Q and A: Starting a Tapestry of Grace Co-op
This is a post for my Tapestry of Grace (ToG) friends all over the country who are interested in starting a co-op using this rich curriculum. When my friends and I began our co-op it was difficult to find information on how to start. I googled Tapestry of Grace co-ops and wrote every leader I could with questions. Thankfully, I found a couple of sweet souls willing to correspond by e-mail. I asked one leader if I and our core-team could come visit. We desperately wanted to see a co-op in action! Unfortunately for us, we were unable to do so. Though we lacked the information we desired, our team “got to planning” and two years later, we are so blessed by our thriving group. I hope this post (and subsequent posts, if needed) may make the process a little easier for some of you. Grab a cup of tea and feel free to peek at what we do through my Tapestry posts (in sidebar.) Leave your questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Be sure to visit Marcia Somerville’s co-op information. This is a great starting point. Our first year schedule and rules and regulations are uploaded there as well as documents from other Tapestry groups.
Without further ado, here are the first 10 questions I’ve been asked about our co-op:
1. Why did you begin a Tapestry of Grace co-op?
I love ToG and, before starting our co-op, had used it at home for five years. For basic information about Tapestry, please read my posts about its benefits for various levels. It is, in my opinion, the most family-friendly, comprehensive, flexible curriculum on the market. Foundational to its use are Socratic discussions. Students learn by reading. However, discussing themes, ideas, and worldview takes learning to a much higher level. Until my children were in high school, I held most discussions through read-aloud time or casually over our lunch break. I desired more for the high school years. However, because I also had a four children in the dialectic and grammar stages, I knew I could not set aside the 4+ hours a week for these discussions.
Two of my friends, also ToG users, were in the same predicament. We did not want to abandon our curriculum in favor of paid high school classes at another co-op for several reasons. The classes, while reasonable, were about $500/year per class. Also, none of us had drivers which meant the twice-a-week commitment for our older children would take us away from homeschooling our younger ones. We felt strongly that if we pooled our resources (time and talent), we could put together a dynamic discussion group for our rhetoric students using the curriculum we owned.
2. How did the idea transpire to a co-op?
First of all, we prayed about it for several months. There were four of us. Three of us used Tapestry already. We decided to start with just a Dialectic/Rhetoric-level group in a home if that is what the Lord wanted for us. However, as we talked and prayed, we felt strongly that we all preferred our weekly meeting time to benefit all of our children. So, we brainstormed a few other families that might want to join and contacted them personally. We targeted rhetoric and dialectic-level families who also had younger children. Without advertising, we pretty quickly acquired twelve interested families. With these twelve families, we had 36 children which gave us 5-8 in each level – preschool, lower grammar, upper grammar, dialectic and rhetoric.
3. When, where and how often do you meet?
Once we knew we had enough families to begin a co-op, we prayerfully approached our church staff and graciously were given permission to meet on Mondays from 8:30-1:30. This was the only day available, so we took it!
4. How did you decide what year plan to use?
Three out of four of our “core team” ladies had used Tapestry for several years. Two of them were beginning Year 1. So, the beginning seemed like a very good place to start.
5. How are your age groups broken down?
The first year, we had 4, 5 and some 6 year olds in a pre-k/k group; 1st-3rd graders in lower grammar; 4th-6th in upper grammar; 7th-8th in dialectic and 9th-12th in rhetoric. This year, we do not have a preschool. We have a K-1 (lower grammar), 2-3 (lower grammar), 4-5 (upper grammar), 6 (dialectic), 7-8 (dialectic) and 9-12(rhetoric). Next year we will have a preschool. We also plan to separate 9th grade for a hybrid class (rhetoric lit and dialectic history).
6. How do you decide who teaches each class and how are the teachers compensated?
Teachers are not compensated. Each participant must stay the whole day, lead-teach at least one class, assist at least one class and, if needed, additional classes. We determine who teaches each class via Surveymonkey. So far, each teacher has been able to teach where she/he feels most interested/competent. Each class has at least one assistant. If a teacher can’t be at co-op, she makes arrangements with her assistant.
7. Do you only use ToG or do you use other curriculum as well?
At the rhetoric level, we only use ToG. Rhetorics discuss literature (1.5 hours) History/Church History/Geography (2 hours), Philosophy (45 min) and Government (45 minutes). That is all they have time to do in our 5-hour day. Dialectics have a little more time, so they have a science class. Upper Grammars have ToG art and science as well as literature, history, geography and lapbooks. Lower grammars listen to Story of the World, take turns reading ToG literature aloud, have a PE time and do lapbooks and science. K/1’s have a music class, science, art, story time, phonics time and Story of the World time. We have used both Apologia and Elemental Science. Elemental Science has been a huge hit for our lower grammar students and we are considering using it for all classes 8th grade and under next year.
Basically, the younger the class, the more time there is in our co-op day for additional classes.
8. Do you use ToG writing?
Last year I worked two conferences in the ToG booth, and was frequently asked this question. Moms particularly wanted my opinion about Tapestry writing compared to theme-based IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing). I am a certified IEW instructor, and I like IEW products. However, I am a huge proponent of ToG writing assignments. We ask all our members to purchase Writing Aids. Part of the beauty of Tapestry is the multi-faceted learning of which writing is a vital part. Writing about the history and literature solidifies many themes for students. I recommend that moms watch Teaching Writing With Structure and Style videos (an IEW resource) to help them learn key elements of the writing process and gain confidence in teaching. However, it is not necessary nor do I recommend that ToG’s writing assignments be abandoned for another program. Writing Aides contains excellent notes for the teacher, graphic organizers, and grading rubriks. The writing assignments help solidify key concepts of the curriculum. You will want to study grammar. You may want to spend a good semester teaching essay components or supplementing where you see areas of weakness with your student. However, Writing Aids and ToG assignments are excellent. We’ve had great success using them.
9. How many members of your co-op used Tapestry before joining?
Of our 12 families the first year, 5 used it previously. Only two of the families were on the same year plan. However, those not on Year 1 were willing to adjust for the sake of the co-op. The second year 11 families returned and 13 families joined. To my knowledge, all our new families had never used ToG. I am very excited about next year because we will have 22 out of 30-ish families with at least one year of Tapestry use under their belts! Exciting!
10. How do you teach moms to use the curriculum?
This is an ongoing process. We begin by requiring interested families to download the free three-week plan from Tapestry, study the website and watch the introductory videos. They then meet with a core-team member. We show them a week’s plan. We show them student notebooks. We answer their questions. The beauty of our co-op is each member contributes something. Thus no one has to do it all. “Many hands make work light” is very true of what we do. Moms are motivated to invest time in learning the curriculum but they do not have to “have it all together” to get started. We require SAPacks (and soon the Map and EvalPacks.) We share ideas during “free” periods at our co-op day. We have a Yahoo forum where we encourage one another as well. There is still a little ToG fog. However, because we meet on a weekly basis, there is regular opportunity for encouragement and mentoring.
… And there you have it. If you have further questions, please ask away in the comments and I’ll happily answer them in another post.