Preparing Tapestry: our Fourth Year

We are headed into our fourth year of our Tapestry of Grace curriculum, which means we will have completed the cycle at the end of this year. (It also means this is my last year of all grammar level.) Last year, I felt like we really made Tapestry our own and found our rhythm, our stride. It felt good, like a fitted glove. Of course, when you end a year like that, it makes planning the next year exciting. I love the aspect of homeschooling where I trouble-shoot and research and find our answers, but the Lord knew I would be doing that in several other areas of our life; so homeschooling was off the hook. No massive revamping this year. With that said, preparing Tapestry for this year went really smoothly.

In summary, I love manilla folders. I keep 36 folders for our weekly “must-do” assignments like language and math and Latin. Then I keep a second set of folders for Tapestry that are labeled by Term (we do three 12 week terms) and by topic (I don’t cover everything; instead, I select the events and topics that will best suit my learners). All of our reading lists, media lists, and project papers are printed off and filed in these topic folders.

So here’s what it looks like. At the beginning of a week, I pull out two folders: the week we are in and the topic we are studying. Within the weekly folder, I pull out assignment pages and file into the kids’ daily pockets inside their binders (we use case-it binders with the accordion file inside). Within the topic folder, I look at my list all of the books and projects assigned for that topic and the number of weeks that I’ve guessed it will take us to complete (i.e. Titanic, 2 weeks). I then allocate those assignments that will fit with our week’s schedule. Last year, this method cut my weekly prep to about 30 to 45 minutes total! Both kids filed and ready to go in around a half hour. It was beautiful.

Reading Lists

Tapestry’s reading lists are copyrighted, so I can’t share the specific book titles that we are using. However, I will list a couple of other resources I use to compare and substitute book titles. SimplyCharlotteMason.com has a book finder feature that I love. Just type in the event or person you are studying, the reading level of your students, and a great list of engaging living books is listed for you. My second resource is my local library online catalogue search feature. Again, I type in the event or person, narrow it to children’s resources, and voila! I love my local library. It has an enormous selection.

I also use SimplyCharlotteMason’s Story of America and Story of the Nations ebooks as my core. These are not Tapestry titles, but the table of contents make it very easy to assign chapters that fit what we are covering. And the books are very engaging. We love them.

I select my favorites. Depending on how long we intend to study a topic, for each week I will select one to two read-aloud titles, one to two independent reading titles per child (depending on the length of the book), and the rest will be assigned merely as reference, as in “let’s look at more pictures.”

Media List

I love audios. Awhile back I scored Diana Waring’s history audio from Answers in Genesis‘ history program. We love listening to these on the way back and forth to karate and co-op. So, on the days we don’t get to our reading, we are still getting to our history. And this is another very engaging resource.

Netflix is also a resource where I search for related films to what we are studying. We don’t always get to this, but it is great for those off-days or sick days to already have this list compiled.

Projects

Homeschool in the Woods is not a Tapestry resource either, but we LOVE these projects. I use the Time Traveler activities. We make notebooking pages using both the notebooking and lapbooking project ideas. Especially since my kids are finally old enough to do their own cutting and pasting, these have been really fun activities to assign. They work on these while I read-aloud. It keeps their fingers busy but doesn’t distract them from the reading.

I generally choose the projects that fit what we are studying, our time-frame, and my kids’ interests. I spend one long afternoon printing all of my chosen activities and filing into my topic folders. This saves me so much time during the school year.

I also have the Draw Through History titles. My son loves to draw; my daughter loves to trace. And it gives them some ideas for drawing and enhancing their notebook with images of what we are studying.

Our Rhythm

I mentioned that I note about how many weeks I think a topic will take us. Last year, this was very fluid. We moved on when our books were read and our projects were done. And I found that in the end, things balanced out. Some topics took longer than I estimated, and some topics didn’t take as long. If we read everything in a week, we moved on. If it took us five weeks, because of interest or illness, we took our time and enjoyed it all. Sometimes, it was just a dud, and rather than struggle through 3 more weeks of something we were not enjoying, we covered the basics and moved on.

I’m also sensitive to my kids’ reading interests. There were some books that my son just hated, and while I realize that not all learning can be interest-driven, I think at the younger levels, reading should be. Occasionally, I’d make a call that he just needed to get through a book. But if I made that call, I ensured that I had a very tantalizing book as a reward when he finished. There were books we didn’t read cover-to-cover. (Pause for you to gasp in horror.) We survived, and were no worse for that decision.

In spite of all that flexibility, I was amazed by how much my kids retained and learned. A little went a really long way.

What about discipline and teaching kids to push through the difficult stuff? I split my subjects into two categories: our discipline subjects like math, grammar, spelling; and our inspiration subjects like history, science, and reading. This helped me define my objectives. My discipline subjects were challenging but in short spurts (no more than 15-20 min. per lesson/subject). My inspiration subjects were kept inspiring and interesting and often took closer to an hour or hour and a half (hands-on projects take awhile). But again, I watched my kiddos. If they were engaged, we took our time. If their eyes were glossing over, it was time for lunch.

Want to know more specifics? I’ve listed our specific curriculum choices here. Feel free to browse those links. Not sure what your homeschool style is? Be encouraged with my post about losing the labels.

I’m looking forward to another really great homeschool adventure, and I hope you tag along on our journey.

Narration: the art of story-telling

Children love to tell stories. My day is filled with little voices narrating what happened in the bedroom upstairs, what happened in the backyard, and what happened just 2 minutes ago at the table right in front of me.

Even Littlest has started this. The other day, he threw a piece of trash into a receptacle with a revolving lid. At the angle he was standing at, he got smacked in the head with the lid as he pushed down on it. I saw it happen, yet he turns to me and tells me exactly what I saw. “Da’ tash bonked ma head,” he said. He’s learning language by using it, by putting the events of his day into words.

That’s what narration is. It’s teaching knowledge and language through retelling, challenging the child to put his thoughts into spoken words. But because it’s spoken, he’s learning this skill without having the added worry of how to spell and punctuate those thoughts, at least not yet.

I mentioned before that Oldest has been a little hesitant to make the switch to narration. I know it’s a different thought-process than what he’s used to (regurgitating the right answers to my questions), so I’ve been patient with his transition. I’ve also seen, when he has been less self-conscious, what an enthusiastic narrator  he is. Example:

“There was a fire [insert sound effect]. And the flames went up like [another sound effect]. The animals all ran away [he hops across my floor like a rabbit, screaming, ‘AHH!’].”

So here are some practical things I’m trying to make the transition smoother and to make narration more varied and appealing.

  • Draw pictures. This was our very first alternative when telling the story was simply too overwhelming at first. After I finished our reading, they chose a scene they remembered and illustrated it.
  • Act it out. Middlest sparked the whole idea when she suggested we make our own paddle boats to go along with the Paddle to the Sea audio-story we were listening to. The kids made their canoes, and then each day, they acted out the part of the story we’d just listened to. It was a huge turning point for Oldest, and their narrations were very detailed and enthusiastic. (See the example above!)

narrating with props

  • You Pick. One of the free resources at SimplyCharlotteMason.com is a narration bookmark, which includes a myriad of ideas for how to ask for narrations from your child. I printed off these bookmarks and gave one to Oldest to use in his independent reading. Then, I allowed him to read his bookmark and choose how he wanted to narrate his reading to me after he’d finished it on his own. Not only was it great accountability, allowing me to double-check that he’d read and comprehended, but he was much more willing when he had a choice in the matter.

How do I ask for a narration? Well, I’m still learning, and that bookmark has helped me quite a bit, too. But when I ask for a retelling, I try to do one of two things. First, chapter titles can be very helpful. If the chapter title is “Night in the Settlement,” then I ask “Describe what the first night at the settlement was like.” Another idea I’ve used is to reread the first couple of sentences (after I read the selection) and then pause and wait for them to continue the story.

One more idea I found simply hilarious and can’t wait to try was from one of Catherine Levison’s books. She said that when her children hesitated and resisted narrating, she’d say, “I guess our story was about a pink rabbit that met an elephant.” And her kids would rush to correct her.

One last thought here. I have not required Middlest to narrate. Sometimes after Oldest is finished I will ask her if she has something to add, but that’s usually because I can see her squirming with excitement about to burst with what she has to add.

This has been a very fun journey for all of us, including Oldest. And in just 3 weeks, I have seen both of their narrations and the details they include improve tremendously.

Stepping into Grammar

Being a former English and writing instructor, I have had a difficult time finding a grammar program that fits my expectations, especially for introductory (i.e. 2nd grade) grammar. I have very definite opinions about how I want to teach it and what I think it should include.

After an exhaustive search this summer, I feel like I’ve found the perfect blend of activities for our grammar intro.

Logic of English Essentials

Essentials is the program I am using with Oldest for his phonics and spelling, and it also integrates grammar into the lessons. The grammar is taught from his spelling words, which I love! He learns parts of speech, uses his spelling words to form dictation or copywork exercises, and labels those phrases with the parts of speech. Essentials is not the most colorful program I’ve seen, but I love its thoroughness.

Winston-Grammar

I happen to have this program because my mom saved it from the days when my sister and I were homeschooled. While I am not using this program in its entirety right now, I have loved using some elements of it as we learn grammar in our Essentials. For instance, the parts of speech cards are a fun kinesthetic way to label the parts of speech. (Don’t own Winston Grammar cards? You could always make your own.)

Hands-on Grammar

Tapestry of Grace

This is our core curriculum for the humanities. It incorporates some basic grammar and progressive writing activities that tie in with our history studies. Though I wasn’t comfortable using the Tapestry “Writing Aids” as our only grammar, I have loved using the ideas to supplement what we are doing. One of the activities, for instance, is to make a word bank. Each part of speech has a card it’s own color, but Oldest gets to choose the word to write on that part of speech card. For example, Oldest is working on nouns for his word bank right now. We are using red index cards, and he gets to think of the nouns to write on each card. Most of these nouns are coming from our history or his own reading: knights, dragons, King Arthur, sword, hero, rain, dog, etc.

Tapestry of Grace Writing Aids

I’ve been excited not only about what he is learning but how much fun he’s having learning it. He’s not just filling out a worksheet; he’s finding grammar in his everyday. What could be better than that!