When I was researching homeschool curricula, I made charts to compare my top three or four choices for history, math, writing, spelling, and grammar. I thought I would begin with sharing my history curricula comparison, since it was more interesting. My top three choices for history for our family were Tapestry of Grace (TOG), My Father’s World (MFW), and Biblioplan (BP), so I’ll start with my reviews of those three. All three companies follow the classical or Charlotte Mason models of education. After that, I made a list of short descriptions of lots of other choices.
Another missionary family in Johannesburg uses Tapestry of Grace, so I was able to look through unit 4 of year 1 on ancient Rome to get a better idea of how it would work for our family. I have not actually used TOG.
“TOG is a plan of study that helps parents provide a Christian, classical education using a guided unit-study approach, with the history of the world as the core organizational theme. Students in grades K-12 cycle through world history every four years, with all ages studying the same slice of history each week, at their own learning level. Detailed assignments and discussion outlines enable parents to become their children’s primary teachers and mentors by shaping their biblical worldview.
Includes: “Tapestry covers the humanities—history, church history, literature, geography, fine arts & activities, government, philosophy, and writing & composition. Does not include: phonics, science, math, grammar, spelling, foreign language. Lampstand Press does, however, recommend and sell complementary logic, spelling, and grammar programs.
“Week to week, Tapestry integrates all subjects: people, events, and movements are studied in the time period in which they were most influential. Lessons are presented from all modalities: visual, auditory, and tactile. For younger children, a variety of hands-on ideas are supplied each week. Rich weekly studies are always provided, from which students and parents choose the best content and quantity for their unique families, meaning that the teacher is always in control of assignments with TOG.”
TOG has “weekly reading and writing assignments, activities, discussion scripts, background information, and more.”
TOG can be confusing in how it breaks down the segments of history for its 4-year chronological cycle. Here is the 4-year breakdown:
- Year 1—The Ancient World (creation to the Fall of Rome)
- Year 2—The Medieval World (Byzantium to the US Constitution)
- Year 3—The 19th Century (Napoleon to Teddy Roosevelt)
- Year 4—The 20th Century (Age of Innocence to Obama)
There are four years to cover history; potentially you’d cycle through them three times with your children (if you use TOG for 12 years) on their respective classical learning level each time, but the learning levels are broken into 4 levels—lower grammar (LG—basically picture books), upper grammar (UG—more chapter books, independent reading), dialectic (D–or logic), and rhetoric (R).
- TOG is the BEST when it comes to the dialectic and rhetoric levels (grades 6-12), because they offer scripted Socratic discussions to help you help your child sift through worldview or government (R level). Goes into greater depth into the philosophies behind world movements. I couldn’t have done this myself.
- Classical, Christian
- The whole family is learning all together. Makes for great discussions and memorable learning. Even Dad and Mom are self-educating along with the kids.
- High standards—rigorous and thoughtful, when you look at the upper levels especially, at the worksheets, discussions, and writing assignments.
- Include evaluations (tests). And just about everything else you could want.
- Literature-based; ties literature in with history. LOVE connecting these two. Uses living books not textbooks.
- Includes literature worksheets/ comprehension questions.
- Includes encyclopedic info for Mom to read ahead to stay abreast of the topics.
- Flexibility in scheduling for Mom.
- Buy it once, use it again and again.
- Expense. Many people balk at this. If you commit to using it every year for all of your children (assuming you have more than one child), however, the price of the curriculum itself is actually reasonable (not adding in all of the extras—which are desirable!) But if you do not have access to a good library, the cost of the books is incredible for mainly history with some literature and other items mixed in. Price tag carries guilt if you don’t like it. There are cheaper options for doing history.
- Complicated. (Big.) 100s of pages for each 9-week unit. But still in all of that, the assignments are assigned weekly not by day. Mom has to do a lot of work—planning and tweaking to decide which resources to use, which assignments and activities to do, on what days, etc. It’s not “open-and-go” for most of the year. Some TOG lovers would say that you get used to the general way you’ll do the schedule (reading on Mon/Wed, activity on Thurs, etc.), and it isn’t so much work. Some love the “flexibility.” Depends if you want to pay that much for “flexibility.” There are simpler options for getting history done.
- No “spine.” Some people get annoyed constantly jumping between books to get history done; they’d rather have a main textbook with some extra books on the side. TOG takes a Charlotte Mason approach here with using only “living” books, no main textbook. The heaviness of the reading might fluctuate as well between weeks.
- The “fog.” TOG has SO much to it, that it notoriously takes people a month to 9 weeks to get into a groove with how it will fit their family and how they will make it work.
- Some people don’t like that while the firstborn goes through the historical cycle in order nicely, the following children may not “hit” the cycle beginning with ancients.
TOG is the most expensive choice when you include books. Prices begin at $170 for a year-plan for the digital edition of the curriculum itself. Prices are higher for year-plans if you also buy the paper versions.
For book prices, I recently went to their sister site Bookshelf Central and put every single book for every level for every year and subject in my cart; then I deleted any doubles (since some books are used more than one year), and the price came to just over $8,850. This will fluctuate though, as TOG only recommends books on its website that are currently in print.
Map Aids $25 per year-plan (geography supplement—easy to print PDF of every map and answer key assigned in TOG)
Writing Aids $50—one-time only cost (writing handbook covering every writing genre assigned in TOG with explanations, direction, grading helps, and graphic organizers)
Evaluations $50 per year for all levels; $15 per year for one level (history tests and quizzes for TOG and answer keys—at least 1 history quiz or worksheet per week per level, unit-end exams, a year-end exam, and answer keys.)
Lapbooks kits (each makes 1 lapbook) $55 per year, templates (makes multiple lapbooks of 1 per unit) $75 per year. An activity folder made of colorful booklets you either assemble from pre-printed kits or print yourself. Geared toward upper grammar, but also for lower grammar and Dialectic.
Pop Quiz $50 per year. 15-minute audio summaries of what students study each week, and question cards designed to start great conversations. Designed for dads (and moms and students). Includes 2-CD set and question cards.
TOG offers a 40% discount to missionaries on their curriculum items (not the books), which is one of the highest discounts I’ve seen. These prices were from 2012.
TOG suggests possibly slowing down the year-plans into two years for each year-plan, so that in 8 years (grades 1-8) you would actually only go through the 4-year cycle one time. Then as soon as your oldest child hits 9th grade, you bump everybody up to the actual year-plan schedule. That way it’s not so overwhelming.
Many say the literature choices on the lower grammar level are arbitrary and can easily be substituted with anything in the library on the subject. TOG really shines on the D and R levels. To save costs, many suggest just using Story of the World for LG levels. (SOTW is a recommended alternate resource scheduled in TOG.) Also to save money, some use SOTW activity guide (AG) instead of buying the different activity books for TOG. This also simplifies TOG instead of jumping around between “spines.”
You can also cut costs by using the digital version, but then you can’t resell it if you decide not to stick with it. You can cut costs if you have a great library, or by searching the used “for sale” homeschooling sites on the internet. In the end, though, TOG is most expensive no matter which way you look at it, because a good library would likewise cut the same costs down for MFW or BP or whatever other literature-heavy-history option you used.
If you do substitute books with TOG, to me, that just adds on to the amount of work and prep for Mom. If I’m paying that much for a curriculum, I want to be able to use most of it, not make up a lot of it as I go. If I’m going to make up my own literature and history readings, might as well just do SOTW history and SOTW AG/WTM reading suggestions. So then I think it’s important in many cases to stick with their book choices.
They do have a helpful sister site—Bookshelf Central—and you could buy all of the books with one click if you wanted to spend that much money on history. You can look at the books by year, unit, or topic (literature, history, worldview, etc.). Each book has a description with how many weeks it is used in TOG. Sometimes TOG will mention whether that book is tied to literature worksheets, or whether the book may easily be substituted with other books you may find on the topic. So some books will be more “necessary” than others.
TOG is a wonderful curriculum. You can easily find glowing reviews and practical helps by users blogging about their TOG experiences. Here is one I found explaining why she switched from Classical Conversations to TOG.