The Curriculum Choice

May 22, 2009

Apologia Elementary Science

Filed under: charlotte mason, classical, Curriculum choices, Science, Written by Kristen — Kristen @ 12:08 am

Apologia publishes a full-range of science texts for the Christian homeschool. They began with high school science texts which have been very popular with homeschoolers for many years. More recently, Apologia began publishing elementary texts. Currently, the elementary science series includes five titles: Astronomy, Botany, Flying Creatures, Swimming Creatures, and Land Creatures. These texts follow the immersion principle of learning. Rather than study a wide-variety of unrelated science topics during the course of a school year, these texts dig deeply into one science topic.

Features of Elementary Apologia Books

  • Engaging hard-cover text with many full-color pictures
  • What Do You Remember? questions to discuss
  • Common household items used in experiments and projects
  • Master list of necessary materials
  • Notebooking activities included

All of these texts have 13 or 14 lessons. But don’t be fooled into thinking that with a small number of lessons the books won’t last a whole year. These are not short lessons. They each include 10-20 pages of text (I read these aloud). In addition, all the lessons include at least one notebook assignment and either an experiment or project. Many lessons have both a project and an experiment. I like that the author has clearly separated projects and activities from experiments. In the experiments, the scientific method is emphasized including discussions of variables, controls, hypotheses, data collection, and drawing conclusions. So although the book could easily be read in less than a school year, completing all the included notebook pages, projects and experiments will extend this text to easily encompass a year’s study. However, if you do want to complete more than one of these texts in one school year, the Astronomy and Botany books are a little shorter than the Zoology books.

I love that this one text can be used with all my students. I can customize the notebook assignments to fit their abilities. (Some of the notebook assignments have two options: one for older students and one for younger.) My first grader loves to sit and look at the pictures. He doesn’t participate in very many of the activities, but he is still learning with us. Many first graders could easily participate more than mine does. My daughter who is in 3rd grade now, completed the astronomy book when she was in kindergarten. She completed the notebook assignments and still remembers much of what we studied. I say this as a reminder that this text is easily adapted to the needs of families with widely varying ages and abilities of children.

So why would anyone not like Apologia?

You will not like this text if you do not want to include any of the Bible in your science lessons. These texts are unapologetically (pardon the pun) Christian. The author believes in creation and presents evidence that supports creation in the text. It does not give equal time to evolutionary theory believing that is better left to science geared to older students. Of course, most any animal book checked out of the library contains references to evolution, so this book helps provide a balance with its absence of evolutionary content.

You might not like this text if you want a more traditional approach to science including worksheets, tests and quizzes. The reinforcement of material in these texts is through talking about the text and creating notebook pages. The writing style is also different than most science books. These books are written like the author is talking directly to you. I don’t mean vernacular speech, but it contains questions that are somewhat rhetorical. It also goes into great detail.  Additionally, if you want to study many different topics in one school year, these texts would not be a good fit.

If you are interested in purchasing any of the other Apologia Elementary Science books, they are available from many vendors of homeschool products. They can also be purchased directly from Apologia at their website for $35.00.

Written by Kristen

The Curriculum Choice


April 25, 2009

Review of Tapestry of Grace

Filed under: classical, Curriculum choices, history, Literature, Written by Kristen — Kristen @ 6:12 pm

What is Tapestry of Grace?

Tapestry of Grace is a Christian, classical, history-focused, multi-disciplinary, unit-study curriculum for the entire family.


Christ is the central focus of this curriculum. Tapestry of Grace presents the history of the world showing that history truly is His Story. Christ, His coming, and His sovereignty are woven throughout the threads of this comprehensive curriculum. I should mention however, that the curriculum makes use of many secular resources.


Tapestry of Grace uses the classical model of the Trivium for instruction.The assignments are divided into Grammar (Lower and Upper), Dialectic, and Rhetoric levels. In the dialectic and rhetoric levels there is an emphasis on reading many of the “classic”  works.


Tapestry studies the history of the world chronologically and all the other subjects are studied within their historical context.


Tapestry of Grace includes assignments in history, literature, Bible, worldview, geography, government, philosophy, art appreciation, hands-on activities, and composition.


Each year of Tapestry of Grace (there are 4 total) is broken down into 4 units. These units are history related and within each unit are assignments in the before-mentioned disciplines.

For All Ages

Tapestry of Grace can be used for all your school-aged children at once. Not only that, but there are extensive teacher’s notes for mom to learn as well. They even have a special summary CD for dads called the Pop Quiz.(not included in the year plans) The unit celebrations are intended to be shared with the entire family, or even extended family and friends.

How does Tapestry of Grace work?

There are four different year plans in Tapestry of Grace.

Year 1: The History of Redemption: From Creation to the Fall of Rome

Year 2: Between Ancient and Modern: From Byzantium to the United States Constitution

Year 3: The 19th Century: From Napoleon to Teddy Roosevelt

Year 4: The 20th Century: From Teddy Roosevelt to September 11th (Coming soon)

The program is designed so that a student completes each year plan and then begins the rotation again, studying the same topics again at a higher level.  It is not necessary to begin at Year 1.

Each year plan has four units with nine weeks per unit. The introduction of each unit begins with a summary of the history included in the unit, and an explanation of how the unit fits in with previous history studies. It outlines the scope of the unit and provides some general information about the topics that will be studied. Also included are ideas for a unit celebration. These unit celebrations provide an opportunity for a compilation of everything studied in the unit to be displayed and presented. Unit 1 of each year plan also contains a guide to help users get started with Tapestry.

Following the unit introduction are the week plans. There are nine weeks in each unit, for a total of 36 weeks of study in each year plan. Each week’s plan is divided into several sections.

  1. Threads – These are the weekly learning objectives for each of the subjects studied in Tapestry of Grace. The objectives are divided by subject and level. (1 – 2 pages)
  2. Reading Assignments – These sheets give the assigned readings for all the threads and levels for the entire week. The scheduling of the reading is flexible, and will vary between families and from week to week within a family. There is one page of primary resources and one page for alternate and extra resources. The alternate resources provide additional flexibility to the program. (2 pages)
  3. Weekly Overview – These pages include vocabulary words, people to know, time-line dates, activities, and geography activities for the week. (2 pages)
  4. Writing Assignments – There are 12 different levels of composition assignments. These assignments are usually related to the history lessons that week. (3 pages)
  5. Student Activity Pages – These pages are designed to be used by the student. They contain questions about the history and Bible reading for the week, as well as geography assignments and suggested activities. There are often separate literature assignment sheets. These are usually about 2-3 pages for both the lower grammar and upper grammar sections, and longer for the dialectic and rhetoric levels. These pages are conveniently color-coded in the corners by level for easy identification.(Length varies – Year 3 Unit 1 Week 1 has 14 pages)
  6. Teacher’s Notes – This section is usually the longest section of the week. It contains articles with background information for the topics studied in the week. In addition, it contains the answers to the literature worksheets and the discussion questions. One of the most impressive portions of this section, and perhaps of the entire curriculum, are the discussion outlines to be used with dialectic and rhetoric students. (Length varies – Y3U1Wk1 -14 pages)
  7. Glance into next week –  This handy page lists things the parent should be aware of in the upcoming reading assignments. It sometimes includes budget-stretching suggestions for combining students of different levels into one text. (1 page)

What do I like the most about Tapestry of Grace?

  • Multi-level teaching – I love being able to teach all my children at once. Right now, it is not as hard to do, because my youngest is only 2-1/2 and not in school. But as I look ahead, I see the value in being able to have the entire family studying the same history topics when my children are in, for example, 9th, 7th, 5th, and 1st grades,
  • Non-consumable and reusable – Tapestry of Grace is more than the typical non-consumable curriculum that can be passed down to younger siblings. It can be reused by the same students, as well as being passed down to younger siblings. I can conceivably use each of the Tapestry of Grace year plans four times!
  • Unit-study approach – I love how so many subjects are covered in Tapestry of Grace. I love to add in projects and writing assignments that go with our history studies. Also, understanding the Bible in its historical context is invaluable.
  • Flexibility – There are so many ideas and resources listed each week, that it would be impossible to do them all, so I can pick which ones are best for my family. I have the ability to schedule the reading as well. Many of the suggested books are available from the library and often there are easy substitutions for those that are not.
  • Product Support – The customer support at Tapestry of Grace is excellent. They have promptly answered questions and provided help. There is a user’s forum at the Tapestry website, as well as very active Yahoo groups for general and year specific support.

What are some specific topics?

I received Year 3 Unit 1 Digital Edition to review. In addition I received the corresponding Map Aids. The unit is entitled Napoleon’s World. The 9 weeks are:

  1. When John Adams was President
  2. Napoleon: The Man and His Career
  3. Early Industrial Revolution
  4. Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase
  5. Jefferson and the Supreme Court
  6. Madison and the War of 1812
  7. Reshaping Europe and South America
  8. South America in Transition
  9. Monroe and the American Hemisphere

I love the literature selections for this unit. One of my very favorite books, Pride and Prejudice is studied for four weeks of the unit by the rhetoric students. One of the dialectic books is Frankenstein and the Swiss Family Robinson is included for upper grammar. You can search and see the recommended books for any of the units or the entire year plan at The searches are quick and easy. You can even copy the results to a spreadsheet so you can sort them by level or subject.

There are some great activity suggestions for this unit. Lower Grammar Students can write with a quill pen, make a water wheel out of Legos, make a silhouette, and practice counting money. Upper Grammar students spend much of the unit on an invention product and learning about the branches of American government, including preparing a Supreme Court scrapbook. Dialectic and Rhetoric students make a display board with major Napoleonic figures and an inventor project, as well as building models of the Supreme Court Building and the Arc de Triumph. All levels listen to violin music, learn how to cook food from South America, study the Star Spangled Banner, and learn proper etiquette concerning the American flag.

The Map Aids are a tremendous time saver. They include black-line maps specific for each week. You don’t have to worry about finding maps, just print them out and go.

What about the Digital Edition?

I have been using a print copy of Tapestry for this school year. The unit that I received to review was the digital edition (DE). The download was easy. I find the DE easy to navigate and it has a very convenient search feature that allows you to use your computer to search instead of flipping through hundreds of pages trying to find something you know is in there. I like the fact that the DE saves space. Each unit of Tapestry of Grace fills up a 2″ binder. Storing 16 total binders for all the year plans might have been a problem. One important thing to note is that the digital license does NOT allow the DE version to be resold. I personally find the DE a very convenient format for Tapestry of Grace. I would not print out very many of the pages so I don’t think that increased printing costs will be an issue for us.

How much does Tapestry of Grace Cost?

There are several different ways to purchase Tapestry of Grace. All purchases are made directly from the Tapestry of Grace Store.

  • One year plan – printed = $225 + shipping
  • One year plan – digital =  $170
  • One year plan – digital + print = $270 + shipping
  • One year bonus bundle – digital = $250
  • One year bonus bundle – print only = $295 + shipping

* Bonus bundles include entire unit, the Loom, and Map Aids, plus your choice of a bonus option (Writing Aids, Complete year lapbook kits, complete year evaluations,  or complete year Pop Quiz) and a bonus item (one level of evaluations, one unit lapbook kit, or one unit Pop Quiz.)

The units are also available individually.

  • One unit digital = $45
  • One unit digital + printed = $76.40 + shipping
  • One unit printed = $60 + shipping

The stand-alone printed versions are not currently available for all the year plans. Be sure to check the store for the unit you are interested in to see what is available.

Bookshelf Central provides the resource books for Tapestry of Grace plus suggested grammar and spelling curricula. The books are also available from major book retailers. In addition, many of the books are available through the library or can purchased used.


I love Tapestry of Grace for my family and plan to use it for a very long time! I think it provides the framework to provide my children with an excellent understanding of history and God’s sovereign hand in history. If Tapestry of Grace sounds like something your family would like, be sure to go to their website to download their free samples. You can see the layout of the program and try out the digital version for yourself.

Written by Kristen

The Curriculum Choice

April 20, 2009

Classical Education

Filed under: classical, Homeschool philosophies, Written by Kristen — Kristen @ 8:45 pm

Evaluating a Classical Education

It’s that time of year again. No, not spring cleaning. (although I’m working on that too!) It’s the time of year where we’re winding down and I’m evaluating. What did we learn this year? What has worked well? What didn’t work? What do we need to do better next year?

One of the things on my mind a lot lately is classical education. I was introduced to classical education when my oldest was in preschool. My husband and I were both very inspired by the research we did on classical education, and planned to implement the classical model in our homeschool.

So what is classical education exactly? That is somwhat dependent on whom you ask because there is a tremendous amount of variation among classical educators. However, there are two basic schools of thought in classical education.

On one end of the spectrum are what are sometimes called the neo-classicists. The essay by Dorothy Sayers entitled The Lost Tools of Learning details three stages of learning. These three stages she has called the poll-parrot, the dialectic, and the rhetoric stages.   Sayers goes on to suggest that instruction during these stages should match the strenghths of the children. In The Well-Trained Mind, authors Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise expounded on Sayer’s original essay by detailing educational methods that capitalize on these natural stages in students. In this book, these respective stages are re-named as the grammar stage, the logic stage, and the rhetoric stage.

The grammar stage is the first stage and ranges from first through around fifth, sixth, or seventh grades depending on the child. This stage is characterized by the child’s ability to memorize facts and their thirst for knowledge about many different things. The student should not be performing analysis on these facts at this point, but rather acquiring knowledge that will be used as a foundation in further studies. An excellent summary of the grammar stage written by Christine Miller can be found at Classical Christian Homeschool.

The grammar stage is followed by the logic or dialectic stage. This stage typically begins around the middle school years. You can recognize when a student is beginning to enter this stage by the questioning of the student. The logic stage is when the student begins to constantly ask “Why?”. Students at this stage exhibit the desire and the ability to understand how things are interrelated, and an increased capacity for logical thought.  Many students will exhibit some of these aspects of logical thought at an early age, but parents must be careful not to push them out of the grammar stage too soon.  A more thorough exposition of the logic stage can be found here at Classical Christian Homeschool.

The third stage is the rhetoric stage. This stage of learning usually coincides with the high school years.This usage of the term rhetoric should not be confused with the common usage of political rhetoric.   The rhetoric stage is characterized by the student learning to effectively communicate his own thoughts and ideas. These  thoughts and conclusions are drawn from the study of great literature and philosophers of the ages.

These three stages proceed in a logical fashion with each stage building on the other.  Students will be able to reason more effectively if they have learned lots of facts and correct useage of grammar in their elementary years (grammar stage).  In turn, students will be able to more effectively communicate in the rhetoric phase if they are able to quickly retrieve the correct facts, and then assemble those facts together in a logical manner. 

The neo-classicists place great value in the study of history, literature, and language. The Well-Trained Mind suggests that history should be taught chronologically in a repeating 4 year rotation. History is divided into 4 periods represented approximately by Ancient History, Middle Ages and Reformation, Colonial Times through Victorian Ages, and Modern (20th Century) History. Ideally these topics would be taught in 1st-4th grades, then repeated in 5th-8th grades, and again in the 9th-12th grades. There are many curriculum providers that have modeled their programs after this design.

Another key portion of classical education is the study of at least one classical language, usually Latin, although some people add or substitute the study of Greek or Hebrew. Many classical educators begin Latin instruction very early, in the grammar stage, because that is a good time to memorize all the various declensions, conjugations, and vocabulary required in learning Latin. There are many benefits to the study of Latin. It greatly increases English vocabulary because so much of English is derived from Latin. Also Latin is a language that requires rigorous thought and thus is good training for the mind. An excellent argument by Cheryl Lowe of Memoria Press that more thoroughly expounds the benefits of Latin study can be found at the Memoria Press website.

The study of Latin and/or other classical languages is the single biggest point in common between the neo-classical and the traditional classical schools of thought. In addition the study of logic is included by both. Another commonality is the study of the Great Books, although there is some disagreement about what is included in the list of Great Books.

In my opinion, the greatest difference between the two models is their focus. Where the neo-classicist focuses more on method in education, the traditional classicist’s focus is on content. A traditional classicist also values the study of history, but the focus is on Western History with a strong emphasis on the Greeks and Romans. The 4-year history rotation is absent from the traditional classical classroom. The use of the terms grammar, logic, and rhetoric do not apply so much to developmental stages to the traditional classical educator, but are titles of disciplines to be studied. The stages are naturally to be followed in any study independent of the age of the student. For example, a student who is in the “logic stage” according to the neo-classical model, but is just beginning to study Latin, must still begin with the grammar stage of learning the Latin language.

So what have I gleaned from my reflection on the definitions of classical education? Do I still agree with this philosophy? How am I doing in implementing these ideas in our home?

After reviewing the principals of classical education I must give a resounding “yes”, that it is still the direction I want our homeschool to take. I still lean more strongly toward the neo-classical side of the spectrum. I am particularly enamored with the 4-year history rotation. 

How are we doing in practice? On the positive side, we are completing a year of studying the ancients in history. This is the second time through this time period for my oldest child. We will be continuing on in our chronological history study next year. My two older children are studying Latin and Greek which is crucial to a classical education.

The place where I have failed the greatest is in memory work. I have not done a good job implementing memory work in all of our subjects and I have not used sufficient drill in our Latin, Greek, and math courses. Unfortunately, I’m beginning to see some of the consequences of that now. My older son is having problems translating in Latin because he doesn’t know his vocabulary and word endings as well as he should. Both of my older students need work in math computation speed. (I got a huge reminder of that last week when I administered their standardized tests.)

What am I changing for next year? I hope to implement memory work in all our subjects. Also, my oldest is soon entering the logic phase, so he will be adding logic to his studies soon. I want to add more drill for Latin and Greek so that they will better retain what they have learned. In addition, I plan to add more drill in our math program. I think I’d better get to planning!

Written by Kristen

The Curriculum Choice

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