After five years in school, will homeschooling be a fit for our family? Walk with us as we try to find out!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

TOG for Dummies, I Mean Minimalists

Tapestry of Grace, affectionately known by its initials- TOG- here at the lab, is more than just a history program for our family.  In fact, in my 2012-2013 Curricula post, I refer to TOG as our "humanities core" since that more aptly describes how we use the curriculum.  Using TOG, we cover history, geography, fine arts, literature and church history at three learning levels- lower grammar, upper grammar and dialectic (beginning this coming school year.)  If you have ever used or even simply perused TOG, you are well aware that the curriculum can be a bit intimidating- what with all its pages per week of learning threads, reading plans, writing plans, teacher notes, etc.  It does not have to be, though.  Really, I promise! 

In this post, I want to describe how we are using TOG in our homeschool in the hopes of encouraging you who might be doubting whether you can manage this program in your homeschool.  Of course, our way is not the only way to use TOG.  It's certainly not the best way to do it either.  A friend jokingly calls me the "minimalist homeschooler" because I don't spend a great deal of time planning our lessons week to week.  Call me crazy, but I'd rather use my time and energy executing those plans!  And you know something?  By the end of the school year, we had actually completed all the lessons I had planned for, the test subjects (and I) had learned a great deal in each of the above subjects in the time period covering the Fall of Rome to the Reformation, and we all enjoyed both the content and the process. That's got to count for something, right? 

So, for what it's worth, here is how we use TOG in our homeschool: 

1.  Using the reading assignments grid from the TOG week plan, I determine the read aloud we will use and which books the test subjects will be reading in each category for the week on Sunday evenings.  Since we are only completing two of the four Year 2 units, we usually have the time to complete both the history core and in depth assignments each week as well as the literature and church history selections. (In the 2013-2014 school year, we will switch to a regular pace of one TOG year per school year, and may have to drop some of the history in depth selections at that time depending on the amount of reading assigned each week.)  Since I am a newbie to homeschooling, I simply used whatever reading resource TOG suggested for each subject area, but you can certainly make changes to book selections as you see fit.  My humble suggestion, however, would be to use the curriculum as much as possible!  Unless a book is objectionable in some way, or you know off hand of a better selection, trust the resources laid out in the week plan.  I literally spend about 15 minutes choosing and typing the assignments into my planner for the week.  Remember, save your time and energy to execute the plan not to plan the plan :)

2. We work on TOG every day of our four day week.   Even if for only 20 minutes of a read aloud and map work, or 15 minutes reading a lower grammar book, or 30 minutes reading an upper grammar core history selection.  Working through a portion of the TOG week plan each day is key to our success in navigating the curriculum without feeling overwhelmed.  On Fridays last year, we attended a co-op art class based on the art from the historical time period we were studying in TOG. 

3.  Our weekly plan usually looks something like this:
  • Day 1: Read Aloud and Map Work
    • We used the Story of the World selections found under the alternate resources column within the TOG curriculum fairly consistently as our read aloud last year.  We also used the SOTW maps, as I found them more teacher friendly at the lower and upper grammar levels than the TOG maps.  Some weeks we also read the suggested TOG read aloud if we had the time and interest.
  • Days 2-4: History Core and In Depth Reading
  • Days 5-6: Literature Reading and corresponding Student Activity page for literature
  • Days 7-8: Church History Reading, Lapbooks or Timeline, Dialectic Discussion
This plan varies with the amount of reading that is actually assigned per week.  Some weeks the history reading can all be completed in a day or two and other weeks, they will stretch out for four days or so.  However, the order of the assignments- reading first then the lapbooks, timeline and discussion- always  remain the same for us.  In this way, I am able to use the lapbooks, timeline and discussion as an evaluation tool at the end of each week plan.  Of course, if you are working on a full pace- one TOG week in 4-5 days of school, you would tweak the amount of reading assigned per day.  Your week might look something like this:
  • Day 1:  Read Aloud, Map Work and History Core Reading
  • Day 2: History and In-Depth Reading
  • Day 3: Literature Reading and Student Activity Page
  • Day 4: Church History Reading, Dialectic or Rhetoric Discussion
  • Day 5: Lapbooks, Timeline, Evaluations

4.  We use field trips and other real life experiences to teach without the test subjects knowing they are learning :)  There is nothing like a fun experience or natural conversation to reinforce what has been learned "in the classroom."  Last year, we learned more about Medieval Art, Architecture and Daily Life through museum visits, a trip to a Medieval feast, a unit celebration and countless dinner table conversations about the things we were learning about in TOG.  For this coming school year, I am looking forward to field trips that will provide hands on experiences with life in colonial America and the events of the Revolutionary War.  

5.  We determine our goal for TOG and used the curriculum to achieve that goal.  Last year, with only a lower grammar and an upper grammar student, my goal for our TOG studies was simple- to give the test subjects an overview of world history from the Fall of Rome to the Reformation and to do so in a way that was engaging and fun.  I did not want history to be a dry presentation and recitation of dates and facts, but a living testimony to the people and events that shaped the world.  With this goal in mind, I could rest at ease a bit when we did not get to an assigned reading selection or we rushed through a lapbook or two.  Completing assignments was not the goal-understanding the general scope of the historical time period was!  Next year, with a young dialectic student, I will add the goal of beginning to see and understand connections between historical events and people.  Determine your goal for TOG and then use the curriculum to meet that goal.  

6.  Try not to get bogged down in checking everything off on the list.  Believe me, this is not easy for this Type-A mama to say, but say it I will, because letting go of that checklist mentality is what gave us the freedom to learn a great deal and enjoy the process to boot!  What didn't we do?  Arts and activities (some was covered in our co-op class or field trips), evaluations (we used the lapbooks and will add timeline and discussion for our dialectic student), vocabulary or people/event lists.  Now, you might do all those things we skipped and simply read less.  Prioritize your assignments with your goal in mind!  

7.  We will use the Pop Quiz CDs to catch me up on the week's learning this year.  There were times last year when I felt as if I had not gotten a clear picture of what the test subjects were studying over the course of a week plan.  When I mentioned this to a friend, she remarked that she uses Pop Quiz to get an overview of the week when she does not have time to read the Teacher Notes.  Since I hardly ever make time to read all the Teacher Notes each week, I purchased Pop Quiz and plan to listen to it each week to stay caught up with what the test subjects are learning week to week.

And that, dear readers, is how we use TOG here at the lab. I hope I offered you some tidbit of useful information :)

Are you a TOG family?  How do you use the curriculum?

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