[Note: Tapestry of Grace is undergoing major revisions that should be out in 2022 and 2023. I will update my review when those are available.]
Tapestry of Grace (TOG) is a unit study curriculum that covers most of the major subject areas for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. Some features that make it especially appealing are:
- Christian worldview studies incorporated throughout the curriculum
- a chronological approach to history as the basic organizing theme
- a classical education approach based on the grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric stages of learning that allow all of your children to learn the same subjects at the same time but at their own level.
Subject areas covered include history, writing, literature, fine arts, geography, church history including missions, and Bible. You will need to find other resources for phonics, English grammar, math, foreign languages, and science.
Like many other unit studies, while TOG uses many books, it also includes multi-sensory learning options to address different learning styles and interests. These range from reading, writing, and simple art projects through costumed reenactments.
TOG covers the same general topics for all students simultaneously, but instruction and activities are divided into four levels of learning reflecting the classical Trivium (with the grammar stage divided into two sections). There is purposeful overlap to address the reality that students at the same grade level might not necessarily be at the same developmental level. The divisions are lower grammar (grades K-3), upper grammar (grades 3-6), dialectic (grades 6-9), and rhetoric (grades 9-12). IIf you are unfamiliar with these terms, you might want to read Dorothy Sayer's article, "The Lost Tools of Learning," upon which these divisions are based.)
While the TOG volumes include World Book Encyclopedia information on many topics as background information for the teacher, for the most part, students will read information from recommended books that you purchase or borrow for them. You will use some books over a long period of time, so you should purchase those, particularly history resources, literature anthologies, and some literary and reference books. Many others will be used for only a week or two and might be borrowed. While some titles are strongly recommended, in most cases there are a number of choices listed, which helps families with limited resources or who need flexibility. If you don’t have a big budget, having easy access to a library will be a real asset if you use TOG.
In order to access the resource list of books needed for each volume of TOG (referred to as Year-Plans), you can go to their companion website at www.bookshelfcentral.com and use their search feature. Bookshelf Central provides helpful descriptions and information so that you can decide which titles you need to purchase versus those you might access at the library.
There are four Year-Plans in TOG, and the idea is that you will progress through each Year-Plan at one level of difficulty for each child (lower grammar, upper grammar, etc.) then begin to cycle through each Year-Plan again in the fifth year, advancing children to the next level. You can see that the youngest children might go through each Year-Plan three times. A possible alternative is to take two years to cover a Year-Plan of TOG if you are starting with younger children. (The flexibility of this program is one of its major assets!)
Year One: The History of Redemption covers Creation through the fall of Rome. Year Two: The Medieval World to the Modern studies the time period of the medieval world through the signing of the U.S. Constitution. Year Three: The 1800s addresses both American and European history for that century. Year Four: The Twentieth Century covers world history, although U.S. history is a major component.
TOG is available in either digital editions or print editions. Whichever edition they choose, customers may print or reproduce all of the pages they wish for their family. Co-ops can reproduce pages if every family has purchased that Year-Plan of TOG. Classroom licenses are available for those co-op or class members who do not own a year-plan. (Note that digital editions can be updated for free annually. Keep in mind that digital resources cannot be resold or transferred, but the print-only versions can be.)
Lessons are presented in full color in both print and digital editions, although you might choose to print digital edition pages in black-and-white for practical reasons. Each Year-Plan in the print edition comes three-hole-punched and ready to place in your own binder.
Whether you purchase the digital or print edition, there is a hefty amount of material that might seem overwhelming. However, it is very logically organized, and there are free videos on the publisher's site that will help you understand the structure and organization.
Each Year-Plan of TOG consists of four units, with each unit covering nine weeks. Using tabbed separator pages for each week (available from Lampstand Press) will make it even easier to locate things.
Overview charts work as general lesson plans. The overview charts are followed by student pages for each level that should be printed for each student. These pages include questions, activity instructions, charts to be completed, etc. Reading assignment charts for each week provide all of the reading lesson plans.
The Loom, which is accessed via either a CD-ROM that comes with print-only editions or online for digital editions, is a crucial component of TOG. It has scheduling suggestions, sample lesson plans, planning charts, project instructions, grammar helps, high school planning information, course descriptions, a timeline template, and more. While anyone can access The Loom for free online, additional helps that are part of The Loom for each Year-Plan are accessible only once you have purchased the program. These include book updates, supporting links, and corrections.
TOG also offers a few optional items that are very helpful.
Evaluations 1 through Evaluations 4 provide you with assessments and tests for the program, year by year or for all levels. These should be a great help to busy parents. Evaluations for each Year-Plan are available as either downloadable files or printed pages (either color or black and white).
Pop Quiz is a supplement intended to help dads participate in the learning process in a practical fashion. Audio files, recorded by Scott Somerville, give dads an overview of each week’s studies. The Pop Quiz for each unit is available on a CD along with a set of cards that have questions for leading discussions. You can also purchase the audio file and printable card file as a digital download.
Another supplement, Writing Aids, is available as either a book and CD-ROM combo product or as a completely digital product. The Writing Aids book serves as a teacher’s guide with student pages and supplements to be printed from your computer. Writing Aids is also a writing handbook that interfaces with all TOG volumes. This will be a one-time purchase since it will cover all genres and assignments in all four TOG Year-Plans.
Yet another valuable supplement, available on CD-ROM or as a digital download, is Map Aids. These are specially-designed sets of maps and map activities for each year of the program. Teacher’s maps that serve as your answer keys are included.
A free, three-week TOG sample is available at the publisher’s website so you can try it out before you buy—and with their digital delivery system, you can wait until you finish the first three weeks before you pay for and download the rest of your unit. The weekly topics covered by each Year-Plan and the resources used are listed on the TOG website along with other information about the curriculum.
Like most extensive unit study programs, TOG requires a significant amount of parent or teacher preparation and presentation, and large blocks of time should be dedicated over the summer to plan and prepare for each school year. Also, parents or teachers really need to familiarize themselves with the background material and discussion threads in advance of each week's lessons. Most parents and teachers will be getting a great deal of education of their own as they work through TOG!
Overall, I think TOG's use of classical education methods combined with the chronological approach helps overcome one of the weaknesses of some unit studies—that children read good books and participate in fun activities but sometimes fail to make connections between topics studied and their chronological relationships. In addition, the worldview threads provide themes for discussions (ideally, directed by parents using Socratic methods) and activities that help children make important connections and understand the significance of what they are learning. TOG comes from a Reformed Protestant viewpoint, but it respectfully tries to include Orthodox and Catholic views as it explores church history. Consequently, Tapestry of Grace should be easier for those of the latter religious persuasions to adapt than some other unit studies might be.
Note: Those whose oldest children are in kindergarten through second grade might consider using Tapestry of Grace Primer, a gentler introduction to unit study.