Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tapestry of Grace Co-op: Pros and Cons of 2011-2012

I wrote a mid-year blog post about our TOG co-op and how it was going. Now that we are coming to the end of the year, I would like to consider the pros and cons of the situation and process through a bit of what we learned.

The pros were obvious:
  • We had a wonderful time meeting together with friends every week
  • The children enjoyed learning and playing together and engaging in activities we would not do on our own. 
  • After each 9-week unit we would hold a pot-luck style "unit celebration" with the other families where projects, presentations, and fun sewing projects and costumes were displayed. These were lovely evenings that everyone enjoyed immensely. 
  • We also scheduled regular field trips together, and these were smashing successes. Some favorites were a trip a gold mining museum, hiking, a visit to a Civil War battlefield, panning for gold, a lovely trip to the zoo, and a docent tour of French Impressionists at the NGA. 
Overall, our own studies at home were spurred on by the knowledge that we would be meeting with the group. It provided the accountability we needed to stay on track. Our weekly gatherings went something like this:
9:30 - 10:00 a.m. - gather and set up
10:00 - meet together and pray, go over scripture memory and any other memory work that we were working on (such as the Gettysburg Address).
10:15 - break up into smaller groups (lower grammar, upper grammar, dialectic) for literature discussions. 
11:00 - 12:00 craft or activity related to the week's topic
12:00 - lunch and play
1:00 - break up, clean up and dismiss
The cons were not as obvious and were a bit trickier to negotiate. Whenever there is the attempt to be a part of or to manage a group of people (no matter how wonderful) there are dynamics that come into play and some are inevitably going to be less than completely satisfied. I will discuss the cons from my perspective, and since my pals from the group will likely read this, I would invite them to comment and weigh in from their perspectives if they want to.

The group of moms and students that came together were wonderful. All of them became even better friends to our family through the year, and the kids grew and developed closer relationships with each other as well. It is from this group that we have most of our play dates and it is with these friends that the majority of our time is spent, so I guess I would say that the challenges lay not in any form of personality conflict, but rather in household dynamics, academic levels, and learning styles.

Household factors included illnesses, pregnancies and the arrival of a new baby, a dad deploying, large family needs and small family needs, dealing with toddlers and teenagers...the list could go on, but one could sum it up in a word--life! These (for me) were nothing more than an opportunity to extend grace and enjoy the diversity of our group. It became a very supportive community from my perspective, but there were moments when I'm sure it wasn't perfect for everyone.

I personally found the academic challenges more pressing. For instance, in combining students who were technically in the same level but possessed wide ranges of ability levels, it became difficult for the teachers to be able to satisfy all the students.
  • A very gregarious and advanced 2nd grade boy reading on a near-dialectic level in a group with a very quiet 1st grade girl who was not yet reading independently felt intimidating for the non-reader. 
  • The very quiet girl who is not really into group discussions but loves hands-on things paired with two other students who are talkative and always ready to answer left the teacher wondering how to reach the whole group effectively. 
  • The early-dialectic students combined with later dialectic students who were looking for a different sort of challenge made it difficult for the tutor to plan activities which could span the gap.
Another challenge that arose was that moms of dialectic students were finding it very difficult to fit in all the school work with just four mornings at home. If other activities were scheduled, a whole morning out took a big chunk of time away from core subjects and things you just need to be home in order to do. This became one of the key reasons for leaving CC last year, and over time, the same situation arose.

One might look at this list of issues above and suggest that this is just "life" in any classroom. Agreed. I was a teacher before I had kids and these are indeed the challenges that every instructor faces. Nevertheless, I am not necessarily seeking classroom dynamics for my kids. On the other hand, there is so much to be gained by group learning. This begs the question of where lies the balance between the two. I also had to consider that prepping for the group each week in addition to planning my own kids' daily lessons became an added stress. The result was a lovely case of burn-out in April, not only for me but for a few other families as well.

For the final unit, we decided to disband the weekly Monday morning meetings. We have taken a couple field trips and done a couple of activities on a smaller scale with the older group, such as literature discussions and a combined French class (not part of TOG) and West African culture lesson (which was from TOG). We are planning to have a field day for our final unit celebration, and our family will finish the last few weeks' reading over the summer months.

Currently, we are in the process of restructuring a bit--we are trying to fit together the best of what worked and lose the bits that didn't. One thing we all agree on is that we do not want to lose out on the benefit of meeting together. We are considering more of a club format, but this is not settled yet. I will continue with another post when we decide what that looks like. Look for that in late June. I'm about to be on a big, hairy break and that will not include planning for next year!


  1. Thanks so much for sharing that. Having just left CC myself and preparing to begin the TOG journey, I find it very helpful to read about your experiences. A few other families and I are starting a TOG group, but we are only planning on meeting every 3 weeks due to that burn out and frustration we all experienced with losing a morning at home every week. I think that will work for now as we have no children in the dialectic stage, but I imagine that in the next year or so we may want to meet more frequently for the sake of the older students.

  2. I think that sounds like a really good plan. We are thinking through how to handle all these issues and still remain a group. We are considering more of a "Book Club" model and a weekly park day / gym day so that the kids can still be together. We'll see how it all works out.


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