Education Review: Tapestry of Grace

Tapestry of Grace Digital Edition DE Logo

Over the last few months, I’ve been studying, trying to understand, and using a very popular homeschool curriculum called Tapestry of Grace (TOG) from Lampstand Press. Even before joining The Old Schoolhouse Crew, I would hear the name Tapestry of Grace so often that I’ve always assumed it’s one of those very widely used curricula like Sonlight and Alpha Omega. The names are just everywhere!

I honestly had no clue what TOG was and how it worked, though. To put it simply, TOG is a history-based unit study with a Christian viewpoint. Set up in four “years,” which each contain four “units,” TOG covers all history from creation to modern times. The idea is that after students have completed the four year cycle, they will repeat it at a higher level, and then repeat it again and at even higher level – leaving them with a very solid understanding of history by the time they finish school.

Tapestry of Grace utilizes the Classical Model of Education. There’s another term that I hear frequently but didn’t have a clue what it meant. I will try to give you a brief introduction.

In my (limited) understanding, Classical Educationists desire a return to the style of education and teaching that was developed during the classical period of Greek and Roman life. History is taught chronologically – from beginning to present.

Classical Education students are divided into three or four levels of learning. TOG uses four levels:

  • lower grammar (usually first through third grades)
  • upper grammar (usually fourth through sixth grades)
  • dialectic (usually seventh through ninth grades)
  • rhetoric (usually high school ages, tenth through twelfth)

This designations are used by all Classical Educators, but they have been pretty hard for me to get a grip on! Upper and lower grammar are pretty self-explanatory, but I just can’t seem to remember which is which on the other two. Nicholas is right on the border between the lower and upper grammar levels – I pulled activities and lessons from both levels for him.

Tapestry of Grace Units

As I mentioned, TOG is divided into four years, each with four years. I was going to list each year, and the topics covered – but the list became unbelievably long before I finished with Year 1! TOG certainly gives a thorough coverage of history. History is probably my most favorite subject, and I salivate when I read the TOG table of contents.

Instead of listing every topic covered, I’ll just give you a little overview and will link to the table of contents at the TOG website.

  • Year 1 – (complete contents here)
    • Unit 1: The Books of Moses
      • Creation, Egypt, Tabernacle
    • Unit 2: All Governments are Established by God
      • Ancient India, China, and the Americas, Inuits, Mound Builders, Mayas, Early Greeks, Israel’s neighbors in the Promised Land, Philistines, Phoenecians
    • Unit 3: Preparing the World for its Savior
      • Israel’s divided kingdom, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Medes, Persians, Greece and Greek accomplishments, Peloponnesian War, Alexander the Great
    • Unit 4: In the Fullness of Time
      • Etruscans, founding of Rome, Punic Wars, Imperial Rome, Early Church, Christian martyrs, fall of western Rome
  • Year 2 – (complete contents here)
    • Unit 1: The Middle Ages
      • fall of western Rome, Byzantine Empire, Eastern Orthodox Church, rise of Islam, Charlemagne, Viking Age, feudalism, Mongols, Marco Polo, Far East, early Reformation
    • Unit 2: Renaissance & Reformation
      • Renaissance, Age of Exploration, Spanish and the New World, Aztecs, Incas, Martin Luther, German states, Reformation, Counter Reformation, Elizabethan England
    • Unit 3: Of Crowns and Colonies
      • New World colonies, Eastern Europe, Puritans, English Civil War, Age of Louis XIV, Age of Reason, Native Americans, colonists, Thirteen Colonies
    • Unit 4: Age of Revolutions
      • French & Indian War, Revolutionary War, Articles of the Confederation, United States Constitution, Federal Republic, French Revolution
  • Year 3 – (complete contents here)
    • Unit 1: Napoleon’s World
      • John Adams, Napoleon Bonaparte, early Industrial Revolution, Louisiana Purchase, War of 1812
    • Unit 2: Age of Industry and Expansion
      • revolutions in Texas and Europe, Victorian England, Manifest Destiny, Oregon Trail, gold rush
    • Unit 3: Nations Uniting and Dividing
      • Franklin Pierce, Crimean War, united Italy, Abraham Lincoln, Civil War, Reconstruction, Plains Indians Wars, united Germany
    • Unit 4: The Gilded Age
      • Africa, Imperialism, Immigrants, labor issues, Age of Innocence
  • Year 4 – (complete contents here)
    • Unit 1: Casting Off the Moorings
      • Roosevelt, American Imperialism, crumbling world empires, Hawaii, World War I, Russian Revolution, Prohibition, Bull Market, Great Depression
    • Unit 2: World War II Era
      • FDR, Totalitarianism of Germany, Japan, Italy, and the USSR, Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill, World War II, Holocaust, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, new Europe, establishment of Israel
    • Unit 3: Post War to Cold War
      • Gandhi, Indian and Pakistani independence, Mao Zedong and communist China, Korean War, Civil Rights, Space Race, Vietnam
    • Unit 4: Information Age
      • American presidents from Richard Nixon through George W. Bush, current events

If you don’t care much for history, you probably scrolled past all that…but if you’re a history lover like me, you’re probably having trouble deciding which topic to study first.

After much deliberation and debate, I decided to request Unit 1 – Year 2 to review. I received the digital edition of the subunit, which is viewed via a PDF-reader called LockLizard Safeguard. Though I had never used the program before, downloading it and my TOG digital edition was relatively easy and quick.

Later I decided I wanted a copy of TOG on my laptop as well. I emailed TOG, and they set me up with a license key for the laptop within just a couple hours. I can say their customer service and response times are excellent.

Getting to Know Tapestry of Grace

Though I use my computer(s) for several hours everyday, I always find it a bit confusing and disconcerting to browse through and read any ebook. The longer the ebook, the more confusing I find it. TOG has been no exception to this. Scrolling through each page, reading and trying to glean the information I need, then scrolling back to find what I’ve already read – it sometimes left my head spinning.

Unit 2 alone is 458 pages long. The digital edition is divided into weeks to make it easier to navigate, however. The introduction and each of the nine weeks of Unit 2 can be opened separately and viewed as needed.

A shortcut on my desktop brings up a menu listing each week and the topics covered therein. It’s very easy to click the shortcut and then choose the week we need to study.

What subjects does TOG cover?

Because it’s history-based, the subject of history is thoroughly covered in all TOG units (as evidenced by the summary contents I gave above). Other subjects sufficiently covered are literature, geography, fine arts, government, philosophy, and writing & composition. Families using TOG will need to add separate instruction for phonics, mathematics, science, grammar, spelling, and/or foreign language.

Tapestry of Grace for My Family

One important thing to always remember, whether you’re looking at homeschooling curricula or bedroom furniture, is that different things work for different families. What is absolutely fantastic for one family, may be the ultimate pits for another family.

I love the history aspect of TOG – I love the multitudes of topics, cultures, times, events, and people that are covered in the material.

TOG offers hands-on activities to accompany many of the weekly topics. Hands-on learning – like building a model kayak which Nicholas, James and I did today – fits very well with my family and my style of teaching.

The way TOG is set up, all students study the same topics at the same time regardless of their age or grade level. TOG gives lessons appropriate for first and second graders, and a few pages later they give lessons appropriate for eleventh and twelfth graders. This makes TOG a good choice for families with multiple children. One of the main reasons that I prefer unit studies is because they enable me to teach all my boys simultaneously. I can’t imagine having one child learning about the Civil War while another is studying Marco Polo’s journeys to China.

On the other hand, I’ve found TOG difficult to grasp for several reasons. One big thing is that I don’t embrace the Classical Education mindset. It’s just not my style – I’m far more relaxed than what I understand Classical Education to be.

One drawback for me with TOG is that it specifically requires certain books on the topics studied. Each week contains a list of book titles that are needed for that week. Often, a worksheet with questions relating to the specific book is included. At the upper levels, discussion questions and writing assignments on the books are also given.

I don’t live in a tiny town and we actually use three different library systems that are within a 45 minute drive of our home, but I was only able to find one of the suggested book from the three TOG weeks we completed. That means we weren’t able to use the discussion questions or worksheets given, which means we were missing a part of the TOG education.

For myself, I prefer a curriculum that doesn’t require specific book titles. I can find books on most topics at my local libraries, but finding specific titles can be very hard and I don’t like the idea of spending money or books we may only use once or twice.

TOG seems quite rigid and structured to me – for example, the materials state that Year 1′s Week 12 (part of Unit 2 that I am reviewing) will cover Ancient America in one week. I’m paraphrasing, but information on Inuits should be presented on Monday, information on Mound Builders will be discussed on Tuesday with a little mention of Cliff Dwellers (3000 miles away!) thrown in, and the remaining three days will be spent learning about the Mayan culture.

I just couldn’t stick to that schedule! It was too brief, in my opinion, for something that could be so rich and enjoyable. When we learned about the Mayans, I took time to tell my boys about the Olmecs (likely the ancestors of the Mayans) even though they weren’t mentioned in the TOG materials. We talked about where the Olmecs may have come from and how. I told them about the theory, that I only learned about myself last fall, that the Olmecs came across the sea from Africa.

We spent much time discussing the various possible routes that settlers of the Americas could have taken to get there. I reminded them of Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki, a wooden raft that he sailed from Peru to Easter Island in the 1940s with absolutely no help from modern equipment or navigation tools. I asked them if they thought ancient people could have crossed the seas. I asked them if they think historians who say that the route across the Bering Strait is the only way really know.

None of that would have been covered if we’d stuck strictly to the TOG schedule. So, in that respect, the curriculum is not a perfect fit for me. I prefer to be given suggestions of topics to study, information on the topics, and activity ideas. I prefer to pick and choose and set my own schedule.

Bottom Line

Tapestry of Grace is a thorough, well-written curriculum. I’ve never seen another curricula cover history as completely as TOG appears to. (I say ‘appears’ because Year 1 Unit 2 is the only portion I’ve actually seen. But if that table of contents is true, which I figure it is, few others could hold a candle to TOG’s thorough coverage of history.)

TOG would work best for parents who embrace the Classical Education approach and who thrive on a structured scheduled with pre-made lesson plans.

Personally, I think the print edition would be easier to use than the digital edition – but only because I find turning the pages of a book less confusing them scrolling up and down on a screen. (And I’m just not willing to print that many pages myself…)

Extra Resources

Lampstand Press offers many resources to compliment and enhance the unit study. Their website contains a portion called The Loom which, among other things, contains links to other websites that have further information on the various topics and instructions for crafts and activities to enhance the learning. We found a web page detailing how to making an Inuit fishing lure. Nicholas and James are excited about trying it out next time we go fishing.

The website is also home to the TOG Forums where parents can discuss lesson ideas, ask questions, seek encouragement, and even form local co-ops where students from multiple families work on the lessons and projects together.

Tapestry of Grace also sent me one of their supplemental products – Pop Quiz. The set includes numerous cards with questions and answers related to the material being studied. The idea is that dads can use the cards to start conversations with their children on what they’re learning in school. Instead of saying, “What’d you learn in school today?” Dad can ask, “Why did people settle in the Indus Valley?”

Purchasing

Tapestry of Grace Year 1 can be purchased as a complete set for $225 (printed copy) or $170 (digital edition). The individual units can be purchased separately for $60 (print copy) or $45 (digital edition) each. Years 2 and 3 are priced the same – Year 4 is being redesigned and has not yet been released.

The first three weeks of Year 1 – Unit 1 are available in digital format as a free download for you to sample how TOG is set up and how it works. You may download the free sample at the TOG website.

© 2009, Cindy. All rights reserved.

Comments

  1. Tracie Becker says:

    It sounds that what you prefer could be found in Diana Waring's History Alive curriculum. Answers in Genesis has the best deals on it now. Her history curriculum is, in my opinion, unsurpassed as a Christian, chronological, global view of history with God's revealed Story and His Revelation being presented alongside secularly recorded history. This curriculum also allows great flexibility in ways for students to dig deeper and express/apply their knowledge through venues typically not pursued in most curricula.

    I'm guessing you've heard of this curriculum. I'd really enjoy hearing your thoughts or review of it. : )

    • Thank you for this review. It echoed many of my thoughts as I tried to grasp the big picture and the necessary details of this course of study. I have been strongly considering Diane Waring’s History Alive for some time and would really enjoy reading your review of her material.
      Thanks so much!

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