Tapestry family explores the Middle Ages
When this “drill & kill” myth first bounced back to us at Lampstand Press, we all looked at each other, dumbfounded, and said, “Huh?”
“Seriously?” we said.
“Where did they get that?” we wondered.
We still don’t know, so this post will be fairly short and to the point since there’s really no back story to tell. (However, if you have not read the Introduction to this series of Myth Buster posts, please do so before finishing this post so that you can see what this series is all about. Thanks!)
Our approach to Grades K-6 in a nutshell is this: whether using Tapestry Primer or Tapestry of Grace we aspire to offer parents a buffet of educational choices that are designed to foster a love of learning while introducing children to the great stories of humanity. To this one end:
- We introduce youngsters to the stories of human history via history and literature selections. We list specific assignments in many carefully chosen and beautifully illustrated books.
- Our literature selections are most often historical fiction works, which are chosen for both their well-written stories and their ability to draw young children into how it felt to live in previous eras of history.
- Our writing assignments are designed to introduce a variety of standard genres. The children write paragraphs, or descriptions, or outlines, or fables, etc., that relate to the history topics of the week, thus reinforcing what’s been taken in through reading and talking with their parent-teacher.
- Weekly, we offer a variety of ideas for hands-on projects that, again, reinforce the child’s understanding of the era he’s learning about in other media and let youngsters employ a fun, creative, artistic outlet.
- We list (again interrelated) assignments in geography, fine arts, and music to further broaden a child’s understanding of the true stories of humanity that s/he’s learning.
- We produce lap books that are another fun way to reinforce what’s been learned. They are not designed to be a ‘drill’ exercise. Many families seem to use them as memorabilia archives!
- And, finally, we offer Evaluations packages: these are used by some families as tests and quizzes in some weeks and by others as worksheets that, again, reinforce the week’s topical study.
A cardinal aspect of our approach to the grade school years is that parents are in the driver’s seat every mile of the journey. We offer more than enough ideas and assignments each week so that parents tailor the studies of their children. No one child should undertake all of the assignments we list each week! Each week-plan takes a single era of history and offers a variety of approaches to studying it. The parent’s job is to choose from this buffet the right “foods” for their child’s “educational diet.” If the program is rigorous, that is by the parent’s choice; our goal is to foster the love of learning by giving parents a wide variety of options each week so that they can change things up and keep them fresh and interesting for young learners.
- There are visually oriented assignments, like reading great books.
- There are auditory assignments, like listening to read-alouds (offering opportunities for snuggling and discussion) or music from the time period.
- We offer ideas for mixed media (audio/visual) in the form of video recommendations, or the option that children do work pages while listening to taped or parent-read assignments.
- There are a host of tactile options: hands-on projects, writing assignments, map work, Literature worksheets, etc., that are offered to help kids to get their hands around the era under study by producing “work product.”
Parents who belong to oversight groups can give grades to student work products, but whether or not they are graded is not the point in our view. The focus is on young children being introduced to the grand story of humankind, with a focus on how God has interacted with humanity in order to reveal our need for Him and His glorious character to us. All of these suggested assignments form our educational buffet, and nowhere on this sumptuous table will you find directions to drill your children.
Why were we so surprised at the ping-back of “Tapestry is “drill & kill” in grammar years?
You may be aware that rote memory work has recently (in the last 7-10 years or so) become quite the litmus test for whether or not a program is considered “classical.” We don’t agree that is should be a test. We think that other criteria define Classical Education; you can read our view here. But the fact remains that, among newer homeschoolers, directions on how to do memory work has been a feature that they have been told to look for. Unlike other programs, Tapestry has not emphasized rote memory work of dates, or phrases, or people, even though we’ve been asked to produce lists for this kind of exercise by our customers time and again.
Why have we not produced lists of things within Tapestry for children to memorize by rote? Because as authors of a Classical Education program, we believe that classical education is not best served through an emphasis on such exercises. You can see this post, or read chapter 27 in Love the Journey if you want details. In a nutshell, we think that when the who, what, when, where, and (most importantly) the why of history are not connected together as stories within stories and with The Great Story, children are likely neither to value nor to remember them.
I am reminded of a recent anecdote as I write this. My adult daughter, Christy, now a teacher herself, shared with me this past week about an interaction she had with a friend’s eleven-year-old girl, who has been enrolled in a program that stresses rote memory for several years. She was taking a walk with Christy, who naturally began to ask about school. Christy told me that not only could the child not remember any of the facts she had memorized from the previous year, but she also had no meaningful understanding of the phrases she had learned so far this year, about Christopher Columbus, Jamestown, and the Plymouth Colonists.
Christy, who loves history, spent an hour telling this little girl the stories behind those three phrases, and told me how the girl drank them in, fascinated.
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” she kept saying. “I didn’t know that! I didn’t know they were connected!”
“Do you think you will remember them better now?” Christy asked her.
Her answer was, “Oh, yes!”
So, though we are aware that drilling memory work is popular these days, and though we know that we have often been passed over by potential customers because we didn’t have a “memory component” to our program, we have not we rushed to provide our users with lists of facts, dates, formulas, and phrases for children to recite and commit to memory. Drilling memory work can produce some impressive short-term results, but we have always felt that fostering a joy in story-driven learning and taking the time to put facts in context while offering a biblical perspective of them would yield even better fruit: we’re hoping to create life-long learners, thinkers, and apologists for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We agree that children memorize easily in the early grade-school years. And, we even agree that it’s a good idea for kids to memorize key dates and facts about the people that they study so that these can serve as “hooks” that organize deeper studies later and help with accurate retention of the overall flow of history. But we feel that story-driven, integrated (and thus mutually reinforcing), multi-sensory, and fun resources will enable children to remember what they need to know.
Since it’s true that young children memorize easily, we ask, “Why do we need to drill?” Let children enjoy stories! Let them be fascinated by the characters, plots, and surprises of the tales of God and humanity, and embrace the delight of learning them and growing in basic study skills. We count on the fact that their natural ability to memorize will enable students to retain what they need to know for now. We confidently trust that later years’ return to the same stories will serve to solidify those early introductory lessons through review, deeper study, and the making of even more connections.
The Big Story Game
In creating Tapestry Primer for families who were just starting to homeschool, we decided that it would be both fun and sound educationally to come up with an interactive resource that would reinforce what they had learned about the main characters, events, places, and artifacts of HIStory, so we created a card game!
This card game is a fun way for young students to do memory work, and I mention it here as my final proof that the idea that Tapestry involves “drill & kill” for young is officially a myth! The Big Story Game is an optional supplement that will grow with any child using any curriculum because there are a variety of games that you can play. And just to be clear, The Big Story Game is not meant to encourage rote memorization of disconnected historical facts. Students who play it are first of all playing, not drilling! Although their play is reinforcing their knowledge of historical facts, it is a game that is designed to be played after students have learned stories that put them in context.
The first set of cards is called “Who?” and the illustrations match many of those found in the Tapestry Primer Activity Book Set. (To see sample cards, click here.) Future decks are planned. These will include “What?” (featuring artifacts like a shofar, pyramid, and ziggurats) and “When?” (featuring key dates in history that students can memorize in sequence), and “Where?” (featuring cards that indicate places for key events in history, or for memorization of things like states and capitals).
Thanks for reading this post. We know that Tapestry isn’t for everyone but, as I wrote in my Introduction to this series of blog posts, our goal is to correct garbled messages about our program, so that those who might love it can hear how we have designed our products.
Again, we invite you to explore for yourself:
1. If you’re just starting your homeschool journey, here’s a link to explore Tapestry Primer. Also please note that we have a section of this blog devoted to articles that are for beginning homeschoolers, and Marcia’s book Love the Journey was written especially for you! (See sample chapters of Love the Journey here!)
2. If you would be interested in the educational philosophy and approach that underlie Tapestry of Grace, try our Explore page and our Statement of Faith and Purpose.
3. Are you visually oriented? We invited you to visit the Gallery of pictures that our users have submitted. We think you’ll quickly see that it’s delight-directed, story-driven learning that we promote, not “drill & kill” methods.
4. Want to hear from those who have used Tapestry? In the Reviews section of our website, you’ll find links to personal blogs of those who have used and loved Tapestry.
Enjoy researching for yourself, and feel free to ask those who have enjoyed their Tapestry studies whether they feel that, for their grammar-stage kids, it’s been drill & kill. After all, the most important myth-busting proof is in the kids themselves!