Tag Archives: Classical Education

The Simple Task of Planning for the Grammar Levels

simple-planning for the grammar levels
     I enjoy back-to-school planning. I feel like I have the whole year ahead of me to watch my kids learn and a chance to re-set anything that didn’t work well from the year before. I have found that planning for the Grammar level student is a simple task. When I prepare the year goes much more smoothly!

I make my planning session a date with myself.

Before the new school year begins, my husband takes the children for a Saturday afternoon while I head off to a favorite coffee shop. I bring all my planning supplies, Tapestry DE, school books that I want to look through, and my calendar. I order my favorite coffee and enjoy the quiet. If seasons are busy and I can’t get out, I simply make coffee at home, put on a movie for the children and I get down to it!

I begin by writing down my homeschool goals for the year.

If I don’t have my priorities clearly in mind, I will be more likely to attempt too much or get discouraged when it seems we are accomplishing too little. Because my husband and I spend time casually over the summer discussing our goals for each child, I have a pretty good idea in my head of what I hope for each of them over the school year. Writing it down helps solidify it and allows me to look back when I need a reminder. Here is one worksheet that might help you plan goals for your year.

I have one child in Upper Grammar, one in Lower Grammar, and one who is a preschooler. My Upper Grammar student is a strong reader and loves stories.  She loves to read to learn, but still needs help going back to her books to research an answer. My Lower Grammar student is a kinesthetic learner. I am still reading aloud all her books to her, with my preschooler listening along with us.

At this stage in our schooling I have chosen to cover history, literature, some church history, and geography from the Tapestry subjects. I have also added writing for my Upper Grammar student this year.

For Lower Grammar, my goal is to introduce my daughter to a historical time period. I want her to appreciate the daily life of those living during that time and to understand the geography of the places we are studying in relation to the rest of the world. I want her to realize that these were real people and for her to enjoy the similarities and differences between her life and theirs. I delight when I see her eyes light up with interest about the size of the pyramids and how she listens eagerly to a story about a little boy living in ancient Egypt.

I want my Upper Grammar student to go on reading to learn and to improve her reading comprehension. I want to choose books that will fire her imagination and allow her to re-enact new stories. At the same time, my goal is that the things she reads make her think outside her own little world and ponder why people do what they do.

I have to remember that repetitive learning frees me to leave things out.

I can relax and enjoy the grammar-level learning process because Tapestry is a cyclical program. I will come back to these topics when they are older, so I don’t have to overload my schedule on our first pass through history.

After having considered my goals for each child, I determine which history and literature books at the Upper Grammar level to include, and which I plan to skip. I take into account my Upper Grammar daughter’s interests, or if I think a specific book will overwhelm her. For instance, because of my daughter’s love for princesses, last year I replaced a pioneer boy literature selection with the Lower Grammar literature choice of a story of Rapunzel. She was thrilled with that decision!

After choosing books, I highlight the assignments in Planning Aids and print out whichever literature worksheets go with the books I have chosen for the unit.

Because I will read aloud to my Lower Grammar student I know I will get a good understanding of the things my students are learning without having to do much extra reading. I will also be positioned to engage with my children as they share exciting tidbits that are brand-new to them!


Now that I am adding writing with my Upper Grammar student, I also look through those assignments. During my coffee date I looked through the whole year of writing and realized that at her fourth grade level she is simply working on good paragraph construction for the whole year. Knowing that, I decided that if I didn’t think a writing prompt on a particular week would spark her interest, I could look at the assignments one level up and one level down from her grade without losing anything she should be learning.


For geography I keep my children’s work very simple. We look at the places listed in that week’s geography on a globe and in an atlas so that they start to understand where things were happening in the world. I have the MAPpacks so I don’t have to print up any maps and I give my girls a fun “drawing” project on the maps. They color, trace, paint, or outline their map which is sufficient right now for them to learn basic landmarks.

I have been surprised how simple Tapestry planning can be. Once I know my goals and desires, the planning naturally flows from that. Adding in the coffee date definitely adds to the fun of school planning! And I love to see how my children are getting a wonderful, rich learning experience because I am prepared at the beginning of their year.

Tapestry is with Sue in Singapore

Tapestry in Singapore

     This interview is part of a series called “Tapestry is Everywhere!”, in which we learn from Tapestry users who are applying the curriculum in surprising ways or places. In this article we’ll meet Sue, a parent-teacher who will be homeschooling her two young children with Tapestry’s Primer this year in Singapore!

Sue, I understand that you are a homeschooling native of Singapore?

Yes, I am.  My husband is a trainer and consultant and we have two children (ages 6 and 4) whom we homeschool in Singapore.

Tell me about your homeschooled children? 

My older son is six, so he’s primarily the one whom I am homeschooling. He has been responding very well to the approach of drilling memory work at the Grammar stage. However, I have also realized that I sometimes also need to give him the context of the facts that he memorizes to help him understand them better. Stories help with this because my children take to them easily.


Why did you decide to use Primer as a complimentary supplement to Classical Conversations? 

My son has been challenged to learn how to do his memory work in the Classical Conversations community, which is wonderful! The Classical Conversations model then encourages parents like myself to model what is done at community day and finds ways to teach our children at home. This also includes finding materials that will extend our students’ understanding of the facts that they memorize through our community and help them to remember the grammar better. I thought that Primer’s story-driven and multi-sensory materials would give excellent context and help my students lock information into their long-term memory.

I know you’ve been using our Primer sample for a few weeks now. Has it helped your students with their memory work, the way you hoped it would?

I really think so, yes! The activities and the geography, as well as read aloud time and coloring sheets—in fact the whole multi-sensory approach—brings to life the information my student is memorizing, and connects the pieces together for him as well. It’s all here, and my children are able to grasp it. For instance, my oldest son had memorized the fact that the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers exist before in our community group, but now I think he understands Mesopotamia as the land between the rivers, and about its culture and history.

What are some of the highlights of Primer for you as a Christian educator?

We have greatly enjoyed starting back at the beginning with the Bible.  Even though we’ve done it so many times, I feel that it came alive much more this time because it is so much more in-depth.  We see so much more how these are real historical people, and also seeing how God weaves together the strands of history.  We also loved the activities, doing Noah’s ark and building a ziggurat.  Those helped my students to visualize and interact with biblical history.

Has the Guidebook been helpful?

The Guidebook has really helped me to prepare, but more than that it has been a spiritual exercise for me and personally enriching.  Starting with geography has really helped as well—I know where things are happening in history. Also, instead of going through so many sources to look for what I need, I have everything and know that my materials are accurate and reliable.

What are some of the things that you’ve learned spiritually?

I think that going back over these early weeks on Egypt and early Mesopotamia and the Exodus reminds me of the whole idea that we as sinful men tend to worship the created rather than the Creator, and that our hearts are so prone to wander.  I am newly aware of the irony that we were created in God’s image and yet we choose to worship the things that we create.  Also the magnified view of self—the human idea that we can reach God.  That was brought to light when we were trying to build a tower of Babel and trying to make it as tall as possible.  We did that activity and I just realized that we can never reach God.

What does your husband think of Primer?

My husband is a former history teacher and he has been really happy with Primer.  He does the Bible story at night with our children and is involved in some of the activities.  I think he is looking forward to what we will learn as our children get further into history.

It is wonderful to see how Tapestry products are being used as a supplement to various other classical programs, and how it has benefited Sue and her children in Singapore!


What is Classical Education?

books-stackMany newcomers are confused by the term “Classical Education,” even though they’ve been convinced that it sure is a good thing! With increasing frequency over the spring, our homeschool conference booth hostesses have been asked, “How are you Classical Ed?” or “What makes your curriculum Classical Education?” This is a great question to ask when you’re researching your choices as a homeschooling newbie. I’d like to take a few minutes to explain about this term, and how it’s being used in the homeschool marketplace today.

When I was a wet-behind-the-ears, just-starting-out homeschooler (in the mid-1980’s) “Classical Education” was–believe it or not–a new buzz word. Homeschool leaders had just rediscovered a highly influential article by Dorothy Sayers, given in 1947 at Oxford University, entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning.” While Sayers has been critiqued by some as both a Christian and an educator, it is inarguable that this essay sparked a lasting movement among homeschoolers.

Sayers’ essay was most notably promoted among American Christian homeschoolers by Doug Wilson, who published in 1991 the book Recovering the Lost Tools of LearningWilson was working within the Christian school movement, but was supportive of homeschooling. As the Christian Classical Education movement took off in the 1990’s, a number of classical Christian primary and secondary schools were begun, and in 1997, many of these joined forces as the Association of Classical and Christian Schools.

Both these Christian schools and the homeschoolers of those years who tuned into the Christian Classical Education movement sought to combine Medieval teaching methods as proposed by Sayers with discipleship in a biblical worldview. The central concept that unified Christian Classical Education devotees was that there was a “trivium” (meaning “three way; road” in Latin) defining stages of learning for any academic subject, and that these correlated well with the stages of learning through which children developed. Thus:

  • Grammar Stage (roughly grades K-6): The focus is on learning the fundamental rules, terms, and/or facts of a subject
  • Logic (or Dialectic) Stage (roughly grades 6-9): The ordered relationship of fundamentals (or categories and connections between them) in a subject
  • Rhetoric Stage (roughly grades 8-adult): Where the grammar and logic of a subject are understood (analyzed) and recombined (synthesized) to form advancement in knowledge

Intersecting with the Sayers/Wilson axis was another strand of classicists who identified a list of so-called Great Books: “those that tradition, and various institutions and authorities, have regarded as constituting or best expressing the foundations of Western culture (the Western canon is a similar but broader designation); derivatively the term also refers to a curriculum or method of education based around a list of such books. Mortimer Adler [was the one who is best known for popularizing this Classical content. He] lists three criteria for including a book on the list:

  • the book has contemporary significance; that is, it has relevance to the problems and issues of our times;
  • the book is inexhaustible; it can be read again and again with benefit; “This is an exacting criterion, an ideal that is fully attained by only a small number of the 511 works that we selected. It is approximated in varying degrees by the rest.”
  • the book is relevant to a large number of the great ideas and great issues that have occupied the minds of thinking individuals for the last 25 centuries.”

The term “Classical Education” has not gotten less buzzy since my early years, but what has happened over a 30-year span is that different authors (myself included) have interpreted the practical application of the core tenets of Classical Education to emphasize their favorite elements of the overall approach. And here’s where confusion can come in. Let me give you some examples without naming any names (because I don’t want to mischaracterize any of them inadvertently).

  • Some authors emphasize the importance of teaching formal logic during the logic (or dialectic) stage.
  • Some make skilled public speaking (rhetoric) the end game of their program.
  • Some programs center attention on the commonly agreed upon content of a liberal arts education: the Great Books of Western Civilization, promoting the reading, studying, and continuing tradition of the liberal arts.
  • Some center on the fact that young children memorize well, and have created a rigorous program for rote memorization

These differences of emphasis and application can lead to confusion for newcomers to the Classical Education scene. It’s not unlike the bewilderment that a young Christian convert feels when he or she first encounters some of the stickier theological issues that divide us. One can wonder: aren’t Protestants and Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believers all claiming to follow Christ? Which is right, and why?

As I wrote in my book Love the Journey, I believe that the key to finding your way through the confusing underbrush of varying interpretations of Classical Education is to first identify for yourself what your key values and goals for homeschooling are.

Then, you should do some background reading to see if 1) you agree with the central tenets of the Classical Education goals and methods and 2) whose interpretation you most readily agree with for your own purposes. The beauty–and terror–of homeschooling is that you choose your own path!

I’ll end this post with a short summary of how we approach Christian Classical Education in Tapestry of Grace, since I can speak accurately of our program! We believe that the Bible is inerrantly true, and is the guide for life and godliness. We also believe that the Great Books provide a lens through which we can understand the development of Western Civilization: not only its thoughts, but its heart attitudes down through the ages, as we listen in–as it were–on the Great Conversation of the ages. After listening and thinking about others’ thoughts, students learn to express their own beliefs through both spoken and written words.

We seek to enable parents to use the three stages of learning that Sayers identified this these particular ways:

  • Grammar Years: Through great, carefully chosen, whole books–either read aloud or independently depending on age–introduce the stories of HIStory and grow familiar with key people, events, and dates in their story context.
  • Dialectic Years: Through a combination of independent reading and guided discussion of history and literature, help students to form categories for (and populate these with) the information introduced in younger years, such that students make connections between those categories, and begin to use the tools of formal logic in order to internalize (own) a Christian worldview as they relate the true stories of history and fictional ones of literature to biblical theology.
  • Rhetoric Years: Using the Great Books of Western Civilization and other resources as independent reading, and with an emphasis on Bible survey and Church History, we enable parents to mentor students, through guided discussions, to think together about the story of mankind and God’s sovereignty over, and intervention in, that story.

The end game for the Tapestry of Grace program is to help parents to develop thinking, Christian disciples and apologists who thoroughly understand not only their own worldview, but those of others that they may encounter as they go out into the world to fulfill the Great Commission.

If you want even more details–including our statement of faith and purpose for Tapestry of Grace–click here.