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Tapestry of Grace, Year 2 Review by Diane Wheeler

Marcia Somerville

What motivates you to use a particular curriculum? There can be many factors: affordability, ease of use, your family's philosophy of education, and more. When considering Tapestry of Grace, there is one statement on the website that made my heart leap. Author Marcia Somerville says, "When our two oldest sons entered high school, and my sixth child started first grade, I hit a "brick wall" and wanted to quit home schooling. It was God who enabled me to find a new way to teach our children that year, and I want to share His gift with other mothers who face the same challenge." Yes, the fact that Mrs. Somerville was overwhelmed with teaching her six children invited me to look further. I often feel overwhelmed, and I appreciate knowing that this curriculum is one woman's solution for her family. 

I love the name, Tapestry of Grace. Mrs. Somerville sees God as "the designer of a beautiful tapestry: time is the loom, creation is the warp, and human experiences are the threads." The great thing about this perspective on history is that each of us can see we are a part of the tapestry that God is making. History is not just famous people; it is us too!

Tapestry of Grace is a four-year curriculum that covers history (including church history), geography, English (including writing and literature), law and government, fine-arts, writing, and some science. Year One is "The History of Redemption" (Creation to the fall of Rome). Year Two covers the Medieval World through the signing of the U.S. Constitution. Year Three focuses on the 1800s, and Year Four is a review of the 20th Century. I have the complete Year Two and a partial Year Three to review.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of this material is the ability to use it with multiple ages. Each lesson plan includes recommendations for the Lower and Upper Grammar Stages (grades K through three and three through five), the Dialectic Stage (grades six through nine), and the Rhetoric Stage (grades 10-12). Each child has the same topic to study, but the older they are, the deeper they delve in, with more writing and research suggested.

When the Tapestry of Grace package arrives, the initial response may be, "Oh, this is too much!" Don't give up, though. I strongly encourage you to put the stack of materials in binders, and read one page at a time. The introductory notes will help to put the whole program into perspective. Curriculum summaries, suggestions for teaching all your children at the same time, philosophy of education outlines, planning suggestions, and frequently asked questions all pave the way for the lesson plan pages ahead. Read through this first section carefully, and you can avoid common pitfalls. My favorite section is "Beware the Four Week Fog," which reminds us that this is a new way of learning and teaching that takes adjustment time. As Mrs. Somerville summarizes, "Parents must shift from a "task by task oversight" system (where they are at their children's elbow and checking their child's work hour by hour) to a "meeting to meeting accountability" system (where the child prepares for "classes" with mom, sometimes working for entire days without supervision)." For large families, having the encouragement and the plan to make this shift can make all the difference in the success of their home education experience.

After the introductory notes come some forms that may be useful to copy. Included are a high school contract, weekly schedule, reading assignment chart, and a timeline template.

Next comes a comprehensive list of resources for Year Two. In the beginning pages of this section, you get a great feel for the philosophy of Mrs. Somerville. She emphasizes the need for individual choices, flexibility, and adaptations - however you want to phrase that, we are to tailor our program for our own families as we deem best. She cautions against legalism, reminding us that she is, "serving a broad variety of home schoolers. No one does everything on every chart every week, not even my kids!" This list includes information on obtaining the book (library, used bookstores, etc.), details of the book's content, age appropriateness, week assigned, and reading level. I think these lists are worth the whole program (but I am a confessed bibliophile; that may be an exaggeration for you).

Year Two is divided into four units. Unit One is the Middle Ages, Unit Two is Renaissance and Reformation, Unit Three is Colonial America, and Unit Four is Becoming a New Nation (American Colonies through the Ratification of the Constitution). I do have some ambivalence about covering this much material in a year. "The Middle Ages in TEN weeks?" My heart protests! But, I must confess, there is no length of time in any culture or time period long enough to satisfy me. I had to "hire" my husband to play Moses and get us out of Egypt during our study of the Ancients - I couldn't seem to leave until we knew it "all." With that type of unrealistic goal looming in my weak mind, I think having a steady pace (albeit a fast one) may allow us to complete a chronological study of history through each stage of the trivium, with a deeper level grasped each time around. It is always possible to take two years for one year of Tapestry, or to focus on areas of our families' interests. It is a plan for us to personalize for our own needs.

Each week's materials include the following: overviews of each subject (called "Threads" - Tapestry theme, remember?) more detailed background information, a reading assignment/weekly overview chart, and student activity pages. Some weeks include supplemental pages. Taking week five as an example, the study for the week is "The Making of Medieval Europe." History threads for the Grammar Stage include learning about Charlemagne. The Dialectic Stage adds to that the major events of European history from the 750s to about A.D. 1000. The Rhetoric Stage studies the significance of the crowning of Charlemagne, and discusses his impact on the feudal system. For literary threads, King Arthur stories are studied by all. Read aloud to younger students; the harder versions are assigned to older students. The background pages on history, geography, literature, law and government, and church history are six pages long, with enough information to start discussions and spark further interest. The final two background pages are group discussion help for grades nine through 12. The ability to ask questions and probe deeper is an area where I am admittedly weak. My husband, the history and literature teacher by trade, is a natural at this, but he is gone all day. I must grow in this area, and the discussion questions and background will help. The reading assignment chart and overview sheets are a helpful four page summary of the week. To be used by teacher and student, it can offer a quick check on the week's work. The student activity pages include suggestions for building castles, creating a Medieval Feast (with great details), an event map for King Arthur reading, and more. The Supplement for week five is a sample plan for a Christmas Medieval Feast. On a humorous note, Mrs. Somerville writes, "You may not read this if it will make you feel overwhelmed. It's here for IDEAS only!" See? She really does understand!

After the 36 weeks are detailed, the final section is the writing component of the program. Writing is a high priority in Tapestry. "[W]riting cements thoughts by requiring students to re-sift them and reorganize them, and then communicate them to a reader. Furthermore, to learn to write well and easily, there is no substitute for writing often and receiving feedback on that writing. The weekly writing assignments in Tapestry are considered "core" for these reasons". Mrs. Somerville includes general recommendations on grammar, poetry, vocabulary, and more. Each grade level then has a page of overview recommendations and week-by-week assignment pages that include all four years of Tapestry. It is assumed that, depending on grade level, you will add phonics, spelling, and vocabulary to the work. Depending on your philosophy of grammar studies, you may want to add more formal grammar work as well. A wide variety of writing assignments are included, allowing for excellent writing experiences.

Additional resources are available on the Tapestry of Grace website at Discussion forums with other teachers, additional ideas, live chats, and more can be found there. You can also order the materials, and see sample pages of what you are purchasing.

If you are looking for comprehensive guidelines for providing a classical education to multiple children, Tapestry of Grace could be the answer. The materials are incredibly thorough, and can be personalized for the individual needs of you and your children. Take your strengths and fly; take your weaknesses and build those muscles for great things. Above all, take comfort in the fact that Mrs. Somerville has experienced the "I can't do it!" feeling in her homeschooling career, and she has found God to be adequate. Her encouragement can remind us the same God is available to us as well.

-- Product Review by: Diane Wheeler, Senior Staff Writer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine