Author Archives: Marcia

Tapestry and Worldviews: Part II

This is the second half of an interview with Christina Somerville, one of Tapestry’s first students, about whether or not Tapestry of Grace is a worldviews-based program.  (To read the first half of Christina’s interview, in which she defines what she means by a worldview and explains her parents’ background in worldviews studies, see Part I.)

ChristyInterview continued:

I sometimes wonder if people miss the worldviews emphasis in Tapestry precisely because it is so deeply ingrained into every aspect of the program.  After all, fish aren’t aware of the water they inhabit!  By “ingrained,” I don’t mean just the fact that we have a row of reading assignments labeled “Worldview” in every week plan, or that we have a Philosophy elective for high school students, or that worldviews analysis forms part of almost every Literature class plan written for students at the high school level, or that you can hardly get through a History class discussion without being asked to explain and evaluate a worldview belief.  It goes even deeper than that.

When writing Tapestry of Grace, my parents deliberately chose books in every subject that present a wide array of worldviews beliefs and interpretational slants, often including works by secular authors.  They rejected the easier option of presenting the humanities via authors who wrote only from the Christian perspective, so that students are never required to peep through anybody else’s pair of lenses.  Rather, after opening up the terrifying and confusing vistas of unbiblical thought to mature readers, my parents carefully and patiently wrote helps for parents and students to, together, untangle, understand, and biblically evaluate differing worldviews.  History, philosophy, church history, literature–whatever the subject–we students were never permitted to make quick assumptions or hasty judgments.

You might say that Scripture was a land to which we Somerville children were brought as baby emigrants, but that we were not allowed to take that marvelous place for granted as we grew up. We were encouraged to ask hard questions because our parents firmly believed that Truth would stand their test, and faith would become stronger for the struggle.  We often took trips to other lands, being invited to compare and examine, to ask ourselves whether we wished to seek a better country. We always found that no country was better, because none had so good a King.  I remember that this was especially true in Tapestry Year 1, where I had my chance to visit every major religion under the ancient sun.  I was struck then by the way Tapestry‘s history and literature studies demonstrate Yahweh’s supremacy over all rivals.  I believe I fell in love with the Old Testament at that time.

Those trips to foreign places were excursions in which we very usefully had to look through other lenses.  I remember that as a 16-year-old I had a working acquaintance with the Qur’an, which proved a great help to me when I befriended a Muslim theology student later on.  I have had conversations with my parents about magic, which made quite a difference when I was working beside a Wiccan.  I had studied human sexuality in Scripture, history, and literature, which helped me when two of my dearest friends turned towards sexual sin as a lifestyle.  I had wrestled through the question of God’s goodness with my mother in history class as a seventeen-year-old, during that horrible week when we both studied World War I and watched the World Trade Center crumble.  I came out of it more firmly convinced that God is beyond my comprehension, but that He is, nevertheless, both all-powerful and good.

I arrived at college not quite knowing how to put together a bibliography (everybody has some gaps in their education!), but I had two skills that were already much-honed by my Tapestry education: the abilities to 1) carefully understand and 2) biblically evaluate worldviews.  I also felt that I had already explored most of what the world had to offer, and I was convinced that none of it compared to Christ.

It is hard to quantify, further than I already have, how this happened in terms of readings or lesson plans.  I cannot tell you which week of which year-plan convinced me that God is who He claims to be, and that my whole understanding of reality must bend around that belief.  I think that Year 1 (the study of the Ancients) had most to do with it, though my greatest crisis of faith came in Year 4 (when studying the 20th century).  What I can say for sure is that the program so faithfully engages with each worldview that there was hardly a week out of the four years which did not somehow reinforce the truth that human history is a tapestry of grace, woven by a God who is both to be feared and adored… and that all other explanations of reality are ultimately lies.

As you may know, Tapestry presents an integrated plan of study. This means that the various school “subjects” are interwoven such that one studies many of the aspects of a slice of time from various vantage points. A careful study of worldviews is found not only in Tapestry‘s history discussions of a given era, but also and perhaps even more explicitly in our Literature class plans.  For instance, while studying the ancient Greeks, we read the Iliad. Worldview studies were present in the way we study Achilles’ experiment in living and his quest for glory. Discussion questions and outlines display to students that ancient Greeks believed glory was the only path to immortality.

These days, I’m a Tapestry teacher and author, and my area of expertise is Literature. During discussions of the Iliad, my students and I have thought together about a system of belief in which your gods don’t care much about you and have no intention of opening a way for you to join them in joy, unless you can impress them with your great deeds.  We have compared that worldview to a Christ who covers our failures with His success at the cross, because He so loves us and wants life eternal for us.  We also have seen God’s strikingly unique character revealed against the dark backdrop of our examination of the literature and gods of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, the Americas, and Rome. In each successive culture, He only shines brighter and brighter!

At the other end of time, we Literature explorers have watched the way a 20th century British play (Waiting for Godot) revealed a futility and emptiness that seemed to come straight from the pages of Ecclesiastes, seeing again the meaninglessness of an experiment in living that exchanges the truth about God for a lie.  In my handbook, Poetics, Tapestry students read a careful description of every major worldview in human history (based on Sire’s descriptions and our own research), then examined each in turn through literature.

First, we do our best to understand.  Students are expected to find examples of particular beliefs in their Literature readings. Then, we biblically evaluate.  We ask why the human soul would wish to believe such things, what the attractions of the alternates are. We talk about how our worldview beliefs become translated into patterns of choices, and how choice points become seeds that always result in harvests to be reaped, whether for good or evil.  Often, we ask, “What does this mean for our own lives?”

Within the last few years, I have had several chances to talk to other Tapestry graduates about their experiences.  You can read their stories in other posts on this blog.  Not a single interview went by without some mention of ways in which Tapestry‘s emphasis on understanding and biblically evaluating worldviews has shaped a graduate’s own worldview and ability to engage with those of others.  Yet this was so much a part of the whole Tapestry experience that few of the graduates I interviewed would have thought to describe it as separate “worldviews studies.”  It was simply an essential part of their Tapestry lives: it was the water in which they swam, as it were.

Perhaps it seems a shocking thing to say, given all I have been explaining and urging up to this point about worldviews studies, but I think it is important to confess that I do not believe any education can guarantee a biblical worldview.  I do not want to give any parent a false hope, or lay a false burden of responsibility on any teacher, to make one suppose that a student’s worldview is a thing one can make good purely by careful teaching.

This particular belief of mine has been painfully burned into my own worldview. Friends mentioned earlier who turned to sexual sin took the same Tapestry classes that I did all through high school, and from the same teachers.  We attended the same church.  We had the same peers.  I learned that in some sense and on some level, the revelation of truth is something that belongs to God.  If you are a sinner, you may examine your life and then choose to live a lie.

I learned that lesson again later, when I spent a year pleading with a class full of Literature students about the inadequacy of unbiblical worldviews as revealed in the modern American literature that we were studying, then watched several of them choose those worldviews anyway. Their families were my friends.  I grieved and wondered whether I had failed them, as my mother must have wondered whether she failed my classmates. But then I had the great joy of seeing several of my students repent and return to God several years later. I understood then that it was for me to be faithful in helping them understand truth and lies—but that I could not choose a worldview for them.

Salvation is a grace, a gift–not a guarantee. That is a terrifying thought for parents and teachers, but it should not drive us from the battlefield. Rather, I believe it should lead us to intensify our love, listen more carefully for our Commander’s orders, and wait patiently with hope for what only He can give. Ignorance added to sin does not produce life-giving wisdom. I do not believe that my classmates or my students rejected the Gospel because they were presented with other options. I believe they rejected the Gospel (as I did, up until Christ saved me) because they (and I) wished to do it.

I also believe that the careful worldviews training that I was given, and that I have tried to faithfully give my students, makes it harder, not easier, to exchange the truth about God for a lie.  If you are shown the empty falsehood of such a position, how much harder it is to go on worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator!  Because of that, I remain deeply grateful for the patient, gracious, balanced, careful, wise, and consistent emphasis that Tapestry of Grace places on the process of understanding and evaluating worldviews.  It is an essential element of the curriculum, and I think it is impossible for any Tapestry student to complete the program without being deeply affected by it.  Students may reject the Gospel after studying Tapestry, but it will not be because they are ignorant of its power, influence, and truthfulness as compared to all comers.

Tapestry and Worldviews: Part I

640px-GEO_GlobeEach spring, as homeschoolers begin to explore curricula, many people ask us whether or not Tapestry of Grace is a worldview-studies program. The short answer is, “Yes! Worldview studies have always been at the very heart of Tapestry of Grace! We can’t think how one could raise Christian apologists without them, and at Tapestry of Grace that’s our core reason for existing: to help parents raise Christians who can argue effectively for the faith to which they have been called.”

Tapestry of Grace’s very structure (first two years cover 6,300 or so years of history, while the last two years each cover only 100 years of history) was designed as it was because the ideas that are most often encountered by our children as they enter the “real world” after homeschool were birthed in the 1800’s and bore fruit in the 1900’s and early 2000’s.

For younger students using Tapestry, worldview studies begin with becoming acquainted with the people, places, and things that comprise the history of the human race. In the middle-school (dialectic) years, students form categories for and connections between the facts they’ve learned and the ideas (worldviews) that people have had down through the centuries. In high school, we offer discussion outlines that support Socratic discussions, enabling parents to encourage their teens to talk out their evolving worldviews in light of what they are learning about the world, and informed by biblical truth.

We’ve been around for about 18 years and, in recent years especially, we have noted a new surge of interest in worldview studies among homeschoolers. It’s exciting to see so many folks asking about this aspect of home education!

We have answered this question many times in the past, but this year we decided to ask one of our grown-up “Tapestry kids” for her perspective.  Christina Somerville was one of those original nine students who studied history using the then-embryonic Tapestry approach with Marcia Somerville (“Mom” to her), beginning when she was fourteen.  Currently aged thirty-one, Christina is now a Tapestry teacher and author, who considers herself privileged to have experienced this curriculum from both sides of the classroom.

Christina has a degree in the liberal arts from Patrick Henry College, a college that emphasizes both classical education and worldviews engagement.  She has a special fascination with worldviews, and has now spent a total of sixteen years studying and writing about the Great Books of Western literature.

As it turned out, Christina had so much to say on this topic that we split her interview into two parts!  This post is Part I, which includes her definition of “worldview” and her perspective on Tapestry authors Scott and Marcia Somerville’s background in worldviews studies.

In Part II, Christina comments on Tapestry as a worldviews-studies curriculum, on its effects on her and other graduates, and on what she believes about whether parents can guarantee their students a biblical worldview through a program like Tapestry.

ChristyHere’s Christina!

One of the things I learned from my Tapestry studies was that defining your terms is a necessary preliminary in any discussion.  So, if you’ll come along with me, let’s begin by defining what we mean by “a worldview,” and then let’s talk about what we mean by a “worldview-studies curriculum.”

James W. Sire is a Christian and author of the bestselling worldviews catalog, The Universe Next Door. This book has been widely studied on Christian and secular college campuses alike because it has clear and balanced descriptions of several major worldviews.

Sire describes a worldview as a “commitment” and a “fundamental orientation of the heart” that has certain characteristics. It is a commitment that we make at a deep level to see things a certain way: to hold certain beliefs to be true. We might call it the colored lenses through which we see the world.

According to Sire, a worldview can be expressed.  We can learn the “color” of others’ “eyeglasses”—their conscious or unconscious assumptions and beliefs, through which they view reality—and we can become more aware of our own.

Sire also wrote that a worldview can be expressed as one of two things: a set of presuppositions or a story.  A set of presuppositions or assumptions, written out, will put forward statements about what a person believes.  It is an expository type of writing.  A story will express the same statements by embodying them within itself, usually in the form of concrete images and examples of personalities, events, etc.  This is an imaginative type of writing.

Whichever way they are expressed, suppositions will have what logicians call a “truth value.” One’s assumptions may be completely true, partially true, or completely false. Also, the one who believes them may not know that he believes them (he may believe them consciously or unconsciously) and may not even believe them in any sort of consistent way (he may have two presuppositions that contradict one another).

Sire says that this set of presuppositions tell us what a person believes about “the basic constitution of reality”; that is, what is real and what form or shape reality takes.

Finally, and most importantly, Sire says that our worldviews give us the foundation on which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We see nothing that is not filtered through our lenses, not even a blade of grass. That is why the “color” of our “glasses”–the way they show reality–or, our worldview, has a profound influence over what we do and think.

Every human being has strong reasons for wanting to believe what is true about reality and live accordingly. Who wants to live a life based on lies, especially if one is ignorant of it at the time?  As Socrates said, “the unexamined life is a life not worth living.”

In a way, worldviews training happens naturally in your home, without any conscious direction. When you respond to your child’s conflict with a sibling, asking him to consider the Apostle James’s observation that fights and quarrels come from the selfish desires of his heart, you are teaching him what is true about the reality of his inner life. You are shaping his worldview!

Sermons at church, interactions with friends, choices about what to watch or read or hear, questions that arise at the dinner table, overheard comments on the President’s policies or the operations of our nation’s government–all these are worldview training. In one way or another, all academic subjects are steeped in worldviews. What you communicate to your children about the processes of scientific discoveries, or whether you represent mathematical patterns to them as part of God’s language of creation, affect the way they come to view reality. Even the lightest brush with history, philosophy, literature, or theology, will put your student in contact with a multitude of beliefs that have been held dearly and acted on decisively by people through the ages.

So, one might ask, “Why worry at all about whether or not students are getting ‘worldview studies’?  Isn’t that something that will happen naturally?” The answer is yes… and also no!

Remember, according to Sire’s definition above, our beliefs can be held unconsciously, inconsistently, or partially. It takes time and conscious effort to learn truth, plus more time and effort to remind ourselves of truth. A pastor once pointed out that Christians in their daily lives are often “functional atheists.” We forget, for moments or for hours, that God exists—and when we forget, we act like He doesn’t.

Besides the tremendous investment needed to widen and deepen our own worldviews, there is also the mandate to understand other people’s worldviews. More time, more thought, more prayer, more of the Holy Spirit is needed to help us discern between the lies and truths that others tell and believe, and to teach us how to apply truth skillfully in loving other people. Therefore, and commendably, many Christian educational programs place an emphasis on conscious, focused worldviews instruction. A semi-conscious brush is not enough. We must study and engage deeply with worldviews as such if we are to understand them well and evaluate them wisely.

Now let’s consider what we mean by a “worldview-studies curriculum.” One might say that any humanities program is based on worldviews studies, because it is centered on the study of human beings, and human beings are constantly acting out of worldviews. However, as we also said, extra time and effort must be devoted to thoroughly understanding and biblically evaluating worldviews. These aren’t skills to be practiced once, but many times over a period of years.

Marcia and Scott Somerville understood both the importance of, and the time required for, worldview studies. When they met at Dartmouth College, each had already had one and a half full rotations of classical education. Marcia had been raised in a secular home and attended a classical preparatory academy. Once arrived at Dartmouth College, she found herself attracted to Communism, but then was dramatically converted to Christianity. Scott, the son of a pastor and social worker, with a rich family history of faith and love of Scripture, had likewise spent his high school years in a classical academy and was now finishing his degree in philosophy at Dartmouth.

As married twenty-year-olds who became parents in their first year of marriage, Scott and Marcia were already keenly aware of worldviews. They had already experienced six years of classical history, philosophy, and literature. Scott had studied both theoretical and practical theology under his father.  Both had had to confront the living God as adults.

Fifteen years later, when sitting down to write weekly history lessons for her own children, Marcia was looking to equip her teenage sons for those late-night and potentially life-changing conversations in a college campus dorm room. Scott was equally passionate: his focus was exploring with his children the mind-dazzling truths of Scripture, and applying them to the philosophers’ Great Conversation about reality. The result was this: the Somervilles together wove a passion for understanding and evaluating worldviews into every facet of Tapestry of Grace.

In Part II of this post, I’ll explain what I mean when I say that, and how their program affected me, as well as other students whom I have met since I graduated.

Myth Busters: Tapestry’s Writing Program is Hard to Use

GirlWritingOnce again, we were surprised when the Internet telephone game brought this message back to us because we think that our Writing program is quite straightforward. While it comes in two separate parts and offers flexibility that means parents must choose between options, we consistently hear how intuitive and effective our program is.

I’m going to start this post by letting another praise us, and not our own lips (Proverbs 27:2)! This is a recent comment on this blog left by Tina, a mom of six children who has been using Tapestry in her home for years, and leading a co-op of thirty Tapestry families as well. She wrote:

I’ve taught several writing programs and none compare with the “read, think, write” approach of Tapestry. Writing Aids is a tremendous resource. The Tapestry writing program gives structure and allows for creativity. It covers every genre. It is not formulaic. I have two girls in college who consistently produce “A” papers. Both tested out of college composition. One was asked recently to be a tutor at the college’s writing lab. The key is to have your children write consistently. They learn through practice and feedback – and I love the way the writing plans of Tapestry solidify history (or literature at the rhetoric level) concepts.

In seeking to better understand how the message about our writing program has gotten garbled, we’ve gathered feedback that has uncovered a few points of confusion among newcomers to Tapestry, or those who have only heard about Tapestry from others. Hopefully, this post will clarify some of the misconceptions!

The Philosophy Behind our Writing Program

I used to speak a lot at homeschool conventions, and my sessions on writing instruction were among the most often requested by conference organizers. I did two one-hour sessions. Session 1 set out the basic goals for any writing program. Session 2 went into how to grade writing assignments and hone essay-writing skills with older students. (Audio recordings of these sessions are available with handouts and slides today. You can find them both for sale here.)

To summarize these two sessions is to give the essential nuts and bolts of our philosophy of education with regard to the writing portion of Tapestry of Grace, and I’ll do that in just a minute. But first, some context for those who know nothing about Tapestry of Grace.

In our overarching system, Tapestry’s central purpose is to support parents who want to disciple apologists for the Christian faith. In order to be effective, our children will need to communicate clearly about their faith and the issues of the day. Our central method is that students READ deeply each week, then THINK with their mentor (parent) about what they read. This usually translates into discussion, especially in the older grades. Students then WRITE about what they’ve read and discussed. We feel that the ability to express themselves clearly and persuasively in written words is crucial for Christians in our age. In pursuit of this overarching goal, then, this last step in the weekly rhythm–the WRITE one–has several important benefits.

  • Because Tapestry is an integrated curriculum, each written piece requires students to reorganize and incorporate elements of the week’s lesson contents. Sometimes the content is taken from readings and discussions of history; other weeks written pieces are related to literature studies.
  • The WRITE step of our READ–THINK–WRITE rhythm requires students to slow down, to sift, to synthesize, and to arrange as a written piece their choice of facts and interpretations from what they have read about and verbally processed.
  • Such reworking of the facts and interpretations of the week’s input solidifies these in the student’s mind. Because he “owns” the written piece, he remembers its elements better than if he had just passively received the input from reading or lectures.
  • Doing a written piece weekly gives the student abundant practice in putting words to paper for the purpose of clear communication and self expression.
  • Because teachers weekly review students’ drafts and give feedback on them (enabled by the teacher’s portion of our handbook Writing Aids) the student improves greatly over time through reworking each draft into a finished piece each week.
  • We find that both the quality of the students’ internal construction of written works and the speed with which they can assemble them are sharply honed with the regular practice that our program supplies.

Now, I promised to summarize a homeschooling parent’s goals for any writing program that they undertake (including ours!). In a nutshell, over 12 years, your student should learn the following progression:

  • Learn to write strong sentences.
  • Learn to assemble these into well-constructed paragraphs.
  • Learn to join paragraphs into various types of longer written pieces: stories, essays, biographies, book reports, speeches, etc.

That third bullet could have a couple of sub-points. Here they are:

  • Learn to use transitions skillfully so that the ideas and arguments arranged as paragraphs flow well.
  • Learn the normal structures that are expected in specific writing genres. (Example: one arranges paragraphs differently in a short story than in a speech, which are both different from essay structures.)

That is a summary of the first hour’s presentation that I do at conventions. (To give a fuller idea of the content of Session 1, here you can view a PDF of my slides.) Obviously, the audio provides a lot more detail. The second hour-long session would be summarized like this:

  • Parents need to give their students timely, frequent feedback on their writing.
    • Weekly, they should mark up their students’ first drafts.
    • Weekly, they should grade the students’ final drafts.
  • It’s hard to grade writing without knowing what to look for, so let’s learn to grade writing!
  • Analytical essays are especially important in the high school years, especially if students are preparing for college. Let’s examine the normal structure of four kinds of analytical essays, and learn how to grade them.

Tapestry’s writing program is constructed on the idea that “drop by drop, the bucket is full.” Each week, we provide practice in specific genres using the grist of history or literature materials. If we are studying Greece, for instance, we might have younger children writing their own writing newspaper stories about the Persian Wars, middle-grade ones crafting a dialogue as part of a play based on Greek myths, and older students constructing a one-page, compare and contrast essay on the governments of Sparta and Athens. All are writing about Greece, and all are working at their level of writing expertise on the spectrum from introduction to mastery.

Reviewing the Organizational Structure

So, let’s look at the layout of the Writing portion of Tapestry of Grace, because some of the “it’s hard to use” reputation seems to come from confusion as to the physical layout.

There are two basic parts to our Writing program:

  1. The writing assignments, which are listed on pages 8-10 of each Tapestry of Grace week-plan
  2. The instruction for both students and teachers (as well as helps like grading instructions and graphic organizers), which are found in one comprehensive handbook entitled Writing Aids

Jobe2The writing assignments are presented for 12 learning levels. These correspond to normative grades in school, but of course, the parent is in full control of the level chosen for each student. (In fact, we found early on that many parents have lagged in writing instruction due to a lack of confidence or ability and thus their students need to catch up. We thus used the term “level” so that students who needed to enter our program writing at a grade level or two below their general age-grade would not feel discouraged.) Generally, though, if your student would be in third grade in school, you should start by looking at Level 3 assignments for him.

The writing assignments are arranged such that the same genres are covered in each year-plan. A Level 4 student writes a series of newspaper articles (based on history topics) during the year, for instance. But, the genres are arranged within each year-plan such that it makes the most intuitive sense, given history or literature readings. So, all Level 4 students have a unit-long project of creating a “newspaper.” In Year 1, they author the Greek Gazette while studying the Greeks (Unit 3) and in Year 2, they do so in Unit 4, and it’s called the Colonial Crier. In Year 3, it’s the Civil War Times (Unit 3), and in Year 4, it’s covering the era down to our own day with a suggested title of Postmodern Times.

Furthermore, as is always the case with Tapestry of Grace, we plan with implementation in mind. If students on any level are working on the same genre, they do so simultaneously so that the teaching parent can do lesson plans once for all. So, with Newspaper Projects, all students at Level 2 (with Mom’s help), Level 4, and Level 7 join their efforts to produce the family’s newspaper. (Since newspaper articles are both fun and great exercises for learning to summarize, a student using Tapestry in all 12 years would do a unit-long newspaper project with siblings — who all write articles on different aspects of the chosen era — three different times.

Writing Aids comes in digital and printed (3-hole punch) formats. In it’s printed format, only the teacher’s notes and sample graphic organizers are offered. With these comes a CD ROM on which one finds the materials for students, and instructions for grading various kinds of student writing. Whatever the format, Writing Aids is divided into four main parts:

  • Instructions to teachers on all major writing genres, called the Teacher’s Manual, that includes information on how to grade each writing genre using provided rubrics (Printed or DE Slate)
  • Pre-written student notes, called “Talking Points” (on the CD ROM or DE Slate)
  • An appendix with Supplements: graphic organizers, blank grading rubrics, response forms, etc. (CD ROM or DE Slate)

How Do You Use the Writing Portion of Tapestry of Grace?

As I said, it’s pretty straightforward:

  1. Look at the spectrum of writing assignments offered on pages 8-10 each week. Choose the ones that are right for your child.
  2. Look up the genres that are referenced in the assignments in Writing Aids.
  3. Meet 2-3 times with your student through the week. Print out any aids needed before your first meeting. (Talking Points, blank graphic organizers, grading rubrics, etc.) as indicated in the assignments.
    • Once early in the week to instruct him in a genre, if a new one is being introduced, or to set the expectations for the week in an ongoing writing project (as detailed in the assignment).
    • Once mid-week check in red-pencil the student’s first draft (for many families, Thursday afternoon is a good day for this, but it will depend on your schedule).
    • At the end of the week, grade the final draft that the student hands in (or confirm that he got as far forward in an ongoing writing project as he was assigned to do).

That’s it!

As my husband likes to say, “Rinse and repeat!” Week to week, for 36 weeks per year, your student can be completing manageable chunks of writing. In the process, he’ll get better at it, faster at it, and more confident. He’ll also become equipped to express himself clearly in words. Most people who use our program successfully tell us that their kids love this method, especially because it’s integrated with everything else they’re learning in the Humanities.

Myth busted: Tapestry’s writing program is simple and straightforward to use. If you are a current Tapestry user and have questions, there are many ways to get help! Call our friendly Customer Service department, or find Facebook groups replete with veteran users and Advisors who can help you!

For Newcomers, in the near future, I plan to post more details about how to use our program by answering comments or questions on this post! So, please ask them below, and in the meantime, you can see samples of all that I’ve been describing by clicking HERE.


Myth Busters: Is Tapestry really only good for older kids?

mom_computer_normalThis post resulted from a real-time conversation that recently appeared on Facebook. I have only deleted or changed names, expanded abbreviations, and deleted a few posts that got onto sidetracks. Otherwise the thread appears as it did on Facebook. I thought it belonged in this series because it so clearly displays the “telephone game” of disinformation on the Internet, and how things can get garbled when you don’t go to the source!

Amy started it. She wrote: “I will be using Tapestry Primer in the spring, God willing. But someone today told me that Tapestry was excellent in the high school, [and] maybe even middle school years, but not good in the first grades. My sons are very young, [ages] 4 and 6, and it does worry me a bit that this might be true. Anyone using this with young children? I know there are many moms with kids who already graduated but don’t see many young mothers using Tapestry.” [Editor’s note: follow this link to see blog posts and reviews from many young moms using Tapestry!]

Below are the responses she got, bulleted, with names omitted.

  • I do LOVE it for my older kiddo, but I sure wish I’d started it sooner. My friend said it well: “It shines in the upper grades, but it is unbeatable no matter the age.”

Amy responded: “That’s what I keep hearing, and it worries me that I could be making the wrong choice for my young children.”

  • I have found that my choices are best made between the Lord and me. I value the opinions of others, but if the Lord calls you to use it, you’ll sure be blessed by it. My youngest is 10, he was 9 when we started using Tapestry, and I really wish we’d started sooner. I am sad that my oldest only gets to go through the 4 years one time.
  • The Primer is written for the early grades, I plan to buy it for my granddaughter (she’s only 9 months now). Her uncles are in their second go thru of Tapestry, I wish I had started them sooner.
  • We started Tapestry when my youngest was in the 2nd grade. He LOVED it. We are in our 4th year and it’s still just the right fit for us. He’s exposed to so much and it’s all presented in real book format or hands-on projects so he’s just absorbed so much. I took him out to lunch at the end of our first year, just the two of us, and the kid blew me away when he reviewed the entire year chronologically. We had used a blown up copy of the world map that year and I had circled and labeled the location of each people group we covered. Every time we added a new group we reviewed the ones already on the map. That day at lunch he spontaneously walked me through the whole map from memory and told me details about all the groups. He was able to do it because what he learned and how he learned it was interesting to him. He’s thriving in it still 3-4 years later. I have zero regrets on making the Tapestry of Grace choice and sticking with it.
  • Since Primer is new, I haven’t even looked at it. I have only used the full blown Tapestry, but I started when my oldest was in 2nd grade and I loved it for him. I truly think as long as you don’t try to do too much, it is marvelous at all ages.
  • I may actually start Tapestry earlier with my little than originally planned. She’s 4 so not now, but in a couple of years maybe.
  • We are in our first year of Tapestry and our daughter is in 2nd grade. She LOVES it! I am so glad that God directed my heart toward this curriculum in spite of my fears!

Amy responded:

We are finishing up another 1st grade curriculum, even though it’s technically Kindergarten for him (oldest turns 6 in January) but he’s flying through it. I didn’t like it that much except all the Bible stories.

He loves geography and missions. Does Tapestry cover missions? Since someone mentioned people groups? It is one of the reasons the other curriculum drew me, because of their third grade, countries and cultures year. I will be doing that Kindergarten program with my 4 year old and Primer along with him and my oldest, not sure which Language Arts or math yet.

  • Amy: I feel that way, very pulled to Tapestry but fearful because of what I hear about the fog and how it’s too much, etc. I love the easiness of the other curriculum and the schedule, but I don’t know…
  • I started Tapestry in ’08 with all lower- and upper-grammar students. Now I have someone in every stage. I bought the Primer thinking it would be perfect for my younger children….and it was!! It was not perfect for the mom trying to do Tapestry with everyone else and keep up with the Primer. Honestly, I think you could go either way. If you want to get a good feel for Tapestry and build the foundation, using it with lower grammar might be worth starting there. But if you just want something fun and relaxing to give your children and not feel like you have to do much picking for activities and such, then Primer is the way to go. I don’t think you will go wrong with the Primer. Of all the things I’ve learned over the years of homeschooling, it’s “don’t second guess yourself and go with the original plan.” It’s usually turned out that the naysayers were wrong. I’ve also learned that if you’re praying and seeking the Lord, He’ll give you a check in your spirit when you’re headed the wrong way. I took a break from Tapestry and was considering a different curriculum last year. I got my shopping cart online filled up and was ready to order when I just heard that still small voice telling that Tapestry was where we needed to stay. That’s one of the best decisions I’ve made regarding our school. My kids are thriving on it this year.
  • I understand reading the negative comments and getting “cold feet.” We actually only bought Year 1, Unit 1, on DE to begin with because I was so fearful I couldn’t do it. Just remember that you don’t have to do everything! Pick the activities that work for you and your family. For instance, I started out wanting to do geography. I quickly discovered we didn’t have time for that this year. So, I chucked it! And guess what? The Tapestry police didn’t come banging on my door! We will try again next year when I don’t have an overly needy toddler and my teenager can drive himself home from football practice!
  • The “fog” leaves quickly. There are so many helps online and so much support, now planning is a breeze. It’s like anything that you have to learn from scratch. It soon becomes your own.
  • I have been using Tapestry for almost 10 years. I bought it knowing I would get to teach my children each year three times before graduation. I have been thrilled with it. It is as bookish or as hands on as you need it to be. I tailor it to fit our needs each year. For example, I don’t love the worksheets that go with the books in the lower-grammar level, so I don’t use them! For my younger ones, I supplement the hands on stuff–I look for appropriate crafts on Pinterest, and I make a huge binder with weekly dividers for a craft activity for every week of Tapestry. I read them the literature books and we do the time line. As they get older I add in more–vocabulary, writing, geography, worldview, etc. It really is a wonderful buffet of a curriculum. My children are now 23 (graduated), 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4 and 1. I will be happily using Tapestry for many more years!
  • Amy, my oldest 5 children began Tapestry in upper grammar or dialectic stages, and I am so sad that they did not reap benefits of the lower grammar years. My youngest daughter has done Tapestry lower *light* since she was 4. She is 7 now. I am absolutely blown away at how much she knows and loves school. Our Tapestry days are the highlight of her week. Just yesterday she asked me, “Mommy, remember Florence Nightingale from last year? Was she a nurse in World War 1 or 2… I don’t’ remember hearing about her lately but I know she was a nurse in a war.” What a fun opportunity to remind her a little about the Crimean War and Florence Nightingale’s time! After a brief refresher she said, “Wow – Just think how much worse the big wars would have been if she didn’t show people how to take care of wounded soldiers. It’s too bad she died before she could help in more wars.” … I realize this is simplistic, but such “AHA” moments happen weekly for this little 7 year old. She is learning so much and it is a JOY to be her teacher. Another fun story from this week: My father-in-law read her Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot, a sweet story about a relief pilot in Berlin after World War 2. My father-in-law grinned huge and delighted in that story because he was stationed in Germany and remembers living it! PRECIOUS times! Thankful for these lower grammar years with #6… wish I’d discovered Tapestry when my oldest was younger!
  • Unfortunately, I heard those same explanations of Tapestry when my girls were in the Grammar stage. I really didn’t grasp how Tapestry defines the grammar stage versus other Classical programs. I ended up only using Tapestry one year, but knew I would come back to it as my girls got older. That is something I really regret. I wish I had paid more attention to how Tapestry defined itself. Tapestry’s goal for the early years is to cultivate a love of learning. – hat in the buffet of choices they offer you focus on the ice cream and instead of oodles of memory work that you focus on building up a familiarity with a variety of areas. Definitely check out the Myth Buster series that Marcia has been posting. Also, Tapestry offers Advisors who can help you walk through how Tapestry works – explain the philosophy and mechanics.
  • We’ve used Tapestry of Grace since my oldest was in 1st grade. Even my preschoolers have loved it. I plan to implement the lower grammar content with my 3 year-old daughter  in the fall. She’s currently doing some projects related to our topics and loves them! I’m planning to add in the reading. We’ve used Tapestry for 10 years and have a rhetoric, dialectic, and upper-grammar student now. It just looks very different now than it did then. I would not change a thing were I to go back! Love it!
  • We started Tapestry when my kids were 5, 7, 9 & 11. I can’t tell you how many times my youngest – now 16 years old – has fondly remembered those days of “little-kid Tapestry” (and – I must admit – sometimes calls that the time “when I liked history.”) They are her favorite school memories. I don’t know whether I would have chosen to buy it when my oldest child was in first grade, but now that it’s digital, it will never become outdated!! There’s plenty of Tapestry fun for littles, just make sure you major on the basic 3-R’s and use Tapestry as the icing on the cake. So you may be getting a little less use out of it at this age than you possibly can, but you’ll be ramping up and getting used to it so you can effectively use it later as more of a main stage part of your curriculum.

Amy responded to all of these messages this way, “Thank you all, this is encouraging.”

A related post (Marcia herself says, “Don’t start until they’re older!”) was the first in this Myth Busters series! You may be interested to read it as well.

Would you like to add your experiences with Tapestry to this post? Feel encouraged to hit the “comment” button in order to do so! We’d love to hear from you.

Myth Busters: “Is Tapestry too much work for the average student?”

Schoolgirl with Textbook on HeadAs with other myths in this series, the statement “Tapestry is too much work for the average student” begs for close definitions of the terms we use. Specifically, we need to examine “too much work” and “average student.”

But I want to start by reiterating a significant feature of the Tapestry of Grace curriculum: it was designed from its inception to be an educational buffet. Tapestry year-plans are guides for parents that provides a variety of suggested reading assignments, hands-on activities, writing assignments, read-aloud choices, and upper-level electives. No one family will utilize all that Tapestry offers–at least, not with any one student. Parent-teachers are meant to select–week to week–from the buffet for their children, according to the child’s tastes and abilities to digest each “meal.” This gives them amazing flexibility and control over their children’s educational diets. Therefore, it is inaccurate to say that Tapestry itself is “too much” since parents are firmly in the driver’s seat with this program!

Furthermore, this statement is almost always in the context of upper-level students. For these, Tapestry of Grace aspires to provide a rich, deep introduction to the classic works of humankind down through the ages. Why? For several good reasons:

  1. Reading deep thinkers teaches one to think deeply oneself. The corollary is also true: if all you do is think and speak shallowly, you grow shallow yourself. Want proof? Listen closely to the working vocabulary of the average high schooler today, and then compare (by reading books from previous centuries) what it was in our grandparents’ generation, or even more drastically, in our great-grandparents’ day.
  2. Especially in our modern American culture, youths are often simultaneously cocky and unaware of how much they don’t know. Wrestling with the Great Books is both humbling and enlightening. It shows youths that there ideas that are beyond their current mental capacities for mastery, and are both complex and nuanced. For many young people, the challenge that the Great Books present is mentally invigorating as well.
  3. Knowing where others have trod and what results they had from their experiments in living enables us to live our lives with far greater wisdom and (one sincerely hopes) with greater effectiveness. Learning by example is valuable for Christians (1 Corinthians 10:6), for workers in all industries, for scientists, for parents, for leaders and for voters. Those who study history can avoid past weaknesses and imitate past strengths. Youths who study the Great Books in high school enter college classes with an astounding depth of perception about the ideas that college professors put forth. They are typically able to argue more effectively, write better, achieve higher scores on tests: but most of all, they are thinking people and will be for all their lives to come.  Isn’t this what education is for?

For younger students (K-8) we almost never hear of Tapestry being “too much”!

In all labor, there is profit. What kind of work are we talking about here?

For high schoolers, then, reading “deep” “whole” books takes time and effort: more time than reading textbooks (which predigest ideas to make factual intake faster, but do nothing towards teaching students to reason or solve problems). An analogy can be made to swimming. A person will not learn to swim well no matter how many videos he sees about swimming, or how many books he reads about it, until he gets wet! You have to get in deep water in order to swim.

Similarly, you need to work through the thoughts, vocabulary, and syntax of people more advanced than you in order to grow your reasoning and communication abilities. Like swimming, thinking takes active work and practice in order to master the subject; this is how we develop strong mental “muscles.” Students who read through the Great Books are working hard!

The converse is again true: couch potatoes don’t exercise, so their muscles grow weak and their bodies flabby. Those who can’t, watch! If one doesn’t want to put on their intellectual sweats and exercise their brains, those brains will not develop as much as they could. In profitable education, there is a degree of trudging. Some of the work of education is not “fun” or “easy.” The question for the parent is, “Are the rewards of a given kind of work valuable?”

Too much work?

Having defined what kind of work we’re all talking about here, we can now get a handle on the statement about “too much work.” Again we are back to comparisons, and to the differences in values and standards that unique families necessarily have. The question becomes, “How do you define ‘too much’?”

A realtor might show one person an old house on a beautiful lot that is priced to sell, and hear him say, “It would be too much work to bring it back. Show me another house to buy.” But, he might show someone else, who perhaps has experience with renovations, the same property and have this second person buy it on the spot. The first person values the finished product and is awed at the work of fixing houses, while the second accepts the work of it because he can “see” the value of the finished product.

It’s the same amount of “work” in both cases. The difference is in how each customer measures the return they get on the work being contemplated. To read the Great Books and discuss them is work. Is it too much work? That’s up to each family!

Let’s talk about time limitations

One reason that people say that a meaty program such as ours is “too much work” is because they are aware that their students only have so much time. In addition to the other standard classes that high schoolers must take (math, science, and foreign languages) outside of Tapestry studies, there are sports events, clubs, and family activities to be fit into each weeks.

This concern is fair! We can’t do everything. Again, it comes down to a family’s priorities. Perhaps the family is sports-minded and wants to leave lots of room in their weeks (and weekends) for sports practices and events. That’s their prerogative, but let’s recognize that this is a choice, and not the result of a fault in the Tapestry program per se. Someone who doesn’t value athletics highly might well say of team participation: “It’s too much!”

Thousands of people who use Tapestry find that it is both doable and satisfying within the time constraints of modern teenagers if one values the benefits that saying “yes” to challenging Humanities studies and “no” to other options that compete for their time and attention.

Let’s compare ourselves with those in past generations, rather than this one!

We believe that today’s “average” American high schoolers are uniformly under challenged academically. We look back to previous generations and see that human minds are capable of understanding and absorbing far more than our modern technological society’s traditional schools demand. Clearly, if the “average student” today is under challenged and doesn’t know it, then our program would seem like “too much work.”

We believe that parents who care enough about homeschooling to undertake the work and sacrifices involved want to have the best possible return on their investment. They want to help their children be the best that they can be! For many students, the difference between “average” and “above average” is directly proportional to the challenges their parents place before them!

Looking back, we also see that the focus of higher education has shifted during the last 50 years or so. Colleges have gone from places where the elite learned to lead, think, and govern to places where students master advanced information on specialized vocations. In other words, by and large, students today attend colleges hoping to come out with a marketable skill that will give them a job that provides a living wage. This is different than getting a more general degree focused more on skills like complex analysis, written and spoken communications, problem solving, etc. Such were the fruits of the liberal arts degree that was the norm for your child’s grandparents, which had concentrations for majors (science, art, history, etc.) but required students to gain proficiencies across the spectrum of educational disciplines as well.

In the Middle Ages and on down through history until the time of rapid industrialization, young men went to colleges in their late teens. Often, privileged youths studied at home with tutors, and read many challenging books before they attended university. We know that young people can read, learn to enjoy, and profit from these time-tested treasures while in high school. So, for older students, Tapestry of Grace is designed to give modern high schoolers the opportunity to gain a working knowledge of the Great Books of history and literature–studied interdependently and in context because of supporting studies in geography, philosophy, and the arts–so that their curiosity and intelligence need not wait for college to be stimulated into enjoying a thinking life.

Not only is this content introduced, but students use the content to practice key reasoning skills, gaining the ability to analyze arguments critically, to compare and contrast claims and counter claims, to form and defend arguments, to listen well to opponents, and–most of all–to consider all worldviews in light of biblical teaching, and thus gain a deep value for the biblical worldview as they compare it with others. Thus can students learn to articulately give reasons for the hope to which they have been called as Christians (2 Tim 2:15; 1 Pet 3:15).

Is your “average student” college bound?

As you begin to do your college-prep research, you may find that it is common for students who are bound for competitive colleges to switch from the homeschooling program that they grew up with, to a more rigorous college-prep program, or dual enrollment. This typically occurs in 11th or 12th grade, because what was a pleasant and stimulating workload in their younger years turns out to be not enough work to prepare them well for college. There is no such problem with Tapestry: it has proven its ability to carry students all the way through high school, position them advantageously for college entrance, and often help them win scholarships, all of which saves parent-teachers time and money.  

In fact, our approach has enabled many students to CLEP out of college courses (again, saving both time and money). If desired, students with a sound, working knowledge of the humanities and sharpened thinking skills can take the college years to freely focus on gaining marketable skills without compromising the depth of life that is open to those who have a strong background in the liberal arts.

We have quoted this before, but it bears repeating here. High schoolers who use Tapestry can gain both high school and college credits for the same amount of work:

My daughter tested out (through CLEPS) of her college literature classes and she certainly could have tested out of history. As a matter of fact, she is planning to come home in December and review to CLEP Western Civ. (I wish there was a CLEP for Bible!) It’s possible for students to take Tapestry, study for CLEPS, and avoid many of the first 2 years of general ed. classes at a liberal arts college.

Anna and Christina (my oldest two) are on track for getting their bachelor degrees in 2-3 years as opposed to 4. I love Belhaven University so much that I considered using their high scholar’s program (a dual-enrollment humanities course) for my 15-year old daughter for her last two years of high school.  However, I looked at the topics week-by-week. She is getting the very same thing through our co-op and Tapestry and it isn’t costing me thousands of dollars. (For her, it’s actually costing nothing since I own all the materials.) I’ve decided that for my 15-year old kids ongoing, we are going to use Tapestry and then CLEP for end-of-year exams.

One thing we have found over the years is that students with a sound, working knowledge of the humanities and sharpened thinking skills can spend their college years specializing in marketable skills, without compromising the depth of mind and heart that is traditionally considered the greatest blessing of a liberal arts education.  We think that’s wonderful!

Maybe Tapestry is too much work for your student, given your priorities for him. That’s fine!  We deeply respect the fact that God has given your student to you, and will guide you in making decisions for his education. However, we would hate to have you turned away from exploring Tapestry before you even begin because you haven’t had a chance to stop and ask yourself what the work of a liberal arts high school education is worth to you, and what exactly you mean by “too much” for your student.  

If you now have an interest in exploring what we can offer and have never visited our website, please start here

If you are specifically interested in the experiences of others who have used Tapestry for college prep, please read these posts:

Poetics Goes to College With Anna

A Journey I Loved: Rodney Dowty

A Journey that Prepared Me: Matt Spanier

There a host of posts from private bloggers using Tapestry that might interest you. Start here.

Finally, if you have used Tapestry with older students and can share experiences, we’d love to hear your story! Please feel invited to comment below.

People say, “Tapestry isn’t a complete program.” Is that right?

Wide variety of homeschooling vendors at a convention

Wide variety of homeschooling vendors at a convention

This is one of those things that “people say” which illustrates very well the telephone game type of distortion that I described in the Introduction to this series. Whether or not a program is complete depends first of all on what you mean by “complete”!

Let’s define our terms, shall we?

If, by “complete” you mean, “includes all that you need to teach all subjects that are typically studied in a given year” then Tapestry is not complete. But if, by “complete” you mean, “includes all that you need to study deeply a limited number of subjects in a given year” then, yes, Tapestry is a very complete Humanities curriculum.

Now that we’ve defined our terms, let me break that down for you in a bit more detail!

What does “complete program” mean among homeschoolers?

Typically, when homeschoolers talk about a “complete program,” what they mean is that the materials being sold cover all the major subjects in a typical grade-level for a year. What are these subjects?

  • For younger children (K-3), they include phonics/reading, math, science, spelling, and handwriting. History and Literature selections (often called read-alouds) may also be offered, and crafts may be included. If it’s a Christian curriculum, you’d expect to see some elements of Bible surveys or studies.
  • For the middle, grammar-stage grades (3-6), you would add English grammar to the above list, and definitely have History and Literature offerings of some sorts. You would also expect to include Writing and Geography as standard elements. By this point, phonics/reading would not be a subject, and then, some programs would add rudimentary foreign language studies and crafts (called Art). Again, if it’s a Christian program, some Bible-related materials would be included as well.
  • For junior high years (7-8) you would expect that a “complete” program would include studies in History, Literature, Geography, Math, Science, Grammar/Composition (Writing), and Foreign Language. Some programs might offer Logic, if they are oriented towards Classical Education. Those oriented towards Christians may offer Church History studies, as well as continued studies of the Bible.
  • During the high school years a “complete” program would include studies in History, Literature, Geography, Math, Science, Grammar/Composition (might be combined with Literature and Writing to be called “English”), and Foreign Language. Some programs offer electives like Government studies, Art, and Economics. As with junior high, Christian ones might offer Church History and theological studies, as well as continued studies of the Bible. High school students often also study Rhetoric (the art of written argumentation and making speeches), Philosophy, and Art History as major electives in some programs.

There are a few “complete” programs on the homeschool market, in that you can order from one company a coordinated set of teaching materials for all the disciplines for a year’s worth of study. You will note, though, that companies that offer “complete” programs have not usually developed all the materials that they sell. Rather, they have used their experience with the various programs available to assemble for you a complete program. And, you’ll find that “complete” programs are far more common in the earlier grades, because there are fewer subjects to cover. There are very few programs that supply all the elements that I’ve listed above for the junior or senior high students and their teachers.

So, how does Tapestry compare?

We do not seek to be a “complete” curriculum program. In this way, what “people say” is correct. We bill ourselves as a “complete Humanities” curriculum, however, and we feel that we are one of the most (if not the most) complete in our materials for the subjects that we do cover. All of what Lampstand Press (Tapestry’s publisher) sells have been developed in house.

Tapestry curricula cover the following:

  • For the youngest families, just starting to homeschool, we offer Tapestry Primer. (You don’t have to be planning to use Tapestry to choose to use Primer in your first one or two years, teaching your oldest children in K-2.)
    • This is as much an introduction to homeschooling and to history as it is to the Tapestry method. The Primer Guidebook offers parents the ability to bone up on their history knowledge as they teach their youngsters.
    • Primer studies survey all of human history in the parent’s choice of 1-2 years. We introduce youngsters to the main plot lines of both human history and the works of God in the context of the human story.
    • So, Primer offers study materials for History, Literature, and Geography studies, and also a wealth of craft ideas.
    • In answer to a general cry for help with memory work, we devised a card game for Primer students (which can be used by any student of history regardless of his curriculum). It’s called The Big Story Game .
    • While Primer includes prompts to use language arts, it does not include phonics, handwriting, science, or math.  These must be chosen and purchased separately.
  • For many families who are teaching both students that are older than K-2 and those just starting, it makes sense to jump straight into the full Tapestry of Grace program. Tapestry materials put all children (and their teaching parents) on the same topics week to week. This simplifies the parents’ job, while promoting great family discussions and much family unity. Here are the disciplines that Tapestry includes:
    • History (all levels)
    • Literature selections (all levels)
      • Literature worksheets (grades 1-8)
      • Literature discussions (grades 7-12)
    • Geography reading and map work (all levels)
    • Hands-on learning that reinforces studies of a given era or culture (1-8)
      • Younger grade students can count this as Art
      • High school students have the option of doing Art History, and may choose to do activities suggested for younger students if they are strongly tactile in their modality preferences.
    • Writing/Composition (all levels)
    • Bible Survey (all levels)
    • Church History (all levels)
    • History of Philosophy (9-12)
    • Government Studies (9-12)

What do you not see in those lists?

  • We don’t direct you to use Grammar resources week to week, but we do recommend that you use them, and our sister store, Bookshelf Central, sells Easy Grammar, the program we recommend most strongly.
  • We don’t include a Phonics program, but again, we recommend that you choose and use one when teaching littles to read.
  • We don’t include study materials for Foreign Languages, but we recommend that you start such studies in junior high.
  • We don’t include math or science programs, but we do assume that you are choosing and using the best ones of these that you can find for your unique children, and Bookshelf Central covers materials for some of these.

So, is Tapestry a “complete curriculum”?

No. It’s not. But it is an in-depth, very complete Humanities program, for all the children in your home, and for all of the years that you’ll be homeschooling.


Myth Busters: “There’s a lot of teacher preparation to do each week with Tapestry!”

DSC_0380As with the myth “It’s expensive!” this is a statement, “There’s a lot of preparation…” begs the question, “As compared to what?”

What, exactly, do you mean?

If you hear a statement like this one when asking about homeschooling programs, it’s good to clarify terms and assumptions.

Are we talking about the amount of time to prepare, or are you talking about the mental effort of growing your own knowledge base so that you can teach, or both? The amount of time and mental effort that different homeschooling parents need to prepare any lessons with any program will always be highly variable, not only person to person, but subject to subject–and even week to week!  Here are some of the factors involved:

  • How long have you been homeschooling?  The amount of time that it takes a young teacher to prepare is widely different from the amount of time that a seasoned teacher will spend on any subject.
  • How old are your kids?  When your children are young, it’s hard to find time to sit down and read anything!  Fortunately, there’s also lot less mental effort involved in preparation when your kids are young, because the information is simple and you already know lots of it.  When your kids are older, you have to spend more time learning their more complicated subjects (more time and more mental effort), but on the other hand your time isn’t as likely to be limited to only the (often interrupted) Nap Time hours.  Also, your students are able to do some independent work, which gives back more time to you to study up!
  • How much experience do you have with the program that you are using?  There is a certain “up-front” cost of learning to use the program that you have chosen.  In the world of Tapestry, we call it “the four-week fog”!  The good news is that with some programs, like Tapestry, you only have to go through it once for your whole school life in the humanities subjects. 
  • How much do you personally know about the subject to be taught?  If you got your own degree in algebra, preparation to teach it will come easily to you!  Personally, I am terrible at math, and have always struggled to teach it, but I can prepare to teach history much more easily and quickly because it’s a subject I know well.  Here, both time and mental effort will be low for me. 
  • What kind of teaching are you going to do?  If you have younger students and want to read aloud to them, preparation time (and mental effort) drops, but execution time (how many hours it takes you to actually read aloud) rises.  If you are going to lead a discussion once a week, your students will do their independent preparation work. . . and you will do yours!  Your investment of time and mental effort will go up, but the actual time it takes to execute will probably be only an hour or two.  

Teaching parents learn rapidly, and the more so the longer that they stick with any program. And while any new program has a steep learning curve for the teaching parent when one first starts out, every program gets easier and easier to implement the more you use it. So “It takes a lot of preparation” is relative to where you are in your homeschooling journey.

It’s also important to know how much total time is allotted for preparation in general. If a teaching parent’s schedule is brutally tight, then by comparison with other programs, Tapestry might take “a lot of time.”

  • If, for instance, a parent is teaching one or two kids in grades 1-3, she might have a gracious sufficiency of time in which to skim her students’ resource books, look over the week-plan as a whole, select the craft of the week, gather supplies for teaching, and read the week’s Teacher’s Notes for older kids so as to educate herself on advanced nuances of history, literature, and philosophy.
  • If, on the other hand, the family’s schedule is packed with out-of-the-house activities such that student lessons are done on the fly, then Tapestry’s approach to teacher preparation will involve a deeper cut of the overall time budget than other programs.
  • Time allotments change with seasons and events. Life happens: the holidays, company, illnesses, and overfilling our schedules can all make us so busy that we allow prep time for any or all subjects to wane.

A general habit of “no time for preparation” always makes us poorer teachers regardless of the program, though. Prep time is essential to you doing the actual teaching. The alternative is a program where you open a book read what someone else thinks you should present to your student.  This is not necessarily a terrible thing, but it is certainly unlikely to promote your confidence, interest, and full, nuanced engagement with your student.  Remember, no matter how good the author who wrote the textbook is, he or she doesn’t know your child, and isn’t there to re-explain his or her ideas in a way that will help your student to truly understand them.  The bigger the stakes (of course the biggest stakes of all are those involving your student’s worldview), the more it matters that you understand the material well enough to guide your student (with all of his unique and particular doubts, questions, strengths, or weaknesses) to understanding.

We feel it is also important to remember that we are asking our students to do their work well and faithfully.  If we are preparing to lead a class discussion, shouldn’t we do students the honor of preparing well and faithfully ourselves?

The Tapestry approach is to provide support to parents who learn the lesson for themselves, and then teach out of knowledge. We don’t offer “open the IG and read what’s there to the student” types of plans. So the question of “do you have time to bone up on the content using Teacher’s Notes?” is an important one.

Parents who choose Tapestry often do so because they want to learn more about God and mankind and history and literature and Scripture and all the rest of the humanities for themselves as well as their students. They tend to think of preparation time as their chance to continue their own adult education. . . without the price tag of a graduate school. What we find is that those parents who need to learn become excited about the connections and information that we teach them, and that their excitement in discovery leads to them being energized teachers which leads to lessons being interesting to kids.

Maybe this approach is a better one…

Let’s leave behind the fuzzy comparison oriented statement “a lot of time” and focus on what kinds of activities teaching parents who are using Tapestry of Grace do when planning. I mentioned a few above, but I’ll list them below in a concise form. (Please understand that I’m assuming that you’ve got a working rhythm of school going, and that you’re familiar with Tapestry.) Here’s an outline of a weekly planning session with Tapestry:

  • Gather planning materials and set aside an hour or two (depending on the factors we’ve discussed above) out of your schedule.
    • Pour a cup of your favorite hot beverage and head to a quiet spot. (I used to go to my public library on Saturday mornings, for instance.)
    • Have handy the books that your students will be using in the week ahead. (We’re assuming these are already purchased or borrowed from your public library.)
    • Also have with you your Tapestry week-plan and some student assignment grids (such as we provide on the Loom) and a pencil (erasers are key in this process!).
  • After you’re settled down, browse the Tapestry week-plan. As you browse…
    • Note especially pages 1-3 Threads (objectives for the week) and page 11 Summary (of what’s being learned).
    • Read the Background Information sections that bring you up to speed on the week’s content.
    • Skim the books that students will use, and determine which of the listed reading assignments to require of them.
    • Look over the Writing assignments for the week.
    • Look at listed activities and determine which (if any) your student will do in the week ahead. (Jot down needed craft supplies, and any print-outs you’ll need to have on hand.)
  • Having browsed, it’s time to make choices for the week ahead. For each student, take a Weekly Assignment grid in one hand, and a pencil in the other.
    • Plan in the “big rocks”–main lessons–for the week into the chart. This would include math, science, and other non-Tapestry subjects as well.
    • Choose any crafts and/or activities for the week and gather supplies for the ones you choose. (This would include printing any maps or quizzes from our Supplements–MapAids and Evaluations–but many parents do this ahead, during the summer months, for the entire year.)
  • OPTIONAL: After about 4th grade, we advise you to begin training your children to fill in their own Weekly Assignment Charts (with your guidance) for themselves–see the year-plan introductions for details on this.

For most “mid-stream moms” (those who have used Tapestry for more than a few months) who have 3 to 5 children in their homeschool, this whole process would take maybe an hour to plan all the humanities subjects for the week ahead. If a parent wants to/needs to learn about the slice of history covered in the week-plan, then maybe add a half hour to that estimate. The parent learns from either young child books that their students will use, or our Teacher’s Notes, or a combination of both. Only you know if that kind of time is “a lot” for you!

Some of us are the “show me” kinds of learners. For you, I have recorded a 45-minute video of myself doing a planning session while I explain the reasons behind the process. You can find it here. After you watch it, you’ll be well equipped to evaluate: is there a lot of teacher preparation with Tapestry, or is it just the right amount for you?


Myth Busters: “Everyone says that Tapestry expensive to use! Is it?” tricky part about this myth is that it’s over simplistic.

“It’s expensive!” is all about your perspective and what you value. And isn’t that true about most money questions? People pay higher dollar amounts for things that are valuable to them. Homeschoolers are people, too! So, they put different values on differing aspects of education.

We have never supposed that the goals and methods of Tapestry of Grace are right for every homeschooling family. But, among those who value a whole-book, integrated, history-driven, classical education, Tapestry is highly valued and often we hear the comment, “What a bargain!”

This is especially the case when users find in Tapestry the more intangible values: that our program seeks to help parents foster a love of learning, of reading, of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, and of the Great Conversation in which the human race has been engaged since the dawn of time. Our program equips parents whose values include promoting family unity and discipling Christian children so that they might become kind, compassionate apologists for the faith to which they have been called.

As a means to these ends, we create products and offer services that aim to help parents raise up a thinking, creative generation who love God, serve others, and become leaders in their communities. We sell our curricula (which are the plans of study for 12 learning levels plus the teacher) and we recommend whole books (without which the plans are not very useful). We also provides support for all homeschooling parents (not just those who use Tapestry), and for those who are specifically using Tapestry in group settings.

So, if you’re hearing others say “It’s expensive,” a good follow-up question to ask is, “What’s the value for money ratio?”. Or, put differently, “What does my money buy?” In order to answer this question, I believe you need two yardsticks.

1. First, measure your expectations for homeschooling education in general. Do you believe that, somehow, education at home should be less expensive than in traditional school settings? I think this in itself is a myth worth exploding.

  • While we don’t pay teacher’s salaries or building costs or administrators, all education has a price tag in terms of needing the materials used for actual studies. I’m thinking of books, pencils, paper, art supplies, field trip entry fees, etc. as well as (in our modern era) digital devices, software, and — at times — tuition for outside classes and activities such as sports, music lessons, and club memberships.
  • And, unless we are experienced teachers, homeschooling parents do need teacher materials from which to teach! Thus, our budget should include the purchase of teacher’s manuals, tests, answer keys, and the ongoing costs of “continuing education” — convention entry fees, online classes for homeschooling parents, support group membership dues, periodicals for home educating parents, etc.
  • Many of us have budgets that are limited because we are single-income families, but let us not confuse a limited budget with the fact that a variety of excellent resources are needed for a well-rounded, excellent education.

2. Second, evaluating “what you get for your money” might involve doing some research on how curriculum contents are assembled, program to program. Some “inclusive” curricula might have a math program that doesn’t work for your kids, so you might end up supplementing, or buying another program altogether. Some programs (like ours) may include books from a variety of authors; others might provide an omnibus written from only one perspective. The latter program would be cheaper, but do you want your student to get a variety and spectrum of viewpoints, or only one?

You alone can decide this, and “It’s expensive!” might be totally worth it to you! So, breaking down the components (and quality of components) in different contenders for your homeschooling dollars brings us to how to make an “apples to apples” comparison.

How to Compare Apples and Apples

First, the “It’s expensive!” claim can be true in terms of dollars alone if you compare Tapestry with programs that are nothing like it. You can buy less expensive programs that teach single subjects, for instance. You can buy one that teaches the facts of history, or that give you reading lists for Literature, or that cover Geography and Bible and Writing Composition, all as separate subjects. It is possible to find basic texts or workbooks (especially in the earlier grades) for most of these disciplines that have a lesser price tag, but only if you include on the Tapestry side of the ledger the costs of the books that we recommend (and that are admittedly integral to our program).

Be aware as you compare that most textbook programs separate out costs for students and costs for teachers’ manuals (also called Instructor’s Guides, or IGs). Tapestry year-plans include teacher and student materials, and on upper (but not lower) learning levels, discussion outlines for teachers and questions for students depend on the purchase of certain resource books. On lower levels, substitution of resources is easy, so the program is cheaper to use. As you get into upper learning levels, you need more specific books. Even given this, often you’ll find that pulling together scattered resources for up to five humanities disciplines for both student and teacher at a price that beats our curriculum (IG) costs (not including resource books) is not so easy!

If you compare programs that are similar to Tapestry in that they are using whole books as resources, you will quickly find that Tapestry prices are on par with other programs. If you add in the fact that Tapestry is non-consumable (you use it and it’s suggested resources over and over with each succeeding child), you find that it’s an “investment program.” The longer you use it, the greater the value per child. And if you value a united, full-family education–where all (kids, Dad and Mom) are studying one historical topic each week in an integrated fashion–Tapestry stands alone at any price.

Another difficulty about an “apples to apples” comparisons is that some companies produce readers (for younger children) that can be considered “essential resources” but are not really whole (or living) books, and are thus inexpensive. Breaking out essentials and non-essentials of various plans is challenging when you don’t really know programs, and we can’t do the work for you with others, but we can with our program. Let’s take a look at how we break down Tapestry costs so that, if you go and do a comparison with other programs for yourself, you’ll have this information in hand.

Tapestry costs should be broken down into two parts: curriculum costs and recommended resource costs.

“But,” some might reasonably object, “aren’t the recommended resources essential to implementing the curriculum?” Yes and no; below is the breakdown that includes the reasons why separating the plans of study (curriculum) costs from the costs of our recommended resource makes sense.

1. The curriculum component: a set cost for valuable plans of study over seven distinct subjects.

Tapestry year-plans use the timeline of human history to organize a study of the humanities, and then lists various aids for the studies. So, what do you get in the IG’s? For 12 learning levels, we offer the following:

  • Weekly, there are lists of reading assignments in specific, whole books. (At lower learning levels, these are easy to tweak.)
  • There are assorted craft ideas offered each week for grammar and dialectic students (grades 1-8).
  • We list suggested map labels for Geography work for all levels.
  • We provide lists of the famous people of the week.
  • There are Literature worksheets (that are specific to certain books) for three learning levels (grades 1-8).
  • There are detailed class plans for high-school level Literature discussion.
  • In upper learning levels (junior high and high school) questions for students and discussion outlines for teachers that are specific to suggested books are also provided.
  • For teachers on all levels, background information for all six disciplines that we cover are provided as needed.
  • Over the four years, Tapestry plans offer full high-school electives for Philosophy and Government.
  • A full Bible survey for all learning levels is offered in our Year 1 plan, and then in Years 2-4, there are student assignments and teacher support materials for a study of church history through the ages.
  • Finally, there are answer keys to all worksheets, and discussion guides include sample student answers, and often helpful supplements, week to week.

All these components of our IGs together form a buffet of good educational options each week, among which parent-teachers choose in order to make up a specific menu for each child in their house. These IGs are non-consumable and come in a variety of formats (which differ in price).

  • The least expensive is the most versatile and long lived (because we update it for free yearly). One Digital Edition year-plan costs $170 today, and that suggested retail price has not changed since it was introduced in 2008.
  • We offer each year-plan in print as well, which has the advantage of being resaleable when you are finished with it.
  • And then, there is a popular option to get it all: digital + print.

Four year-plans give all that I’ve described above for all of the children that you will teach, grades 1-12. As a bonus, each week these plans put you (the busy teacher) and all of your children on the same historical topics each week, which simplifies your teaching life and unifies your family. (We even a have supplemental product called the Pop Quiz that brings dads in on the action!)

2. The recommended resources: fluid costs.

So far, the comparison is pretty straight forward. The difficulty with apples-to-apples comparisons come in when we start to look at resource books and Supplements.

From the Tapestry buffet, the teaching parent must choose among the items listed, since no one student is meant to do all the options that each week-plan offers. Since all families will choose different resource combinations, it is not fair to say that one price for resources reflects the true cost of using Tapestry in all families.

In addition: some families have more money than time, so they tend to buy new books at retail prices. Some families have more time than money, so they tend to hunt and purchase used books, wait for sales on new books, or use their public library a lot.

So, here’s the point of this section: one price does not fit all! “It’s expensive!” if you buy every book at retail and are on a tight budget. It’s not so expensive if you buy used books, or substitute books found at your library, or trade books with a friend who is using a different year-plan.

In the grammar years (which represent fully half of the years one could use Tapestry in the life of a child) it is very easy to substitute books.

  • Because we’re just introducing young children to the basic stories and people of human history in grades K-6, Tapestry guides do not have discussion outlines that rely on specific books (except with literature worksheets).
  • Thus, almost any history book that covers the historical era of the week will give younger children the introduction they need.
  • We screen books, listing the best ones we can find that are also in print, and Bookshelf Central stocks them, as support measures for busy parents, but there’s absolutely no downside to substituting books in the grammar stages (using libraries, used book stores, or even sales at big box stores), and so, again, it’s really hard to set a single price for the costs of recommended resources.

Returning to the topic of perceptions…

We said above that the true meaning this word “expensive” is relative to the spender’s values. “Expensive” is also relative in the sense that any expenditure represents a portion of total income. Many homeschooling families operate on a single income, but many teaching moms also have home businesses, or work from home part time, or have a comfortable income from the one breadwinner. For these families, Tapestry may not be “expensive” given all of its benefits.

But, if all people hear when asking the Internet is how expensive Tapestry is, without checking into what the dollars are buying, especially relative to other programs, then the “it’s expensive” blanket statement is an unwarranted stopper. A family that prizes the values the benefits that Tapestry offers might not know that this is a relative statement, and might turn away from researching it for themselves to see if they think it’s expensive.

Finally, the label “expensive” is relative as well when we look at the costs of what amounts to a prep school education. Take some time to look around at private, Christian schools in your area. and ask the following questions:

  • What is the tuition for one child for one year?
  • Are they delivering a customized, Classical Education, unit study model to the children that they serve?
  • Do you need to buy books and uniforms in addition to paying tuition and fees?
  • How many children do you have?
  • Do parents have any input into the content of what is taught?
  • What theological perspectives do the schools present to your children?

Add up the costs of attending such a school for 12 years of education for each child, and then see if you think that Tapestry of Grace, which is a non-consumable program that serves all of your children over 12 years of school for all of the humanities with you in the driver’s seat the whole way, is relatively expensive.

And, while on this topic of “bang for your buck” consider that Tapestry can qualify your student to gain double-credits while in high school, thereby shortening his college years (and costs). Here’s a portion of an email that we recently received on this topic:

My daughter tested out (through CLEPS) of her literature classes and she certainly could have tested out of history. As a matter of fact, she is planning to come home in December and review to CLEP Western Civ. (I wish there was a CLEP for Bible!) It’s possible for students to take Tapestry, study for CLEPS, and avoid many of the first 2 years of general ed at a liberal arts college classes. Anna and Christina (my oldest two) are on track for getting their bachelor degrees in 2-3 years as opposed to 4. I actually love Belhaven University so much, I considered their high scholar’s program, a dual-enrollment humanities program, for my 15-year old daughter for her last two years of high school.  However, I looked at the topics week-by-week. She is getting the very same thing through our co-op and Tapestry and it isn’t costing me thousands of dollars. (For her, it’s actually costing nothing since I own all the materials.) I’ve decided that for my 15-year old kids, we are going to study Tapestry and then CLEP for end-of-year exams.

The myth that Tapestry of Grace is expensive is not a new one.

We’ve heard it for years, which is why we wrote the Bottom Line Brochure years ago, and have recently updated it. This Bottom Line Brochure sums up some of the points I’ve been making in this post into a neat, two-sided flyer. On the front, it does some comparison work and lists prices for Tapestry components. On the back, it lists real, retail costs of all the books needed for Year 1. As the flyer says, “It only gets less expensive from there! We invite you to peruse, print, and share this document with anyone who has heard–but not researched for themselves–about Tapestry being “expensive”! As you look at the book list, note that it’s broken down by subjects and by learning levels. A fair comparison would include noting only the prices for your unique family in the coming year, not the full price for all subjects on all levels–unless, of course, that’s how your family will roll this year!

Want more information on this topic?

On this blog, there are archived posts and reader comments give even more detail on the history of why we list books as we do, and how you can economize in supplying books for use with any whole book program, including Tapestry of Grace. I pray that they are helpful for you!

Homeschooling in Hard Times: Money and Books

Homeschooling in Hard Times: Options with Unit Studies

Managing Those Living Books

Additionally, you may be interested to read value-related posts: how have graduates of Tapestry families done once they go out into the world? Here are a few posts that relate to this question:

A Journey That Prepared Me: Matt Spanier

A Journey I Loved: Rodney Dowty

Poetics Goes to College with Anna

(And, if you have not read the Introduction to this series of Myth Buster posts, please do so, so that you can see what this series is all about and the other myths that we’ve addressed. Thanks!)


Myth Busters: “Tapestry’s approach to the Grammar years is ‘drill & kill’!”

Tapestry family explores the Middle Ages

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 PrimerAlso 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!

Myth Busters: Marcia herself says, “Don’t Start Tapestry When Your Kids are Young!”

Somerville Family in 1998

Somerville Family in 1999

If you have not read the Introduction to this series of Myth Buster posts, please do so before returning to this post. Thanks!

Unlike many of the garbled messages about Tapestry of Grace that we hear echoed back, I actually know who the originator of this myth was: it was me! Here’s the story of how this got to be such a widely-distributed myth.

First: when I first wrote Tapestry of Grace for publication eighteen years ago, I was focused on offering a program that would serve moms like me. These would be older, experienced homeschooling moms who had special challenges stemming from teaching (and managing) large families.

The most pressing problem that such moms face as their families mature is the large number of kids to teach on an ever-widening spectrum of learning levels. I had used traditional, age-graded programs up until my kids hit high school, but at that point, the wheels started to come off, and I almost quit homeschooling. The Tapestry of Grace approach was born out of my own desperation during this season, as you can read about in detail here. The picture you see is a during the second year of developing the program in the context of a local co-op. Here we all are, dressed up for our Medieval Feast! I had two in community college, two in different levels of high school, one in early junior high, and one in the middle grammar years at this point.

Being focused on older moms in the early stages of developing Tapestry, I reasoned that there were other good programs on the market that would serve beginning homeschoolers just as well as would Tapestry. Such programs would be more tightly focused on younger kids, probably simpler, and present a more affordable entry point–at least, when considered in the short run.

Thus, I wrote into the Introduction to Classic Tapestry that most moms wouldn’t really need to use Tapestry until juggling the Instructors’ Guides of other traditional, age-graded humanities curricula became too hard. At that point, Tapestry would be a godsend because it would put all of the children on the same historical topics week to week, as well as providing integrated reading and writing assignments, craft ideas, map work, and age-appropriate guides for discussion. Furthermore, we offered background “cheat sheets” for the busy mom. From my experience with my own family and from watching others, I reasoned that, for a majority of moms, that breaking point when Tapestry would be most welcome would be about when these more mature moms’ eldest children hit 5th or 6th grade.

Coupled with this reasoning was a secondary factor: I knew that Tapestry (as I had purposefully designed it) involved making choices week to week. From Tapestry’s inception, I wanted to offer a buffet of educational choices because I firmly believed that no two families function alike. In any family, there are always a unique mix of teaching and learning modalities, time constraints, gifts and talents, etc. I thus felt (and still feel) that specific assignments would be best chosen by the one doing the teaching so as to best serve the ones who are doing the learning. My goals in presenting a plan of study were to narrow the choices to only good ones, and in manageable amounts, while supporting the teacher (who might not be well informed about the topics yet) with as much background information and as many supportive suggestions as were practicable.

But, when you’re new to homeschooling, even simplified choices can be bewildering. With no experience to give you a sense of things, you so often fall prey to feeling like you’re missing something, and so try to “do it all.” With Tapestry, trying to do it all will kill the joy I intended for families to have, and so I reasoned that it would be far less overwhelming for most new, young moms to start with alternate, simpler, age-graded programs–such as textbook oriented ones, or even whole book programs designed specifically and only for little people. I figured that, once they had their feet under them as homeschoolers and had built a little confidence as teachers, they would be ready to transition to Tapestry of Grace. This, again, led to the recommendation that the ideal time frame for starting Tapestry was when the eldest child entered 5th or 6th grades.

And, early on, many interactions that I had with moms at homeschooling conference booths confirmed these initial assumptions. Experienced moms who listened to me for five minutes explaining Tapestry’s concept often laughed out loud, jumped up and down, hugged me, and said, “Where have you been all my life!?” Or, they said, “I’ve been killing myself trying to do something like this. I didn’t know that it had all been planned for me! Where do I purchase?”

Younger moms at conferences, by contrast, listened to me and often began to glaze over. Already overwhelmed by learning a new trade, and needing to educate only one eldest child in K-1 or so at that time, they were not typically ready to absorb a new approach to multi-level teaching from a Classical, unit-study, integrated approach.

Nor did the price tag seem attractive to younger moms. Tapestry is non-consumable, and you can use it and the resource books it recommends with each succeeding child. If you have a large family, it’s a bargain for five main subjects and two electives! But, it’s one thing to be mid-stream with homeschooling and find something that truly enables you to finish the journey with sanity (and probably using many of the books you’ve already gathered). It’s quite another to be asked right at the starting line to dedicate a significant chunk of change (and a majority of your future life, seemingly) to a method of which you are not yet sure.

However, things have changed. This story is very much a case of “that was then; this is now.” We kept on selling and revising  Tapestry over the last eighteen years in response to customer feedback, and we were surprised early on when a significant number of our customers ignored our advice and began their homeschooling journeys with the full Tapestry program. As we refined Tapestry over those years, we kept those younger moms in mind.

  • A significant change came in 2005, when we revised the entire program to create Redesigned Tapestry. Mindful of the younger mom’s needs for more guidance and fewer choices than had been presented in Classic Tapestry, we created a new organization of the Reading Assignments. We no longer asked new moms to choose among several alternate resources. We presented a list instead that was a reasonable amount of reading on all learning levels for a week’s study on a primary page (page 4 of each week-plan) and then suggested alternate or extra readings on a separate, facing page (page 5).
  • We also created webinar presentations that gave detailed directions for the start-up users. These helped moms who were new to homeschooling to go step by step when starting their journey with Tapestry of Grace.
  • Some of our users created a Yahoogroup that came to be called The Loose Threads. Here, a handful of devoted veteran Tapestry moms were able to serve younger moms who were starting both Tapestry and homeschooling by sharing their expertise with the program. Since then, of course, Facebook groups have also sprouted up to provide an amazing level of immediate, wise, and helpful assistance to young moms who choose to start with Tapestry products.

As the last ten years have unfolded, younger moms have told us a host of reasons why they’re glad that they started their homeschooling journey with the full Tapestry of Grace program. Here are the ones we hear most often:

  1. They themselves started weak in their knowledge of the story of history and appreciated working through Tapestry during younger years when teaching (and managing) their kids was relatively simple, and less demanding time-wise. In reading our Teacher’s Notes weekly, they say that they gained a solid understanding of the hand of God in HIStory.
  2. Because they used Tapestry in grades K-4, moms felt much better equipped to teach it the second time around–especially as their pace of teaching also accelerated with more kids in school and older kids needing deeper explanations of lesson contents across the board. Not only did they understand their history, but they were comfortable with the entire method that Tapestry uses, and so were not overwhelmed in making choices from our educational buffet. (Ironically, these moms had this much of a jump on those moms who followed my earlier advice and started with children in grades 5 and below.)
  3. These younger moms felt like their children really benefited from the slow, four-year amble through history and literature, along with an introduction to the basics of writing, grammar, and geography all interwoven together, that we offered. As they started the second rotation of Tapestry, many expressed amazement at how much their youngsters had retained from these early years.  We realized that, at the very least, these now-5th graders had had a thorough, unified introduction to the characters and events of human history (including the history of the church) whereas those new to Tapestry who hadn’t been using a unified curriculum in early years might have some significant gaps in their understanding of history as they came into the program.
  4. Starting moms appreciated the unity that Tapestry brought to their families as they added children to their school rosters. Many had two to three children using the program by the time the eldest was in 5th grade, and many had toddlers who happily listened to read-alouds, or did simplified versions of crafts, that were undertaken by their older siblings.
  5. They appreciated that the Tapestry approach, which offers the teacher’s choice of audio, visual, and tactile approaches to each week’s history and literature topics, kept learning fun! Things that they underscore on this point were the ample variety of simple craft ideas, the custom-made maps, and of course the beautiful books that we list as reading assignments.
  6. Finally, they shared that, because they started early with Tapestry, their dollar investments in the program really paid off. They saw that they were reusing the curriculum and its recommended resources with each child, and that, especially in the earliest years, it had been easy to use their local public library to find or substitute for many of the resources that Tapestry recommends.

This last year, we’ve come full circle with Tapestry Primer. Remember I said that, at the start of my publishing journey, I reasoned that moms who were starting might be better served by a simpler, less expensive program that would be limited in scope to just the starting years, and give them confidence enough to transition to Tapestry of Grace as they and their children matured? Well, we now provide such a program!

Tapestry Primer was conceived as an on-ramp to the full program, and also as a crash course in History for young parents who feel their lack in this area as they were just taking up homeschooling. With this addition to our product line, we can totally bust the myth that one should wait to start with Tapestry curricula as a beginning homeschooler. Primer is a simple, straightforward, inexpensive program that does not ask a young homeschooler to commit her entire homeschooling future to one program, but does allow young teachers to experiment with the Tapestry method and to learn her history in the first one-to-two years of her homeschool journey.

The books that we list as read-aloud resources for Tapestry Primer history and literature studies are reused by students who do go on to use the full Tapestry of Grace program as they become independent readers and revisit eras of history in the middle grammar-stage years. Also as part of the Primer lineup, I wrote for beginning moms the book Love the Journey, which provides many time-tested tips and insights that I’ve gathered in my 22 years as a homeschooling parent and teacher, and was asked to pass along to those following in similar paths.

Conclusion: If you are considering Tapestry Primer or Tapestry of Grace and are just starting your homeschool journey, or have children who are young, don’t believe the myth that I started about 18 years ago. Times have changed, and this myth is now busted!

If you started using Tapestry at (or near) the beginning of your homeschool journey, I’d love to read your comments on how it went for you!

Related posts in this Myth Busters series:

  • Should we buy Tapestry Primer for K-1’s if we’re already using Tapestry of Grace with older children?
  • Should I buy Tapestry Primer only if I’m planning to use Tapestry of Grace, or is it for anyone starting out?

(We will link these post titles after they are posted. Meanwhile, click to return to the Myth Buster series introduction and read other posts in this series, or click to learn more about Tapestry Primer.)