It’s open to anyone reading the book (TOG users or not) and the URL is:

My Rating: 5 stars plus

The ideas are nothing new under the sun, but the author has taken what God says is true and applied it to life. She notes His changing and working power to share with others. That is surpassing what humanly is possible! All glory to God who uses Marcia to personify the words of Paul in Colossians 2:2-3, “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” And thanks to Marcia, for allowing herself to be a channel!

Cathy Duffy’s Classic: 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum

If you are new to Homeschooling, want to give a gift to a mom who is just taking the homeschooling plunge, or if you need a change of curricula, this is the book for you. Cathy Duffy’s work has been such a help to many newbies in sorting out the learning style(s) and reading up on the specific features of curricula that they want to try before they buy.

Are you a new homeschooler? When you click on the link at the end of this paragraph, you’ll be offered a one time opportunity* to download FREE chapter 4 of 101 Top Picks; it’s about learning styles. It’s very helpful, and will give you an idea of Cathy’s style and substance. Ready for that link? Here it is:

For most of us, there’s no one perfect curriculum that lasts for our whole homeschooling life. As I wrote in my more general post, “Stars and Seasons”, we may go for quite awhile with one approach, and then things change in our families, or seasons of life, and we need a different direction to head. With Cathy’s book on your shelf, and with a bookmark to her excellent website, which offers in-depth reviews of curricula that didn’t make the Top 101 list, you’ll always have a place to start in your search!

This homeschooling classic has recently been released in digital format, so there’s no reason to wait if you want to get started with researching homeschooling curricula, and learning valuable tips that will help you to define more clearly your unique goals for the journey ahead. For those of us old fashioned folk who still like paper, you can order from the above link and the book will come quickly to you! Enjoy!


*If you decide to go there and don’t want to–or can’t–download this free chapter now, just be advised that you’ll need to clear your digital cookies for another offer to download this free chapter.