Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tapestry of Grace Co-op, First Year: How is it Going?

Several people have emailed me and asked after reading the blog posts about TOG, "How is the co-op going?" Rather than write a long response to each individual email, I will try to answer the question in a systematic way, based on our experiences to this point. (At the time I am writing this we are just over half-way through the year.) Hopefully our experiences as a group can help others as they begin their own journeys with TOG.

Our first field trip: A Lewis and Clark Hike
How We Started
We started as a conversation between three families who were attending Classical Conversations and had concluded that we did not want to continue there. (See Why the Switch?) We had a very high set of expectations, and wanted to continue with the good things that we had learned in CC, such as memory work, regular meeting times, and fellowship, but we wanted to craft something that was more to our style. All of us wanted to regain a very hands-on approach to the instruction of our own children, as well as have everything we studied be relevant to the spine of our studies.

All three families agreed that we would start with TOG Year 3, so we all ordered the print and DE editions. Over the course of the summer we prayerfully added two more families, and then at the midway point, one more family joined. Throughout the summer of 2011, we met together regularly and pored over the curriculum. The goals we set at first were very high, and would have required a certain amount of "reinventing the wheel," so we backed off those initial goals, though the core intention of the group remained the same. We ultimately concluded that the purpose of our group was to provide our kids with an opportunity to engage in discussions and projects that they would not otherwise have the chance to do if we only did the curriculum ourselves, in essense, we desired fellowship and accountability for ourselves and the kids. We also saw the great benefit of a quarterly "Unit Celebration" where the children present their work at the end of each quarter. We have had two and they have been so much fun! Field trips together is another fun thing that we try to do from time to time. We have had one per quarter so far.
being goofballs at the Unit Celebration

We have three groups of students - a lower grammar group (LG), which focuses on activities and craft projects that the younger kids enjoy, an upper grammar group (UG), which is a bit more focused on discussion of the reading, but also on projects and activities that are best done in a group setting, and finally a dialectic group (D) which is discussion based. That group discusses the history, literature and geography points of each week's study and does not engage as much in the hands-on projects. We meet on Monday Mornings from 9:30-1:00. We pack lunches and stay to play and fellowship after school work is done.

Evolution
Due to the fact that the location we had set as our meeting place was under its final stages of construction, we began the first weeks in one of our families' homes. It was really ideal in some ways, as they have the kind of house where we could spread out and do different activities in different places. However, from the outset we all agreed that we did not want to impose on any one family week after week--17 children plus moms is lot to host every week! It was wonderful in the fall, but we knew that the rainy and colder weather could really make for a more stressful situation if we continued to meet in a home.

Learning flag etiquette
Beginning with the second unit, we changed locations and began meeting in the new facility. There are pros and cons to this. The pros are that no family bears the burden of preparing to host each week. It is "neutral." The space that we are using is a large fellowship room in a church, with a sink and tile area where we can eat lunch or do messy crafts. There are also two classrooms off of the main area which are perfect for the UG and D students to hold their classes. The LG students meet in the large main room while the moms who are not leading discussions play with the toddlers and lend a hand to the LG group. It works. The cons are that the place is not as "homey" and we have to bring all of our stuff each week (envision the ubiquitous homeschooling-mom rolling crates crammed with books, notebooks and craft supplies!) All of us enjoy meeting in the space, though. It is a blessing to be there, to have the room for the kids to run around, and a sturdy place that cleans up easily after we are done. It has worked out well.

Field trip to hear Jim Weiss
We had another change in the second unit which caused a bit of upheaval, and that was the change of two of our UG students into the D level, by their own choice. One of these was my friend's 11 year old daughter, the other was my 10 year old son, both of whom were craving more reading and discussion than the UG track was providing. We moved them into the D group and made an interesting discovery--while they were absolutely thrilled with the D material and engaged readily and ably in the discussion, they are still at an age where they felt they were really missing out on the activities that the UG students were doing, so we had a dilemma. Also at week 18 we added one more family which brought us two more students, a D (age 11) girl and a LG (age 5) girl. The new girl was very much in the same mindset as our other young lady--she loves D discussion but wants to do activities too. The solution to this was to have the younger D students in the group for the literature discussion, then have them join the UG students for the project time. This is working out well, though they wish they could stay for the history discussion and still do the project! It's a good problem to have, really. We are amazed at how much the children are enjoying what they are learning!

Where Do We Go From Here?
We will begin Year 3, Unit 3, Week 22 on Tuesday. Because of the President's Day holiday, we decided that this would be a field trip week, so we are planning an outing for Friday. As things stand now, we will finish the year with the current configuration. Our UG mom who has done the bulk of the teaching is going to have a baby in a few weeks, so the other UG moms will fill in for her. Once we finish out the year, we will take a look at the things we feel have worked well and what has not worked as well and make changes based on our collective ideas. One struggle that the I have is that meeting in the morning digs into valuable time of instruction. It is simply human nature that once we get home from co-op, the day is shot. There is not the energy or the time to get math, grammar or writing done, so essentially we have four days a week to be sure that the core subjects get covered. Right now for my kids it is okay, but for my 10 year old, it is a squeeze. We have to be very disciplined those other four days. If we were to meet in the afternoons, as we do for our French class, we would still have five mornings a week, plus a comfortable two hours or more in an afternoon to have group discussions and do projects. This is the biggest struggle I personally face. As of yet, I cannot offer a solution, since the group has not discussed this as a whole. It will be interesting to see what next year brings. TOG has suggestions for how to run co-ops based on their curriculum. I see the value in meeting more often for older students, less often for younger. Nevertheless, this year has been so delightful as we have met together each week, and we have learned so much.

Assessment
Listening to a presentation on Gold Mining in VA
Our co-op has been a success, without a doubt. It has succeeded on many levels. The first area we have succeeded is in bringing like-minded families together to work on a curriculum together. This has provided much needed fellowship for parents, friendships for the kids, and accountability for us as teachers. I can honestly say that in this environment, I have never worked harder at homeschooling or with as much sense of purpose, nor have we ever covered so much material! It is truly amazing what the kids have learned. Further, we have had so much fun doing the hands-on projects, which for me, is a huge blessing! I am not a craft mom. In fact this is the one area that I constantly felt that I was falling short with my kids. At our co-op, however, we have engaged in some projects that all of the creative mom-minds have put together, and they have turned out great! We have had a Napoleonic Soldier's relay race, made salt-dough maps, sea-worthy rafts (think Swiss Family Robinson), Cherokee dioramas, clay pots, sewn bags of the sort that would have been used on the Oregon Trail, gone panning for gold, learned Chinese calligraphy, origami, kirigami...The list will go on, I'm sure, as we finish the year. These are only the things that just come to mind now. I know I'm forgetting some things.

Good fellowship at the Christmas party
Beyond anything academic that I can express, the Tapestry of Grace families are our friends. They are companions on this journey, and I love each of the moms so much--they have become some of my dearest friends, and the children are all wonderful--they are my kids' closest friends. We don't just see each other on Monday mornings. We go to the park, ice skate, get together for play dates, and just hang out with each other. We are so blessed.

I'm sure that each mom has her own thoughts and feelings about what she would like to see done differently, but as a group we have not sat down to evaluate those things yet. We are all content with things as they are and will consider any changes to come at the end of the year. I will be sure to update with any changes as they come!

1 comment:

  1. I would love to see how you broke down the planning part such as the materials used for crafts? Also, did you just do History one day a week and if so how did you figure out what to cover with TOG? Thanks so much we are thinking about beginning a co-op in our area too :)

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