Friday, January 29, 2016

Tapestry of Grace Review and Giveaway

After almost 17 years of homeschooling, I finally got my hands on Tapestry of Grace.  A little late to the game, I know!  Can I just say WOW!?  It is overwhelming and impressive all at the same time. Luckily, the overwhelming wears off quickly and leaves behind a well laid out, highly organized, and in-depth Christian, classical study.

Tapestry Of Grace is a four year cycle Classical study for all ages.  History based and reading oriented, it divides the world's history into four periods of time, each further divided into four units to be taught in one year.  If you use the program with your child from the beginning of their school career, the theory is that they will cycle through all four periods three times, at a higher level and more in depth each time.

The classical approach that Tapestry follows includes four levels of study - Lower Grammar, Upper Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric.  Each are color coded in the lessons and are geared towards the learning styles typical of the ages associated with each particular level.  Tapestry of Grace is unapologetically Christian, with everything based around the Word of God and the truths of the Bible.

Week by week, you open the teacher's guide and go!  There are schedules in chart form,  reading lists, weekly overviews, student pages, and a large number of teacher notes!

So for any given week you will open your guide and see-

Threads- This is where you will find your teaching objectives for each week in checklist style for each subject.  Subjects include History, Writing, Literature, Geography, Fine Arts and Activities, Church History, Government, and Philosophy.  If there is an assignment for the level of the child you are working with, you will find it there.  Note, there is not an assignment for every level in every subject. Each lesson varies.  The pages that correspond in the teacher's notes are listed beside each assignment.

Reading Assignments- Next you will find a two page spread of the reading assignments, again for each subject and each student level.  You can purchase the suggested books or the optional ones given from Tapestry or another source.

Weekly Overview- This two page chart shows you at a glance what you will be doing for the week. It is great for people like me who like to see the big picture. It lists what you will study in each broad category, as well as the specific people, any vocabulary, dates for your timeline, individual student and group activities available, and map information. There are even videos on the Tapestry website that will help you with planning if you are new to this curriculum!

Writing Assignments- Here you will find writing assignments broken into 12 levels.  Younger levels focus more on grammar, dictation, and basic writing, while upper levels move into higher writing skills such as analytical essays and play writing.

Student Activities- This section begins with general information for all ages and then has worksheets and such for each learning level.

Teacher Notes- The final section for each week is the part you as a teacher will appreciate the most. There is background history, discussion outlines, and the answers you should be looking for in the various levels.  Answers to any worksheets used are also given.

Seems like a lot, right?  It is!  But as someone who tried a classical approach for several years with no guidance, I can assure you it is just what you need.  For a few years I followed a classical approach on my own.  Each week I would spend hours planning, gathering information and books, making up worksheets, and trying to make it all tie together into one neat package.  I wore myself out and after two years I threw in the towel.

I wish I had known about Tapestry then!

What a blessing it is for classical bent moms and teachers out there to have a one stop shop for quality education.  The information presented is solid and the help behind it is top notch. You can ask questions along the way and there is a community of fellow moms on a forum on the website.

If you are a hands-on type person like me you can purchase each level in a hard copy.  If that is not as important to you, you can also save some money and buy it in Digital form.  My hard copy did come with two digital downloads for Grammar.  Also included was The Loom CD.  This CD is a great place to get started if you have never been exposed to Tapestry of Grace before as it has set up help. It also contains numerous workbook pages, documents, charts, recipes for art projects, and more.  It certainly helped me in understanding the ins and outs of the program and the vision!

As far as help goes, I also know that there are many moms out there just like you that LOVE Tapestry of Grace and enjoy sharing their experiences with newcomers.  If there are questions you want answered by someone other than a company rep or online forum, although those are great places to start, reach out!  I know there is a wealth of information to be shared and I know that Tapestry lovers are eager and willing to share!

Tapestry of Grace is having a big Facebook party on February 2 from 7-8 EST with chances to win some great prizes as well as get some free three week samples!  I hope you will join us there!

You can also access free online samples of Tapestry on their website!

* We were given the Fourth Year of Tapestry of Grace in exchange for an honest review of their product.  All opinions are our own and were not influenced in any way.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Clean Slate

There is just something about January that makes me want to start all things new.  Maybe it is tied to New Years resolutions, or just looking at a fresh calendar and all that white space just begging to be filled, but nothing is safe in our house come January- including my well thought out homeschool plan hatched last August!

You know, the one you spend hours on.  Pouring over calendars, reading reviews, talking to other homeschool moms.  And if you are one of the brave ones, you even put your plan in ink in a fancy planner, or worse, online for all to see! ;)

But, well, it is January, and things look a bit differently now.  Is it just me?

Some of those books are just too boring,  Some of those workbooks are just too hard.  And who knew that your child was a visual learner rather than an auditory learner, right?

Thankfully for homeschool moms everywhere January is Clean Slate month.

Ok, I made that up, but you CAN start with a clean slate!  Here's why.

No where does it say you cannot start fresh, no matter what month.  It is one of the glories of homeschooling.  You pick what you want to use and you pick to choose to change when said choice is no longer working.

YOU know your child best!  So if you know they are miserable doing XYZ program, you can change  Now!

There is a wealth of curriculum out there.  Each year more and more amazing educational-aimed companies are producing even more amazing educational products.  There is so much to choose from that there is no reason to use something you do not like.

Kids' interests change.  Hey, mine do too sometimes. And that is ok.  If doing a unit study was great one semester, then a more traditional approach may be better the second semester.  You are free to choose something new.

After almost 17 years of homeschooling I have found that by just changing things up a bit renews our passion for school.  Starting with a different subject each day, even letting the child choose a new subject to study, or just a bright new notebook and some stickers for your younger kids can jump start your new semester.  Let's face it, January can be difficult for everyone.  The holidays are over, the days a short, and fatigue has set in.  For both kids and parents!

If you are a fellow homeschooler I would encourage you to take a minute to re-evaluate your curriculum as you begin the new semester.  See what is working and change what is not.  Add some spark to your day by making school fun.  After all we are not trying just do school at home.  We are trying to make learning come alive!  Engage your kids. Have some fun and see what happens.

But you know what?  Even if you are not a homeschooling family, January is still a good time to reinvent the wheel.  Maybe not whole wheel, but at least the parts that are not working for your family.  Schedules a mess?  Dinner time?  Chores?  Sometimes all it takes is a clean slate to get things back in shape.

May today be the day you start with a clean slate!


Monday, January 25, 2016

More Disney Magic

Before drawing to a close with our Disney mania, I thought I would share about where we stayed and then a little more on the parks.

In previous visits we have stayed off property and had great experiences.  There are numerous hotels in the area and the parks are just a quick drive away.  Just don't forget to add parking into your budget! It can add up.

But this time well, again, this was a trip we have saved up for and one with the intention of being a "welcome home dad celebration" with no stress for dad.  Driving included.

Enter Art of Animation.

We did look at a few other properties and there were a few that were higher on my list, but price and availability steered us here and we had a blast!  While I do believe that is is one of the Disney properties that is more enjoyed with "littles," it is a great place to stay.  All things Disney are done well, and this place is no exception.  You can choose from several themes for rooms- Lion King won out!  Family BONUS tip- these suites have one separate bedroom, but also a pullout couch, fold-down bed and TWO BATHROOMS!  When you have a family of 6, two bathrooms are a must!

One advantage to having a meal plan, which by the way, you can only do if you stay on Disney property, is the FREE refillable mug!  For those of us who do not drink coffee, filling up that mug with a soft drink before catching the bus to the park was a good thing!  Not to mention, it provided a great cup to fill with water once in the parks.
See, my mug!
And the parks- well, where does one start?

We spent our first two days in The Magic Kingdom.  For those of you who have not visited The Magic Kingdom, it is one glorious theme park.  Not my favorite park, but a popular one for the kids. They love rides, I do not.  That being said, there are rides for all ages and all levels.  Unfortunately for me, Colby aged and grew into the older rides and so I spent a considerable amount of time waiting for them ALL to get off rides.  He also got to sword fight with Captain Jack Sparrow which was quite a way to start the week!

I mentioned last week that we went right after the holidays which was good timing, but I will say that our first two days were pretty crowded.  I think that not everyone had gone back to school after the New Year so watch for that.  Also, lesson learned- traveling the Sunday after New Year's Eve in Florida is a nightmare!  Just saying.

Animal Kingdom was next and by far MY favorite day. I love that park!  It is a little more laid back and the day we went was drizzling rain in the morning which thinned the crowds out even more. There were no crowds, few lines, and it was a peaceful day.  Plus, if you have not seen the Finding Nemo and Lion King shows, you have missed out!  I could see them over and over.  One of the things we really wanted to see was a character called DaVine, who looks like a tree vine and can sometimes be hard to spot.  As soon as we walked in, we saw her moving around!  So cool!

We had scheduled a "down" day for the next day so we slept in (much needed) and ate in the hotel before heading to Disney Springs in the afternoon.  Disney Springs is the new name for Downtown Disney and home to the big Lego Store.  OK, it is home to LOTS more, but the Lego Store was all that mattered to the boys!  It was a relaxing afternoon and the highlight was that Ashton got invited to the stage to dance at Raglan Roads, where we had dinner reservations, and got to do an Irish dance by herself!  A once in a lifetime opportunity for sure and a memory for us all!

The next two days we spent in Epcot.  We basically did a day doing rides and such and a second day concentrating on the World Showcase.  There are a couple of rides there that the kids LOVE and France is the BEST place for a snack.  We also got to eat lunch in Japan with new friends and see the "Oh Canada!" show, which is one of our favorites.  Again, if you have never been, make sure you wander "up" the streets "into" the countries instead of just walking past on the main thoroughfare. There you will find restaurants and shops tucked away as well as characters you might not see otherwise.

Hollywood Studios was our last stop for the week.  True story- the last time we went my hubby had a kidney stone attack right after we got to the park and so our kids did the day with dear friends while he and I did a day in the hospital.  We did at least get a behind the scenes tour from the ambulance. This visit was a little less painful! ;)  We got to see several shows that were new to us, Colby got to do Jedi training, and we ended the trip with the most amazing light show called Fantasmic!

Despite his face, Colby LOVED Rockin' Roller Coaster
All in all, a wonderful trip of healing and reconnecting as a family, allowing God to bring our family back together after a tough year of separation and giving us a renewed strength to enter 2016 with hope and joy!

I pray you allow God to give you that same hope and joy!  Not even Disney, no matter how magical, can top that!

Linking with friends!



Friday, January 22, 2016

Disney's Characters and Cookies!

OK, yes, we were there for 7 days, but I figured you would want the abbreviated version!  (You are most welcome!)  So for today, I will focus on the characters and the FOOD!  Lots and lots of food.

On previous trips, we have not been obsessed with hunting down characters  Well, one child has, but she got out-voted almost every single time.  Who has time to stand in line to see someone in a costume when there are rides to ride?!  But this time around, we made a lot of exceptions.  And even used fast passes to get pictures taken.  Yes, you can use fast passes to see some characters.  Crazy, I know!

Fur creatures, as Disney calls these fuzzy guys, are all over.  Come to find out, they even camp out in hard to find places off the beaten paths.  By simply referring to a few Disney books on the market or even asking a cast member, you can find these places and wait only minutes to interact with them.

Like playing steal the kid's hat with Chip.  Or Dale.

Face characters, see their lovely faces, seem to be more scheduled and waits are often longer, but we walked right up to several this visit and I do not think we waited in line for more than 15 minutes for any of them.

It is amazing how personable they are and how they act like you are the most importanat person in their lives at that moment!  Actual conversation here-

Alice: And what is your major at Monster's University? (Referring to CJ's hat)
CJ: Scaring. and eating children!
Alice: Oh my. You must work for the Red Queen!

One of the easiest places to see several characters at once is at a character meal.  If your child thinks they are a princess too, just saying, then making reservations at one of those restaurants is totally worth the money!

Note from Riley- Rapunzel loved my shirt and called me flower. When we left she told me to have a good time outside of my tower!

And as silly as it may seem to some of us, even the big kids can have fun!

Like once you have seen a million face characters, you realize they all do the same face thing right before they take a picture - they big grin and raise their eyebrows.  Every single one.  We saw it so many times that the big kids started to practice too! ;)  See why I said it was more fun to go to Disney with big kids?

Oh, and about the food!  As I mentioned before, I feel like we ate our way through Disney.  Though I have to say none of us gained a pound thanks to the miles of walking- probably from chasing Disney characters all over the parks!

Again, we would not normally order desserts with every meal, but when they come with the Disney Dining plan, who can pass up that fun?  Believe it or not, they tasted as good as they look.  And wow, they are beautiful!

One of the greatest things about Disney's menus is that they have a wide selection of "allergen free" food- desserts included.  This s'more treat was just for our wheat free gal!  Who did not share!

Even the snacks are fun!  And yummy!  And Mickey shaped!

Riley eats things shaped like Mickey's head

But there's more!  We actually rode a few rides and saw a few shows!  Come back Monday to see!  How's that for link bait?! ;)

Missed our first post- An Ordinary Momma's Guide to Disney?  You might want to read what we learned along the way!


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

An Ordinary Momma's Guide to Disney

Yes, we recently returned from a week at Disney!  It was our gift to ourselves for Christmas.  I do not believe in "we deserve" because frankly no one deserves anything.  But friends, we needed this trip. A year apart from dad and husband took its toll on us all and we needed some family time away from real life to bond and reconnect.  We spent a year saving up (more on that soon) and did it big!  Next year you will find us vacationing in the back yard.  You CAN do Disney thriftily, but you CANNOT do Disney cheaply.  No matter what anyone says.

There are a million books and websites out there with helpful hints for "doing" Disney!  Trust me, I know, because I have read a lot of them.  And some of the hints were very helpful.  But, I am an ordinary momma with mostly ordinary kids! ;)  And there are a few things I learned our trip that I think need to be shared. 

Mom to mom!

Don't wear shirts that have to be tucked in. No laughing. Because we went in January we also had on light weight jackets. Pair that with an over the body bag and trying to get a shirt tucked in in the small restroom stalls was a pain.  Drove me crazy the whole trip.

If you are paying as you go for meals, share when you can!  The portions at most Disney dining locations are very large!  I felt like we ate our way through Disney!  

Order water!  Even if you pay for a bottle once, you can refill it for free.  To take the boredom factor out, we took lemonade packets with us to add to them occasionally.

Consider the Disney Dining Plan!  After being a wife of a deployed husband for a year, I needed a break from even having to think about meals so we splurged in this option.  I could not say how much we saved, but I will tell you that without the dining plan, lunches would have cost anywhere from $70 to almost $300 for our family of six.  Now, that was with drinks and dessert which we would not have gotten if not on the dining plan, but still- it is expensive.  Swiping your bands and knowing you have already paid in advance was wonderful!

That being said - get Disney's Magic Bands!  They are your room keys (if staying on property), meal plan, Fast Pass+, and PhotoPass hook up.  No more pulling out your wallet everywhere and so, so easy!  Plus fun!

Snacks!  Disney does allow you to take food in and trust me this is cheaper!  In the past, we allowed the kids to split a special park snack once a day.  Yes, I am frugal like that!  On the basic meal plan you can get one snack a day.  I was worried it might not be enough.  HA!  What a joke.  Because of all the food and desserts at meals, we found ourselves not wanting snacks several days.  Best advice we have heard- pick up snacks that can be easily taken and enjoyed on your trip home.  We had Disney cookies and crackers all the way home, plus a few bottled waters and other drinks!

Go on off times!  We have gone to Disney at busy times and waited in long lines.  And waited some more.  Not a lot of fun.  But if you are flexible I encourage you to check for reservations for off times.  We rarely waited in line more than 10 minutes.  A few times not at all. This was the line to Lights, Motor, Action.  Yep, just us.  It did pick up after us because we were really early, but still- it was great!

Make reservations to eat!  If you are planning to eat at a sit-down restaurant, make reservations in advance.  We rarely waited more than 10 minutes for our table when wait times were often over an hour long.  I recommend doing counter service at lunch and sit-down at dinner but that is just my preference.  It seemed that when we were looking for counter service in the evening, they were more crowded or harder to find. Most also seem to close early- probably in an attempt to send you to a more expensive sit-down meal at night.

Tell your kids no to buying souvenirs on the first day!  There is so much to see and buy that it is easy for young kids to become overwhelmed with all the choices.  Our "no buying on the first day" rule took the pressure off.

If you pass a bathroom, use it!  It is less stressful to make pit stops frequently than to be hunting for a bathroom NOW!  

Sleep in occasionally.  Disney can wear you out!  Take advantage of sleeping in on a day that a park has later hours.  Your children will thank me. So will your husband!

Consider waiting until the kids are older. I remember it being fun to see the excitement of my kids at Disney when they were younger, but honestly, taking older kids is so much better in my opinion.  I know, I know, there is that whole Disney Magic thing.  But I will have to tell you, we saw more toddler meltdowns and frazzled parents than I care to remember.  It was sad.  For the parents and the kids.  At 8, Colby enjoyed this trip so much more because of no fears and because he could do so much more.  Just something to think about.  

Let someone else do the planning.  I have been in charge of this family for a year.  I am so done making decisions and being in charge.  So I let a Disney expert help me.  Our friend Stacy works for Kingdom Konsultants and we let her work her magic.  She took care of our reservations, meal plan, and park tickets.  Before the trip we received a pack of goodies from her and she even checked on us once when we first arrived.  Between she and my friend Marcy, (who loves Disney almost as much as Riley!  Thanks Marcy!) we were in good hands.

Assign a kid a day!  Speaking of planning, each day we were in a park a different child was "in charge" of that day.  They chose where we ate, what we rode, and what we saw. We followed their lead.  It was great.  One, I did not have to be in charge, and two, there was no debating the schedule. We just follow the lead of the one in charge.  (Though the youngest had a little guidance.)

More pictures, some thoughts about Disney property and more on Friday and next Monday!  I promise not to drag it out too long, but there is so much to share.