Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tapestry of Grace The Middle Ages(Year 2 Unit1)

Well.... Tapestry of Grace was by far the largest and most time-consuming product we received to review this year at our house. I was so excited to be able to check it out in person, as I'd heard a lot about it from some local friends, had even downloaded the free 3 week Egyptian sample at one point, but didn't get around to using it, because my oldest is.... shall we say...."squeamish"~ Mummies and the like don't sit well with her.... maybe someday.... (There are actually two 3-week samples that you can try out... Go to Egypt and Sail to the New World)

For the purposes of review, we were asked to choose the year and unit that we wanted to review. I let the kids decide, and they agreed on Year 2, Unit 1, the Middle Ages. We were also allowed to choose one item from the supplemental materials (Evaluations:Tests, Quizzes, etc..., Writing Aids, Map Aids, Pop Quiz audio files and questions, and the Lapbook Disc~ You can learn more about each of these on this page). We chose to use the Lapbook, figuring that it was something both my oldest(6th grade) and middlest (3rd grade) would enjoy.

I understand that Tapestry of Grace has been revised once already, and now there is a new revision, with the Digital Edition. This was the basic edition that the TOS Crew received. With the DE, you download the entire unit, and print only the pages that you need. The folks at TOG have created a great FAQs page for the more techie-minded, and a super Samples page. A nifty new feature on the samples page allows you to preview the interface of the Digital Edition before you go downloading any files. Very cool, in my opinion!

*Please note that if you are a MAC user like myself, there is a little more to downloading and installing than if you are a PC user(1 click vs 3), but we can comfort ourselves in the thought that we get far fewer viruses and trojans! ;) )

Here are what I saw as some pros and cons to the DE:

Pros:
  • Can't get lost... you can always find it again on the TOG website... your license is good for life~ no matter how many times your computer crashes and burns... (EEK!)
  • Doesn't take up tons of bookshelf space: ~ CD cases vs Binders~
  • Immediate download and no shipping charge
  • Print only the pages you need... And... easily print as MANY copies as your family requires
  • Free Periodic Updates automatically make your Digital Edition the most up-to-date version available... for life
Now ~ I've mentioned in other reviews that I have some issues with Digital Editions of things, and this holds true for TOG.

Cons:(If you are like me...)

  • I am someone who likes to flip back and forth through pages *in my hand*, not on a screen
  • I have a toddler who is more jealous of my computer time than of my "book" time.
  • I don't have a laptop, so I am limited to being chained to my desk with a Digital Edition~ which doesn't help when much of my lesson-planning time is done out of house, in the waiting room at Oldest's Irish Step-Dance classes~
  • Visually, sometimes it's difficult to navigate a large document digitally... I guess this ties in with my first "Con" above.
  • No resale allowed, so no recouping of costs, which can be a major factor for some families.
Because of my visual/toddler/desktop issues, the kind folks at TOG sent me a hard copy of the unit I chose, for which I was very grateful.

Well..... WOW! What a LOT of information! It is overwhelming when you first look at it!

There is something that has been termed the TOG FOG, which is what you may feel the first 4 weeks or so, as you are getting used to seeing ALL the information that is here. The reason for the huge amount of data and detail included is that you are holding in your hand(or reading on your screen) not one year's worth or History/Humanities and Social Sciences, but FOUR years, for different ages.

Here is a great page that details the layout of TOG... be sure to click on each successive link, in order to get a feel for the whole program, and what it entails... However, I'm going to copy below one of the most important things for you to know about TOG week-by-week, which should help with that TOG FOG:

What is a week-plan? It’s a plan of study for one typical school week, based on the pace that a high school student must keep in order to cover all of world history, literature, church history, government, philosophy, and arts in a four-year time frame.

Remember, you are the teacher! Tapestry is your tool, not your master. Each week-plan presents a veritable educational buffet of options: reading assignments, activities, questions to answer, writing assignments, and more! What does all this mean? As with any buffet, you simply can’t eat it all. You must customize this curriculum to your unique family. No one student will do all the suggested reading and activities.

OK, so once I got that through my head, life became ever so much easier! No.... I don't have to do it ALL... indeed, I am not intended to do it ALL! Anyone who tries to do it ALL will probably FALL down in a dead faint caused by burnout! Oh, and don't be thrown by that "High school student" comment above... this is written for all grades, but I *do* think it may be the best for those who do have a Jr. High or Sr. High student with younger siblings, because they can all be studying the same era and many of the same people in history, all at the same time, which can ease the burden on mom considerably! :)

Forward ho! On with the curriculum!!

There is included on the website a very helpful section on Setting up Tapestry . I actually copied and pasted each of the First Steps into a word doc, and printed them out so that I could get myself organized. What a great help!

Now that I had myself set up, it was time to check out the book lists for the first week, and see what was available from my library, and free online. If you have difficulty finding the books at the library, this could make TOG significantly more expensive, but I was able to find the "History Core" and main "Read-Aloud" for my ages online at The Baldwin Project. After that I just picked whatever I could check out or ILL from my public Library.

You may ask.... how does our "Buffet" look?
  • Appetizer~ Geography
  • Main Course~ History, with side dishes of Literature, Biographies, and Church History
  • Dessert~ Fine Arts and Activities.
We chose not to partake of the writing thread, based on my children, their ages, and what is already working for them... It's OK to do that! We didn't want to get "Stuffed", or "over eat"! We also ignored the portions for Dialectic(7th-9th grade-sh) and Rhetoric(9th-12th) students, as it wouldn't have tasted very good to my 3rd and 6th graders, and would have been too difficult for them to "chew".

One of the favorite things was the "Main Course", because they just love to listen to stories, and hey, if the stories are true, so much the better (in most cases.... ). To give you an idea of what our weeks looked like, you can get an overview of Year 2 here (Unit One, The Middle Ages, being the first in the list). This page also has NUMEROUS interesting, supporting links (Also found on the LOOM) that will give you a feel for the sorts of things covered.

Another *NOTE ~ Even amongst Christians, different families have different ideas as to what is appropriate for their children to read/hear, and so you may wish to pre-read or at least scan books you aren't familiar with before jumping in feet first. My children are on the "Sensitive" end of things, so what bothers them wouldn't phase another child, but I had to be careful. As a "for instance"... I grew up reading Ali Babba and the 40 Thieves, and some of Sinbad the Sailor, etc... (recommended reading during the Byzantine Empire age), and I don't think I was bothered TOO much, but as an adult, I see them with different eyes, particularly given the recent history of the world. Those are books that I chose not to read. I didn't really feel this was an issue for the curriculum, as I am careful with everything they read, the Bible included... there is "meat" in there that is not fit for "Babes" to chew.

The Lapbook Component definitely added a little zip and zing to our study, and even snuck in some "Writing". I am glad to have this option for those that are more Kinesthetic, or crafty. I've also found that it's great to have something for the children to be "Decorating", coloring, what-have-you when reading, because they actually remember what they HEARD when they LOOK at whatever it was they drew or colored. COOL Connections! There are available complete Lapbook Kits, as well as the digital templates, which is what we received.

The Lapbooks are well organized, with complete directions, and "Schedule". The pages are grouped in "colors" so that you can print them on 5 different colored papers for visual interest, without everything being the same. For instance, the first lapbook component you would print is the geography flap book, but it isn't' first in the group, it is actually the last page in the file, in the "Red" colors. Ther was also some effort put into fitting more than one piece on a page, although not always. I appreciate paper/print efficiency.

Now we get down to the cost. I'm going to stick my neck out here, and say...

Tapestry of Grace can be:
an expensive proposition,
or
highly economical,
depending on your circumstances.

If you are of a "Classical" bent, and have more than one student to educate at a time, and the oldest is in, say, 6th grade, then this may be a no-brainer. You may use the curriculum twice with the older student, and possibly 3 times with the younger, if you cycle through as planned. In that instance, while the initial outlay is higher, you are paying for 5 years worth of curriculum... now it doesn't seem so bad, does it?

What are the actual numbers, you ask?
Digital Edition
Unit by Unit $45 (Trial?) or “payment plan”
Unit by Unit (X4 for the year= $180)
Full Year all at once $170
Bonus Bundle with Extras $250

Print Edition
Unit by Unit $60(Trial?) or “payment plan”
Unit by Unit (X4 for the year= $240)
Full Year all at once $225
Bonus Bundle with Extras $295

So... if we do the math from above, your cost for 2 children (Starting in 6th and 3rd... see, I had to use my own circumstances as the measure here... and I included each student taught as a "year" of curriculum) can be as low as
$170(Digital full year, no extras)/5 years of teaching (That's $34/"year")
or as high as
$295(Print edition bonus bundle)/2 years of teaching ($147.50/ "year")

I guess it's all in how you look at it, and how you can/will use it, no?

If you are interested in more information directly from TOG, there are some free downloads that you can take advantage of, and some materials that they will send to you for the cost of shipping. One that is really cool, regardless of what curriculum you use, is the Map of the Humanities
Map of the Humanities Download
I have to mention here that the support, both technical and otherwise, from the folks at TOG has been wonderful. They are ready to help you out with any questions you may have, and respond in a very timely manner.

My summation:
After a "Breakfast" of Bible, and a "Dinner" at the table of Tapestry of Grace, I feel like my children have been served a "delicious and nutritious meal", and when they get "hungry" for more, well, we have "Snacks" of Math and Language Arts.

For some other opinions, please check out the TOS Crew because the TOS Crew is all about helping you to make informed decisions on which curricula are best for your family.

Blessings~
Lis

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