Category Archives: Encouraging Stories

Stories and encouragement for the homeschooling journey from families who use Tapestry of Grace

Tapestry Graduates: A Journey to Value the Classics


Seventeen-year-old Gian Garfias is about to become a graduate of Tapestry, which his family has used for the last five years. He has already been accepted to the college of his choice.

Gian gave me some of his time so that I could ask questions about his experiences as a Tapestry high school student. Although he assured me that he isn’t deeply interested in any subject except math (and maybe a little science), it was remarkable to hear how much he has learned from the humanities! This is his interview.

Will you tell me a little bit about yourself, Gian?

I’m seventeen and I live in Texas, a little way from Dallas. I want to do mathematics. I’m going to Liberty University and then eventually I want to get a doctorate and become a math professor.

Cool! Do you have a favorite area of mathematics, or a favorite mathematician who inspires you?

My favorite area of math is algebra, and my favorite historical figure is Isaac Newton because he helped to invent calculus, and also because his ideas were foundational to physics.

I know you’re really into math, but do you like geography or history?

Geography isn’t something I’ve noticed much, but I do think it’s interesting to see how often Europe changes, and it also helps me to understand why throughout history people are warring over various parts of Europe. Usually it’s because the person is invading used to own that land awhile ago, and it helps to explain some of the wars.

I like history okay. I think this year (Year 2) may have been my favorite, because we go from the fall of the Roman Empire all the way up to the French Revolution, and it’s so interesting to see how so many ideas developed in these short, controlled bursts. For the last few weeks we’ve been comparing and contrasting the American and French Revolutions, and it’s crazy to see how those two wound up so very differently, even though they started out with the same principles. America was working from biblical principles, but France abandoned God and then got more and more bloody and wound up as a military dictatorship.

What do you mean by ideas developing in “these short, controlled bursts”?

“It seems like knowledge is like a rock skimming across a lake. Whenever it touches down, you get a new burst.  There’s a burst of discoveries in the 1600’s, and then in the 1800’s your machines get way more complex… you get to airplanes in a century!

That’s a neat observation, and so is your thought about the two Revolutions. I know that you are thinking about going into the field of mathematics, where traditionally there is a lot of atheism. Have you learned much about God by studying history?

Yes, as a matter of fact I have developed some convictions about God through studying history.

At the end of the Reformation, Deism started coming about, with the idea that God created everything but then stepped back and let things run on. So that caused me to wonder whether Deism was a reasonable theory and worth considering.

But when I look back through the rest of history that I’ve learned, I just don’t see how you could come to the conclusion that God wasn’t involved. Take the American Revolution for instance: they almost failed to fight the British like five different times.  Besides that, when they did go to fight, the American colonies were taking on what was the most powerful nation in the world at the time. I can’t prove it mathematically or scientifically, because you can’t prove anything about stuff like that, but I became convinced that we are affected by God’s grace and the way He leads us through history. Otherwise we human beings would have killed ourselves several times, and I’m not even talking about the Cold War.

For a guy who says he’s only into math, you have a lot of great observations about history! What do you think about worldviews?

I don’t really think about worldviews that much, but it is interesting to see how fixated everybody was on God when the church had national power, but then during the Reformation people starting asking, “Hey, what if this isn’t real?” And then there were two branches of the Renaissance and one was more humanist and the other was more focused on God. It’s crazy to see how, no matter what you’re studying in Tapestry, people keep winding up saying, “hey, everybody, we need to get back to God and to what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Yes, it is funny how people keep winding up having to deal with God sooner or later. How about literature? Do you like it?

I don’t consider myself very good at literature, and I don’t like it. But there was one book that I really loved. When I was in a class at the Lampstand Learning Center, I did a PowerPoint presentation in Year 4 on The Chosen, and I think it’s my favorite book that I’ve read. It’s about this friendship between these two guys, and you get a taste of the Jewish culture at the time and I found it really intriguing and making the presentation for it.

I took three years of literature online with the Lampstand Learning Center, and then this year started doing it with my family. Now that I’m doing it at home, I’m realizing how much I learned not only about how literature works, but also about what the authors are saying. My sister is in her freshman year and she knows a lot more about literature than I do and likes it a lot better, but I’m able to spot literary devices and what the author is trying to portray in each of his works, and it’s easier for me to get the homework done, and then she’s like “how did you figure that out!?”

Whenever I talk to other Tapestry graduates, we reminisce about how much we enjoyed doing integrated studies: looking at once time period from the perspective of four or five different subjects. Any thoughts about that?

Integrated studies have definitely been great for me. I especially noticed that during my freshman through junior years. I can see things from both “government” and “civilian” perspectives in a way, because I’m reading history (which is written sort of from the government’s perspective) and literature (which is written more from the ordinary person’s perspective) for that time. So it really gives me more of a feel for what everybody is thinking.

So, even though you wouldn’t have chosen it, are you glad you studied the humanities?

Yes, I am. Studying the humanities has been unexpectedly good for me. It has helped me appreciate the arts more, even though I’m not an artistic person. It has developed the non-math side of me, and it has helped me to see some things about God that I might not have noticed otherwise. I think the humanities have also sharpened mind in ways that will help me notice worldviews.

For example now I use my literature skills to analyze songs and other books and stuff, and I find that most amazing. My mom always says that I should be careful what I listen to because people express worldviews through music. I always kind of pushed that aside, but last summer I was listening to something and I suddenly realized, “Wait! Meaning through form!”—and then I saw how those song lyrics were actually being used to show the songwriter’s beliefs. So maybe I am learning to think about worldviews more.

Is there anything you’d like to say about your mother and her involvement in your education?

As a teenager, of course you always think your parents are unfair or don’t understand what’s going on. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that everything wrong with me is my fault, and everything that’s gone right for me has to do with my parents’ influence.

My mom isn’t a very math or science oriented person, but even though that’s the case, she’s gone out of her way to make sure I had the best she could offer in terms of learning those things because I love them. Then she made sure that I had help with writing and literature and history.

I haven’t ever really liked school, except math and science. But my mother did a lot of things to try to make it enjoyable, and as I took the SAT’s and other tests, it became clear to me that she prepared me really well. It never really dawned on me how much time she invested in my education until now. I’m grateful.

Tapestry Graduates: The Journey of an Aspiring Policewoman


journey-of-aspiring-policewomanUnlike many young people who are graduating this spring, Caty Payne isn’t going to a four-year college. She plans to finish the associates degree that she has already begun at her local community college, then go on to Police Academy.

Since Caty is also the daughter of Sheri Payne, a Tapestry Advisor and long-time teacher for Lampstand Learning Center, I was deeply interested to learn what sort of impact the last nine years of Tapestry education might have had on an aspiring policewoman. Caty kindly answered my questions and gave me a window into her world.

12745784_10153977444583140_7262335587357133101_n First of all, Caty, why law enforcement?

I think it was something that God has been pushing me to do; I have a high sense of justice and always wanting to protect everyone around me, whether I know them or not.  I also feel like a lot of people are ministering to the homeless, or people in other countries, but in terms of the criminals in our own country no one is paying much attention to them, and I think God wants me to use my gifts in that area, not only to do justice but also to show His kindness to them.

 Did you have a favorite subject or a favorite time period in Tapestry?

It would probably be between Literature and History.  One of my favorite periods was the beginning of America and also the 1900’s.  I was really intrigued by the Colonial Era and the 1900’s.

Did you have a favorite historical figure or anybody who was particularly inspiring?

I really loved Abraham Lincoln, because I felt like he and I have the same sense of justice, like he couldn’t stand slavery and did his best.  He thought of other people, but not just a certain group of people.  He didn’t think of himself, and he was very eloquent (which I am not) and he got a lot done.

Do you feel like your literature studies and practice in thinking about personalities in stories might help you when you’re dealing with other people in the world of law and criminals?  For instance, did reading Les Miserables help you think about being in law enforcement like Javert, and about dealing with criminals like Valjean or like Thenardier?

Growing up, I was very reserved and it was difficult because I kept all my thoughts and feelings to myself, so when I was alone I would either listen to music or read books.  That was my release and my comfort zone.  I loved it.  I got lost in those worlds and those personalities.  I’m a thinker, but I’m not very eloquent because I don’t talk a lot.  But I think about every possible little thing.  I imagine how future conversations might go in my head.  So yes, I’ve imagined talking to criminals like the Thenardiers and definitely thinking that I don’t want to be like Javert.  So I try to think about how to correct people in a good way, and thinking that through.  It’s hard for me to tell people what to do.

What was hardest for you in your Tapestry studies, or what did you feel like you didn’t do as well?

Probably Government, actually, because it was really hard for me to understand (and I didn’t enjoy it as much because of that).  There were too many big words when I was younger, and it was hard to really get it until the teacher explained it in class.

How would you respond to somebody who asked you whether your classical education is going to be useful in your chosen field of law enforcement?
Some things you grow up learning that are good to learn even if you’re not going into a field where those things are necessary.  These things shape your mind and who you are.  You learn from the thoughts and actions of others, and I think God uses that.  There’s a reason why God made history books and I think we learn from history, either to be like the people we see in it, or not to imitate them.  I think these things help you as a person, whether you ever use them vocationally.
     When you’re a kid, you’re just told to read a book, so you read it.  There are all these things running through your mind and it’s like you’re trying to get prepared for adulthood whether or not you know it. I found I could relate to a lot of the people in my history and literature readings—those characters were doing things I could imagine myself doing in the future.  It really helped me to work through what I might do or not do, and why, especially in areas of right and wrong.  I think those experiments helped shape who I am, because in a way these characters could make decisions for me and I could see how those decisions turned out.  So, I think it helps children to study these things even if they aren’t obviously or directly related.
     I remember reading some cases (in the Government track) where I just realized “Oh, I’ve never thought about it that way,” or I gained more knowledge.  I think that some of that helped me want to become a police officer, because when you see all these cases for different laws, in reacting to them and seeing how strongly I felt about them, I realized how much I really care about justice. It’s funny that government studies were hardest for me, but in a way they did the most to help me understand what I want to be.
Is there anything you’d like to say about your mother?

My mom is superwoman. I know a lot of people say that about their mom, but my mom is truly inspirational. She juggled homeschooling three kids with my dad being gone all of the time due to being in the military. She taught us with every intention of bringing us up for God’s glory. She is an amazing woman.

Talking to Caty reminded me of something I had forgotten: sometimes the hardest parts of our education are the ones that teach us most. She also demonstrated for me all over again that we need more in our lives than just the things that directly apply to our chosen vocations. We need the stories of history and literature that teach us who God is, and how to be human.

It was a pleasure to talk to a young woman who is eager to see God’s justice enacted here on Earth, but at the same time wants to spend her working days reaching out to those who are in danger of prison.

Returning Thanks: Kim and Kate, Part I

???????????????????????????????Kim and Kate belong to an online co-op called Vestis Madres (which roughly translates to “Moms in Pajamas”). They explained to me that when you have an online co-op where none of your students see you, teaching in pajamas is an option!

Thanks to the magic of the internet, Vestis Madres consists of nine families who live in just about every corner of America: Washington, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Texas, New Mexico, Massachusetts, and Arkansas. How amazing that people from so many different states can love the journey together!

It seems that being in different states has not kept members of this group from becoming close friends. Kate told me, “Kim is uView More: in New Hampshire and I’m in Massachusetts, so we aren’t neighbors.  But we have been able to get together a couple of times.  We like to stretch our cyber arms to try to hug each other.  It’s always wonderful to get together and pray.  I’ve always appreciated Kim’s willingness and encouragement to do that, to bear one another’s burdens.”

Kim (pictured above with her family) has an unusual story which Kate urged her to share with me. Kim said, ”This is my first year teaching online, but my fourth round with Tapestry.  We just joined the Vestis Madres group and I have Multiple Sclerosis.”

“Near the time when I needed to start preparing for my first class,” she continued, “I had a relapse and lost the use of my dominant left hand.  I couldn’t write.  And that had a big impact on my quiet times, because I always journal and I just felt like I couldn’t connect with God.”

Kim went on. “I got voice-activated software so that I could still prepare my slides.  I happened to have been assigned Weeks 4, 6, and 7 of Year 1, which are all the Bible as Literature.  God really used the experience of going through the Teacher’s Notes and preparing my slides as my quiet times.  I was able to slow down my mind and focus with preparing slides in the way I previously had with note-taking.”

“It was God reaching out to me.” Kim told me, “He was saying, ‘I know you’re losing physical ability, but I still want to spend time with you.’”

By this point in our conversation, I was blinded by tears. I blurted out, “I think I’m going to cry.”

“Me too!” said Kate.

We all took a deep breath.  Then Kim continued, ”And I was still able to teach, which I didn’t think I could do.”

“And she did a fantastic job!” Kate added.

Kim also shared with me about how it’s a struggle to be dependent, and how her children are learning to be servants because all of a sudden she can’t do anything, even putting on all her own clothes. “It’s humbling to have to rely on your children and having people from your church cleaning your toilet,” Kim remarked, quietly.

“But you’ve been able to minister to the people who are ministering to you,” encouraged Kate.

“Yes,” affirmed Kim. “For each person who has come to my home, God has been faithful to show me some way to pray with them or to share with them something from my quiet time methods.  He’s showing me ‘Yes, you can still be useful’ even when I felt useless and like everything had been taken away from me that I would normally do.”

Kim excused herself from our interview for a few minutes to answer her doorbell. When she came back, she said, ”For example, a friend just dropped off a meal for me. I’ve watched her grow in the Lord, and when I can say, ‘Look, watch me walk across the floor without a cane today,’ that encourages her and helps her to remember that if God is moving in my life, He’s going to move in her life too.’”

Kim told me about some of her other struggles. “I’m tempted to feel worthless.  Part of how we think of ourselves, our identity as homeschooling moms, is in what we do all day, and I can’t do what I had done. But God has shown me that I’m not worthless, and my identity isn’t in what I do all day.”

I said, quietly, “I’ve noticed that homeschooling parents often struggle with being self-reliant. I want you to know that you are setting your kids such a beautiful example by showing them what it looks like to be dependent on God and on the people whom God has given you.”

“Thank you,” said Kim. “I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective. That is encouraging.”

Then Kate said, ”When I look at Kim’s situation and see her sharing the story of what God is doing in her life, then He gets the greater glory.  In my own life I call these kinds of stories little treasures that I keep in my treasure box, and every so often I take them out.  These stories are so sweet, and so much better when shared, and they encourage others.”

This whole interview filled me with sadness, wonder, and then joy.  I made me long to return thanks to God. Who else but God would love KView More: More: in such an intimate and detailed way, even timing her study of Scripture through Tapestry so that she could use it as a way to spend time with Him? Who else would give our sufferings such purpose by using them to encourage other people? Who else would stay by us, tenderly and strongly present as we walk the hard path of humility and dependence? He is so good to us!

I couldn’t wait to share Kim’s story with you, because it illustrates so well what God is doing for families on this wonderful journey of homeschooling.  But wait, there’s more!  In Part II of this interview, Kim and Kate will share some of what they have been learning about God and worldviews as they joint-taught Rhetoric Literature for their group this autumn. Stay tuned!

Returning Thanks: Kim and Kate, Part II


This is the second part of my interview with Kim and Kate, as part of our series on returning thanks for the journey of homeschooling.  You can read the first part of the interview here, and you can read the introduction to the whole series here.

Kim (pictured to the left with her family) and Kate are part of the same online co-op, even though they live in separate states. In the second part of my interview with them, they wanted to return thanks to God for what they are learning as they share the load of teaching rhetoric Literature.

Kate immediately pointed out how God has been kind to them: “When we first got together, because this is our first year doing this together online, we just sort of split up the weeks.  But every time I sit down to work, I’m amazed at how the Master Weaver folded all the weeks I am doing together, even though they aren’t sequential.”

Kim agreed. Although they didn’t plan it this way, she finds that “It’s like every time I sit down to work on a new week, I’m hitting the literary analysis tools again that I already taught.”

Kim and Kate have used the Teaching Rhetoric Literature document extensively this year, especially to help them decide which tests to administer. Things haven’t always gone according to plan, but God has consistently given them joy in the journey. Kate said, “We started off with six rhetoric students: four boys and two girls.  Then a family had to drop out, so we have two boys and two girls now.  In fact, last week only two students came to class and then one had to leave early, so I wondered if all my class preparation was for naught. But then I remember how Kate Woods once said to me ‘nothing is wasted in God’s economy,’ and I believe that there was something God wanted to say to this one student.”

I loved her attitude! I also love the fact that, regardless of how many students they are teaching in a given week, Kim and Kate themselves are being bowled over by the study of Scripture as Literature. Kate shared with me that “I was working on Psalm 119 and was personally amazed by the class plan’s point about God’s law being beautiful.  I had always thought of law as something that condemns you, and how can you like that?  But I was amazed by the idea of beauty as something that makes us want to stare at it and copy it, and it was a paradigm shift for me to apply that to God’s law.  Studying the Old Testament through that lens has been a revelation.”

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Kate (pictured to the right with her family) also said, “I was struggling with meaning through form, but then when we did Psalm 119 as an acrostic poem, I saw how that particular form of each section corresponding to a letter of the alphabet was being used to celebrate a particular meaning about how God uses language and His law!”

Kim added something that she was learning: “It’s also just so interesting to see God as a literary author.  That’s pretty silly, because obviously He wrote the Bible, but just to see Him using all these amazing literary devices and thinking ‘He’s the first one!’  I did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I loved the way God uses artistic repetition of promises, sins, and rescues, and how that whole pattern that we studied repeats several times and then is broken in a particular way.”

Kate agreed, and added her own example: “Yes, or the way we looked at Genesis, and how it’s easy to look at Creation from a dry and dusty point of view, and then when we looked at the artistic symmetry and the patterns in how God ordered Creation, and suddenly stepping back and saying ‘Wow!'”

Kim laughed. “Yes, suddenly it was like, ‘Wow, God, you’re amazing in yet another way that I’ve never seen!”

Kate also reflected on the worldviews analysis that she and her students have been doing. “Studying these worldviews is remarkable.  I was an English major, but we never talked about these things.  I’ve loved talking to the students about how to sharpen their minds so that they can detect truth.  Just today we were looking an Ancient Indian poetry.  We talked about how Indian culture is like an explosion of sights and sounds and colors, and how we can be dazzled by artistry, but needing to look past the dazzle a little bit and find meaning.  That’s part of my own learning that was left a little void.”

Kate added that “I was also touched by ‘Jennifer’s argument’ in Poetics, about how Literature gives us vicarious experience, and I think that’s true for other people as well.  We may not know experientially what a friend is going through, but we may know someone intimately who has gone through it, and what they have concluded, and we are able to share with them.'”

Kim and Kate are certainly enjoying themselves! They are also eager to give their students room to stretch their wings in literary analysis. “This is my third year with the co-op,” said Kate, “and every year we let the students pick one book to do for themselves that is outside the booklist, to use the literary analysis tools on a new book.  That has always been such a highlight.  This year, Kim had the great idea of doing the Iliad ‘as written’ in the class plans, and then letting our students analyze the Odyssey on their own.”

After a moment, Kate added, “Of course we don’t give it absolutely ‘on their own’; we meet with them every week and give a blank analysis chart, and then they have to do a presentation and a paper. It’s been so interesting, because when you let students do this, sometimes they go off and come back and say, ‘Look, I found an example of irony!’  Then sometimes I would have to say, ‘that’s not actually irony; that’s a metaphor.’  But it’s still so exciting to see them struggling to use the tools themselves!”

My conversation with Kim and Kate was like being in a refreshing little restaurant that has a great view of a famous, exotic location which you have just finished touring. Sitting with them, drinking deeply of their delight and gratitude, and watching them point out their favorite parts of the amazing place they just visited, I felt like returning thanks to God simply because He has been so good to them, and because it gave me such pleasure to hear about their trip!

Our Primer Families

12019956_1189907721024753_8906291092086819008_nSome parent-teachers who are using Tapestry Primer this year have given us permission to post a few of the “first fruits” moments that they are having with their students and in their own continuing education as adults.

Suzanne wrote, “This morning, my 4 year old was reviewing her timeline cards. She got to Ruth and Boaz and said that they were picking ‘weed’ so they could make bread. We’re on Week 4-1, and she made it all the way to Alexander the Great. She is definitely learning a lot!” (Suzanne’s daughter is pictured right, with her cards from the Big Story Game.)

Carly, with a wink, informed her Primer Facebook group that “You might be using Primer if… your five year old says to his dad, ‘tuck me in like a sarcophagus…'”

Ana told us, “My six-year-old asked me with a worried expression, ‘Mommy, are you going to send me to school next year when I’m seven to train for war???’ Lol, we read about the [Greek] hoplites leaving to train at seven years old, weeks ago! That made an impression!”

12140715_834045309495_5608710371688698314_nAlissa’s kids (pictured left) aren’t too worried about being shipped off to the Greek army. She wrote, “We had lots of fun with Ancient Greece this week. We had a sunny morning outside playing Olympics. We had competitions in hopscotch (my six-year-old is getting pretty good at it), bike racing and chalk art. Everyone got to wear the laurel crown for victory!”

Meanwhile, in another part of the Ancient World… Cat wrote, “The kids and I acted out Persia’s Royal Road this week. It took a few tries for them to grasp the concept of a relay but they loved running as fast as they could to deliver my messages to ‘the general’ (a stuffed animal)!”


While all this was going on in the ancient world, some of our families who decided to do Primer in two parts began in the Middle Ages and progressed up to Colonial America!

Here are the medieval family shields that two of Jessica’s sons designed for themselves after learning about the meaning of shields on Pinterest. You can also see that the whole family had a great time at Jamestown (below)!   12200931_10208379348951787_1997323302_n-2


Speaking of whole families, it’s been so special and fun to hear about how Mom and Dad are learning right along with their Primer students!

“I am realizing all that I myself did not know while preparing to teach my son,” marveled one teacher, who was reading in the Guidebook about Israel’s neighboring nations in Canaan.  

This teacher also told about how, even though she was an honor student, she didn’t remember anything she learned in history especially. “I am new to this,” she wrote, “and never thought I’d be able to do it. I love that Primer is designed for moms like me! I love the story-based approach to learning about what God has done in history.”

We love these little story-driven learners and are delighted to celebrate with their parents!


Introducing “Returning Thanks for the Journey”

11226001_1626873957566954_6119310843765709700_nThe homeschooler’s year has seasons. In August we plan our trip through the educational world, buy supplies, get organized, dream dreams, and see visions. In September we hand out bouquets of sharpened pencils and get on the road. If all goes well, October is usually the time when we make a few course adjustments, fall into a traveling rhythm, and reach our nearest exciting destinations. By November, we hope to have seen amazing sights and traveled many miles.

The journey doesn’t always go as planned, but there are many ways to modify it. During October, we highlighted for you some of the ideas and adjustments that Tapestry families have used to make sure their curriculum is serving their journeys well. However, we don’t want to get so bogged down in ideas for vehicle maintenance and itinerary logistics that we fail to notice, “Hey, we spent a weekend at the creation museum and took a picture with that big bronze dinosaur!” In the picture above, you can see two Tapestry groups from different states who met up in Kentucky to do just that.  Tapestry’s Advisor Liaison Christy Somerville is also there, hiding near the dinosaur’s tail. She came from Virginia to enjoy a stop on the journey with these groups. They had a great time!

Christy isn’t the only one bringing back fun reports from the journey. In November, Lampstand Press Headquarters can sometimes feel a little like the Office of the President under an avalanche of news from Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the other end of America! It’s time we got some of these explorers’ stories into the headlines. After all, what is all the curriculum logistical legwork for, if not for those “Oh!” moments? We want to celebrate them!

We also find that for those of us who are perhaps getting a little seat-sore on the journey—not that the car has broken down, but just that we’re tired of traveling—it’s a helpful exercise to return thanks for what we’ve seen and done. Expressing gratitude is one of those activities that has a way of clearing out weariness, pride, fear, or discouragement, and putting new heart into us. When we stop to look around and look up to God, we became more aware that it is a wonderful (though costly) journey.

Therefore, we invite you to join us in returning thanks this month for our homeschooling journeys so far, and to celebrate with us the many amazing things that our TOG families have experienced already during the 2015-2016 school year. Stay tuned for our first post in this series: “Celebrating Primer Families.”

User Stories: Spotlight on Literature

books_public_domainGreat stories are beginning to come in from your school years!  These were shared on our Facebook Poetics group, which the ladies there have given us permission to repost here for you.  These stories come from all four years, mostly at the Rhetoric Level but also with a Dialectic tale or two.  We hope they will be an encouragement to you!

“I am leading three ninth graders and an eighth grader through Year 2 literature; we are in week 7, reading the Canterbury Tales excerpts. I had my students read the stories while they listened to an audio reading from Librivox. This helped overcome the difficult English.

Last week we had a great discussion on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In addition to our discussion and story analysis chart, I had them paint Gawain’s pentangle in their commonplace books. They also added the green sash to the page, as we discussed the book. They all loved the alliteration and bob and wheel in Sir Gawain. In fact, before they started in on Sir Gawain, I know at least a couple of them were unenthused about reading it. In class that week, after our final Beowulf discussion, I began reading the first 3 or 4 stanzas aloud to my little co-op class. What fun to see their skeptical faces break into smiles and even laugh at the sound of all that alliteration.

This week while they work on Canterbury Tales, I am prepping for Dante, which is a little daunting to me! The TOG notes, and Poetics, are an excellent resource, and I’ve also enjoyed reading some Dante posts over at Circe Institute, and Rod Dreher’s Dante blogging at The American conservative.

. . . Poetics is an *amazing* resource. I am so grateful. You have opened new worlds for me, and in turn, my students. I have found the medieval worldview information so valuable in preparing my students to appreciate the greats of that age. And it is exciting to see them getting the literary analysis skills along the way.”  — Amy, Rhetoric Level, Year 2

“My 8th grade son is finishing up Anne of Green Gables (Y4). He was certain he would hate it, but he now freely admits he loves it! He especially enjoyed the part where Anne breaks the slate over Gilbert’s head. He can appreciate a spunky girl! Who knew a 13-yr old boy would enjoy this story?” — Sheryl, Dialectic Level, Year 4

“My daughter studied The Sorrows of Young Werther two weeks ago. She complained about the content being depressing and she did not want to continue at times. Now she believes it was an important assignment for her. She has friends who speak about the hopelessness of life. As she has spent time analyzing Werther she is now better able to understand them. More importantly, by biblically analyzing the story she is better able to speak truth to them.” — Lynn, Rhetoric Level, Year 3

“We are in Year 4. This is my son’s second Rhetoric year, but the first year I’ve assigned any papers. For his Personal Response paper he shocked me and chose to compose his own Haiku! Actually 4! He did one on each stroke in swimming. Fun!” — Kimberly, Rhetoric Level, Year 4

“I have never experienced depending on and experiencing the Holy Spirit leading me like I am now. I’m actually much more calm, less reactive, am not a slave to my agenda or all the good things I think the kids could be doing. I am experiencing a whole new peace and freedom in picking and choosing from the ‘buffet’ and discussion outlines. The discussions are better than ever. I am so thankful. I also, have never experienced opposition like I am now.  Negative attitudes, arguing, complaining.etc. Looking to Him to lead and teach all of us.” — Shanna, Rhetoric Level, Year 1

“Highlight of my LLC teaching year so far: I had a student in my year 3 RH Lit class read Faust in its original German! (she is fluent in the language). She was able to add so much richness in our discussion as she more fully explained words and phrases than what we pick up in the English translation. So cool!” – Melanie, Rhetoric Level, Year 3

“We are just about to finish up unit one. My 9th grader is writing his first literary analysis paper. I think it’s making us both nervous. . . . He is looking at the poem “The Immortality of Writers”. He is analyzing the the comparison of Egyptian writing to the pyramids. We’ve tried to start out small.  [The]  Thesis statement is still in process. He has come at it through the back door, paragraphs first and then thesis statement. Though I think he has a solid idea of what he wants to say. . . . His comparison hinges on: both were ‘built’ to last and leave a legacy, that there were ‘different versions’ of the pyramids and that there were also different genres and purposes for Egyptian literature, and then finally that they both create a feeling of mystery.” — Kerri, Rhetoric Level, Year 1


Looking Down the Road Less Traveled

By Michael Somerville.

20140312 Two Roads Diverge

I like beginnings. For me, beginnings are full of exciting possibility! I find myself brimming with confidence … before I start making mistakes! When I was younger (and possibly more foolish), I felt that I could do anything I set out to do. My attitude was, “Bring it on, world!” Growing up, I remember enjoying the excitement of the beginning of school. I loved the smell and feel of new books, the fresh sheets of clean paper, the return to a rigorous routine, and the sense of challenge and adventure that filled each day, as I learned what each new year would hold.

As a homeschooled student, I knew that the start of each year looked different for me than for many of my peers. Honestly, not very much changed from year to year for me. For the most part, I had the same teacher (Mom) and the same classmate (my older brother). I also had the same principal — my dad.Looking back, I realize how much those years shaped me, and I feel privileged to have had the benefit of years of investment from my mom, my siblings, and my dad. Now that I am over a dozen years away from my homeschool graduation, and starting homeschool all over again, I find that the memories linger, but things look different now that I am in a new role.

We don’t talk much about the start of school for homeschool dads. Each September, in many homes, wives and mothers are in the thick of everything, starting classes, setting routines, training, teaching, running around, and just generally making school work. With full appreciation and gratitude for their efforts, I want to pause for just a moment and talk with fathers about our return to a new year of school.

Now that I am a homeschool dad myself, I have come to recognize and appreciate the important contribution that I make in our home school, and I want to think out loud with you about this for a moment. In case you’re wondering, I don’t think there is anything especially profound in what I want to share, but I hope it’s encouraging, from one dad to another.

The title of this blog post comes from a Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” In his simple (but elegant) poem, Frost describes his feelings as he must decide between two roads, knowing he cannot choose both, and of his decision to choose the one “less traveled by.” In choosing this, he realizes that it may mark a turning point in his life. It may even make “all the difference.” I think we all know that feeling, to one degree or another.

Educationally speaking, making the decision to homeschool is equivalent to choosing the path that looks less traveled. I don’t know whether you are passionately committed to home education, whether it’s simply the right choice for this year, whether you are finally letting your wife try something she wants to do with the kids, or whether you have some other reason for your decision. Regardless, your family is taking the path less travelled, and I believe it will make a difference.

I tend to be somewhat cautious when making big decisions. I want to love and protect my family. I’m sure you do too. They are some of the most important people in the world, to me. I certainly don’t want to lead them down a road that leads to regret. But how do we know what the future holds? As we set off down the path of homeschooling this year, let’s try to look a little further down this road in order to see where it might lead. Will it lead to regret or rejoicing? What might the choice to homeschool mean for my family? I’d like to offer three simple ways that homeschooling will almost certainly affect my family, by way of illustration.

  1. My wife has a job.
  2. My kids have a team.
  3. I am an investor.

Will these changes affect my family in a positive or a negative way over the next year? I believe that depends on how I lead my family’s homeschool in the days and weeks ahead, to some degree. I’m not a bystander. I’m a part of this. Let me expand on these ideas and consider how my involvement in each of these areas can positively impact my family. Remember that I am a relatively young homeschool dad, so I’ll also be drawing on memories of how my father led our school as I was growing up.

My wife has a job.

As I go through the year, I need to remember this fact, and build her up in her new role. In the spirit of Ephesians 5:28, I want to love my wife and see her succeed in her job. I want my wife to have a great year! Now, homeschool moms are teachers, and most teachers that I’ve talked to tell me that the key to a great year is having great kids to teach and having supportive leadership. Hopefully, your kids are great, so you’re off to a good start already! Even with the best kids, poor leadership can suck the joy out of teaching. On the other hand, good leadership helps encourage teachers and helps them overcome problems that will inevitably arise during the year, even with the best of kids.

Growing up, I remember how actively my dad stayed engaged in our schooling. He was always ready to help Mom make adjustments, lovingly enforce our respect for her as our teacher, gently peel her off the ceiling after a long day with all of us, and boisterously lead the cheers for her successes!

As I step into my role as a homeschool dad, I want to do the same for my wife, and grow in my ability to support her in her job. I want to make sure that I am a good steward of her gifts. I want to see her grow in her skill as a teacher. I want her to look back on this year with rejoicing, not regret.

My kids have a team.

As homeschoolers, our kids will spend a LOT of time with one another. They will be each other’s classmates and teammates. Our children will get their first teamwork practice by learning to work with each other. I’ve come to believe that learning to work as part of a team is a critical life skill, and I’ve come to realize that teamwork is an amazing thing. In a team, many people join together to do a job that they cannot do alone. This applies to education. It’s a big job, and we need others. But, here’s my question. Do my kids see their education as an individual effort, or as a team project? I feel that one of the wonderful advantages of homeschooling is the chance to learn as a whole family.

We were not hugely into sports when we were growing up, but I do remember my fair share of Little League games, soccer practices, and other team activities. Active participation in the Boy Scouts sharpened my awareness of working as a team, as well as participation in Chess Club and various high school dramatic presentations. I know that I learned so much by “eavesdropping” on my older brother’s education at the kitchen table. My older brother became my best friend and study partner during our years of learning together. As we got older, I remember games that we’d all play at dinner to quiz each other on our knowledge of geography or history. Guess who was the most passionate learner in our homeschool? Dad. He modeled what it meant to enjoy learning, and would use dinner to see what we were discovering. He tried to include each of the six of us, asking questions that we could answer, and making us feel like our education was something we were all doing together.

As I look at my family, I want to help my kids learn from each other. As a homeschool dad, I want to consider how I can help coach my kids as they to work together so that they help each other learn, and challenging each other without belittling one another. I want them to know the fun of learning as a team. I want to model what it looks like to rejoice in team success and build others up!

I am an investor.

Home schooling generally requires a parent to devote their full time to teaching. (As a quick aside, I know that there are single parent families and families where outside work by both parents is a necessity. My hat is off to you. Your commitment is commendable.) More often, the choice to homeschool means that one spouse gives up the extra income that could be earned at a job while the kids are off at school. Dad, if your situation is like mine, and you are the primary breadwinner, that means you probably are also the key investor in your home school.

Think about it. You are the wealthy benefactor who endows your school with the resources it needs. You are paying the tuition for all of the students in your school. You are the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. For me, this represents a major investment of time, energy, and money.

Is it worth it? Will I look on my investment with rejoicing or regret down the road? I encourage you (as I encourage myself) to be an active, hands-on investor. Don’t just pay the bills. Be watching your kids and enjoying their learning process. Check in on them. For the past few days, I’ve been coming home and saying to myself, “I’m going to ask to see what they did in school today.” I’ve been delighted to see what my kids are doing. It makes it more special for them, too, knowing that I value their work. Now, the future is always uncertain (although God knows it perfectly).

While I don’t know what the long-term return will be in my family, I do have the fairly unique privilege of watching my dad as he is on the receiving end of his investment. I must say, the returns look pretty good to me.

Men, let’s start the year strong, let’s stay engaged, and let’s finish well! In Robert Frost’s poem, he says that it is with a sigh that he realizes that his decision has made all the difference. If we someday say with a sigh that we took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference, let’s have it be a sigh of satisfaction, not regret!

Regardless of how you feel about the choice to homeschool this year, remember that we are following our Leader, and that our job is to authentically model our Father to our families, albeit very imperfectly. Over the next year, I look forward to finding ways to help my wife succeed at her job, to coach my kids as they learn as a team, and to seeing my investment thrive.

What are ways that you seek to lead your home schools? Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for a young homeschool dad? I would love to learn from others who are on this journey with me.

Michelle and the Guidebook

GuidebookLet us introduce you to one of our friends: a homeschooling mom named Michelle. Michelle has four children ranging from nine months to eight years old. She is only a few years into her homeschooling journey and she can feel overwhelmed by the steep learning curve of how to homeschool and care for her little ones. She values history deeply, but–despite a private school education and a degree in computer science–she has long felt “history illiterate.”

Michelle and her husband Bill both feel that history is important and that it teaches us how to interpret our own times in light of God’s works throughout time, giving hope and faith for the hard things as we see them fitted into His story. But for Michelle and Bill, history was not something they had studied much themselves or knew where to start learning about it.

Last fall, as we started writing the material for Tapestry Primer, we asked Michelle and Bill if they would be interested in teaching themselves history by reading the Tapestry Primer Guidebook. Our Guidebook is designed primarily to explain the highlights of Western Civilization history to a parent-teacher in an easy conversational style. It is meant to teach the homeschool parents as they then teach their children through our Primer program. Michelle and Bill were delighted to take us up on this offer, and so began a four-month journey for Michelle. She homeschooled her children out of a non-Tapestry curriculum by day, but by night she and Bill learned history for themselves out of the working draft of Primer Guidebook.

During these months, Christy Somerville sat down with Michelle once a week in her home to talk about what she was learning and how homeschooling was going. While Christy was meeting with her, Michelle was working her way through ancient history in the first four mini-units (out of twelve) in the Guidebook. Below are some of Michelle’s comments that Christy gleaned to share with others who might struggle with learning history:

I really love the way the Guidebook draft presents the Bible. This presentation is fresh, tied into history, and takes Scripture very seriously.  It makes me think about the Old Testament in a way that I never did when in Sunday school or private Christian school–in a relational kind of way, as I see how these people struggled with God. The Guidebook draft approach is interesting, even game-changing for me. I’m learning more about God through it. I think it is because of its style of presentation that I would choose to use the Tapestry curriculum, even though ancient history has often seemed boring to me before now.

I’m realizing that I didn’t have a big enough picture of history to know what I needed or didn’t need to know. There was one Big Story Overview, towards the end of Mini-Unit 4, that really gave me that big picture. I had waded through enough history in the Guidebook by then that it meant a lot to me. Summaries of summaries like that are great!  I also love the practical examples, like when Guidebook invites me to ask my kids to imagine looking out the window through Moses’ eyes. The conversational style of the Guidebook is also huge for me. I enjoy it so much more than reading a textbook.

At the end of the experiment, Michelle said that the Guidebook approach is interesting, and even has become game-changing for her. She is learning more about God through it, and shared that the reading material was so interesting that it made her want to use the full  Tapestry program because ancient history no longer seems boring to her. Michelle realized that she hadn’t had a big enough picture of history to know what she needed or didn’t need to know. The Guidebook gave her a place to start.

As more families choose homeschooling, we are seeing more people who value history, but have no idea how to teach it to their own children. Some had a dry history education themselves and simply find it boring or irrelevant. We hope that through the Primer Guidebook parents will come to enjoy how history weaves together and will pass that joy of learning on to their children.

A Journey That Prepared Me: Matt Spanier

The first thing Matt Spanier said to me when I started to interview him as a Tapestry alumni was this: “I can’t conceive of a program that would have prepared me better for college than Tapesty did.”

I blinked.  “Well, okay then!”

Matt Spanier, son of Lampstand Learning Center director Barb Spanier, is pictured here (in the red shirt) with his younger brothers David and Timothy.


Matt became part of one of the first online Tapestry co-ops while he was still a Dialectic student.  He is now a Senior at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida.  This university is small, Christian, and focused on classical liberal arts.  It ranks in the prestigious Tier One according to a national rating, and the median SAT score of entering students is 1270.

Matt is a Philosophy major and a bright student. He says his classmates are also smart people.  Yet, Matt feels, he came to college better-prepared than anybody he knows there.  He told me several times how strongly he feels that Tapestry made all the difference in his ability to sail smoothly through some classes where others struggle. As Matt began to tell me his story, I realized that he was prepared to defend that thesis to the hilt!

I don’t know all the homeschool curricula out there, but from my interactions with other students at both community college and a private liberal arts university, I can’t imagine a high school program that would have prepared me personally better than Tapestry did.  First of all, I think it helped me to achieve a high score (about 750 out of 800) on the reading part of the SAT.  (By the way, my math score was just “okay.”)  I also think you can see the difference it made in that, when I took college placement tests for dual enrollment in my senior year of high school, I got perfect scores on reading, writing, and critical thinking.

The biggest ways in which Tapestry prepared me over and above the usual were things I saw clearly only after I came to University.  The most black-and-white way of measuring the difference is that I’ve gotten easy A’s in three humanities courses.  They aren’t easy courses. In one of them the average grade is a “D,” and that’s not because my fellow classmates aren’t smart people.  So I could see right away that I was ahead of the curve in my preparation–but it took time to see why.

Discussion skills are something that I think a lot of students don’t get, that you do get through Tapestry. By “discussion skills” I know I could mean a lot of things: what I mean here is the ability to define your terms and articulate your reasons for defining them the way you do.  Let me give an example.  One of my University professors asked on the first day of class how we would define freedom, and I remembered from discussions in Tapestry a definition of freedom that we used.  After five or six other students gave answers that she rejected for various reasons, I gave her a bit of a sketch on how I would define freedom from my Tapestry discussions.  My professor was amazed.

I feel like a lot of kids grow up using basic terms like freedom, but don’t really know how to define it and articulate reasons for why they would define it that way.  I think Tapestry is quite the opposite: in this curriculum, you learn how define, articulate, and give reasons for what you believe.

I think the freedom thing is an example of the Socratic method at work in Tapestry, which is so effective.  Tapestrydoes use some lecture (and I think some lecture is always necessary), but the bulk of it is, “Read the material.  Okay, now you have all the information you need.  Now, let me ask you questions and walk you through the process of thinking about that information.”  It teaches you how to think, rather than just telling you what to think.

I have a professor who says that one of the chief skills you learn from the study of history is learning what is important and what’s not important.  I thinks Tapestry helps you to learn how to do that mental sorting of “important” and “not important” really well, both in history in literature.  A lot of people get that either in college or not at all, but to start getting it in high school is excellent.

I feel that 100% of kids at normal mental development levels in high school can do the kinds of analysis that I’ve been describing, whether in literature or in learning to define terms and articulate reasons for their thinking.  I’ve done a little teaching of 13-14 year old students, and they are definitely capable of it.  I also know that for myself, and I believe for some of my peers in high school, we actually loved learning how to analyze and define. Not only could we do them, but they actually motivated our school lives, because it was so interesting to learn how and engage ideas!

I did the Philosophy elective in Tapestry and it has helped me plenty with my major (which is Philosophy), because it gave me an overview of the basic ideas of all the major philosophers throughout history, and taught me to understand them from their own perspectives.

Let me stop a minute to talk about the “from their own perspectives” part, because that’s important.  One of the things I really appreciate about Tapestry is that, while it doesn’t claim to be any sort of elite apologetics course of study, it does a really solid job of introducing you to all the major worldviews and teaching you not just what to believe about them, but how to evaluate them biblically for yourself.  Tapestry exemplifies an approach that is fair and kind, but also absolutely committed to Scripture.  It doesn’t ever set up a straw man of a worldview [a “straw man” is a  portrayal that describes only the most extreme and negative traits, without presenting any positive traits].  Tapestry gives every worldview a fair shake, explaining it in a way that those who hold that worldview would agree is what they believe.

At the same time, Tapestry isn’t afraid to test each worldview against Scripture and stand by what God says.  In my college experiences so far I have at times found myself talking to Buddhists and Muslims, agnostics and atheists.  I think that Tapestry has prepared me to handle these situations with more understanding and yet also with a clear idea of where the differences are and why they matter. Of course, this also helps me to understand better what I believe, and encourages me to study the Bible for myself to deepen my understanding of it.

To get back to Philosophy after my aside about straw men and other worldviews. . . It’s huge to have that basic acquaintance with the philosophers and worldviews as you are going in.  It’s also huge to have them all on a basic timeline and to know where they fit into history, partly because you understand their ideas a lot better if you know the historical environment to which they are responding.  To really understand somebody’s ideas, you have to understand the times in which they are writing.  Most people in my philosophy classes don’t have that.

Honestly, here at college I miss the integration of subjects (history, literature, church history, philosophy, etc.) that I had in Tapestry.  You learn more when you’re studying one time period from the perspectives of several different subjects, rather than experiencing gaps in, or skewed interpretations of, what you know about any one subject because you’re not aware of what else was going on in other subjects during the same period.

Speaking of integrated subjects, I really love the way literary analysis is helping me across the board. The tools I learned in Tapestry are enabling me to take apart and unpack all kinds of books that I didn’t read in Tapestry, and of course for all the books I did read in Tapestry (which so far includes the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid, among others), it’s been really easy to write good papers on them.

I’ve found that a lot of the literary terminology that I learned in Tapestry translates perfectly to college, and my professors are pleased and surprised that I know how to use those terms.  “Experiment in living” is the one term that I think of as being more unique to Tapestry literature, but the concept is certainly there in my Literature classes, so when I use the term with even a little explanation, everybody gets it.  I also think that “experiment in living” is one of the most powerful tools you can have for literary analysis, because it takes you straight to the heart of any given story’s themes, so I’m really glad that I already know how to use it.

That’s why I feel that Tapestry has prepared me so well for college, not just in Philosophy but in all my humanities classes: History, Literature, etc.  But in closing, I do want to say a word about Mom.  She was great. She encouraged me in everything and helped me get my work done. She had a vision for our education that we, being young, didn’t.  I think a lot of us, when we were home schooled in high school, don’t hear many people saying “this is good,” because being homeschooled still isn’t exactly normal, especially in high school. So you can begin to wonder if this education is a good idea. But then you get to college and you realize that it was so good—and I think that is true for Tapestry especially.

So there you go. That’s me “defining and articulating reasons” for why I think Tapestry did the best possible job of preparing me for college!

Whether or not Matt is right that Tapestry was the best possible preparation for college, this is his story and he’s sticking to it! I know that Tapestry is not for every student or for every family. Also, not all stories of journeying with Tapestry are success stories. Yet, I think it is good to pass along encouragement for those who believe that God is calling them to this journey withTapestry for the present, from those who did enjoy and find enrichment in their own journey!