Monday, December 22, 2014

Making Tapestry Fit Most Budgets

TapestryFor several years, I used a different chronological program because the new cost of Tapestry of Grace resources was overwhelming and intimidating to me. After trying to make that other program more like Tapestry of Grace, my husband and I finally decided to simply purchase Tapestry. Now that I have gone through a whole year plan, I have many more ideas about how to make Tapestry fit our budget well. I have found that it is very easy to use Tapestry without spending a lot of extra money on books, especially at the grammar levels.


Bookshelf CentralOne thing that I have found helpful is to read the book summaries on Bookshelf Central. In those paragraphs, there is a lot of helpful information about which books are particularly easy to substitute and which books can be combined for multiple levels. Although one may not be teaching an Upper Grammar or Dialectic student right now, it can be helpful to purchase some of those titles, at times, instead of a Lower Grammar title since the former be utilized again later. (For example, Bookshelf Central may note that the Upper Grammar Arts/Activities resource will work well for both Lower Grammar and Dialectic or when a Dialectic or Rhetoric Worldview title might serve well as a read-aloud for lower levels instead of purchasing Lower and Upper Grammar-level titles.)

 From what I have seen and read, the newer Year Plans of Tapestry include more titles than the older, Classic version because some families didn't want to re-read titles that they'd read three years prior. If this isn't a problem for you, you might wish to purchase and utilize some of the upper level resources for use at a lower level as noted by Bookshelf Central. Personally, re-reading books isn't a problem for us because, as you mature, you understand and appreciate different things. I liken it to watching favorite movies again and again. There are also so many wonderful suggestions in the Arts/Activities resources that we couldn't possibly do them all; it is quite refreshing to know that we don't have to do it all this time and that we can save certain projects for next time. (Though you can still go back to these projects even if you purchase the other resources. ;)

Okay, so I have written all those paragraphs and pretty much simply established that Bookshelf Central has helped me immensely in saving money by simplifying. Here are a couple of additional thoughts...

Decide what you want to prioritize.

Diary of an Early American Boy - How important is it to you to complete all of the literature worksheets at this level? Many of the questions on these worksheets tend to be resource specific (unless specified otherwise by Bookshelf Central), so you'll want to have these resources available if you aren't comfortable adapting the questions and want to utilize all of the worksheets. At the Lower Grammar level, I'm comfortable with not doing all of these, doing many aloud, and adapting "on the fly", so I don't feel like I have to have all of these titles, but this varies by family.

Westward Ho! An Activity Guide to the Wild West
- How important are Arts/Activities to you? How often do you want to do them? How craft-minded are you? Will you need a little bit of instruction or a lot of hand-holding? There are many wonderful suggestions for Arts and Activities in the pages of Tapestry without purchasing these titles. If on a tight budget, it would be easy to Google instructions for many of the activities. Reading the craft books, even if we don't complete the activities, is one of my children's favorite things to do; the books are typically fairly inexpensive when purchased second-hand; and these resources are usually used for five or more weeks, so we often purchase these resources. However, it would be an easy place to simplify, depending on one's means.

The "Little Lights": Full set of 12 volumesAfter looking at the write-ups on Bookshelf Central, you should have a good idea of what can be easily substituted. Most of the history titles are easy to substitute with similar resources from the library. Many libraries have a limited supply of Worldview titles, so if the Church History/Worldview component is important to you, you will likely need to invest in those resources or purchase something similar so substitute. Again, we simplify here by using some resources for multiple levels. However, this category is probably the highest priority for our family, so I make sure that each level has something to read on the given topic. The Little Lights biographies by Catherine Mackenzie are wonderful, and we read them again and again. My four-year-old is particularly fond of carrying them around, and they are very sturdy. I highly recommend all of the series! We also love the History Lives series by Brandon and Mindy Withrow and use those as a read-aloud at all levels (though I think only one of them is a scheduled read-aloud and another is used at the Dialectic level). Again, this depends on your unique family. Do your young kids love read-alouds, or do they have a short attention span? (I have one child that dislikes read-alouds, so I don't do as many of these with her.)

Once you've figured out how you can substitute and what is important to you, you'll probably have a list of books that you do want to secure. Inter-library loan can be helpful if you are organized and if your library doesn't charge a fee for that service (ours charges $3 per book to cover shipping which isn't very helpful when I can pick something up used for $4 but can be more helpful for high priced resources). Don't be afraid to make a list and ask your library to order resources when they don't have any on a specific topic. (If they already have a dozen books on the topic, it is less likely that they'll order your unique title, so that's something you'll want to take into consideration before making a request. They are also less likely to order niche topics such as many worldview titles. However, there are many things that they will consider ordering, so don't be afraid to ask.) Finally, there are many wonderful sites for used resources: HomeschoolClassifieds.com, Vegsource, eBay, PaperBackSwap, and Bookmooch. I've also gotten a lot of resources used off of more mainstream sites like Amazon and Abebooks.

Consider your time and your resources and prayerfully go from there. Tapestry can fit into many budgets. It has provided a great framework for us. I substitute more at the Lower Grammar level, but I'm also purchasing resources for Upper Grammar and Dialectic students simultaneously, so you may find that you don't have to substitute as much as I do if you are only purchasing for one level at a time.

If you have found this information helpful, you may also wish to read my post on Planning and Organizing Books. You can also read more about this subject on the "Tapestry of Grace" Blog: Homeschooling in Hard Times: Money and Books.
Many blessings on your homeschool journey!

*If you've found this post helpful, please consider using my Advisor code (elizabethhankins) when purchasing Tapestry of Grace year plans.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Book Review: Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (Illustrated Christian Biographies for Young Readers)Spiders. Native Americans. Wars. Illnesses. Adventure and danger abounded in early colonial America. In the midst of it all, God was still faithfully building His Church, calling people of every tribe, tongue, and nation to Himself. Jonathan Edwards is one man whom God used to encourage others to read and study His Word "at a time when many people were seriously questioning long-accepted ideas about the world, life, and God" (pg. 5). What types of questions were people asking in the 1700s? How did God use Edwards during this time? Why is Edwards's life relevant to us today? These are some of the questions that Simonetta Carr raises and answers in her latest addition to the "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" series, Jonathan Edwards.

The "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" is one of our family's best-loved church history series for children.  As I've written before, Ms. Carr is a very gifted author and one of my personal  favorite authors due, in large part, to her commitment to "...go beyond the simple story of someone's life by teaching young readers the historical and theological relevance of each character" (from the Copyright Page). Simonetta's writing has a purpose and depth which exceeds that found in much of written material for children today. This is why I am, once again, excited that she has added another title to this fantastic series!

In her latest title, Jonathan Edwards, Ms. Carr introduces us to an intelligent man whom God used to proclaim His glory. During Edwards' early years, he sought to apply his father's preaching and make sure that his religion was more than mere words. As a result, he prayed five times a day and prayed and read the Bible with his friends. However, he became discouraged and quit trying for a season. (pg. 8). In time, God opened up His living and active Word to Edwards, enabling him to see God more accurately and to realize that "...God's decisions are all perfect and that it is a great privilege to know Him" (pg. 15). "He felt the Holy Spirit was filling his soul with a new sense of God's glory, wisdom, and justice" (pg. 15). This became a sort of turning point for Edwards; as he began to see God's glory, beauty, and greatness in everything around him, leading him to sing and rejoice.

Edwards had always been captivated by God's creation, and now, in light of God's greatness, he found it all the more entertaining and glorious (pg. 16). He had the unique ability to employ simile and metaphor, connecting God's work in creation with aspects of God's character and Biblical truth (pg. 12). God used this ability especially as Edwards sought to make God's character known to those he taught in his churches and, even more so, as he began to share the Gospel with the Native Americans using "images from nature that were familiar to them" (pg. 41). His message was consistently: "According to the Bible, God is in control of everything, and everything happens for His glory--and that's good news because He is also perfectly loving, and His glory means our happiness" (pg. 48). This message was in direct contrast to many (deists) in that day who thought that God was a distant God who set the world in motion and allowed it to carry on according to fixed laws rather than God holding all things together as the Bible teaches (Colossians 1:16-17). Today, people still debate these ideas, making Edwards's thoughts relevant to contemporary audiences. Resting in God's sovereign control over all things enabled Edwards to face rejection by his church, the loss of friends and family to illness, uncertainties during times of war, and much more. You can read all about these things and more in Simonetta Carr's lovely new book, Jonathan Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards is well-researched, informative, and interesting, much like the other books in the "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" series.  Ms. Carr continues to include a map and timeline to aid the reader's understanding. Likewise, Matt Abraxas serves to draw the reader into the story through his detailed artwork, while Ms. Carr includes captivating photos to accompany her writing. Reformation Heritage Books has provided some sample pages which allow one to see the variety of images used to engage the reader.

The "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" series has a reputation for being high quality, hardcover books with thick pages and sewn bindings, making them sturdy, collectible titles that will hold up well to many years of enjoyment, and Jonathan Edwards continues this pattern.

Simonetta Carr's Illustrated Christian Biographies (Complete Set, 8 volumes)I highly recommend Jonathan Edwards and trust that many will be encouraged as they seek to behold and proclaim God's glory. I pray  that readers will also grow in their understanding of the importance and value of studying the saints who have gone before us as a result of this delightful title!!

You can find out more about Simonetta Carr's "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" here, including activity pages for several existing titles (Augustine of Hippo and John Calvin) and a study guide for John Owen.


*Many thanks to Cross Focused Reviews, Reformation Heritage Books, and Simonetta Carr for providing me with a complimentary copy of Jonathan Edwards in exchange for my honest opinion!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Planning and Organizing Books

How I plan and organize resources for Tapestry of Grace...

I suppose I have four different steps (that probably make it sound more complicated than it is...hopefully, the pictures will help simplify). One's system does not need to be this detailed, but this is what works for our family. ;)

 First, at the beginning of a new year plan, I copy and paste the information from the "Order Form" view on Bookshelf Central into Excel. I add columns for other pertinent information such as "Weeks Used". (This helps me prioritize my purchase decisions later.) In order to procure that information, I read the excellent summaries at Bookshelf Central. Those summaries also include helpful information about which titles are easy to substitute, and I include an "Other" column where I make note of that type of thing. I also include a column in which I note whether I have the title or the library call #. This gives me my big picture overview for the whole year. (The chart pictured is all green because it is the Dialectic level and helps with advanced sorting later since I have all of the levels on the same chart.)

Second, I work through the "Reading Assignments Chart" and "Alternate" charts unit by unit. I keep a highlighter and pencil handy, highlighting resources we own and underlining the resources available at the library, using a pencil to note the Call # for easy reference later. I like to do this before I make my purchases because I often find that I or the library have alternate titles that can be used, reducing the number of primary resource purchases I need to make. If the exact title is not available but I see a similarly titled resource of comparable length while I'm doing my library searches, I usually make a note of this in pencil and place a question mark next to the resource so that I can check it out. As I go, I update the Excel spreadsheet that I started so that I have a better picture of which resources I actually need to purchase. Depending on how much time I have, I may search for key words in the "Threads" or "Weekly Overview" pages in order to find other possible library options. (Naturally, how much time one spends on this will correlate with how tight their budget is. It can be time consuming and time is worth money too.) When I'm finished looking at the whole week, I use a yellow sticky or an index card to write all of the library titles that we'll utilize that week, noting if it is a multi-week resource that I'll need to renew. This saves me time later as I can just grab my note and go to the library on errand day without having to double-check what we need.

Third, there is the actual organization of the books that we have. On the inside cover, I use a pencil to note which year, unit, and week the book is used and also the level and subject (ex. TOG Y1U1Wk1, LG-Lit). The least expensive sticky dots that I found were these. I use the appropriate color for the year plan and write the week used on the dot. Since I am teaching multiple levels, I also purchased these cute smiley stickers and place the appropriate color dot for the level resource. This makes it easy for each level student to find the appropriate resource for them. After I have those dots in place, I use packing tape to make sure they will stay in place for a while. :) I have one shelf for each unit and separate each unit with bookends, using the Tapestry binder as a sort of labeling divider.

Fourth and finally, I use software to keep a running list of the books in our collection, mostly for insurance purposes since our collection is so large.

This is probably the OCD version of book organization, but we are book lovers and have thousands of books, so I had to do something to keep it all together. Before TOG, I had lots of resources that went unused because I wasn't well organized. However, TOG has given me a great framework around which I can wrap my mind and organize our resources. I'm sure there are aspects of what I do that I've missed, but this is already approaching novel-length, so I'll end here. Please feel free to ask if you have questions. I'm happy to oblige if it seems like our wacky system might serve you.

You may also wish to read my related post: Making Tapestry Fit Most Budgets. There is also a helpful post on this topic at the Tapestry of Grace blog: Managing Those Living Books.

Many blessings on your journey!

 *If you've found this post helpful, please consider using my Advisor code (elizabethhankins) when purchasing Tapestry of Grace year plans.